SAN ANGELO, Texas (Concho Valley Homepage) — After watching “Wheel of Fortune” since its inception, one San Angelo woman has gotten the chance of a lifetime to compete on one of America’s greatest game shows.
Aimee McGinnis, 56, is an administrative assistant for the Concho Valley Baptist Association. She has been there for 10 years, working alongside over 45 churches in San Angelo. She co-founded the “Women of Heart” group in 2018, which plans and implements annual conferences for inspiring and encouraging women of all backgrounds to be their best selves.
“I am so blessed,” McGinnis said. “I get to see the activities and the goings-on of what the Lord is doing in all of our churches, and it’s a very unique perspective. I have the unique pleasure and privilege to be connected to a very large network of individuals who are serving the Lord side-by-side.”
Getting on the show
McGinnis said that she has been watching “Wheel of Fortune” for around 40 years, enjoying its hangman-style puzzles and on-air personalities. Though she contemplated auditioning to become a contestant several times, she wouldn’t look to compete on the show until longtime host Pat Sajak announced that he would be retiring in 2024.
“Over the years, I thought about it a number of times but never actually acted on it,” McGinnis said. “Then in April of this year, I was watching an episode one night … and I thought, ‘now’s the time, now or never.'”
McGinnis would fill out the show’s online application and film a 2-minute introduction video of herself. A few weeks later, McGinnis got an email from the producers asking her to take part in a 5-minute interview.
Afterward, she was asked to join in a group interview through Zoom with other potential contestants. They were prompted with several test questions to find out more about each person before running them through a few other tests.
“I thought I had done really well that night, and I left that phone call thinking, ‘Yay!'” McGinnis said. “Well, she [an interviewer] said, ‘OK, if we select you, we’ll be in touch.'”
McGinnis would wait three months to hear back from the producers. Regardless of whether she would make it on the show, she was content to know that she had at least tried.
“I didn’t hear anything from anybody,” McGinnis said. “I was like, ‘Oh well! I tried, and if I ever decide to try it again, I can do it again.'”
But then it happened, a moment she remembers as clear as day: She was accepted as a contestant.
“It was Tuesday, the 8th of August [of 2023],” McGinnis said. “I had come home for lunch … That day, my boss was asking me to get on a financial project … after I got back from lunch, I pulled my email up, and it was the very first thing I saw: ‘Congratulations, you’ve been selected as a contestant on Wheel of Fortune!'”
She recalls the wonder of the moment, remembering that she screamed with excitement and told as many people as she could.
“I went ‘AAAAAH!‘” McGinnis said. “Of course, I told my coworkers, my boss, and I called my husband immediately and was just like, ‘You will not believe this, I got selected!’ It was pretty exciting.”
Wheels up to California!
With her spot on the show secured, McGinnis had just over three weeks to get ready and make her way to the show’s filming location in Culver City, California. There was just one problem, though: contestants have to get to the studio on their own dime.
However, McGinnis would end up having to spend hardly anything on the show, an outcome that she attributes to God’s provision. Due to the show’s minimum per-contestant winnings of $1,000 and the open doors of a friend who lived near the studio, the McGinnis family had next to no expenses to worry about.
“It makes me grin thinking about it, but the Lord blessed us with this trip,” McGinnis said. “I told my husband and said, ‘The Lord is allowing us a free trip and the experience!’ If I just won $1,000, after taxes, that’d pay for our flights, so we couldn’t lose!”
Wheels in motion: A behind-the-scenes look at the studio
Arriving at the studio, McGinnis got to see and experience some of the things the average “Wheel of Fortune” fan can only dream of. So, what’s one of the first things that stuck out to her? According to her, it was the titular wheel’s actual size.
“The very first thing I can tell you is that the Wheel of Fortune itself is smaller than it looks on TV,” McGinnis said. “I’m short, only 5-foot tall, and I have shorter arms, so one of my worries was how I was going to spin this big thing. Well, after all the legal stuff and paperwork, they took us into the studio, and the first thing all of us said was, ‘Wow, that wheel doesn’t look as big as it looks on TV!'”
McGinnis also shared that there are actually three boards on the set, not just the iconic puzzle board that hostess Vanna White operates. The second board, located off-camera next to the puzzle board, is a board depicting the letters already used by contestants during a puzzle.
“Right in front of the wheel across the room is the puzzle board, and then right next to it — you don’t see this on-air — there’s a used letter board,” McGinnis said. “You can glance over there to make sure you’re not going to call a letter that’s already been called.”
The third board, also off-camera and to the left, tracks the contestants’ current winnings. It is on a wall near the live studio audience.
“Everything is over to our left, all the audience is over to our left,” McGinnis said. “There’s a board over on that left side wall that keeps track of our money each round and things like the Wild Card, stuff like that. If we win any of those kinds of things, it tracks that too, as well as a grand total.”
McGinnis also said that show producers were with contestants every step of the way during the episode to help keep the contestants informed about what’s happening next.
“One of the things that was impressive to me — and I realize that they’ve perfected this over the course of 40-plus years — was that everything was planned out,” McGinnis said. “Everything flows very smoothly. The producers were with us through every round. They were advising us on what the next round is so that we didn’t have to remember all of that.”
The hosts with the most
With all of this in mind, many hardcore “Wheel of Fortune” fans might be dying to know something: What was it like to meet Sajak and White? McGinnis shared that it was an “amazing” experience and that she got to meet the man behind a voice many long-time viewers might recognize.
“It was really amazing,” McGinnis said. “Even like Jim Thornton, the one who describes the vacations and prizes … I got to meet him and all the crew. They’re just amazing!”
McGinnis also described the contestants’ reaction to meeting White through a surprise run-in at the set.
“We had been taken in there [the studio] and we were all milling around on the floor looking at everything, and all of the sudden Vanna’s in the middle of us,” McGinnis said. “Nobody saw her come in. … She is just down to earth. She visited with us for a little bit, and then before he left, she high-fived all of us and said, ‘Good luck today, hope you do good!'”
According to McGinnis, Sajak doesn’t usually come out until it’s time to film the show. She pins this on Sajak’s upcoming retirement and pre-filming busyness.
“He’s very, very nice,” McGinnis. “I told him I was so excited that I got to come and that it was a blessing that I got to come before he retired.”
So, what’s the takeaway?
McGinnis shared that she plans on spending her winnings to pay off the rest of her house, make improvements to her home and take her and her husband, Mike, on a vacation.
“We literally are $200 away from paying off our house, but in order to do that, we’ve ignored some things that needed to be done,” McGinnis said. “Of course, trips and or things like that were in the back of my mind, but the money was actually more of what we were hoping for.”
While she wouldn’t trade her experience for the world, McGinnis shared with the public a piece of advice to help someone find a jackpot experience of their own — “Go for it.”
“Go for it,” McGinnis said. “Just jump out there, grab life by the tail. If not now, then when? Some of these things are maybe once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you can carry on after the public’s gone their way, but we as a family will have that. It’s going to be a memory for a long time to come, and those kinds of things are so much more important than anything else.”
McGinnis’ episode is expected to air on Friday, Nov. 24, at around 6:30 p.m. on KLST, barring any interference caused by college football programming.