Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sam Plays Wheel Of Fortune-The Third Part

I'm sitting here at WEAS doing my Sunday show while I'm working on this, what I hope will end the "Wheel" trilogy. I don't go back and re-read a post after I send it to the web, but I had to go back and check out what I done twenty years ago. It looks like I some kind of knack of landing into things that are just too ridiculous for some. I like to call it a "weirdness magnet". Somehow he or she is either blessed or cursed with an aura that attracts things to them. Now, I'm not saying that being on a game show was a bad thing, far from it. It just blows my mind that I got that far.

In October of 1985, Me and my fellow players of Savannah State College were ready to head to California after the student allumni offered to cover for the trip. We were excited to go to NBC Studios in Burbank to play and hopefully, win. But, while the rest of the team practiced by reading dictionaries and following the show the lowest alphabet (L,N,R,S,T and any vowel are the letters you want to use the most), I ekpt up with my own life and figured if I win, I win. If I lose, well at least I got a trip to L.A. out of the deal that I didn't have to pay for.

One of the student advisors from the college, Mrs. Roberts drove us down to Jacksonville instead of us flying out of Savannah, since it was cheaper to leave from there. We left Georgia around 1:30 am and got to J-ville 90 minutes later. We had to leave realy since our flight would be all day with layovers in Atlanta, D.C. and Kansas City before becoming non stop. Honestly, other than Atlanta, I had never been in any oter places before, so it was a thrill for me to get the change to travel across the country like that. Even if I never got the be on the show, the chance to fly over the Grand Canyons and to see some the sites I did while in the air was worth it.

We finally arrived at LAX around 4pm central time on Friday. Our body clocks were off since we were four hours behind our normal time, but the excitement kept us going for the most part. We were met at teh airport by the allumni who would be putting us up for weekend while we taped that Saturday. They were a nice family who lived in Inglewood, and were our best supporters. After driving through the legendery L.A. afternoon traffic for almost an hour, we stopped to get something to eat and chatted about our trip. When asked did we study for our big day tomorrow, the rest of the gang said they were readty to go and started to roll of names, phrases and whatnot. I sat there and finished my Bob's Big Boy Burger, enjoying California food.

One of the allumni asked me privatly once we got to their home how come I wasn't practicing with the others. I told him simply that I was a nerd. I really never felt comfortable around them and thought that it would be better for everyone if I just stayed to myself. I'll support them 100%, but I needed to be on my own. I'm a rebel like that.

After a good night's sleep, I prepared for the journey to NBC watching Marie, Ronald and Sarge tossing around more words to each other. I had my coffee and started to play mental hangman, just filling in the blanks to stupid things silently, like T_E F_CTS _F L_FE, R_CK SP_RNF_ELD and other dumb things. I actually almost changed my mind about going to tape the show when I found out that the band Fishbone was going to playng a free show at the same time at the Universal Ampitheater that day. Even though I was kidding, none of them knew about who or what I was talking about. You probably don't, either.

We drove from Inglewood into downtown L.A., checking out some of the historic sites along the way. The L.A. Forum, the Capitol Records buliding, Pink's Hot Dogs, the LaBrea Tar Pits. Suddenly we pulled up into NBC Studios in Beautiful Downtown Burbank. I had seen this place so much on television and now I was finally here. Nineteen years of wishing and hoping finally got me here. I finally made it to the wonderful Land Of Oz.

We were given a quick tour of the studio before we got to the Wheel Of Fortune set. One thing that stood out for me was that the Wheel set has right across from the Tonight Show stage. I looked up mand saw Johnny Carson's face smiling down upon me, almost giving me approval for everything I had done to get to this point, almost like when a young comic got to sit on the couch after their first appearance. In Johnny's eyes, you were hot and going places. You done good, kid. Keep it up.

We then caught up with Harv, the show's producer who coordinated for all of us to be there that day. We were taken to the green room and met up with the other college students who we'd be up against. We were the only Black college to participate in the game, while the other were from the University Of Pennsylania, University Of Utah and one other that escapes me now. They were just like us, kids on college sweats who were just as nervous as we were to be on big time tv. We were made up and after a few intros and some photo ops, we finally walked into the Wheel studio. It was just as loud as it was on the screen. Bright colors, flashing lights, cameras all over the place and of course, the wheel and it's partner in crime, the letter board. It was larger than life just looking at them.

We were then introduced to the show's announcer, Jack Clark. Jack was a former game show host himself, as his claim to fame was "Crosswits". He was a very friendly guy and told us not to be nervous at all. After all, it's just a tv show. Easy for him to say. He'd been doing it since the fifties.

Then came Sajak. I gotta be honest. He looked taller on the screen. He was a pretty nice guy, though. He asked us all where we were from and had comments for everyone. When he asked me what I did while I when to school, I told him I was a DJ at a radio station. Pat thought that was pretty cool since he was one himself. However, Harv nthought it was a good idea that I didn't mention it. Folks would want to know that since it was College Week, I should look like a studious person with no outside activities.

Soon, all heads turned as Vanna White entered the stage. She was every bit as hot as live as she was on screen. Nice legs, great smile...I'm trying not to be a pig about it, but c'mon. She was in Playboy, for the love of God. How many ordinary guys get to be around a woman who was naked in a magazine? My eyes almost fell out of my head, while the other guys were just in awe as well. Man, what a honey.

It was time then to play the game. Of the four teams, three would spin each taping, as we knocked out the week of shows in one taping day. We got to spin the wheel for practice and to also see which three would go first. However, Ronald would wind up not playing during the tapings, as he came up with the lowest spin. He would wind up on the nighttime version of the show. That was funny to me. He didn't even deserve to be on NBC and would now have to go on against Entertainment Tonight.

The first up on our team was Marie. Like I said before, Marie was a hot chick, but her spins meant nothing. I watched in the studio audience aqnd rooter for her, but it was to no avail. Marie lost everytime and always picked the wrong letter. I felt bad, but I still had hope in Sarge. That however was bunk. Sarge wound up flopping, too. She couldn't hold her own against the
other guys, as they were spelling around her head like bees. She couldn't take it. This was it, I thought. We are so doomed.

Savannah State got to take a break and the next show was taped without us and I would go on Thursday's show. Each show is done in real time, with thirty to forty minutes to set up fo rthe next taping. After the third show was done, everyone got to take a lunch break for ninety minutes to relax and get their thoughts together. We all were taken to lunch at the infamous NBC commisary, where we were fed a very wonderful meal of lamb, potatoes, aparagus and chocolate cake for dessert. Not bad for all the jokes I've heard about the place. After, we went back to the studio where we waited for the crew to get ready for the next taping. Vanna came out for awhile to see how things were going and man was it good to see her. She came out in a big, Hollywood robe and not alot on under it, it seemed. She had in her hand a caraffe a of white wine andwas headed back to her dressing room. Of course, the guys from all the teams had to run down and say hi to her. I kinda stood back while everyone was drooling, since I was trying to be cool about the whole thing. But, you couldn't help it. To be in a room with that kinda beauty was hard as hell. I had to keep my composure. I was up next. If I was to screw up like the others and not even win a round, there would be no living it down from my friends, my job, my family, or worse... My dad. He would haunt me for the rest of my days if I came home a loser and ruin the Johnson name. It's not like he didn't do it already with the crap he's ever done in his life, but me going on national television and not being able to spell a simple word? It would be that bum giving me a worse abuse than he had ever done, psychically or emotionally. He would heckle me for the rest of my life. I was not going to turn out like the losers I came with.

I was not going to go home with just Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat.

I guess I do have one more chapter to go, huh?

Next Time: The game is played and there is an outcome.

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