Melissa Naldzin has loved “Wheel of Fortune” ever since she was 4 years old and played the computer version of the game on her father’s Apple II GS computer.
So when the Nocatee resident, Realtor and professional photographer learned the “Wheelmobile” was coming to Jacksonville, she knew she had to audition. That first local visit would lead to Naldzin appearing on the long-running game show: First Coast residents will have a chance to see how she fared at 7 p.m. Friday May 27, when Naldzin’s episode airs locally on WTLV NBC 12.
“It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Naldzin said.
Taking a spin
At first, it appeared that Naldzin wouldn’t win the chance to spin the wheel or buy a vowel, when her Jacksonville audition in November 2015 never happened.
“I submitted my application and sat there all day and never got called,” she said. “I was so bummed.”
Two months later, however, Naldzin received an email saying she had been selected for a second Jacksonville audition.
“I was shocked since I wasn’t picked in the first round,” she said.
Naldzin went back for another local audition, where this time she advanced to calling out letters, playing a few practice games and taking a written test.
“They don’t judge you on how quickly you can solve a puzzle, but rather on how well you enunciate and project your voice,” she said. “They also look for high energy, lots of clapping and cheery faces.”
The audition concluded with applicants being told they would be notified within two weeks if they had been selected to appear on the show. On day 15, Naldzin opened her mailbox and saw and envelope from “Wheel of Fortune.” A week later, she received an email telling her to book a flight and be in California in 10 days for her taping.
“They sent a package with all the important details, so at that point it really started to sink in!” Naldzin said.
Accompanied by her mother, Naldzin spent a few days exploring the Los Angeles area before tackling the big wheel in the television studio.
“The set is actually smaller in person,” she said. “We filmed five shows that day, so when it wasn’t our game, we were able to watch the other contestants and cheer them on. The contestant coordinators were fantastic and so helpful and encouraging – they felt like family by the end of the day.”
But solving the puzzles in the studio was a lot different than playing along at home, Naldzin found. “It’s one thing to know the puzzle before anyone else,” she said, “but having to wait your turn to solve it or trying to avoid Bankrupt or Lose a Turn can be a little intimidating – plus the wheel weighs about 2,400 pounds!”
Now that she is back in Nocatee and waiting to see her episode on TV, Naldzin described her “Wheel of Fortune” experience as both “surreal” and “absolutely incredible.”
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I really am standing next to Pat Sajak and I really am on Wheel of Fortune right now!” she said. “Living in that exact moment was just spectacular and one that I am so grateful for – I smile every time I think about it!”