Sean Pendergast

"Wheelmobile" Wants Houston Watchers to Take a Spin

The Wheelmobile has logged over 350,000 miles and will be making a pit stop at Memorial City Mall for locals to audition for Wheel of Fortune.
The Wheelmobile has logged over 350,000 miles and will be making a pit stop at Memorial City Mall for locals to audition for Wheel of Fortune. Courtesy of Wheel of Fortune
They say that in life, you have to risk it all to get it all. On Wheel of Fortune, you have to spin it to win it all. Now, people are going to get to experience the thrill of the wheel when the show comes to Houston to find contestants for the upcoming 35th season of "America's Game."

The long-running show will bring its famous "Wheelmobile" to Memorial City Mall to host two days' worth of auditions this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, Wheel producers will host three tryout rounds between 1 and 5 p.m. each day for a shot to get on the show. The event will be held within the mall, at the Fireplace near Ice Skate USA. Applications will be distributed to the line formed in the open space adjacent to California Pizza Kitchen.

"We give out applications, and we work from the front to the back of the line. All the applications get put in a big hopper" and then the names are randomly drawn, says David Strathearn, director of marketing for the show. "We call five people up at time, and after we go through an interview session, we do a speed-up round."

Searches for contestants will be held at 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day. Everyone who attends the event will be able to submit an application. Strathearn estimates that they meet about 150 various contestants for each of the hour-long mock shows.

"We’re looking for that engaging personality and who will stand out from the crowd," he says. In other words, be enthusiastic, energetic and fun.

The crew will bring a miniature set as part of the tryout, and it is hauled by the 57-foot Wheelmobile. (Kind of puts the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile to shame, doesn't it?)

"The Wheelmobile is our own field of dreams. If we build it, they will come, and we expect a lot of people to come out this weekend," says Strathearn.

Since its inception in 1999, the Wheelmobile has logged over 350,000 miles and has visited more than 300 cities. More than 1 million Wheel of Fortune fans have attended Wheelmobile events, which is where the show finds the majority of its contestants.

Wheel of Fortune has become a mainstay in family's lives since the early 1980s. Pat Sajak and Vanna White have become synonymous with the show, and the crew believes they are part of the success.

"Our executive producer says Pat and Vanna's longevity has led to the longevity of the show," said Strathearn. "A lot of people over the course of so many years feel like they almost know Pat and Vanna. We appreciate that familiarity, and we enjoy that it's a custom for people to watch over so many years."

Vanna's role with the program is almost as impressive as the show's longevity. Since joining as co-host, she has worn more than 6,500 dresses, never with a repeat. Guinness World Records deemed her as Television's Most Frequent Clapper, estimating she claps an average of 606 times each show. As an avid crocheter, she created a line of yarns called Vanna's Choice.

She's made her way into pop culture too.

President Ronald Reagan invoked her during his remarks at the annual convention of Kiwanis International in 1987 when he said, "And if a tax hike makes it to my desk, I'll veto it in less time than it takes Vanna White to turn the letters V-E-T-O." Rapper Nelly used her name in his song lyrics to the 2000 hit "Ride Wit Me."

While Pat and Vanna won't be joining the Wheelmobile this weekend, hopefully a group of lucky Houstonians will move on into further rounds and eventually meet the two.

Strathearn says that out of this weekend's auditions, the crew will narrow down the candidates and those chosen to move on to the next round will receive a letter in the mail in a few weeks. From there, the Wheel of Fortune team will administer another round of auditions, this time using a written test, to show how potential contestants solve the puzzles under pressure.

"It’s a difficult process to get on the show. They have to show us their stuff, and they have to do well in the second round," he says.

Stay tuned — when the show's upcoming season begins airing in September on KHOU (6:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday), we might just see a familiar face.

For a complete list of rules, visit Memorial City Mall is located at 303 Memorial City.

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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd