Tuning into “Wheel of Fortune” on weeknights was a family tradition growing up for Chris Newman.
“I don’t know how it happened, but we just started. Automatically at 6:30, it’s time to watch 'The Wheel,'” Newman said.
The 32-year-old Red Wing native, who moved to Hawthorne, Calif., eight years ago, spent those evenings with his family imagining himself up on the stage, spinning the giant wheel and guessing the letters to the puzzles. Even after he moved, he would call his mom if there was an interesting puzzle in the latest episode.
The family’s love for the classic game show grew on May 18, when Newman was a contestant and walked away $20,700 richer.
“My heart just dropped, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’” Newman said when he got the call that he was going to be on the show.
Third time is the charm
Newman had auditioned for the show twice before finally making the cut. His downfall in 2012 was not smiling enough during the mock game coordinators use to find contestants, he believes. In 2018, a blunder – calling out a letter that was already called – did him in.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. My one chance and I blew it.’” he said.
Again, Newman didn't receive a callback and returned to his couch to watch the show. He was there, racking up correct answers this past January when he and his wife had a few friends over and the show happened to be on.
As he solved one puzzle after another, his friend, who is from Austin, was in awe.
“You’re a freak! How do you know how to solve all these puzzles,” he asked Newman.
After telling him of his love for the show and his prior attempts to get on it, his friend – and a few glasses of wine – convinced Newman to take another shot at getting on the show.
That night he filmed an audition video and sent it in.
Newman's narrative was much different this time around. He had been diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma in March 2018 at the age of 29. He began immunotherapy and began taking two different types of drugs, all of which his body responded to rapidly. He went into remission later that year and remains there.
With overcoming melanoma now on his resume, Newman thought he had a good chance of making it on the show.
“I was like, ‘OK, if this doesn’t sell then nothing will work,’”' Newman joked.
Weeks passed after sending in the audition video, but eventually he did get an email giving him an audition.
The audition was held over a Zoom call with only three other people and one of the coordinators.
Weeks later, he received a phone call – “this is Jackie from Wheel of Fortune and I’ve got good news for you.”
'Just always try'
While the episode aired last Tuesday, it was taped in early March, which meant Newman had to keep the results to himself.
When the day finally came, Newman said there were viewing parties all around the country, with friends in Boston, family back in Red Wing, sisters in Milwaukee, in-laws in Mendota Heights, all tuned in. His phone wasn’t silent the entire time, either.
“It was kind of fun being famous for a day,” he said.
How did Newman do in the takeoff on the classic Hangman game?
He spun into bankruptcy twice, but was still able to answer his fair share of puzzles to walk away with $20,700.
The money is already spent – his house needed a new roof.
The Wheel of Fortune experience was all that he he hoped for – making small talk with host Pat Sajak, the stage, the wheel, the puzzles were everything he imagined they'd be if he ever saw them in person.
After three attempts in seven years to get on the show, he walked away with one big takeaway, he said. "Just always try.”