15 Wheel Of Fortune Facts You Need To Know

Wheel of Fortune is a huge staple in the world of entertainment. Since the show first premiered in 1975, millions have watched as contestants have their shot to spin the wheel and solve puzzles to earn big prizes! Now hosted by Pat Sajak, with hostess Vanna White and announcer Jim Thorton along for the spins, the show gets about 10.2 million viewers to tune in each week. With that big number, it ranks as the most-watched program on television. However, as with any television show, there are a lot of moving pieces and things that happen behind the scenes of the show that a lot of viewers aren’t aware of. And, with so much air time, there’s also a lot of history there. As the popular game show gears up for its 42nd season on network television, here are some fun facts that even the biggest Wheel of Fortune fan may not know.

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The wheel weighs 2,400 pounds

Yes, you read that right. The ever-so-popular wheel weighs in at 2,400 pounds (almost a ton!) The original wheel in 1975 was made mostly of paint and cardboard. However, with the evolution of technology, today’s wheel on the show is framed on a steel tube surrounded by Plexiglas and more than 200 lighting instruments. It’s held by a stainless steel shaft with roller bearings which adds to its hefty weight. The wheel itself was conceived by creator Merv Griffin who decided with his staff to add a roulette-style wheel to the game. This was based on Griffin always being attracted to wheels as a child when he saw them in casinos.

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Vanna White hasn’t worn the same dress twice

In the decades that Vanna White has appeared on the show, her fashions have evolved to include shoulder pads, taffeta, and a lot of sequins. With thousands of episodes under her belt, the popular hostess has never worn the same outfit twice. She has strutted across the stage in over 6,500 gowns. White’s incredible fashion earned her a huge fan base of women who love to see her daily outfits (a phenomenon known as “Vannamania”). Pat Sajak even matches his tie to Vanna’s dress each episode. Though her TV fashion is glamorous, White’s personal style is simple. She sticks to t-shirts, jeans, sneakers, and flats.  “I don’t even know if I have a sequin gown in my closet,” she admitted in a previous interview to InStyle.

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Originally It Wasn’t Named “Wheel of Fortune”

Back in the seventies, Wheel of Fortune originally aired as Shoppers Bazaar and the contestants were all women. Not only was the name different but the entire game itself was different. The game featured a vertical mechanical wheel that had no Bankrupt wedges and stopped with the press of a button. There were also two $0 spaces which meant that a player could keep her turn but not score for that consonant. Players also didn’t win actual cash in the early years. They won fake money to put towards prizes on the set. It didn’t test well with audiences but it was eventually revamped into the show millions love today.

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Pat Sajak Wasn’t The Original Host

Though Pat Sajak is one of two faces typically associated with the show, he was not the original host. That title actually belongs to Chuck Woolery who hosted the series from the 1975 premiere through December 1981. Woolery had a salary dispute with Griffin and his contract was not renewed. Sajak stepped in after making a good impression on Griffin (he liked Sajak’s “odd” sense of humor). The popular TV host made his debut as the host of Wheel of Fortune on December 28, 1981. With his long tenure on the show (with a small break between 1989-1991), Sajak is the longest-running host of any game show but will retire after this season.  He will be replaced by Ryan Seacrest.

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Alex Trebek Once Hosted On April Fool’s Day

On April Fool’s Day in 1997, Wheel of Fortune viewers got a fun surprise for the night. Imagine how surprised they were to see that Jeopardy!’s Alex Trebek had taken over the show that night! He hosted a special episode where Pat Sajak and Vanna White were the contestants. The two competed against each other charity. Adding to the fun, Trebek’s cohost was Leslie Brown, who is Pat Sajak’s wife. Though that particular night of hosting was a stunt, Trebek was no stranger to Wheel of Fortune. The Jeopardy! host hosted himself for a week back in 1980 in place of Chuck Woolery.

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Everyone On The Staff Creates Puzzles

Everyone that is a part of the Wheel of Fortune staff helps to make puzzles. That means even Pat Sajak and Vanna White give their two cents. The host and hostess have been a part of the show for so long that it makes sense that they would add to the fun. White is also a big fan of crossword puzzles and loves to help create challenging puzzles for contestants to solve. The popular personality even applied to be a contestant on the show in its early days (she would find her true calling later). According to Sajak, her puzzles are used all of the time.

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Pat Sajak Once Left The Show

After his debut in 1981, Pat Sajak hosted the popular game show for eight years. Though he was successful, he tried to strike out on his own with his late-night talk show, The Pat Sajak Show, in 1989. During Sajak’s absence, host Bob Goen stepped into his shoes and would later go on to co-host Entertainment Tonight. Unfortunately for Sajak, the show was canceled after one season due to low ratings. Since Sajak was still seen as the face of Wheel of Fortune and was still featured on the nightly syndicated shows, it was easy for him to make his return to the successful program. He came back and hasn’t left since.

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The Show Travels The Country In An RV

Wheel of Fortune has a pretty extensive process to find new and diverse contestants for the show. It has a 35-foot-long yellow recreational vehicle that employees use to host search events all over the country. This truck, appropriately known as the “Wheelmobile” has been driven over 300,000 miles and hosted over 275 search events. A professional host and hostess present a live show with a smaller version of the Wheel and puzzle board that offers fans a chance to win prizes and qualify for a contestant audition to be on the broadcast version of the show. Over 1 million fans have used these events to apply for a chance to be a contestant on the show.

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They Tape 5 Or 6 Shows A Day

Pat Sajak, Vanna White, and the rest of the show’s crew has a pretty busy schedule in one day. The show shoots five or six half-hour episode in a day. The process is partly thanks to the new electronic letter board with touch screens that was introduced in February 1997. Previously, the letter board had to be reset manually after every single puzzle, which took about ten minutes every time. It would take almost an hour to tape a show that ran for thirty minutes. The new board made it easier to shoot the number of episodes that the crew needs for a full season.

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Vanna White Has A Side Hustle

Though she certainly doesn’t need the money or prestige, Vanna White actually has a pretty lucrative business outside of Wheel of Fortune. The hostess loves to crochet and developed her own yarn line, Vanna’s Choice, to provide premium easy-care yarn in a wide variety of shades. She also created two other yarn lines, Vanna’s Glamour and Vanna’s Sequins, which reflect the more glamorous side of her that’s seen on TV. She uses some of the proceeds to give back to the community also, donating to non-profit organizations. Through a spokesmanship deal with Lion Brand Yarn, she and the company also have donated $1,000,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

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The Payout Was Over $1 Million

Autumn Erhard is the winner of the largest prize in Wheel of Fortune history (but not the first one to win $1 million, which Michelle had that honor). The woman, a 2005 graduate from the University of California in San Diego, filmed her episode in 2013 and managed to win a jaw-dropping $1,030,340 off her filming round. The puzzle she solved that earned her the big win was “Tough Workout.” Though she won big in cash and other prizes, Autumn has kept a low profile and still actively works as a sales representative at Animal Health International, Inc.

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A Screen Tells Sajak The Letter Count

Today, Pat Sajak can simply turn and look at a camera to tell contestants the number of times a chosen letter shows up in each puzzle. However, the early days of the show weren’t so simple. Previously, someone from production sat off-camera and held up fingers to signal to Pat those numbers. “They came to be known as ‘finger boys,'” Sajak explained in an interview, “because someone would say, ‘Are there any Bs?’ And someone would have the puzzle in front of them and go [holds up two fingers], and I would say, ‘There are two Bs!'” Technology has helped to make things a little easier.

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Vanna White Is A World Record Clapper

Vanna White claps for contestants on the show a lot. In fact, it’s been estimated that she gives over 100,000 individual claps per season of Wheel of Fortune. With that number, White has clapped over 4 million times in her decades as hostess. With all of her applause, she earned the Guinness World Record for “Television’s Most Frequent Clapper.” White revealed in an interview that she has a special technique to keep her hands injury-free. “[My hands] are kind of cupped,” she said. “And I will point out that I have no callouses from all the clapping I’ve done over the years.”

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Pat Sajak Was “Too Local” For The Job

When Griffin reached out to Sajak if see if he wanted to host the show, Fred Silverman, then President and CEO of NBC, didn’t want to bring Sajak on, claiming he was “too local.” Sajak had been a local weatherman for NBC’s Los Angeles affiliate and Silverman along with other executives didn’t think he was the right fit. Griffin stood his ground, however, and refused to tape any more episodes of Wheel of Fortune until Sajak was hired. The network gave in and allowed him to take over as host. Silverman was dismissed from his position not too long after that.

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There Is Only One Wheel & One Board

Though there is are miniature versions of the show’s wheel and puzzle board for the Wheelmobile, there are only one life-size wheel and one puzzle board for the show. That means that whenever the show is shot at different locations, both the wheel and the puzzle board have to be broken down by crew members and put back together later at the next destination. With over one million pounds of equipment to tape the show across the country, it’s been reported that it takes 14 huge trucks to move the set from location to location. That’s a lot of work!


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