News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 16, 2013

Wabash Valley residents vie for spot on Wheel of Fortune

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Ellen Fujawa of Zionsville wants to be on the popular syndicated Wheel of Fortune game show.

On Saturday, she took a step toward that goal as the first person to solve a puzzle on the show’s Wheelmobile, staged in an outdoor covered pavilion at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.

“I’ve got a wedding to pay for,” she said. “My daughter just got engaged. I am having a reality check. I never do well with games of chance, but in this who knows,” said Fujawa, a lawyer and bankruptcy trustee.

Ironically, Fujawa’s puzzle word was “deposit slip.”

Fujawa admits she was nervous on the stage as about 1,000 people filled the long, straight pavilion.

“While I was up there, I forgot my name for a minute,” she laughed.

Fujawa turns 60 in July and said she has been watching the show for the past 30 years.

“At home, like any other game show, it is easy as pie,” Fujawa said. “You are watching and thinking, ‘these people are stupid.’ Then when you get up there, it is different. But it was exciting,” Fujawa said.

“I just said to myself thank you God first of all for getting chosen and number two that I didn’t make a public humiliation of myself,” she chuckled.

The search for contestants for Wheel of Fortune continues today from noon to 4 p.m. at the fairgrounds, 3901 S. U.S. 41. Attendees fill out an application and names are drawn at random to play a simulated version of the television show, win some prizes and be evaluated as a potential contestant for the broadcast version of the show.

Matthew Erbstein, tour manager of the Wheelmobile, said the show’s promotion team will visit 25 cities this year to find contestants.

“We really come here to look for quality over quantity. If we find one great contestant, then awesome,” Erbstein said. “If we find 50, even better.”

“We are looking for people who have natural enthusiasm and energy, people who can speak in a loud, clear voice and people who call out logical letters, good puzzle solvers. People who are true fans of the show,” Erbstein said.

“It is people with that ‘wow factor.’ When you are sitting at home [watching the show], you want to root for that person to win up to a million dollars,” Erbstein said.

Just because a person is named to be on the stage, or even because they solve a puzzle, does not guarantee a spot on Wheel of Fortune, he said.

“This is the first step in a two-step process. After this, they will get a letter or an email inviting them back to a second round of auditions that will take place in Terre Haute. We don’t disclose that, it is by invitation only. If they get past our contestant department, they are on the show, anytime in the next six months or in the future,” Erbstein said.

That second audition will be held in December, said Tim Sanders, promotions director at WTWO-TV. Sanders said “he has been begging for [the Wheelmobile] to come here and knew it would be a great opportunity because we have a huge Wheel of Fortune crowd in the Wabash Valley.”

Tammy Bolin of Terre Haute wore a tie-dye shirt with “Wheel of Fortune” on the front.

Bolin also solved a puzzle with the phrase “Get Lost and Found.”

“I knew it was lost and found, but I did not know the ‘get.’ I didn’t want to pick a letter that would give someone else the first word,” Bolin said.

“I just watch the show all the time. I can see the different phrases. I do a lot of puzzles, lot of cryptograms, cryptoquiz,” Bolin said.

“I was really nervous. I forgot Todd (her husband), I forgot I was married,” she laughed as she spoke about her introductions to the audience.

“You are thinking ahead of time what your are going to say about yourself. I thought I was going to say something funny like ‘my amazing but sometimes grumpy husband,’ but I forgot all about him. I just wanted to get past the interview part and get to the puzzle playing part,” Bolin said.

“It was a blast playing,” Bolin said. “I am glad I came.”

Brooklyn Wilson of Indianapolis said she knew the puzzle’s answer was locksmith. But, she had to wait for a contestant in front of her to miss the word before she quickly solved the puzzle.

“I play my [Wheel of Fortune] app on my phone a lot,” Wilson said. “I bought it for $2.99 and they have new puzzles every month and you can buy new puzzle. I have been watching the show since I was 10, so I have been watching it for 15 years or so,” Wilson said.

“I got here at 9 a.m. [Saturday] but it didn’t matter because they draw names, but we didn’t know that,” Wilson said.

Steven Tucker of Westville, Ill., solved the puzzle with “Health Food Store.”

“I go out to my mom and dad’s house every Thursday and we sit there at the cabin on the porch and we watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy every Thursday,” Tucker said.

Donna Hughes of Shelburn solved the puzzle of “Emperor Penguin.”

“I am a huge Wheel of Fortune watcher. I watch constantly and just kinda mix the vowels to see if I can combine a vowel correctly,” Hughes said.

In her introduction on stage, Hughes said she loves pie. So much, she bought a T-shirt on a road trip to Eldon, Iowa. There Hughes visited a museum in the home that served as the background for American artist Grant Wood’s famous “American Gothic” painting, which depicts a farmer holding a pitch fork next to his daughter.

In the museum, a woman was serving pie.

So, Hughes bought a pie and the shirt that reads, “The world needs more pie. Give a piece a chance.”

“I just love pie.I just had to wear it here,” Hughes said of the Wheelmobile contestant search.

Terre Haute Tribune-Star reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or