On March 15, “Wheel of Fortune” viewers were treated to a big victory by Ken Rode, the East Coast rep for Cutter and Buck (UPIC: CUTT0001) as well as Ahead (UPIC: A552592) and Agua Promotions (UPIC: AGUA0001).
A fan of newspaper crossword puzzles and prohibited from answering game show questions on TV to give everyone else in the family a chance, Rode’s children signed their father up for “Wheel of Fortune.” However, it wasn’t until the show came to New York City that he had a chance to try out.
“You take a timed written test,” says Rode. “There’s no way you can finish the whole thing, but I think they want to see if you can perform under pressure. I felt I did fairly well. They sent a lot of people home at that point. Those of us that remained played simulated games. When I came home from the tryouts, I didn’t have a really great feeling about my chances.”
But five days later, he got an email inviting him out to Los Angeles for a taping. The trip would be a tight fit, with the January 11 taping scheduled between ASI’s Orlando show and The PPAI Expo, but Rode decided to give it a shot. “They don’t pay your way,” he adds. “They guarantee you’ll win a thousand dollars, but it’s still a bit of a gamble. But I figured, what the heck, you only win once.”
The show tapes six episodes a day, and the contestants had to be on set at 7 am. Rode’s wife, Marianne, who traveled to California with him, was in the audience when the program began taping at 11 am. His episode was the fifth of six shot that day.
Rode’s time on the Wheel got off to a rough start. “I was so nervous, my hands were shaking,” he says. “On the first puzzle, I buzzed in. I thought I had the answer but I didn’t. It died on the table right there. The next time I hit the buzzer I got it wrong again. But after I got my first question right, I answered all of them.”
He made it to the Bonus Round, where all of the letters he picked, M, G, D and A, were in the puzzle: “Making A Budget.” Rode took home $28,000 in cash, a trip for two to the Sandals resort in Antigua and a Mini Cooper Roadster. “My daughter just turned 16,” he says. “She’s really looking forward to learning to drive in that.”
Rode and his wife kept his performance on the show under wraps until the episode aired. “We didn’t even tell our kids,” he adds. “It was a tough secret to keep, but a fun secret to keep.”
On the day his episode aired, he invited friends, family and a few customers to watch the program. His difficulties at the start built the tension: “I told my friends, ‘Hey, all I said was that I was on the show, not that I’d done well.’” But his big win at the end was an exciting finish for everyone. “My face hurt from laughing so much,” Rode says, and the family has a recording of the episode they share with friends and family to see his success on the Wheel of Fortune.