Drexel student Zaarah Abdul-Aziz on set to compete on "Wheel of Fortune." Photo Credit: Carol Kaelson.
“Wheel of Fortune” has been playing on televisions across the country for decades, with generations of individuals and families regularly tuning in to watch the show and try to solve the puzzles. Drexel University student Zaarah Abdul-Aziz, a fourth-year biological sciences (pre-med) major in the College of Arts and Sciences, grew up watching “Wheel of Fortune” — and she recently appeared on the show on a March 20 episode during its special “College Week Spring Break” programming.
Not only did she get to solve puzzles on air and meet hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White, but she also won an international trip and a cash prize, and also made it to the bonus round!
Abdul-Aziz talked to DrexelNow about what the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity was like.
Q: I’m guessing you’re a big “Wheel of Fortune” fan?
A: I’m a big fan. My family and I watch it all the time whenever we’re home at the same time. We sit and watch “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.” When I was younger, it was always my show, even though when it would end it would mean that it was bed time!
Drexel University student Zaarah Abdul-Aziz, holding the beach ball on the right, with the other college students who competed on the “College Week Spring Break” programming on "Wheel of Fortune." Photo Credit: Carol Kaelson.
Q: How did you hear about auditioning for the show? What was that process like?
A: I am part of the Wheel-Watchers Club, which is a club that you can be a part to have the opportunity to win things that people on the show win. On that website, I saw that you could fill out an application to be a contestant. I was just sitting on the couch and thought that I should do it. The application is online and you can add a video — I didn’t do a video, so I wasn’t expecting to hear back. Around November, I got an email inviting me to come to Philly and audition. I thought it was crazy, but I knew I definitely had to do it!
There were hundreds of us there auditioning. The audition is set up so you’re playing the game and I solved two puzzles when I was auditioning. You also had to talk about yourself, and when I mentioned I was in college, the people from the show kind of lit up at that.
Q: How did you get ready for the show?
A: I was notified two weeks before I flew out to Los Angeles when my show was going to be taped. I did watch the show more in those two weeks. I wasn’t able to watch it for a while, because I wasn’t coming home on time due to my co-op schedule. But I made it a point to be home after I found that I was going to be on in it so I could be more familiar with anything new and basically just practice. I did also download the game and practice with some puzzles.
I was on co-op working at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia at volunteer services. My team was really great about me taking time off to go on the show. They were so excited! I took that Thursday and Friday off and was back to work on Monday.
The show is filmed in Los Angeles, so I flew out to California on Thursday. The next morning was the day of filming. When I got to the show, the other contestants and I practiced and were told what we could and couldn’t do.
Q: For those that didn’t watch the episode, can you talk about what happened on the show?
A: When we started, we quickly did the Toss Up puzzle — I didn’t get it. After that, Pat Sajak asked us about ourselves. We knew what he was going to ask because we provided the information and went over it quickly before. When he asked me, I told him everything about what I study and what I do in my free time, which is read. I also said that I just got into traveling — more so as a stress reliever between terms. The first place I went to was in LA to visit family in September 2017, which was the first time I got to travel by myself. Later, I went to Puerto Rico. I’m trying to plan more things, like a cruise or a trip to Disney.
Then we played again. I didn’t get the first or second puzzle, and I was also getting bankrupt and lost a turn. I was behind up until the Prize Puzzle, which I solved for “chilling in the cabana.” It was my favorite puzzle, but not because I won a trip! It was a good moment because I hadn’t solved anything and it was a chance to show that I knew what I was doing. For my trip, I was told that I was going to Belize!
After that, there was another puzzle that I solved as well, for “new and used textbooks.” I didn’t get the third Toss Up puzzle, but I did get the puzzle in the final spin round. I was told I was the big winner for the night. Then I went to the Bonus Round to try to solve for “fixing my hair.” I did get a wild card to get an extra letter, and I called a letter that didn’t help me solve the puzzle. I was really upset because in my head I was saying ‘Call ‘F’ out,’ but I called “H” instead. I also should have said “I” as the vowel instead of “O,” but I knew the word ended in “ing” so I was trying to get more letters. I would have won $36,000.
I did win $16,900 and the trip to Belize!
Q: What was it like on the set and meeting Pat Sajak and Vanna White?
A: I wasn’t really tongue-twisted until after the taping was over. At the end I had a chance to talk to them and ask them questions. They were both really sweet and genuine. The whole thing was really surreal. I can’t believe it.
Q: What was it like having to wait until the show aired to talk about it?
A: The taping was on the day after Valentine’s Day. The first week, I remember wanting to tell everyone everything. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone anything, but I ended up enjoying the secrecy. It was something me and my mom, who was there for the taping, were able to keep just between us — not my sisters or my family. Everyone kept trying to say stuff like, “You must have won this, you must have won that.” It was really hard. Especially as the week that it would air came up, I really wanted to tell people, “Watch me do this.”
I watched the episode with my family and friends — we made a little party of it. They were all surprised I could keep quiet about my winnings for that long because I talk a lot!
Q: What are you planning on doing with your winnings?
A: I’m planning on investing some of the money, but that’s the only plan I have right now. I want to be smart with it — I don’t want to blow it on a shopping spree. Hopefully I can pay some bills.
And for the trip, I wasn’t able to claim it until the show aired. It is an eight-day, seven-night trip. I did just tell them what dates I wanted to go in September, during the break before the new academic year.
Q: Was there anything else you wanted to bring up?
A: The experience was amazing and I’m so glad that I was afforded this chance to do that. It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime thing. For me to be contacted so early and make the audition round in November and tape in February was really lucky and something I will never forget!