Tagged ‘Wheel‘

Solving The Puzzle

In July 2018, I flew to Los Angeles to tape my episode of Wheel of Fortune. The episode aired October 5. The entire experience was more than I could have imagined.

My flight arrived in late afternoon. I spent the night in Culver City, a few miles from Sony Pictures studios. In the morning, I dressed and made my way to the studio lot. I was nervously excited.

At 7:45 AM, I met the other contestants in the parking garage ground floor. We were escorted through security and into the studio building. For the next four hours, we were trained and coached in everything related to spinning the wheel. We were sequestered in a room separate from the rest of the studio. Legal contracts were explained and signed. The contestant coordinators took us out to the main studio so we could get comfortable with the surroundings. We were taught how to spin the wheel, and we each took turns practicing. We practiced our introductions. We filmed a short promo for our local TV station. The experience was surreal.

Late in the morning, my team assembled at the wheel to do a practice game before recording our episode for TV. There were stand-ins for Pat Sajak and Vanna White. We played a condensed version of the game including introductions, toss-up rounds, and regular rounds. As the practice round progressed, a contestant coordinator came to me to coach me in the game. “Tim,” she said, “don’t look at the wheel or the other players. It can be mesmerizing but don’t do it. Just focus on solving the puzzle. Don’t think about anything else. Just solve that puzzle.” It would be the best advice I received.

The wheel hypnotizes, and there are many distractions in the studio. Off camera, in front of the wheel, is a TV monitor showing how much money you have on the board, what you have already won, and any prizes you have won. The audience cheers you on. Large cameras shift positions. Between rounds, contestant coordinators encourage. Make-up artists touch up your make-up. Distractions abound.

Finally, the time came to record our episode. I stood at the wheel as the announcer Jim Thornton announced, “Please welcome the hosts of our show, Pat Sajak and Vanna White.” The game was on!

Everything went quiet. Adrenaline surged into my veins. Time slowed down. And one simple thought locked into my brain: “Solve the puzzle.” Nothing else mattered. I did not look at the monitor to see what I had on the board. I didn’t look at the wheel. I didn’t look at the other players. I didn’t even pay attention to Pat. Everything in me was focused on solving the puzzle.

In the end, I ended up solving most of the puzzles. I think back to that moment when the contestant coordinator told me to focus on solving the puzzle. That made all the difference. I share this because I think there is an interesting correlation between my experience on Wheel of Fortune and the Church in North America. Let me explain.

The decline of the Church in North America is a puzzle to me. As an itinerant minister, for the past thirty years I’ve ministered in churches across the denominational spectrum. Across denominations, it is increasingly difficult to find a healthy church. Most are in steep decline. This should alarm us. We must solve this puzzle. This is the one thing on which we must focus. We have to come to the place where nothing matters but solving this puzzle.

Unfortunately, often we are mesmerized by lesser things. We are easily distracted by things that do not matter. And we must change.

On Wheel of Fortune, when I landed on bankrupt, I lost everything I had accumulated in that round. It didn’t faze me in the least. I didn’t care. Honestly, I didn’t even know what I had lost. All I cared about was solving the puzzle. With the church, all I care about is solving the puzzle of why we are in decline. I don’t care if I lose everything in the bank. I don’t care if I lose my retirement account. I don’t care about anything but solving this puzzle. It may cost me everything. I don’t care. I have to solve the puzzle.

On the set of Wheel of Fortune, there’s a used-letter board. It hangs from the ceiling just off camera to the left of the puzzle board. It shows all the letters that have been called and any letters that have not been called. When a contestant guesses a letter that is not in the puzzle, a loud buzzer sounds, and they lose their turn. The letter is marked off on the used-letter board. You don’t want to call the same letter again. That would be foolish. In the church, we’ve tried to solve the puzzle of our decline with programs, better music, and more interesting messages. But those things haven’t solved the puzzle. We’re no closer to solving the puzzle than when we started. Sadly, we keep calling the same letter. At some point, we have to call a new letter. To continue to try the same things and to expect a different result is foolishness on a Biblical scale. We’ve already proved that those letters are not in the puzzle solution.

For the church, let’s consider using some of the letters that have not been called. How about prayer? How about fasting and prayer? How about an utter dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit? How about an expectation of sacrifice, of putting it all on the line for the cause of Christ? How about discipling one another? How about confessing sin to one another? Perhaps we might solve the puzzle by trying some of these things.

What if we stopped calling the same letters and tried one of these options? For example, what would happen in our churches if for forty days we stopped all of our programming, our worship music, and preaching, and simply fasted and prayed over the state of the church? What would happen? It’s a letter worth calling. Perhaps it would help us to solve the puzzle.

These things might not draw a crowd, but they may solve the puzzle of why we are in decline. Personally, I’m willing to try. I’m not going to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them and expecting a different outcome. Something has to change.

It’s more than just a game. In the end, the only thing that matters is solving the puzzle.


Behind the Scenes on Wheel of Fortune

It was a blast to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune, and it was a privilege to watch the show live with friends and family. Thank you to everyone online who sent pictures and posted on social media. You made it even more special. Thank you!

I get loads of questions regarding the experience. asked me to write a blog about my experience for their site. It is a privilege to be the featured contestant this week! They published a condensed version of this blog. You can read the blog here.

I had often wondered what it was like behind the scenes, so it was a thrill of a lifetime to experience it first-hand. Now I get peppered with questions whenever someone finds out I was on the show. Here are the top ten questions folks ask when they discover I was a contestant on America’s Game:

#1. Did you win?

Yes! I won $20,050 in cash and a trip to Antigua, a total of almost $27,000 in cash and prizes. Wow! The trick is keeping the results secret between the time you tape and the time the show airs, usually around two months. Mums the word. I taped my episode on July 28, 2018, and had to keep the secret until October 5 when it finally aired.

#2. Did you get to meet Pat Sajak and Vanna White?

Yes! Early in the morning Vanna came into our contestant room and introduced herself. During the game, I stood next to Pat in position number one and got to chat with him between rounds during a commercial break. Since I went to the bonus round, I spoke with both of them during the closing credits section of the show. We discussed organ donation. (I’m a living organ donor, and it was mentioned in my introduction.)

They are humble and kind. They make you feel really comfortable. When Vanna came into our contestant room, she was wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt with her hair pulled back and no make-up. She was super down-to-earth.

#3. How did you audition?

I submitted a video online on in November of 2016. (That’s right, 2016!) A few weeks later I was invited to a live audition in Tampa in January 2017. I auditioned in Tampa with sixty other hopefuls. Two weeks later I received a letter stating I was selected as a contestant. In the letter, they stated they would try to get me on the show sometime in the next 18 months. In early July 2018, I received a call from the producers asking if I was available to tape on July 28! Game on!

I auditioned because I wanted the experience. I wanted to see what it was like behind the scenes. I highly recommend auditioning for the show. What do you have to lose?

Here is the link to audition online at Go for it!

#4. Were you nervous?

As a minister, I am used to being in front of crowds, but this was different. During the morning training, I was so nervous I was sweating profusely. I had massive underarm sweat marks on my shirt! Finally, I asked a contestant coordinator if I should put an undershirt on. With a look of alarm, she told me to change as quickly as possible! I didn’t know we were about to head out to the studio to shoot the promos for the local stations. So yes, I was nervous.

#5. Did adrenaline kick in?

Once the game started, my adrenaline kicked in so hard I could hardly think. The first toss-up felt like it was in slow motion. My brain was completely overloaded. Somehow I was the first one to ring in, and I solved the puzzle.

From that point on, I remember very little. Adrenaline was surging, and my brain was fried. Everything was in slow motion. I could hardly hear anything. I remember thinking to myself, “Why is my brain so foggy? Why is Pat speaking so softly? Why can’t I hear the music?” I think the adrenaline was affecting everything. I had no idea how much money I had on the board at any given time. All I knew is that somehow I was solving puzzles. I remember at one point going bankrupt and hearing the audience groan. I had no idea how much money I lost. It didn’t faze me in the least. My brain was so foggy that the bankrupt didn’t register. Still, I won the round. At this point my brain was mush. I remember a producer saying to me, “Pastor Tim, you’re doing great!” All I could say was, “My brain is so fried…”

I vaguely remember winning the second toss-up and the first round. I won the second round, but I have no recollection of what happened or how much I won. I won the prize puzzle round. I do not remember Pat coming over and telling me I was going to Antigua. My brain was busy trying to figure out insignificant things. My belt buckle kept sliding to the right when I spun the wheel. My brain locked onto that. I shifted it back to center while Pat was congratulating me on winning the trip. I don’t even remember what Pat said. For some reason, my belt buckle seemed more important at the time! I laugh every time I think about this!

#6. What was the studio like?

It was a thrill to see the wheel for the first time! When I first stepped into the studio, I was struck by how much smaller it is than it appears on TV. The wheel seems smaller. The distance between the contestants and the puzzle board feels smaller. Everything seems condensed. Off camera, in front of the wheel, is a monitor that shows how much money you have on the board, how much you have already won, and any prizes you have won. Over to the puzzle board side of the studio, the used letter board hangs from the ceiling to the left of the puzzle board so you can refer to it as the game progresses.

#7. Did you have to wear makeup?

Yes, and I loved it. Ha! The makeup artist was fantastic, and it was one of the most relaxing moments of the day. I almost fell asleep while she was working on me. Eventually, I completely forgot I was wearing makeup. After taping the show, I almost left the building with it still on. One of the contestant coordinators stopped me at the last moment. That would have been awkward!

The studio at Sony Pictures where Wheel of Fortune is filmed also houses the studio for Jeopardy. The make-up artist that did my make-up also does make-up for Alex Trebek. I felt like royalty!

#8 How many shows do they film in one day?

Six. Taping begins at noon and ends around 6:00 PM. Contestant training begins at 7:45 AM. My episode was the first taping of the day. Special thanks to the contestant coordinators who take people like me off the street and get them ready for a national television appearance in four hours. Amazing staff!

#9. Do you have to pay taxes on what you won?

Yes, or go to jail. I’ll pay State of California tax because the money was earned in that state, and then I’ll pay my normal federal income taxes. An interesting side-note is that you also pay taxes on non-cash prizes, like the trip to Antigua I won. (See bonus question #11 below.) The tax is on the estimated value of the prize. You have the option of forfeiting any prize if you do not want to pay the taxes.

#10. When do you get your winnings?

Four months after the episode airs. I should receive a check on February 5, 2019.

#11. Bonus Question: When are you going to Antigua? Who are you taking with you?

I forfeited the trip to Antigua. The trip was valued at almost $7,000. The income tax on that would be about $1,700. If someone offered me a trip to Antigua for $1,700, would buy it? Probably not. So I forfeited the trip. I decided I would rather save the tax money for something else, maybe a trip to Australia. I do not receive any cash value for the trip.

Another issue with the trip is that I could not transfer it, sell it, or exchange it. I had to be one of the two people on the trip. So who do I take with me? Who do I leave home? It quickly becomes complicated! I think if you are married, then it is probably a good value. As a single, it just didn’t make sense.

It was a privilege to have a small part in the history of this iconic show. I am grateful for everyone involved from the producers, the contestant coordinators, the makeup artists, and of course, Pat and Vanna. Even though my brain was fried, I will never forget the incredible experience of being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. I am so blessed.

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.