By CAITLYN L.J. KIM
Latin teacher Mr. Mark Michalak appeared on the TV game show Wheel of Fortune on September 10th. He landed on the million dollar tab and made it to the final round, but ultimately went home with $22,634 and a paid trip to China.
Wheel of Fortune is a televised game show where contestants play a game similar to hangman, but with monetary awards for guessing letters and phrases correctly. Michalak participated on the show for a teacher’s week special, where teachers were recruited to play on the game show.
In order to audition for Wheel of Fortune, contestants must send in an online application, which includes general information about the contestant and a self-shot one-minute video explaining why the contestant would like to play on the gameshow.
Michalak said that his wife, Martha, had pushed him to try out for Wheel of Fortune, and helped him with the application process.
“She said ‘You should try out’, and then she said ‘Let’s make the video for the website’, ”said Michalak. “She sent it in and then they started sending me emails saying ‘We’re gonna have another audition here [in LA] so come and try out.”
Contestants whose applications are approved are then invited to participate in a live audition.
“There were 50 people [auditioning] and we were all playing fake games of Wheel of Fortune while members of the producing staff watched us, [judging] how well we did, how we presented ourselves, if we could we talk loudly, and follow the rules of the game,” said Michalak.
If a contestant passes the second audition, they are invited through mail to play on the game show itself. Typically, players are approved more than a year in advance of the date they will actually be on the show.
In order to prepare for the big day, Mr. Michalak and his wife had made flash cards to go over “different situations, which letters are most popular to pick, and which letters show up the most”.
“[We discussed] strategy, like is it time to solve it and lock in the money you’ve won, or should you spin and try to get more money,” said Michalak. “[While playing on Wheel of Fortune], I was just thinking about what my wife was saying, what we had talked about strategy-wise.”
Michalak felt that with the practice his wife gave him and his proficiency with wordplay, there was a good possibility of making it to the final round.
“With any game you never know,” said Michalak. “And it just worked out really well for me.”
During the middle of the game, Mr. Michalak landed on the million dollar tab, but did not land on it again in the final round.
“I was feeling, ‘Ok, so this is happening’. There were so many more steps for it to occur, but it was an interesting little twist,” said Michalak.
In order for contestants to win one million dollars on Wheel of Fortune, they must land on the million dollar tab on the big wheel, a 1/72 chance, then make it to the final round, land on the million dollars tab again on the smaller wheel, a 1/24 chance, and then answer the word or phrase correctly.
He plans to give the remaining prize money, approximately $22,634 to his wife so he knows that “smart things will happen”.
“[We’ll] probably fix up the house a little bit, and we’ve got to find a time to take our trip,” Michalak said.
A week before the show aired, Michalak had told his students he would be participating on Wheel of Fortune.
“Everyone in the class was surprised because he had to keep it a secret for so many months,” said sophomore Irene Ha, one of Michalak’s Latin 2 students. “And when we heard we were all super happy and excited and we acted like he was famous.”
Even students who were not in Mr. Michalak’s class had heard about the news, such as sophomore Julia Hichri.
“I saw it through people’s social media stories.” Hichri said. “When I watched the episode it was really cool because he’s a teacher at my school and he’s on .”
Since his return, Michalak’s students have found ways to reference the show in class.
“They’ve all loved it.” said Michalak. “They are starting to use the phrase ‘Docks and Piers’ as a little curse phrase. Instead of saying other things, they say ‘Docks and Piers’ if something bad happens.” Docks and Piers was the answer to the phrase in the final round.