Michael Rodriguez, a Pittsboro resident, used his talents to take home over $52,000 in cash and prizes when he won Wheel of Fortune.
“This was just on a whim,” said Rodriguez. “My wife and I watched the show a few times together, I continued to solve the puzzles and she was like ‘you know what? I’m signing you up.’”
The impromptu application to be on the classic Merv Griffin game show came with stiff competition. When tryouts for successful applicants were held in Raleigh, close to 200 people from the area showed up to jockey for a spot spinning the wheel.
“Literally, my wife applied for me to get on the show, and within a week they said ‘we’re going to have tryouts in Raleigh’ … The timing for everything was so incredible. They hadn’t been to North Carolina, I guess, for years. For her to have put my name in, for them to have tryouts so soon thereafter … it was a whirlwind.”
After the dust of practice wheel-spinning and puzzle-solving settled, the only thing to do was wait. When a notice arrived in the mail congratulating him on his selection and suggesting that he prepare to travel to Los Angeles for taping, Rodriguez was ready. He left his Subway store in Chatham Commons at 11:00 a.m., and at 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time the next morning he was boarding a bus transporting contestants to the studio.
“It was just so random, almost serendipitous,” said Rodriguez. “It was surreal to be sitting there on a random Friday afternoon in a studio in LA spinning the wheel for ‘Wheel of Fortune.’”
With a pre-recorded game show comes confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, however.
“I couldn’t discuss how I did on the show until it aired,” said Rodriguez. “My mom and brother knew, and of course my wife knew, but no one else. Not my kids, not anyone. I won it all, and to sit on that for six weeks at times was a struggle.”
Keeping quiet about his win was made all the more painful by the fact that the game was hard-fought.
“It’s going to be the most exciting if you see it though, right? … The other two players were also very good, there was a point where it looked like I was running away, but then the girl next to me got 14,000 bucks and was within two grand. It was back and forth, it was fun.”
After news of his appearance on the show broke, Rodriguez was “incredibly surprised at the commotion and interest.” His mother sent him ratings for the show, where he found out that over 10 million people tune in regularly to the program.
“That number blew my mind,” said Rodriguez. “But then you realize that’s why they give away 80,000 bucks in a half hour. It’s amazing.”
Returning victorious with cash prizes, a vacation and even a Mini Cooper, Rodriguez certainly went home happy. For a small business owner with a recently discovered talent for solving word puzzles, the outcome couldn’t be better.
“At the end of the day, we look at it and just feel incredibly blessed for the opportunity and so happy that I didn’t make a fool of myself,” said Rodriguez. “There’s one way to win, but there’s 50 ways to lose. I’m pleased I was able to do that.