It was Katie Berger’s New Year’s resolution to try out and become a contestant on the Wheel of Fortune. When she received an e-mail telling her there were going to be auditions on the Central Coast, she asked her roommate Kevlyn Walsh to drive to Paso Robles with her while she tried out.
“It was something I had been waiting to do for years,” she said. “I used to watch with my dad all the time.”
The audition process was long and rigorous, the biological sciences senior said. At the first audition, there were about 400 people, and she was randomly picked out of the group with about 30 others. She went on to perform a song, answer questions and play a practice version of the game show.
“They were just picking numbers, like out of a bingo machine,” Berger said. “Once I got called up on stage, I performed a Tina Turner song that I had done for a Greek Goddess competition.”
Being one of the only Cal Poly students at the Paso Robles audition gave Berger a slight advantage, she said. Near the end of first round of auditions, the contestants had to solve a puzzle like they do on the show; the answer to the puzzle was “Go Mustangs.”
“There were mostly older people there,” Berger said. “There was another audition in SLO the day before which I couldn’t make, so I was one of the only Cal Poly students there.”
She was called back to the final audition. The final part of the audition was a mock Wheel of Fortune game. Berger spun the wheel, chose letters and had to solve the puzzle.
They didn’t tell her at the final audition if she would be picked for the show or not. Instead, the show’s producers said if she would be picked for the show, they would send her an e-mail. That was in April of 2009.
Finally, Berger got the e-mail to tape her show.
It took more than a year from the time Berger auditioned to the airing of her show.
“My tape date was March 4, which was during week nine of last quarter,” Berger said. “I had a bunch of stuff due; it was not good timing. I had nightmares before the show.”
Berger waited all day for the taping of her episode. It was one of six episodes they shot that day. The show’s publicity coordinator, Ani Amirkhanian, said this is typical for a day of taping.
Berger was surprised at how bright the board was, she said. The contestants could also look off-screen and see which letters had already been chosen.
“The wheel’s a lot smaller than it looks on TV,” Berger said. “It’s really heavy too.”
Even though the contestants can see the letters, occasionally they blurt out ones that have already been chosen. They only have 30 seconds for their turn so they have to spin the wheel and choose a letter very quickly, Berger said.
“It’s a lot harder than playing at home; you really feel rushed,” Berger said.
The taping took about 25 minutes.
“Since there is so much more involved in the show than just taping, like choosing our contestants and picking out themes for certain episodes, we tape six episodes in a single day,” Amirkhanian said.
Before the show and during the commercial breaks, producers on the show gave Berger hints about when and how to clap and how to act on camera, Berger said.
“A lawyer told me that I couldn’t say ‘Hi’ to anyone in the audience while I was taping,” Berger said. “My parents said I looked like I was going to puke during the show.”
Berger wasn’t able to see or talk to her brother, roommate, boyfriend or parents, who had all come to watch the taping, until after the show, she said.
“It was funny to see her up there,” Walsh said. “She seemed really nervous and I could see all of her quirks come out. She did great, though. I don’t know how she solved some of those puzzles so fast.”
Berger won $49,493.
The episode aired Thursday on KSBY at 7:30 p.m.