The Catholic University of America

Feb. 19, 2010

CUA Community to Watch Student on Wheel of Fortune

  Mike Provine paid attention to common word beginnings and endings in his appearance on Wheel of Fortune, co-hosted by Pat Sajak. (Photo by Carol Kaelson)

“Wheel Watchers” will gather Monday evening, Feb. 22, in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center to find out whether a Catholic University junior was able to solve word puzzles and win money and prizes.

Mike Provine, a politics major, was a contestant during an early January taping of Wheel of Fortune, the longest-running syndicated game show in the United States.

Whether or not his performance was letter-perfect, we won’t know until the show is broadcast on national TV. He is prevented by contract from talking about the outcome until the episode airs.

A viewing party will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Food Court of the Pryzbyla Center. Following the half-hour broadcast that begins at 7 p.m., Provine will answer questions about his appearance on the popular game show.

Provine, a CUA Student Association General Assembly delegate, traveled to Culver City, Calif., last month with his parents, brothers and girlfriend. He spent five hours on the set of Wheel of Fortune, appearing in the first show taped on Jan. 7.

“Once I was under the lights and the cameras were rolling, it wasn’t all that bad,” he says. “I was more relaxed than I thought I would be, actually. I got into a zone, and that’s the way it was.”

Provine found the game-show studio and audience smaller than they appear on TV. He could see his family members and girlfriend — Meredith Reape, a CUA junior majoring in nursing — in the 160-member audience, although he couldn’t interact with them.

Before the taping, letter-turner Vanna White said a quick hello to contestants and shared a few tips. As the show opened, co-host Pat Sajak welcomed the three contestants, introducing Provine with the help of a note card that said: “He is a junior at Catholic University, majoring in politics. Mike is from Newtown, Pa. He loves Philadelphia sports and is an amateur baseball umpire.”

Provine and two others spent about 40 minutes spinning the wheel, buying vowels and solving puzzles for what ended up being a 30-minute episode. The goal: to solve word puzzles in categories such as “thing,” “before and after,” “phrase” and “song lyrics” by identifying missing letters. The payoff: money and prizes.

“You have to be good with words,” Provine says, and pay attention to patterns, contractions and common word beginnings and endings.

Luck plays a role, as well, Provine notes. “You could be the best Wheel of Fortune player in the world, but if you keep spinning ‘Bankrupt,’ you’re not going to win.”

His journey to game-show celebrity began when he and his roommate were watching the Game Show Network. Inspired by a Wheel of Fortune promotion, he logged on to the game show’s Web site and signed up as a prospective contestant.

He was invited by e-mail to an audition in New York City. Last May, he auditioned with more than 70 other young people from the East Coast for Wheel of Fortune’s college-themed episodes. During the audition, he played puzzles and took a five-minute quiz, all while trying to appear enthusiastic, energetic and TV-worthy.

In the end, he didn’t think he did well. But he was among would-be contestants invited to participate in round two of the audition.

“They don’t tell you how you’ve done. I thought I called out logical letters. But compared to other people in the room, I didn’t think I’d stack up as well.”

Applicants were told that they would receive a letter within two weeks if they were chosen to be contestants. He never got a letter. “I put it in the back of my mind. It was an accomplishment just to make it that far.”

Indeed, more than a million people asked to audition last year and fewer than 600 were chosen to be on a show.

Then, one December night, he got a call saying that he was chosen.

His dad’s frequent-flier miles helped make the trip to California possible. With a guaranteed $1,000 prize, “You’re going to come out in the green no matter what,” Provine says.

As for future game-show appearances, Provine says, “It would be great to be on another one.” He’s prevented by contract to appear on another show anytime soon. “But when the time comes, if I find a show that interests me, I will try out for it and hope for the best.”

The episode will be broadcast at 7 p.m. on WJLA-Channel 7 in the Washington, D.C., television market.