SHEPHERDSTOWN — More than 11 million people watch Wheel of Fortune daily.
And Johnathon and Kristen Eyler, of Shepherdstown, are set to have it one better. They’ll appear on the 37-year-old game show on June 7.
The couple, who were married Dec. 15, 2010, earned a once-in-a-lifetime spot on the nationally syndicated show after Johnathon, a member of the Wheel Watchers Club, received an email in August asking if he would like to audition at the Beacon Hotel in Washington, D.C.
“The email invite was for me, but also said ‘if you want to bring your spouse, you can try out as a couple,’” said Johnathon. “We decided to go as a couple.”
Traveling to the nation’s capital, they were soon competing with 50 other couples in multiple rounds of simulated games. They made the top 25 list, but Johnathon didn’t think the odds were very good of making the show.
“My wife did fine. I didn’t think I did very good,” he said.
The CSX worker and his soon-to-be-spouse went home and waited to be contacted. A letter arrived about six weeks later indicating they had been picked to compete against a pair of newly wed couples for the shows’ “newlyweds week.”
The new parents — their son Craig was born July 12, 2011 — said they were nervous but elated and began preparations to travel to Culver City, Calif. The contract stipulates that there is an 18-month time frame to appear on the show. They were given a two-week notice to come to California on Feb. 23. Taping would begin on March 9.
Being selected to appear on a game show isn’t a complete free ride. Contestants are required to pay for airfare, food, hotel accommodations — at a hotel chosen by the producers — and taxi fares. All contestants chosen for that week’s taping stay at the same hotel. Arriving at the Doubletree West by Hilton in Culver City, the couple had one day of sightseeing, touring Los Angeles and Hollywood.
“Los Angeles is an amazing city,” Kristen said. “There is so much to see and do.”
The show tapes an entire week of episodes in one day. On the day of taping, they arrived at the studio at 7 a.m. with 15 other couples and didn’t tape their show until 3:30 p.m.
“There was a lot of camaraderie between all the contestants,” Kristen said. “We were rooting each other on.”
Meeting legendary host Pat Sajak and iconic letter-turner Vanna White was a highlight of the experience. “He was so nice, and the same person he portrays on the show,” said Kristen. “He was very personable and genuine. Vanna was a pleasure to meet in person.” “He told us to ‘just have fun. This will be the fastest twenty minutes of your life,’” Johnathon said.
The famous wheel is the centerpiece of the show. Only one exists and is the same one that travels when the show goes on the road. The wheel weighs a whopping 2,400 pounds.
Describing her first practice spin, Kristen said, “You grab it, bring it to you and push it away. It is a lot harder to spin than it appears. After practice, I asked my husband if he would be in charge of spinning the wheel and I would call out letters.”
The couple was also surprised by the studio. “What the camera portrays is very deceiving. Even the letter board looks smaller, like the wheel. It looks like we are playing in front of the audience, but the audience was above us, like stadium style seating,” Kristen said.
When it came time to actually tape the show, Kristen was nervous.
“I was sweating bullets. I was afraid of solving a puzzle incorrectly or saying something that didn’t make sense,” Kristen said. Johnathon was calm. “I don’t mind being in front of people, but it is completely different from solving puzzles in your living room when you know you are going to be on national TV.”
The Eylers are members of Covenant Baptist Church outside of Shepherdstown. They plan to view the episode with fellow church members.
“We can’t wait for Jefferson County to watch the show. We are proud to represent Shepherdstown,” Kristen said.
The house minimum consolation prize is $1,000 per person, $2,000 per couple. But, did they win? The couple won’t say. “Contractually, we can’t disclose whether we won or not. Jefferson County will have to wait and see for themselves.”