By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
Gary Wood has been keeping a big, fat secret since August, and it’s been pretty difficult to do.
The Casper man was among a handful of veterans picked to be on the prime-time television game show “Wheel of Fortune,” where he turned up the winner of $12,300 on Tuesday’s broadcast.
Wood went to film the episode in Los Angeles in August, and has since had the “Wheel of Fortune” pen he was given, which he has been using to sign everything — the closest hint he could drop about his big secret.
‘So Much Going On’
Now, however, with his appearance on the show Tuesday, he is allowed to shout it from the Facebook rooftops. And he has.
“Hey everyone,” he wrote on Facebook a week before the show aired. “I have been given the go-ahead to let you all know that I went to LA back in August for a reason and that was to be on Wheel of Fortune.
“It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and was very interesting how they do all that. There is so much more going on behind the scenes to make it all happen.”
‘You Gotta Be Kidding Me’
Wood, a recent retiree, said he is not a longtime fan or even frequent watcher of the popular game show. He just watches it now and then after dinner.
One night, though, as he was watching the show, some knucklehead bought the wrong vowel on a puzzle that only had two letters left when the answer seemed completely obvious.
“I was like, you gotta be kidding me,” Wood told Cowboy State Daily. “If they let this guy on there, anybody can get on.”
Having said that, he fired up computer, went to the “Wheel of Fortune” website and put in his application then and there.
Friends told him the next day not to hold his breath. It would probably take a few years to hear from the. The waiting list is at least a couple years long.
To Wood’s surprise, he got an email two weeks later asking if he’d like to do a virtual audition.
“It was one of those timing things,” Wood said. “You know, it’s always a timing thing. I fell right into place for Veterans Week.”
Wood’s 23 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, 21 of them as a helicopter rescue crewman, turned out to be his golden ticket onto the show.
Trained For Pressure
As a helicopter rescue crewman, Wood is no stranger to pressure.
“I was in numerous rescues, trying to save lives in the middle of raging storms, under pressure to get them off the boat, get them to a hospital, try and save their life, do CPR, all of that stuff,” Wood said. “I was also a firefighter in Wheatland and Guernsey, Wyoming, and became the chief in Guernsey and was an EMT on both services.
“So, pressure is something I’ve dealt with constantly.”
But pressure in a game show proved to be a little bit different, and Wood soon found that things that looked easy in his living room were not as easy in the studio.
‘That’s A Pretty Heavy Wheel’
“That’s a pretty heavy wheel,” Wood said. “And they tell you to pull and push it away from you.”
It took some practice to learn to push-pull the wheel just so. In fact, one of the contestants Wood played with had to try six or seven times before game show staff were satisfied with his efforts.
Wood thought he had a pretty good handle on the wheel after a practice session. He’d figured out just how hard to pull and push for it to turn three-quarters around.
Focused On Puzzle
But when it came time to play the actual game, he found that his focus was entirely different.
“Once you get on that game, and the TVs are running, all I cared about was looking at that puzzle and solving it,” Wood said. “I could care less what the wheel did.”
That wasn’t the only thing that proved more difficult. On the last puzzle, Wood found himself asking for the wrong vowel.
“I literally knew the one I wanted, I wanted the ‘U,’ but I wasn’t 100% sure of that last word and, for some stupid reason, I guess I got nervous or jumbled, I don’t know,” he said. “All I can tell you is I screwed up. I did the exact same thing as the gentleman I was calling an idiot on the TV!”
Had To Pay His Own Way There
Despite that, Wood walked away with $12,300 from the other puzzles he solved and an experience he would recommend to anyone.
“Even if you don’t win anything, they still give you a thousand bucks for appearing on the show,” he said, which makes it kind of like a nice, inexpensive vacation.
“They feed you, they take care of everything, except paying for you to get there,” Wood added.
Wood made a week of it with his girlfriend, Joanie, taking in Venice Beach and other sights and experiences while there.
Wood also enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the game show. He even got hair and makeup, just like any movie star would.
“There’s like a 60-inch flat-screen letter board that we don’t see that tells all the letters that have been called,” Wood said. “And there’s another 60-inch flat screen TV that Pat Sajak looks at that has the colors red, blue and yellow and the name of the player and how much money they have in that game.”
Wood and the other contestants all had to learn to enunciate words very carefully.
“You couldn’t just say ‘talkin’,’” Wood said. “You had to make sure to say ‘talking.’”
Check Is In The Mail
There’s one more thing Wood wants to let everyone know about his experience, particularly those who have already been ribbing him on Facebook for not having already bought everyone a free round of drinks back in August.
Not only was he sworn to secrecy then but, “You do not get the money until 120 days after the show is on television,” Wood said. “I will not receive anything until March 8.”
Even then, Wood thinks he might have another purpose for the money he’s won, besides buying a ton of drinks.
He has a new ski boat that matches one he sold in 1996 that he’s restoring.
“I think that’s what’s going to happen to that $12,000,” he said. “It’s going to pay for a new engine.”