Stony Brook Resident Walks Away from Popular Show with $52.5K

Stony Brook Resident Walks Away from Popular Show with $52.5K

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Celeste Wells on the "Wheel of Fortune" set. Photo by Carol Kaelson

One Three Village woman is finally able to talk about a lucky winter trip.

It was nerve-wracking but, once you get into it, your adrenaline kicks in and you’re excited and you want to win.

— Celeste Wells

At the end of February, Celeste Wells and her husband, Bill, traveled to California after she was chosen to be a contestant on the game show “Wheel of Fortune.” Like all participants on the show, Wells, along with her husband and two friends who attended the taping, had to keep quiet about how well she did.

While she taped the show Feb. 27, the episode didn’t air until Sept. 3 as production shut down soon after her visit because of the pandemic and the episode took longer to air than usual. The Stony Brook resident of 15 years, who lived in Kings Park for 30 years prior, said it was difficult to keep her winnings a secret with everyone asking her questions about how she did.

The night of the airing, Wells’ son Bill and his family came over to see the results. She said she turned off her answering machine to make sure her daughter Suzanne, who lives in Rochester, and other relatives who would see the show earlier due to different broadcasting times in other areas, wouldn’t call and give anything away before her son’s family saw the show.

Wells, who will turn 80 on Sept. 11, said at first, she was trailing behind the other two contestants, who had about $11,000 each, and she made a couple of mistakes solving puzzles. With one round, she admitted she forgot to take the clue into consideration. She added that it’s easier to solve the puzzles at home watching, which she has done for more than 30 years.

“Now I’m a little more sympathetic with the players when they make mistakes,” Wells said.

Soon her luck changed and her total climbed to $15,500, even though she was unaware she had taken the lead until host Pat Sajak started approaching her.

“I hadn’t even realized it until Pat walked over to me that I was the winner, and I was going to go to the bonus round,” she said. “I was in shock.”

In that bonus round, Wells solved the puzzle correctly by guessing “group of wild boars.” She then picked an envelope with her prize, which turned out to be $37,000. The amount commemorates the 37th season in syndication of “Wheel of Fortune.”

“It was nerve-wracking but, once you get into it, your adrenaline kicks in and you’re excited and you want to win,” she said.

Wells said she wasn’t sure she would make the Feb. 27 taping due to a scheduled trip to Florida March 1, but she and her husband were able to work it out and flew to California Feb. 26. Wells said the staff produces six episodes a day. She arrived at 7:30 a.m. and had the opportunity to meet the show’s hostess Vanna White before filming.

She and other contestants practiced spinning the wheel, which weighs about 2,400 pounds, before taping. Standing 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighing in at 108 pounds, she was afraid she wasn’t going to be able to turn it. While it was difficult, Wells said as she practiced, the crew adjusted the small platform she was standing on. She also tried each hand spinning the wheel until she could give it a good spin.

“The entire staff at ‘Wheel’ is just marvelous,” she said. “They can’t do enough for you. They make you feel like a queen for a day when you’re there. They pamper you. They’re constantly touching up your makeup, bringing you water. Pat and Vanna are kind and really humble people that just make you feel so comfortable.”

Wells is still shocked she won or even made it past auditions. More than 10,000 “Wheel of Fortune” fans audition each year and only 600 are chosen to compete.

“That in itself was monumental that they chose me,” she said, adding it was a years-long journey that began when she sent in a video in 2012.

After sending the video, she was asked to audition in Brooklyn twice. Both times 50 applicants took part in two practice games, and then were narrowed down. She made it to the second round both times. Last year, she attended an audition in Manhattan and received a letter shortly after saying she made it.

While contestants pay for their own trip, Wells said everyone walks away with $1,000, which helps with airfare. With her winnings, she is hoping to take a family trip after the pandemic passes with her husband, children, their spouses and her three grandchildren.

Wells had advice for other game show fans. She said everyone who is interested in being a contestant should try out.

“Even if you only win $1,000, it’s a wonderful experience,” she said. “And, don’t give up. Even if you don’t make it the first time, keep going. I’m that kind of person. When I’m determined to do something, I don’t give up.”