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Carrie Grosvenor

Wheel of Fortune Contestant Tips

By February 1, 2010

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by Chad Mosher

We've spent the past two weeks discussing tips and tricks to be successful on America's number two game show Jeopardy!, so I think it's only fair to give their more popular and, to some people, more fun counterpart Wheel of Fortune a bit of exposure too! Though I've never been on the show, I've played along with it, boned up on my skills enough and spoken to enough people to be able to prime some good strategies to use when playing the game. These are hints you can use at any time: from playing the board game with friends, to playing the computer game, right up to playing it on national television. We'll start with the two biggies.

Always, Always, ALWAYS Buy a Vowel! Even as a youngster, this was the biggest thing I couldn't figure out about many contestants on the show. Why were they so avoidant of buying a vowel? Sure, it costs $250 but the smallest amount on the wheel is $300 - you're going to get it back! Buying a vowel as soon as you're able to can be so helpful in solving a puzzle and it's really less of a risk than picking a consonant. There are only five vowels in the alphabet, as opposed to the 21 consonants. The random chances of finding a vowel in a puzzle are much, much greater than that of a consonant. You also must figure in with those high chances that each word in the puzzle is going to contain at least one of those. If it's a four-line puzzle, it's really likely that all vowels will be present so there's not even any risk in buying. By the time you purchase all available vowels, many important parts of the puzzle are revealed and you can now start tactically picking your consonants. Hey, that sounds familiar...

Pick Consonants Strategically! Sure, it's quite alright to pick the most common consonants (L, N, R, S, and T) at the start of a blank puzzle: they're likely to be in there in fair quantity, making it easy at the beginning to know the solution. But once you do know the solution, you need to start picking your consonants advantageously to maximize your winnings. Let's say you know a solution to a puzzle, and it has 3 Ps, 2 Gs and an M. You land on $300. What should you do? If you say pick 3 Ps, you might be as foolish as some of the contestants on the show. You want to pick the M! $300 is the smallest value, and since that amount is multiplied by the quantity of the letter in the puzzle, you don't want to "waste" a 3x multiplier on the lowest amount. Save the biggies for a value over $600, or you could just call your letters in order from lowest to highest quantity.

These are some minor, but still very important tricks:

Be Aware of Your Category! Some categories have letters that will always appear in that puzzle. "What are You Doing?" almost always has an -ING to start off the puzzle. If "Title & Author" or "Song & Artist" don't have an apostrophe-S, they'll always have a BY. And if you get "Before & After", remember that the puzzle won't make sense as its own entity, since it's a combination of two things.

You Need the Most Money to Win! If you're happy with whatever you walk away with, cool... but I'm not that kind of person. I want to win as much as I can, which is why it kind of boggles me to see people solve a half-full puzzle with $300 in their bank just to get the $1,000 minimum, even though their opponent has a $12,000 lead. If you want to go to the bonus round, you need to have the most money. Sometimes that means taking a risk or two, and letting the wheel spin a few more times. The only exception to this rule is if it's a Prize Puzzle. Solve that baby as soon as you can, since the values can often near $10,000, making them a real game changer.

Use the Used-Letter Board! Some viewers aren't aware that to the left of the puzzle board, the contestants have a board that shows them what letters have been called and which ones haven't. This can be helpful in two ways: One, it can stop you from having those embarrassing "T! Ohhhh, I meant G!" moments that contestants become YouTube sensations from. Two, the letters still left are lit up. So, if you have some holes in the beginnings of words in the puzzle, use the remaining letters to see if they work. Doing this might make a light bulb go off in your head and, voila, you've just figured out the puzzle!

As always, a little bit of skill and luck is extremely helpful with this and any other show. If you have those, keeping these tips in mind will only accelerate your success and might make you a bunch of money and prizes at the same time!

Chad Mosher is a past game show contestant, and has experience in many aspects of the game show industry. He contributes a weekly column here at About.com Game Shows, answering your questions and tackling all facets of the game show genre. If you have questions for Chad, you can post them here in the comments, or contact him directly through the link in his bio.

Logo courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment


February 1, 2010 at 10:45 am
(1) Myke25 says:

I would likely be a terrible WOF contestant because of one mantra: “Only p*ssies buy vowels.” I am opposed to giving money back to the producers…even a paltry amount like $250. And nothing irritates me more than a player who buys two or three vowels, THEN solves the puzzle! It’s a game of chance…so take a freakin’ chance already!

I made the argument some time back that next season’s tweak should be something WOF has never done in 35 years…raising the cost of a vowel. Too many players spin once, then buy a vowel knowing, as Chad pointed out, they’ll likely regain their investment on the next spin. I’d say, up the cost of a vowel to $1,000. Most first spins don’t earn that much, so they’d have to spin more than once to be able to afford a vowel. It would add more strategy to the game…and up the risk factor. And it’ll make that “Free Play” space more valuable.

February 1, 2010 at 8:33 pm
(2) Wayne says:

Gotta agree–inflation has hit every aspect of that show except the price of the vowel. Buying one today doesn’t take any thought, where back in the day, I’d have never bought one.

Other tips: do crossword puzzles to get used to looking for letter patterns, cryptograms are also wonderful for this. I did tons in the weeks leading up to my audition and I was better off for it (WOF really isn’t my skillset compared to other games and trivia). Finally, if you can, memorize letter frequency of the English language, it will be an advantage.

If you do have the opportunity to audition–go for it. That was the most fun I had at an audition ever! Everyone got to play the mock game, I won a hat for solving a puzzle, and the contestant coordinators really took their time with us. The test itself is VERY difficult. There are 16 puzzles with 4 puzzles in each category they give you (thing, etc.). There are barely any letters filled in, but if there is a T showing, all the T’s are showing. You only have a few minutes, so you need to be fast.

February 18, 2010 at 12:41 pm
(3) Joseph says:

I am actually taping a show with my daughter (Dads and Grads week) tomorrow. At the audition and in all the pre-taping paperwork the producers stress they want you to buy vowels!! I don’t think it’s being a p*ssy at all – they want the show to keep moving, they want as many puzzles up there per show as possible! What they don’t want is contestants fumbling around for consonants and taking 15 minutes to solve one puzzle.

May 4, 2010 at 6:45 pm
(4) Becca says:

Awwww….Joseph, I taped my episode for Dads and Grads week with my dad then too! How’d you do??? :) :) :)

June 29, 2010 at 12:43 am
(5) E says:

Hi, Just curious if anyone can tell me what some of the test words were like, I’m wondering if I would even be smart enough to figure them out? Thanks!

July 10, 2010 at 8:58 pm
(6) Danette says:

I was contestant recently during Hideaways week and won some money but was never told when I would get the money. Anyone know?! I win over $2,500.

September 3, 2010 at 7:46 pm
(7) Marty Weems says:

I think some folks are missing something here. If a contestant
begins early in the game buying vowels, it is certain that they
will make it much easier for the contestants coming after to
figure it out. Why not save your money, don’t buy vowels and
let the other contestants do that for you? Sure, you are going
to choose a wrong letter and the game goes on to the next
contestant, but by the time it gets back to you a 2nd time, the
puzzle is rarely solved that quickly and you have had time to
get a better idea of what it is, without using your vowel money
to help someone else solve. I have watched in horror while a
contestant, early in the game, just kept on buying vowels, ran out of vowels, then someone else easily won. Now, if it is toward the end of the game and you haven’t a clue (and there
are any vowels left) I can see someone buying a vowel,,,but not
early in the game…it seems foolish to me.
lost their turn and someone else won.

November 8, 2010 at 1:07 pm
(8) gonzo411 says:

One important element has been omitted here: control the wheel. As quickly as possible, gauge the weight of the wheel and learn to spin it as close as possible to one complete revolution. If you know the wheel is going to end up just about where it starts, you can then adjust your spin according to your need. There’s absolutely no point in macho mega-spins where you have no clue where the wheel will stop. Once you have some control of the wheel, avoid the bankrupts and lose-a-turns. If you never let the play go beyond you, it doesn’t matter how good your opponents are.

August 13, 2013 at 10:16 am
(9) CLT_Native says:

Your article was very informative and helpful. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on to be as prepared as possilble. I have my 2nd/final auditon for Wheel of Fortune in 2 days. WISH ME LUCK!!!!!

August 13, 2013 at 11:30 am
(10) Carrie says:

Best of luck CLT_Native — let us know how it goes! :)

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