Kelly Vander Meer has some bruises on her hands but some big bucks in her pockets after success as a contestant on Wheel of Fortune.
“The wheel is a lot smaller than I thought it would be,” said Vander Meer, a special education teacher at Richards High School in Oak Lawn.
But the wheel weighs 2,400 pounds, and spinning it was no easy task, Vander Meer recalled.
“It is so heavy. I had bruises on the inside of my hands from the spikes,” she said.
Yet the wheel’s weight didn’t interfere with Vander Meer’s success.
She was the show’s big winner, walking away with more than $18,000 and a trip to Aruba, which is now her honeymoon destination.
Vander Meer, 29, is getting married in July. The prize money will help pay for the wedding and the purchase of a house, she said.
“It was perfect timing,” she said.
Vander Meer said she wasn’t nervous during the taping of the show, which aired Friday. She watched four episodes of tape before playing the game, which helped her prepare.
“If I was on the first show (of the day) I would have been extremely nervous,” said Vander Meer, who also credited her profession for helping her speak loudly and think on her feet.
Vander Meer wasted little time gaining an advantage by guesing the first puzzle, “Thomas Jefferson.”
“I started to flow,” she said.
She also correctly answered the final puzzle: “Painted Desert.”
Unfortunately, another contestant on the show, James Trahan, became the subject of Internet and TV show razing for repeating the wrong answer to the puzzle.
The contestant before him guessed the letter “P” and guessed “The Pointed Desert.” It was wrong. So now it was Trahan's turn.
He also guessed “The Pointed Desert.” Host Pat Sajak reminded him that the answer was incorrect, but that he had time to guess again.
Trahan appeared confused, but eventually said, “I'd like to solve the puzzle” before again guessing “The Pointed Desert.”
“It's not ‘The Pointed Desert,' no matter how many times you say it,” Sajak said.
Vander Meer never expected to be in position to solve the puzzle.
“When (the first contestant) didn’t get it, I never thought it would come to me,” she said.
Vander Meer said Trahan appeared nervous throughout the show and perspiration was wiped away from his face during the commercial breaks.
Vander Meer’s Wheel of Fortune journey started in October when a friend told her the show was doing auditions in Chicago.
She sent in the required 30-second introductory video, and two weeks later received an email inviting her to audition, which included playing the game and taking written tests.
She survived three rounds of cuts and was told she would receive word within 18 months about coming to Los Angeles to participate in the show. She got an invitation a few weeks later, and taped a show in early December.
Vander Meer, who previously appeared on Family Feud, said her goal was to win more than the minimum $1,000 Wheel of Fortune prize.
“I’m usually pretty good at the game playing at home,” she said, adding that she watched regularly in preparation for her appearance.
Vander Meer did not win the bonus puzzle, which would have added $36,000 to her take.
She added that there aren’t too many behind-the-scenes secrets to reveal about the show.
Contestants are encouraged to clap and be upbeat. In the hours before their show, contestants are somewhat secluded as they watch the other tapings. They are not allowed to see their families or friends or make phone calls.
Vander Meer’s appearance was a big hit at Richards. She talked about the appearance with her students, some who had never seen the show. Other students that she did not know stopped by her classroom to offer congratulations.
Vander Meer is the second teacher from Richards to appear on Wheel of Fortune. English teacher Sara Carlson competed last year.