'Fortune' smiles on Charleston native
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Beth Vencill had 10 seconds to figure out what _ _ NAL _ _ ASE meant.
She knew the answer was two words, and she knew it was a thing. Wheel of Fortune doesn't like to make winning easy for its contestants.
But she nailed it.
With her answer "final phase," the Charleston-native and elementary school teacher won the popular TV game show and emerged with prizes worth more than $46,000.
"I didn't expect to win. It was just surreal, it still is kind of crazy," Vencill said Friday in phone conversation.
"I was watching it again last night, just kind of zoned out doing something on my computer and I heard (Wheel of Fortune host) Pat Sajak say my name and I was like 'Oh wait, that's me!' " she said.
Although the Wheel of Fortune episode featuring Vencill aired Thursday, she filmed the show in September. Since then, Vencill, 35, has playfully sidestepped constant questions from family and friends asking how she fared. She said she told people she did well and won some stuff, but never revealed the extent of her winnings.
All told, Vencill walked away with a brand new Volkswagen Beetle, a trip to Antigua and cash. The prizes are exciting, but she said the amount of public support she received meant even more.
A second-grade teacher at Bible Center School in Charleston for the past 12 years, the church had a public viewing party Thursday for Vencill's episode. She said more than 300 people came to cheer her on.
"I know I won some stuff, but I was really overwhelmed by the love and support of my friends and family," Vencill said. "That's what I feel makes me a true winner."
She almost didn't win anything, though. After solving the first toss-up puzzle - the answer was "two turtledoves" - another contestant went on a tear. He answered several puzzles in a row and took a commanding lead.
But Vencill bounced back during the prize puzzle portion of the game. She correctly guessed "recline and relax in the sunshine" during the round, earning her trip to Antigua and enough money to contend with the current leader.
During the following commercial break, Vencill said show coordinators realized they had tallied her score incorrectly. When they added it up again, she passed her opponent. Even though Vencill didn't answer the final puzzle correctly, it was the only correct answer the third contestant managed.
That put her in the final round. She guessed her letters - C, M, D and A - and said she thought she had figured out the first of the two words.
"I don't even think two seconds passed and I guessed it as a question," Vencill said. "And (Sajak) was like 'Yep, that's right!' "
She celebrated the win with her friends from church, Caleb and Tiffany Korth, who accompanied her to the Wheel of Fortune studios in Culver City, Calif. It was the culmination of a lifelong love affair with the show: Vencill remembers watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy with her grandparents when she was a child.
She loves the challenge of trying to solve the puzzles, and regularly plays Scrabble and the Words with Friends, a digital game similar to Scrabble. So when she heard Wheel of Fortune was auditioning potential contests this spring at Mardi Gras casino, she figured she'd give it a shot.
Vencill didn't think she had made the cut until she got an email weeks later. The message invited her back to the casino to try out again. She received a letter after the second audition letting her know she had made it to the show.
She wasn't allowed to claim any of her prizes until after the show aired. Wheel of Fortune has up to 120 days to provide the items, so she expects them sometime in March or April.
She isn't sure when she'll take her trip, but friends and students have already petitioned to join. A big fan of the Honda Accord she drives, she isn't sure what she'll do with the new car. The taxes on the prizes will probably wipe out the remaining cash prize, she said.
She still had a great time on the show though. And in her opinion, the excitement and support from the community is better than spinning the 2,400-pound wheel anyway.