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Wheel of Fortune
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Wheel of Fortune

Wheel of Fortune is a television game show originally devised by Merv Griffin, and which runs in local editions around the world. It involves three contestants competing against each other to solve a word puzzle similar to Hangman. The name of the show comes from the large wheel that determines the dollar amounts and prizes won (or lost) by the contestants.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Play
3 Special Rounds
4 Final Round
5 Notes
6 External links


United States

In early pilots, Wheel was called Shopper's Bazaar; Edd Byrnes and
Chuck Woolery hosted pilot episodes in 1974.

Wheel debuted on January 6, 1975, on NBC. Woolery was the show's original host, and Susan Stafford was the original hostess. Announcer Charlie O'Donnell has been "the voice of the Wheel" since episode one in 1975, save for a few brief years in the 1980s when Jack Clark announced due to O'Donnell's obligations to other shows.

Chuck Woolery left Wheel on December 25, 1981, after a salary dispute with Merv Griffin; three days later, Pat Sajak replaced him. Vanna White replaced Susan Stafford as hostess in December 1982. Sajak left the daytime show on January 9, 1989, to do a nighttime talk show for CBS that would fail after one year. Former football player Rolf Benirschke hosted the daytime show until NBC dropped it on June 30, 1989; Bob Goen became its host when it moved to CBS on July 17 of that year. The daytime show moved back to NBC on January 14, 1991, and was canceled for good on September 20 of that year.

A nighttime version of Wheel, which is syndicated to stations around the country, debuted on September 19, 1983. This version still airs today, and after two decades the show continues to have the highest Nielsen ratings of any syndicated program. Pat Sajak and Vanna White have hosted the nighttime version since its debut.

When the show first aired, the money the contestants won had to be used to shop amongst prizes on the TV show, but now the game is played for cash. Eliminating shopping sped up the game, and allowed more time to plug the big prizes, such as cars.

In 1996, the original board for displaying the letters was replaced with a digital electronic puzzle board, touching the letter spaces instead of turning them. A fill-in-the-blank puzzle is displayed on a grid of video displays in front of the players.

In November 2003, Wheel celebrated its 4,000th episode in syndication.

United Kingdom

The British version has been hosted by Nicky Campbell, Bradley Walsh, John Leslie and Paul Hendy with Angela Ekeate, Carol Smillie and Jenny Powell in turn being co-hosts.


The current Australian version began in 1981 on the Seven Network, with Ernie Sigley as host. Other hosts included John Burgess (from 1984), Rob Elliott (from 1997) and Steve Onecke (from 2004). Co-host Adriana Xenides became the longest serving game show hostess in the world having featured on Australia's Wheel Of Fortune from 1981 until 1999 - a total of 18 years. Sophie Faulkner has co-hosted the show since 1999.


Three players take turns. On a turn, a player can spin the 24-sector wheel, buy a vowel, or attempt to solve the puzzle.


If the pointer lands on a cash value, the player gives a consonant (W and Y count as consonants), and if it is in the puzzle, the co-host reveals all instances of that letter in the puzzle, and the player receives the cash value multiplied by the number of instances of that letter. If the letter is not in the puzzle, the player's turn ends.

If the pointer lands on the wheel's "Lose a Turn" space, the player's turn ends. If the pointer lands on "Bankrupt", the player loses all earned cash and prizes, and the player's turn ends.

If the pointer lands on a prize, the player gives a consonant, and if it is in the puzzle, the player picks up the prize and sets it in front of them. They must then solve the puzzle in that round to win the prize.

In many countries, but not the US, the contestant gives a word beginning with the chosen letter along with it. Hence: "C for Charlie" and "I for indigo and the famous (in Australia, anyway) N for Nellie".

Buying a Vowel

If a player has at least $250250 in cash, they can pay $250 to have all instances of a single vowel (A, E, I, O, or U) in the puzzle revealed. If the letter is not in the puzzle, the player's turn ends.

Vowel buying is very common on the US version, but for some reason, is much rarer in the UK.

Some people argue that, because of the inflating dollar values nowadays, the amount for vowels should increase.

Solve the Puzzle

Once enough letters have been revealed, a player can attempt to read the solution to the incomplete puzzle. If the solution is incorrect, the player's turn ends. Only the player who correctly solves the puzzle pockets the earnings from the round.

Special Rounds

In recent years, various special rounds have been introduced.

Toss-up Round

This was made possible with the advent of an electronic board, compared with using trilons. A puzzle is revealed one letter at a time, and a player may buzz-in to solve it for a set amount of money ($1000, $2000, or $3000 in the US version). In the present US version, two toss-ups for $1000 and $2000 start the game, with the second one determining who starts round 1. The $3000 toss-up determines who starts the fourth round, which is usually the speed-up round. If two or all three players are tied at the end of the game, then a toss up round is played for the right to go to the bonus round. No money is at stake in this round, and this has happened at least once.

Jackpot Round (Round 2)

After each spin, the value of the spin is added to the jackpot, regardless of whether or not the letter chosen is in the puzzle. The jackpot starts at $5000. If a player spins and lands on Jackpot, and then guesses a letter in the puzzle, they may then immediately solve the puzzle to win the jackpot.

Mystery Round (Round 3)

Two $500 wedges are replaced with black $500 spaces marked with a stylized question mark. If a player lands on one of these mystery wedges, and guesses a letter in the puzzle, they may either take $500 per letter as normal, or turn over the mystery wedge. The mystery wedge either contains a Bankrupt or a prize (usually smaller cars, but sometimes other prizes worth $10,000 or more). If the player reveals the prize, as with any other wheel prize, they must solve the puzzle without hitting Bankrupt to win it. After one mystery wedge is revealed, the other mystery wedge acts as a regular $500 space for the remainder of the round.

Speed-Up Round

Host: "I'll give the wheel a final spin." As the wheel is spinning down: "You give me a letter, and you'll have three (previously five) seconds to solve it. Vowels worth nothing, consonants worth..." the value of the space on which the pointer lands.

In recent seasons, the value is final spin + $1000, to make the last round more meaningful.

On some versions, such as in the US, the host intentionally aims for the top dollar value with the final spin; in other versions, the host gives a random spin. If the host spins bankrupt or lose-a-turn in the final spin, he spins again. In the current version, final spins that land on bankrupt are edited out.

Puzzle Round

Some puzzles have a question that must be answered in order to win some extra money. Categories for this puzzle include Clue, Fill In the Blank, Next Line Please, and Slogan.

Prize Puzzle

As indicated at the beginning of a puzzle, at seemingly random intervals there are Prize Puzzles that award the winner with a prize somehow relating to the puzzle.

Example: If the solution were, "FUN IN THE SUN", the player would win a trip to a tropical island.

Final Round

The player with the most winnings is then given a chance to take a large bonus prize, usually a vacation, car, or more money. In the US, there were several prizes available that a player could choose, usually cars, trips, and jewelry; however, the contestant almost always took the car, or the $25,000 when they introduced all-cash in 1987. In 1989, a blind-draw system was instituted where the contestant would draw a prize envelope from a choice of five identical envelopes, each behind a separate letter of the word WHEEL. Each prize could only be won once in a week. This was used until 2001, when a mini-wheel was instituted that a player spun; whichever spot it landed on was the prize the player would play for. (By that time, the only prizes available were cars and cash, mostly $25,000, but fewer $30, $35, $40, $45, and $50K spaces, plus the single elusive $100,000 grand prize spot.)

A final puzzle is put up and the contestant nominates several consonants and a vowel. Occurrences of these letters are revealed and the contestant has a small amount of time, but as many guesses as necessary, to solve the puzzle.

In the US version before 1988, the contestants were only given the choice of five consonants and one vowel, and 15 seconds to guess the puzzle. A statistical analysis shows that R, T, S, L, N, and E are the best choices, and these were almost always selected by contestants. Since 1988, the contestant is shown the puzzle with R, S, T, L, N, and E already revealed, and then they choose 3 more consonants and one more vowel, but are only given 10 seconds to solve. Since then, the difficulty of the bonus puzzles has gone up, sometimes with only one or two instances of the automatic letters appearing in the puzzle.

The series is produced in the U.S. by Merv Griffin's company, Califon Productions, in association with Sony Pictures Television, and distributed by King World.


External links