Hit for Dagsboro Man
For a Dagsboro area man, a June trip to Nashville led to a July trip to a Los Angeles television studio which led to an appearance on "Wheel of Fortune" which aired last week.
And while Bill Mixon, a retired middle school shop teacher, won $8,650, he said when all was said and done, it was such a great experience the money didn't matter.
It all started in mid-June, when Mixon and his wife Gladys traveled to Nashville to attend a country music fans' gathering called Fan Fair. At the event, "Wheel of Fortune" had a booth seeking people to try out for a Nashville production of the show. So Mixon signed up, along with 3,000 other people.
Next thing Mixon knows, singer Pam Tillis is pulling his name out of a basket, along with four others. He plays a round of "Wheel" and wins, taking away $100 worth of prizes.
The next day, Mixon said, it went from 5 people to 100. Names were called at random, and again Mixon made the cut. He was given 20 "Wheel of Fortune" type puzzles to solve in five minutes. He said he called on his high school test-taking skills, scanning the puzzles to see how many he could get immediately.
"I got about 10 of them right off," he said. "I turned it in, and went out and talked to Gladys (spouses were not allowed in the room with the players). He figured he'd ridden the "Wheel" as far as he was going to. "Gladys said "Oh, well," Mixon recalled.
But Mixon's ride wasn't over, it turns out. Next, 24 names were called, and Mixon had made the cut. Now he and the other finalists played "regular games" and he solved the puzzle twice.
At that point, show staffers told him he might get a letter in the next three weeks regarding an appearance on the show. When the Mixons got back from Nashville, they did indeed get a letter. It said Mixon may be invited to appear on the show in the next 18 months. He figured they were just covering their backs.
Fast forward one week. "Stacey from Wheel of Fortune" called the Mixon home. "She said 'We'd like you to be in L.A. two weeks from Friday,' " he said.
So the couple quickly put together air and hotel arrangements -- which they, like the other contestants, would pay for themselves. Even at this point, Mixon said, he was told there was "no guarantee" he'd actually appear on the show.
They arrived in Los Angeles on a Wednesday, and on Friday, they were at the studio at 9 a.m. With the other contestants, Mixon learned the ropes of the show, starting with how to spin the wheel. "Everything they did," he said, "was training us to win."
Of the staff, from the backstage folks to the on-air talent, Mixon had nothing but good things to say. "Pat Sajak and Vanna White are both very, very nice," he said.
Mixon learned that the wheel, which is six feet in diameter and weighs 1,100 pounds, is no cardboard prop. There is, it seems, an art to spinning "The Wheel." "You learn to pull it toward you and use the heel of your hand to push it," he said.
Several shows were taped the same day. The atmosphere, he said, was far from cut-throat. "Everyone pulled for everyone else," he said. "All of us wanted two things: not to embarrass ourselves and to win a little something to cover the trip."
As it turned out, Mixon did well, winning the game and $8,650. While he didn't take home the $25,000 bonus prize, tripped up by the word "papayas", he said, "it didn't matter."
The hard part, as it turns out, was keeping the results under his hat from the July 26 taping until the show aired on Sept. 26, in accordance with show rules. "We didn't even tell our kids," he said. On the night the game aired, the Mixons celebrated with some Elks Club friends.
Mixon's 30 minutes of fame are over, but it's an experience he'll never forget.
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