For Patrick Bolton, who grew up in Chicago in the late 1980s, watching “Wheel of Fortune” was a family tradition.
The Manhattan Beach resident said he was around 8 years old when he started watching the famed game show, along with “Jeopardy!” with his mother and grandmother.
“It was more of a common man’s game as opposed to being Ivy League like ‘Jeopardy!’ can be… it’s more like solving a problem and that’s what I really like about it,” Bolton said, who is a technical project manager for Skechers e-commerce site in Manhattan Beach.
Bolton auditioned for "Wheel of Fortune" last December and eventually landed a spot on the game show, which will air Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 7:30 p.m. on ABC Channel 7.
“It was just a lot of fun,” said Bolton of the experience. “I went in with no goal other than to solve at least one puzzle just to kind of get the monkey off your back.”
Bolton is sworn to secrecy about the outcome of the show, which was taped in February. He had several supporters in the audience including his mother, who flew in from Chicago, his stepbrother, his girlfriend and her mother.
Then, he said, the waiting game started about when the show would air.
“Originally, we were told that it would be April 8,” Bolton said. “Then about two weeks before that date, they told us they swapped out our show for another show. So we would be on May 26. And then, we waited until about mid-May and then they emailed me again and said, your show will either be the week of Aug. 30 or the week of Sept. 7.”
Bolton said the delay became a little frustrating.
“Most of my friends that I mentioned that I was on the show started to not believe me because of the long delays,” Bolton said. “I couldn't tell anyone how I did, which was frustrating, especially after each re-scheduling became longer and longer.”
Bolton said the process was fun and nerve wracking at times. He was chosen to audition at the end of November and the try out took place in December at the Four Points by Sheraton in Culver City.
“I don't think I've ever been so nervous,” Bolton said. “Even though there weren’t any celebrities like Pat (Sajak) and Vanna (White) in the room, but I just felt kind of paralyzed… I was thinking to myself, 'what am I doing here?'”
But once the audition got started, Bolton said the nerves went away.
“It felt like I was just sitting there playing at home to a certain extent,” Bolton said.
After being quizzed, Bolton said they told him he would be contacted within two weeks if he made the cut and if he did not, he could try out in another year. About 10 days later he received a letter in the mail that said “Congratulations, you’ve made the cut.” But first he had to be a stand-in and then he was put into a pool of regular contestants.
Bolton said once he got on the stage in February, time flew by. The show is 22 minutes, but the filming is 30 minutes when they build in the commercial breaks.
“Once you spin the wheel, your nerves go away and you’re able to relax a little bit,” he said. “You definitely feel the lights at the studio, but once you get your first spin around the wheel, it’s just like playing from the living room.”
During taping, Bolton said, the contestant coordinators are “great.”
“They prepare you and keep you calm in between commercial breaks when you're on stage, like a corner man in boxing, giving you a water bottle, padding down any forehead sweat, letting you know which round it is and always leaving with a positive message,” he said.
He added about the taping experience, “You didn't look at the other contestants as competitors, you actually are rooting for everyone to do well and at least solve one of the puzzles.”
Another fun aspect of taping was meeting the iconic stars of “Wheel of Fortune,” but this happened a few months before the coronavirus shutdown.
“It was awesome getting to shake Pat Sajak’s hand,” Bolton said. “But now I’ve heard that the experience is a whole lot different with COVID. I don’t think you’re able to shake hands or stand too close to the competitors.”