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"Wheel of Fortune" finalists

Hopefuls vie for shot at spinning 'Wheel'
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“Wheel of Fortune” Contestant Manager Jackie Lamantis cheers on participants during the tryouts. “Smile, smile, smile,” she tells them.Jamie Lusch
 Posted: 2:00 AM June 06, 2013

There was no shortage of enthusiasm from 42 finalists competing in Ashland Wednesday for a chance to appear on America's top television game show, "Wheel of Fortune."

The show's producers whittled down the list of could-be contestants from hundreds who tried to grab their attention during opening auditions in Medford two months ago.

"The unfair part about trying out for our show is that we can't put all of you on it," contestant manager Gary O'Brien told a ballroom full of eager hopefuls inside Ashland Springs Hotel Wednesday.

Of the 42 regional finalists, maybe three will be selected to spin the real "Wheel of Fortune," said O'Brien.

"I don't know if I'll make it. I just get so nervous when it's my turn," said Michelle Pyle.

Pyle, 50, of Medford, and the other participants played through a simulated version of the game show, and individually worked on a short word puzzle test before 26 of them were sent home, with Pyle being one of them.

"I am going to be on this show. It's been one of my desires forever. ... I just know it's my time," said Cheryl Wiles before the first-cut announcement.

Heartbreakingly for Wiles, 49, of Redding, Calif., she wasn't selected as one of the final 16.

"I am disappointed, but I am not giving up because you never know. It could still happen someday," she said.

Those left standing competed against each other in an intensified simulation of the game show requiring them to introduce themselves and spin an imaginary wheel before attempting to solve a word puzzle projected on the wall.

Ideal contestants speak loud and clear, have natural enthusiasm, quick decision-making and puzzle-solving skills, and "smile, smile, smile," said Jackie Lamantis, "Wheel of Fortune" contestant manager.

"If you're going to call a letter, call it with confidence. If you're going to solve the puzzle, solve it with confidence," O'Brien said to the finalists before kicking off the last round. "Be aware of the rhythms of the show and you need to smile, because it's not "Wheel of Torture," it's "Wheel of Fortune."

Keene Horton, 52, of Medford, one of the 16 finalists, walked away from Wednesday's audition with as good a chance of appearing on the show as anybody, he figured.

"I've been applying to be a contestant for years," Horton said. "I'll just be looking out for that letter now."

Curtis Pearce, 31, of Grants Pass, tripped over his words a few times during the final round and that may have cost him, he said.

Show or no show, though, "I've really enjoyed this whole experience," Pearce said. "When they called my name on stage in Medford it just made my day, made my week."

O'Brien said "Wheel of Fortune" will contact those selected to appear on the show within the next few months.

"Wheel of Fortune" airs locally at 7:30 weeknights on KDRV Channel 12.

Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at

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