SHEPHERDSTOWN — With a daily viewership of almost 10 million, landing a spot on Wheel of Fortune is slim at best. To come away with over $70,000 in winnings is as likely as winning the lottery.
Jonathon and Kristen Eyler, of Shepherdstown, have beaten those odds by winning $71,000 in front of a nationwide audience June 7.
“Unbelievable wasn’t the word,” Kristen said. “Disbelief.”
The couple had their name chosen in February to appear on the game show during “newlyweds week.” The Eylers were married Dec. 15, 2010.
According to game show announcer Jim Thornton, a Huntington native, the Eylers are the first couple from West Virginia to ever go to the bonus round and win.
But after five rounds, things were not looking good for the couple. They were in second place and, with only $2,000, trailed the first place couple by $19,490. Time was running out as round six started and Pat Sajak gave the wheel a final spin. The wheel landed on $5,000. Combined with the $1,000 added to the final spin, every consonant was now worth $6,000.
“This was our last chance,” Kristen said.
Before the round started, the contestant coordinator gave the couple some advice. “The contest coordinator said loudly, ‘It’s not over. One spin of the wheel can change everything. It happens all the time,’” Jonathon said.
The category for the last round was “What are you doing?” On their first turn, Kristen called for the letter “t.” Two t’s appeared on the board, for a total of $24,000, but they could not solve the puzzle. The next two contestants could not solve the puzzle and it was again the Eyler’s turn. Kristen asked for an “s.” Two “s’s” appeared.
“After the two ‘s’s,’ we both solved the puzzle at the same time. ‘Rising to the occasion’ was the answer,” Kristen said.
By winning $24,000, the Shepherdstown couple had $26,000 overall, besting the second place couple by $4,490. “This is where it went from ‘wheel of torture’ back to ‘Wheel of Fortune,” Jonathon said.
After spinning the prize wheel and selecting an envelope, the couple approached the game board for the bonus round. The category was “person” and Kristen selected C, D, P and O. “After Kristen called the letters, it felt like an eternity,” Jonathon said.
Out of 12 letters in the answer, only five letters were shown — two o’s, one r, one s and one t. None of the consonants Kristen had chose were in the puzzle. “At this point, we were staring at the puzzle,” Kristen said.
With 10 seconds to solve, the Eylers did not have much to work with. But, like the way they play at home, after 8 1/2 seconds, Kristen blurted out the last word and Jonathon followed right behind with the correct answer — famous author.
“We won the same way he and I sit here and play from home. I don’t know why, but I will blurt out the bottom word and he puts that first word even if there are five or six words in the puzzle, I focus on the bottom word and he will put it all together for us, then we will scream the answer out and then argue over who said it first,” Kristen said.
“Just winning the $26,000 before going to the bonus round was just mind boggling. I didn’t know what was in that envelope before he opened it. It didn’t matter; I was in disbelief that we were even there,” Kristen said.
Even the longtime game show hosts were stunned they solved the puzzle. “They were both shocked (Pat Sajak and Vanna White) that we had pulled it off,” Kristen said.
When it was time to open the envelope, the Eylers had an extra special surprise: $45,000. “We were ecstatic, we are so blessed, so fortunate. I can’t even put it into words, the emotions we were feeling,” Kristen said.
“We were both crying,” Jonathon said.
The Eylers plan to use the money for their new family. “We are going to put money away for our son Craig’s education. We would like to save up a down payment on a home and have enough money to furnish that home and make a donation to our church. We are also going to pay off our credit card debt,” Kristen said.
When asked to sum up the experience, the couple had nothing but praise for the well-regarded game show.
“It was a remarkable experience,” Jonathon said. “We would love to do it again, if we could.”