WESLEY CHAPEL — Brook Patterson credits the word-puzzle skills she developed watching the television game show “Wheel of Fortune” with her stirring victory about 25 years ago in the fourth-grade spelling bee at Centennial Elementary.
She always loved the show, watching it around dinner time while growing up in east Pasco. She often wondered what it would be like to spin the wheel and fill in the missing letters on the board, all while in the presence of host Pat Sajak and hostess Vanna White.
In January, Patterson found out.
The Land O’ Lakes resident flew to Los Angeles to compete Jan. 17 on the long-running game show. Thursday night, she gathered with about 50 friends and family members at the Seven Oaks clubhouse for a viewing party to watch herself on a big-screen TV.
Patterson, 35, said it’s one thing to watch the show on TV from the safety of the living-room couch. It’s a whole new world to be on the set, looking at that board with missing letters, and trying to make decisions. Some of her time before the cameras is almost a blur even now.
“I can’t wait to see myself to see what I did,” she said before the show aired at 7 p.m. Thursday. “There are some blank areas in my mind about what happened.”
Those blank areas did not include how well she fared, but she had to keep mum for more than a month on that score. Contestants sign a contract swearing themselves to secrecy until the episode is aired.
Finally, her performance was broadcast for all to see. Patterson was not the big money winner, but she walked away with $3,000.
Patterson had dreamed about a “Wheel of Fortune” appearance since those spelling-bee days, but it wasn’t until two years ago that she decided to stop dreaming and find out how to become a contestant for real. She ventured to the show’s website and submitted an application. Last year she was selected for auditions happening at Clearwater Beach.
Fake rounds of “Wheel of Fortune” narrowed the potential contestant list to 30 people. They were told some of them might get a letter inviting them to the show.
“I got my letter, and it was my best day,” Patterson said.
The studio was smaller than she imagined, and the letter board larger.
“Vanna is still beautiful and the friendliest person you’ll ever meet,” Patterson said. “She’s in her 50s. It’s hard to believe.”
As for Sajak: “He has the bluest eyes. I didn’t realize how blue his eyes were until he was standing close to me.”
Patterson recommends that others with dreams do as she did — take action to make them come true.
“It’s the experience of a lifetime,” she said. “I feel like everyone keeps saying, ‘I want to do that.’ If you never try for it, you will never get to do it.”