Cape resident spins the Wheel of Fortune
What was once just a dream has become reality for a Cape Coral resident.
Dana Alvarez has loved game shows her entire life. Watching them growing up as a child, she would often play along with contestants on television.
After more than a decade of trying to appear on her favorite game show, Wheel of Fortune, Alvarez finally got a letter that would make her dream come to fruition.
Alvarez’s episode is scheduled to air at 7 p.m. tonight on NBC as part of British Landscapes Week.
“I’ve always loved Wheel of Fortune,” said Alvarez, who is the drama director at Melody Lane Performing Arts Center. “From the time I was a kid, I loved to guess all of the puzzles.” Something she still does today while watching along.
Alvarez would frequently turn up to “Wheelmobile” events in the Southwest Florida area, and throughout Florida, hoping to find a way to get onto the game show she’s been a fanatic of.
In December of 2018, the Wheelmobile (a 58-foot luxury bus that travels nationwide in search of contestants) made a stop in Cape Coral. Alvarez told herself that this would be the last time she would attempt to make it on “America’s Game.”
Alas, the prize eluded Alvarez once again, as her name was not called to partake in a “first audition” of sorts when the Wheelmobile was in town.
“It’s just not in the cards for me,” Alvarez remembers telling herself.
A month later, an email would arrive in her inbox that would change everything.
The email, from Wheel of Fortune, said they were looking for Southwest Florida residents and to submit a video for consideration. Mind you, Alvarez had also been applying online every year for over a decade as well, not just in person at Wheelmobile events.
Alvarez decided to give it one last shot and took a 30-second video of herself — which she said she didn’t even watch back — and threw her name into the hat once more. This time, the game show gods were listening.
“I guess from that video, I got invited to a closed audition,” Alvarez said.
She performed well at the closed audition locally, where she solved puzzle after puzzle, determined to make the cut and get a chance at spinning the wheel in a California studio.
When she left, she was told those who were selected would receive a letter in the mail in two weeks. No letter meant no show.
“So of course, I’m checking my mailbox every day,” Alvarez said.
Two weeks passed. No letter came.
“It was two weeks and a day later,” Alvarez said, she got her “golden ticket” to be a contestant of Wheel of Fortune.
“It was insane,” she said of finding the letter in her mailbox. “I’m like screaming in my driveway.”
While Alvarez’s Wheel skills are always on point, it was time to really get down to business now that she would be putting those skills to the test in front of millions of viewers. That included playing the game on her phone, every day, for nine months and thinking of strategy for each themed puzzle.
The kicker was she didn’t know exactly when she would make her appearance, just that it would be any time from when she got the letter up to a year-and-a-half after.
“It’s just this constant state of anxiety,” Alvarez said. “Every call I get that’s from an unrecognizable number, I’m thinking it’s them.”
It took nine months for her to make her way across the county to California to see the studio, meet Pat and Vanna and to finally get her hands on the real wheel.
Alvarez speculated the reason it may have taken so long for her to appear on the show is because the casting directors really try to fit the contestants to the theme of the week. She remembers when filling out her application, telling them that she loved Europe and “traveling to unusual locations.” She said British Landscapes week was a “perfect fit.”
So, Dec. 5 would be the day a decade-plus of thwarted attempts and wishful thinking would pay off, and she and her husband traveled to Culver City, California to see where the game show magic happens.
The couple arrived in California two days prior and did a little sight seeing, toured the Warner Bros. studio and received tickets to the Conan O’Brian show. She said getting to see the studios prior to game day helped calm her nerves and gave her an idea of what to expect.
The morning her show was to be filmed, Alvarez made her way from her hotel to the studio on a shuttle with other contestants around 7:30 a.m.
There were six shows to be taped that day, and her’s ended up being the fifth. It wasn’t taped until 5 p.m.
“It was really cool to be able to watch,” Alvarez said. “I was glad I wasn’t the first because I wanted to see the flow of everything.”
She practiced spinning the 2,400-pound original wheel, did some mock rounds and practiced with the buzzer.
“They tell you very specifically how to hold onto the wheel and how far to reach over, and I was moving it maybe this much,” Alvarez said, while gesturing a short distance with her hands.
After getting a feel for everything, Alvarez was locked in and ready to take on the game.
“Seeing four rounds go by, by that time, I was just ready,” Alvarez said. “Of course I was still nervous when I was standing there and it was my turn, but I was like, ‘All right, I know what to do now. I’m really excited to have my chance to do it.'”
Though you’ll have to tune in to tonight’s episode of Wheel of Fortune to see how Alvarez made out, the experience in itself is one she’ll never forget.
“It was absolutely a surreal dream come true,” she said. “‘I cannot believe I’m spinning this wheel.'”
Alvarez said Vanna White and host Pat Sajak were awesome to be around. This week is also the first time Sajak will be back hosting since emergency intestinal surgery.
“She’s really sweet,” Alvarez said of White. “Pat is witty, funny and kind.”
Funny enough, Alvarez has tickets to see Hamilton tonight. She said she hopes to be able to catch the beginning of her episode before seeing the musical, but that many, many friends have already told her they will be recording it.
Alvarez also still has her name tag from the show, which she kept as a keepsake and is behind glass in her home.
-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj