Bienen junior Emily Fagan appeared on Wheel of Fortune last Tuesday, during the popular TV game show’s College Week. Fagan, an oboe performance major, competed against two college seniors from Baylor and UCLA. Even after solving two toss-ups, a puzzle and the Final Spin, Fagan didn’t advance to the bonus round. However, she did win $10,600 in cash. NBN sat down with the Illinois native and Pick-Staiger house manager to talk about her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
1) How did you get on Wheel of Fortune?
My family and I watched it from time to time, and I thought I did pretty well at the puzzles. So, one night during the summer [after my freshman year at Northwestern], I filled out the online application as a joke – I didn’t think anything would happen. Then last April, I got an email saying they wanted me to send a minute long video on why they should select me. I decided to play the original Wheel of Fortune theme song on the oboe and send that in. Then I got an email saying I was invited to the live audition in Chicago. They asked us to solve some puzzles … [and] gave us a five-minute written test. I thought I failed. Then they read about 100 names of people that would go to the next stage. I was one of the last names called, so I just remember totally freaking out. Then they started simulated Wheel of Fortune games where they brought a couple people up to do a round or so. After the whole day, they said we would get a letter within two weeks if we were selected, and after two weeks if we weren’t.
2) What was your reaction like when you found out you got chosen?
So, two weeks went by and I didn’t get a letter, and I was like, “Okay, whatever, I didn’t get on.” When I got my letter, I wasn’t even excited because I thought it was a rejection letter. I remember opening it up and the first words I saw were, “If you are pregnant, please let us know of your due date.” And I’m thinking to myself, “This is the weirdest rejection letter I’ve ever received in my life!” Then I turned it over, and it said "congratulations." They went on to explain that if you’re about to have a baby, they don’t want to fly you out to Los Angeles. When I got the reminder email in late January, I really needed to tell someone. None of my friends were answering their phones, so I just went up to random people and was like, “I know I don’t know you, but I’m so excited I need to tell someone that I’m going to be on Wheel of Fortune!”
3) What was the experience like?
It was incredible. I flew out with my mom, dad and my best friend from high school. All the week’s shows are filmed in one day, so I was with all the college contestants, and all of us became really good friends. When we got to set, there were hair and makeup people everywhere to make us look TV-ready. It was pretty cool. After they were done with me, my hair had never looked bigger. Then they told us we would go out and practice spinning the wheel. We thought it was so dumb, but not for long. The wheel is so small, but because of all the lights that are hooked up to the wheel, it’s so heavy. The first time I tried to spin it, the wheel only went three spaces. I was like, “Oh my gosh, they’re going to think I’m cheating!”
The nice thing about Wheel of Fortune is that it’s not necessarily like one person winning and the other people losing. Everyone can come out with a lot of money. And it’s like they say: You’re not competing against each other, you’re competing against the wheel. We could all leave successful. My main goal was not about money. I didn’t care if I left with zero dollars, I just didn’t want to make Northwestern look stupid. So as long as I didn’t look like an idiot, I feel like I did okay.
4) How nervous were you before the taping?
I was watching the first show, and all I was trying to do was practice. I wasn’t really allowing myself to get nervous yet because I was focusing so hard on solving the puzzles. But when the first show ended and I had to get [my makeup] touched up, then I started to kind of freak out. But I just needed to concentrate – I just had to go up there. I had told myself that the first toss-up puzzle was either going to make me or break me. My biggest goal was to get that first toss-up puzzle. And I did! You know, I didn’t really know if I would be any good at it, so getting the first toss-up kind of told me that I had a chance of not failing.
5) What was it like waiting for the show to air?
It was super hard because I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone what happened. People were trying to get it out of me, but generally people were really cool about it. The music school kids were especially supportive. We rented out the big Norris TV and made a big Facebook event so people could come watch the show with us when it aired. No one had any idea what was going to happen, except me. It went by so fast when it was actually happening, so I didn’t get the chance to enjoy the moment, so it was nice to sit back and just remember what happened. I remember we were all sitting, and people would be like, “Look, that girl on the TV is standing right there!” It’s been really cool. I have also gotten some really creepy friend requests from around the country, so yeah. The whole thing was so much fun. I wish I could do it again.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.