All in all, it has been a good month when it comes to people from Surry County appearing as contestants on nationally televised game shows.
In a Nov. 6 “Jeopardy!” episode, Hunter Appler, a man formerly of Mount Airy whose parents live here, competed in its two-week Tournament of Champions now under way.
This was followed by the appearance of Mount Airy resident Bonnie Haynes on “Wheel of Fortune,” this past Monday night, a program that is aired Monday through Friday right before “Jeopardy!” Both long-running shows are broadcast locally by WFMY (Channel 2).
Haynes was on “Wheel” with her granddaughter, Kristen Sisk, a former Pinnacle resident and graduate of Surry Early College High School of Design who now lives on Long Island, New York.
Their participation was part of a special series being telecast this week with grandparents and grandchildren as the contestants, originating from Disney World in Orlando, Florida, instead of the show’s normal location in California.
The “Wheel of Fortune” format involves individual contestants, or in this case contestant teams, spinning a wheel to land on big-dollar amounts while trying to guess letters that are part of words in puzzle categories such as phrases or place names. As the letters accumulate on a board to form fragments of words, the object is to figure out the complete answer to the puzzle before anyone else.
While Haynes, 65, an employee of Big Lots in Mount Airy, and Sisk, 19, did not advance to the final round involving a grand prize such as a large cash award or new car, they did accumulate winnings totaling slightly more than $14,000. This included $4,500 in cash, a $1,000 Disney gift card and a cruise to the Bahamas.
Sisk, who works as a pediatric receptionist and medical assistant on Long Island, was the driving force behind the appearance of the pair on the show. “We had never done anything like that,” she said.
“I actually applied online about a year ago,” Sisk explained. This led to an email instructing Sisk and her grandmother to attend an audition for “Wheel of Fortune” in Raleigh, with the duo subsequently chosen as contestants. “They called us two weeks later.”
The show on which they appeared Monday night was taped in October, with Haynes, Sisk and four other family members making the trip to Orlando.
In national spotlight
Sisk indicated that being on the set of “Wheel of Fortune” as a contestant is much different than watching at home — what might look small on television is more imposing in person.
Haynes pointed out that the production was staged outside at Disney World, and heat was somewhat of an issue at times.
The contestants also were facing a live, often enthusiastic, audience the entire time. “It’s insane,” Sisk related.
One other thing viewers might not realize is how heavy the wheel used is, more than 2,000 pounds, which ensures short, less-time-consuming spins such as those of a roulette wheel. “It’s hard to get it to go around one full time,” Sisk said.
Haynes said show staffers supplied contestants with some coaching before the cameras began rolling to help them prepare.
Still, she was a little apprehensive at first. “But when we started playing the game, I was just me — it was great.”
This led to success by Haynes and Sisk in the early rounds of play, including guessing the winning phrase “Christmas is just around the corner.”
There was also time during commercial breaks to chat with Pat Sajak, the legendary host of “Wheel of Fortune.”
“It was very brief,” Sisk said of that repartee. “I was really nervous, to be honest — I mean, he’s so famous.”
The contestants didn’t have much of a chance to interact with Vanna White, the show’s co-star, who was positioned in a different area during the taping.
Another enjoyable part of the experience for Haynes and Sisk was meeting the other “Wheel of Fortune” contestants.
When the show they appeared on was shown Monday night, family members gathered for a viewing party at the home of Haynes’ mother, Lillie Mae Haynes, in White Plains.
The show was recorded at that time, allowing it to be enjoyed again, Lillie Mae Haynes said, adding that by pausing the recording, other family members in the audience can be seen.
In addition to the episode being aired Monday night, there is a chance it could appear in summer reruns. “Wheel of Fortune” producers have a practice of re-broadcasting programs then which have originated from its more exotic locales such as Hawaii or other resort areas.
In the meantime, Haynes remains excited about her experience in the national TV limelight.
“I’m happy that we won something, I’m happy about the cruise and looking forward to going on that,” she said Thursday, which could be next summer.
“We just had a great time and it’s something I may never do again,” Haynes said of her “Wheel” adventure.
“It was fun.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.