Twenty episodes of the popular game show “Wheel of Fortune” are currently being taped at SeaWorld Orlando. Five episodes were taped each night on December 11 and 12, 2008 leaving ten more episodes to be taped on December 13 and 14.
In attending the first night’s tapings, we chatted with host Pat Sajak, co-host Vanna White, and supervising producer Steve Schwartz to learn a little bit about why “Wheel” occasionally hits the road and what it means to come to Orlando. We also wanted bring you a behind-the-scenes look at how a remote taping of the show unfolds.
This behind-the-scenes video is available as a high-resolution download on our Videos page.
Behind the Scenes at “Wheel of Fortune”
Rain and strong winds threatened the first day of taping for “Wheel of Fortune,” but ultimately the bad weather yielded to a beautiful night resulting only in a slightly behind schedule start time. The first episode was scheduled to begin taping at 5:30 p.m. but didn’t start until around 6:15 p.m. With five episodes to tape each night, it was going to be a late night for stars Pat Sajak & Vanna White, the 180+ “Wheel” crew members who traveled with the show from California, and the 100+ locals hired to help out.
I’ve been to a couple of game show tapings before. I saw “The Price is Right” in California, while Bob Barker was still the host, and “Jeopardy” when it was on the road in Atlanta. In both of those instances, I was simply watching from the audience with hundreds of other fans like me. For Thursday’s taping of “Wheel of Fortune,” however, I was more than an audience member. This time, I was there several hours in advance to witness everything that goes on prior to a taping.
Now, every audience attending a television taping gets a “behind the scenes” look at the show to an extent. Some of the polish of watching at home is peeled back allowing clear views of the crew walking around the set and the numerous cameras pointed in every direction. I’ve seen this “behind the scenes” view before at “Jeopardy” and “The Price is Right.” That view is still from an audience’s perspective. At the recent “Wheel of Fortune” taping, I had a chance to step out of the confinement of a seat in the audience and onto the set with the crew members, having some freedom to explore and see what really goes on to prepare a giant television production.
The video above shows you the timeline of events that took place during the couple of hours before the first taping. I won’t rehash that here, but I do encourage you to watch it before reading the remainder of this post. Instead, I’ll run through a few brief observations, as I saw them, surrounding the more interesting and surprising aspects of the taping:
Around two hours before the first episode was scheduled to tape, I had a chance to sit down to chat with the stars of “Wheel of Fortune,” Pat Sajak and Vanna White. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 25 years, you’re at least familiar with their names and faces. If you’ve ever seen the show, you know of Pat’s good sense of humor and Vanna’s stunning smile. Here’s something you might not know: They’re exactly the same in person. What you see on TV is what you get with the pair.
While some celebrities might seem unapproachable, sitting at a table with Pat and Vanna is like sitting down with two of your best friends. They have had a place in my living room for as long as I can remember (“Wheel of Fortune” has been on the air just two years less than I’ve been alive) and upon meeting them I somehow felt like I already knew them. They’re just ordinary people who happen to have landed one of the best jobs on the planet, working just four days every month. That’s right, four days. I was further stunned to hear that Pat doesn’t even live in California, where the show is taped, but rather in Maryland!
Here’s a piece of advice in case you ever happen to find yourself face-to-face with either: Don’t jokingly ask them, “Can I buy a vowel?” You’re not the first. Or the second. Or the three-hundredth. They’ll politely smile and laugh, but deep down inside they just want to cringe. It’s not funny and likely never was.
The set constructed for taping “Wheel of Fortune” at SeaWorld is massive. In fact, construction began several weeks ago just to lay a new concrete slab at the theme park’s Bayside Stadium to accommodate the stage. While the set and stage may have been huge, the puzzle board is surprisingly small. On TV, it looks ginormous (that’s both gigantic and enormous rolled into one), but in-person, it looks like someone forgot the real board and brought the “home version” instead. Ah, the magic of television.
I’d love to tell you all about what goes on behind the puzzle board but that was one of the few “off-limits” areas. In fact, it’s off-limits to just about everyone, covered by a mysterious black curtain. I suppose it’s understandable as it wouldn’t be fair if I could wander back there and make the third round puzzle be… oh, something like, “Orlando Attractions Magazine”.
It never occurred to me that the contestants would run through so much rehearsal before the tapings began. I figured they would get a quick tour of the stage (which they did) and be instructed on how to spin the wheel (which they did), how to ring in (which they did), and where to look to see if they’ve made one of those “oh #@($& I didn’t mean to call ‘M’ – it was already called!!!” mistakes (which, inevitably, they did). Beyond all of that, the contestants also were instructed on how and when to clap, how to encourage each other, how to project their voices, and how to enunciate the letters so an ‘F’ doesn’t sound like an ‘S’ or vice-versa.
The rehearsals were quite surreal. Contestants were were led through several nearly-complete episodes of the show, allowing them to spin the wheel several times, call letters, and solve puzzles, without worrying about whether they landed on ‘Bankrupt’. All of the sound effects, music, and most of the lighting were active, but contestant coordinator Gary O’Brien played the role of host, giving me the feeling that I was standing in a theme park version of the show, rather than on the real show’s set. I’m sure the fact that I was actually standing inside a theme park contributed to that feeling.
There were two surprising items worth mentioning about audience members:
1. A large portion of the audience was comprised of viewers that appeared to be over 60 years old, which I suppose that explains all of the denture cream and mobility-enhancing scooter commercials shown during most TV airings of the show.
2. A smaller but still substantial portion of the audience got up and left after the final round, before Pat and Vanna taped their final “goodnight” comments. Either these audience members weren’t familiar with the show or perhaps they were worried that if they didn’t leave right away they might have missed that night’s episode of “Wheel of Fortune.”
I have no idea how to wrap all of these random “Wheel of Fortune” thoughts together in a neat little closing statement, so instead of trying I’ll simply leave you with this great picture of Vanna White, taken by our photographer Matt Roseboom (yes, Vanna is just as pretty, if not moreso, in person):
(We have many more great pictures from the “Wheel of Fortune” taping at SeaWorld in our photo gallery.)