Around a hundred people crowded into Pomona College’s Doms Lounge on the night of Oct. 5, eagerly facing the front of the room. But, instead of a DJ on stage, a projector screen was aglow. The “Wheel of Fortune” theme song played, and the cheers began.
This was no ordinary episode of the long-running game show, though. One contestant was Lorraine Harry PO ’97, current assistant director of news and strategic content at Pomona College.
Harry hadn’t initially planned to try for “Wheel of Fortune” until her mom brought it up to her during the pandemic. The show, which is produced at a studio in Culver City, was casting mostly local residents due to the pandemic, so Harry decided to try her chances and apply online. She auditioned through Zoom and anxiously awaited the results.
“I had no idea afterwards if I did well,” she said. “But I think maybe a couple days later someone emailed saying ‘you’ve been selected.’”
After getting the good news, it just became a waiting game. Harry found out the date she was going to tape the show about a week and a half before and instantly started binge-watching old episodes. Aside from that, Harry did not do much to prep except meticulously picking out her outfit.
“The show has so many requirements, like nothing silky [because] microphones slide off, and no linen because it looks wrinkly,” she said. “I spent my time basically finding clothes to wear; that was my whole process.”
“I was just there to have fun and I was pretty determined to do well. I was very focused once I was taping, and you can kind of see that on the show. I’m very tuned in, and I wasn’t even smiling.”
She ended up selecting a pink short-sleeve shirt tucked into black slacks, which she proudly wore to the watch party in Doms Lounge, as well.
On the day of the taping in August, all the fear faded away and she felt as though she had nothing to lose. Except her dignity — something she said her 13-year-old daughter was quick to remind her about.
“I was just there to have fun and I was pretty determined to do well,” Harry said. “I was very focused once I was taping, and you can kind of see that on the show. I’m very tuned in, and I wasn’t even smiling.”
Not all the contestants approached the show in the same way, however.
“It is so much more stressful up here than it looks on TV,” a contestant named Daniel said while in between puzzles.
Harry really enjoyed the taping of the show and the “rah-rah energy” behind the scenes. She recalled having a conversation with a co-contestant beforehand who said they were competing alongside each other, not against.
Harry’s relaxed attitude did her well in the end. She had one big challenge during the show: the 2,400 pound titular wheel. Harry could not get it to spin more than halfway around.
“I’m really just very weak, very little upper body strength,” she said with a laugh.
In the rehearsal before the show, the contestants got to practice in an environment that simulated what the real experience would be like, complete with stand-ins for host Pat Sajak.
“One of the fake Pat’s said to me, ‘that was the worst spin I have ever seen,’” Harry said.
Nonetheless, Harry eventually realized that she could use this to her advantage.
“If you spin consistently you can kind of guess where the wheel will end up,” she said. “So I had a sense of where it could end up and that allowed me to see if I should spin or not.”
Another strategy Harry used was buying more vowels than usual, which even the producers recommend.
“The chances of a vowel coming up are pretty high versus obscure consonants,” she said. “Once all the vowels are used, they’ll tell you.”
Her favorite part of filming was being able to chat with host Vanna White and debrief with her family after she competed — the only people she was able to debrief with for the next two months. Harry had to keep her performance on the episode a secret up until the episode aired last Wednesday.
On Wednesday, students, coworkers and family friends gathered into Dom’s Lounge, erupting into cheers as Harry introduced herself on the show and especially when she explained her job at “a small school in Claremont.”
This excitement continued as Harry began showing her aptitude as a contestant. Before the first commercial break, she correctly guessed the puzzle “Trails, trailheads, trailblazers” to bring her up to $2,300.
Every time anything remotely good or bad happened, a chorus of “woohoos” or “boos” sounded, and “shhhs” overtook the room each time the show resumed.
During the second segment of the show, she stretched her lead by winning a bonus prize of a $7,400 trip to the Adirondacks.
The audience members in Doms Lounge played along while munching on Rice Krispies and sipping La Croix, but none of them were as successful as Harry was on the show.
When she was officially pronounced the winner, she smiled from the corner as the room cheered with a total of $20,000 won — but the game was not over yet.
Harry still had a shot to win money in the bonus round, but she couldn’t fill in the blanks of the winning phrase: “You mark my words.”
“Who says that?” she remarked with a laugh.
Regardless, her family and friends were very proud of her impressive $20,000 win. One family friend, Beth Bodnar, remarked that the show brought out another side of Harry.
“I was really impressed,” Bodnar said. “It’s a really nice way to see a different part [of her] we don’t [see] about her on the daily.”