CONFIRMED: A Wild 43-Year Tradition Came to a Crashing Halt on Friday Night With “One Final Spin”

in Disney, Entertainment, Featured, Movies & TV

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Credit: Inside the Magic

A wild era more than forty years in the making ended on Friday night, and for more than 115 million people, life as we know it has been permanently and irrevocably changed.

Abstract blurry image featuring vivid colors, primarily blues, greens, and reds. The colors and shapes are out of focus, creating a sense of motion and abstraction, with some areas appearing to have neon light effects reminiscent of a Wheel of Fortune backdrop. Specific details and objects are indistinguishable.
Credit: Inside the Magic

The Beginning of the End in Mid-2023

Friday night brought an end to a long-standing tradition for millions of Americans, some of whom have been a part of that tradition for more than four decades.

Longtime Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak made the announcement in June 2023 that he would give the wheel one final spin at the end of Season 41 of the game show, the final episode of which was filmed on April 5 but aired on Friday evening, June 7.

A man in a black suit, white shirt, and striped tie stands in front of the Wheel of Fortune set. Colorful lights and part of a spinning wheel with numbers are visible in the background. The man is smiling and appears to be hosting or presenting on the show.
Credit: Disney/ABC

“It’s been a wonderful ride, and I’ll have more to say in the coming months,” Sajak said in a statement at the time. “Many thanks to you all.”

The lengthy chapter in television game show history began in 1981 when Sajak wasn’t yet old enough to run for the Office of U.S. President.

A man in a brown suit and tie stands next to a woman wearing a pink one-shoulder dress. They both smile at the camera, evoking the charm of a Wheel of Fortune host, with a festive background that includes a decorative poster and a wreath.
Pat Sajak and Vanna White/Credit: ViacomCBS

Now, 43 years later–at the age of 77 and with more than 8,000 episodes of the fan-favorite show under his belt–Sajak is calling it quits–a decision that has sent shock waves throughout the television community and the Wheel of Fortune fan community since it was first announced.

The Development of “Wheel of Fortune”

Wheel of Fortune was created by veteran game show host and television producer Merv Griffin, who also created the popular game show Jeopardy!

An older man with short white hair, wearing a beige suit jacket, white dress shirt, and black tie, smiles broadly while standing in front of a dark background with foliage. His presence evokes the essence of a wild 43-year tradition beloved by millions of fans.
Merv Griffin, the creator of “Wheel of Fortune”/Facebook/Merv Griffin

Griffin drew inspiration for the game from Hangman, which he enjoyed playing with his family. But the original version of the show wasn’t called Wheel of Fortune. Rather, it was dubbed Shoppers Bazaar, and contestants on the carnival-themed show didn’t win actual cash. Instead, they won play money to put toward prizes on the set.

Griffin envisioned a game that combined the puzzle-solving element with a chance-based wheel to add excitement and unpredictability and designed the game with the idea of contestants guessing letters to fill in the blanks of a phrase, making it accessible and engaging for a wide audience.

To say Griffin struck gold would be an understatement.

The Game Within the Game Show

Wheel of Fortune is played in several rounds during which contestants take turns spinning a large, colorful wheel divided into sections with various cash amounts and other special segments marked Bankrupt or Lose a Turn.

Three contestants stand behind podiums on the set of the game show "Wheel of Fortune," a wild 43-year tradition cherished by millions of fans. The colorful wheel is in the foreground with various numbers and slots, while the host stands on the left, engaging with the contestants. The backdrop shows an outdoor scene with trees and buildings.
Credit: Disney/ABC

After spinning, a contestant guesses a consonant, and if the letter is part of the puzzle, it appears on the puzzle board. The contestant earns the amount on the wheel multiplied by the number of occurrences of the consonant in the puzzle. The contestant can then choose to buy a vowel with their accumulated winnings or spin the wheel again.

If a contestant guesses a letter that is not found in the puzzle–or if he lands on a penalty segment–his turn ends.

A colorful wheel from a game show, watched by millions of fans, featuring various wedges with values such as "$300", "Lose a Turn", "$800", and "Turkey" among others. A green glittery wedge with a black dollar sign is at the top, acting as the current stopping point.
Credit: Wheel of Fortune Wiki

The round continues until a contestant correctly solves the puzzle by guessing the phrase. Bonus rounds and special prizes, like vacations and cars, add to the excitement, with the ultimate goal of winning the most cash and prizes by the show’s end. A bonus round follows for the contestant with the highest winnings.

An Award-Winning Game Show With a Massive Fanbase

Wheel of Fortune is currently viewed by more than 25 million people each week—more than any other program on television—and has been trademarked as “America’s Game.” Over the years, the show has garnered seven Emmy Awards, including a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Game/Audience Participation Show.

A "Wheel of Fortune" game show scene features a contestant named Angela. The puzzle board displays letters forming part of the phrase "T _ K I N G _ L _ C _ T I _ N". The question prompt reads "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?". Letters provided are R, S, T, L, N, and E. It's time for the final spin.
Credit: Disney/ABC

Notwithstanding the actual cash and prizes awarded, Wheel of Fortune is unique as it’s one of only a handful of TV game shows that’s nearly as much fun to play at home as it is for contestants on the show.

What’s With That Giant, Iconic Wheel?

The wheel of cash and prizes is central to Wheel of Fortune. Not only is the wheel part of the show’s iconic name, but it is an integral part of the game, second only to the puzzle board itself.

A colorful wheel with various sections, each marked with two large numbers, the majority of which are zeros. The wheel has a green center and is brightly lit, set against a backdrop that is out of focus. It appears to be for a game or lottery enjoyed by millions of fans as a wild tradition.
Credit: Disney/ABC

As contestants spin the wheel, luck, chance, and a bit of muscle strength cause it to slow to a halt. An arrow points toward one of the spaces, called wedges, on the wheel and determines how much cash the contestant will earn should he guess a letter found in the puzzle.

Contestants with more muscle and less luck often end up landing on the Bankrupt or Lose a Turn wedge.

The wheel measures 16.5 feet in diameter and weighs just over one ton at 2,400 pounds. It is held up by a stainless steel shaft that features roller bearings.

A brightly colored spinning prize wheel with various sections marked with dollar amounts, ranging from small to large values, including 500, 900, 700, and 100. Some sections also feature a dollar sign symbol in this wild 43-year tradition.
Credit: Disney/ABC

The noise that can be heard as the wheel spins is the result of 73 stainless steel pins hitting three rubber flippers, and the lights seen on the wheel are from 200 computerized lights that have the capability to display as many as two million different colors.

The iconic wheel features various monetary amounts on each space or wedge, as well as a Bankrupt wedge and a Lose a Turn wedge, each of which adds an exciting element of chance to the game. The presence of the wheel in the game highlights the elements of luck and strategy in Wheel of Fortune.

Six contestants are gathered around the Wheel of Fortune game show set at Walt Disney World during the show's 35th anniversary. They are smiling and engaged in conversation, celebrating a wild 43-year tradition. The colorful wheel is in the foreground, and the set has a festive atmosphere.
“Wheel of Fortune” was even taped at the Walt Disney World Resort/Credit: Disney/ABC

Those elements, combined with the wordplay of the puzzle and a charismatic host, have made Wheel of Fortune a mainstay in American pop culture.

A Vietnam Radio DJ Becomes the Host of “America’s Game”

Born in Chicago in 1946, Pat Sajak attended Columbia College Chicago upon graduating from high school. In 1968, at the age of 22, Sajak joined the army and was sent to Vietnam, where he worked for more than a year with Armed Forces Radio in Saigon.

Yes, Sajak’s first public role was that of announcer with the Armed Forces Radio, starting each morning in Saigon with “Good Morning, Vietnam!” as actor Robin Williams does in the film by the same name.

A cheerful person with short, light-colored hair is smiling brightly while holding an old-fashioned microphone close to their face. They are wearing a headset and are in front of a backdrop featuring red and white stripes, entertaining millions of fans.
Credit: Inside the Magic

Following his time in the service, Sajak went on to work for a small radio station in Kentucky before moving to Nashville, Tennessee, where he broke into the television industry. He began as a staff announcer for WSM-TV before becoming a weatherman for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles in 1977 after being spotted by a talent agent in Nashville.

Four years later, in 1981, Wheel of Fortune creator Merv Griffin selected Sajak to host the show during its daytime edition. Then, in 1983, Sajak and the show moved to its new primetime television slot both the show and Sajak have remained ever since.

For his efforts, Sajak has earned three Outstanding Game Show Host Emmy Awards, a People’s Choice Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In June 2011, he was honored by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, receiving the Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in April 2018, he was inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

A year later, in May 2019, Sajak’s name found its way into the Guinness Book of World Records. After hosting Wheel of Fortune for an exciting 35 years and 198 days, Sajak had set a new record for the longest career as the host of the same game show, surpassing the previous record set by game show host Bob Barker of The Price is Right.

A man in a black suit stands smiling with open arms behind an illuminated podium. In the background, another older man is pictured, pointing, with colorful balloons and festive imagery that includes the text "Price is Right." This wild tradition has captivated millions of fans over the years.
Credit: CBS/ABC/Inside the Magic

Scandals and Lies on “Wheel of Fortune”

For all the fun, fan following, and frivolity that have played a huge part in the success of Wheel of Fortune, there have been some bumps along the road. Game show or not, it’s still television–television featuring everyday people as contestants, not trained actors and actresses.

Whether they warrant being called scandals, we aren’t sure, but there have been a few notable incidences on Wheel of Fortune over the years–one of which only recently made the headlines.

During the November 28th episode in 2023, a contestant named Lindsey Ziegenfuss attempted to grab an extra consonant during the bonus round of the show and then lied about it.

The 12-year veteran law enforcement officer from Oxford, Pennsylvania, was initially granted the consonants R, S, T, L, and N, as well as one vowel: the letter E, as is customary in the bonus round. Pat Sajak then asked her to choose three additional consonants and one additional vowel.

Lindsey chose the consonants H, D, S, and O, not realizing she had already been granted the letter S on the board.

“Okay, that third letter was, you said H, D . . . ” Sajak intervened before the letter “S” appeared on the screen.

Ziegenfuss replied, saying, “H, D, C,” seemingly pretending she hadn’t previously said “S.” But Sajak’s keen ear went before him, and he didn’t let the former cop off the hook.

A woman in a purple dress stands beside a large game board displaying the phrase "PAY US A VISIT." Nearby, another woman in a green top is seen smiling in a red inset circle. The letters "RSTLNE" and "HDCO" are displayed at the bottom as given letters for the puzzle in this wild 43-year tradition.
Credit: Disney/ABC

“But you did say ‘S,’ right?” he asked her, after which she only smiled but wouldn’t admit to having made a mistake.

“No?” Sajak kept going. “Hold on–earlier, did you say ‘S’ or ‘F’? You said ‘H, D . . . ‘”

But Ziegenfuss wouldn’t budge, repeating to Sajak, “C,” showing her unwillingness to confess, even though she’d been caught.

“Oh, so it wasn’t either S or F?” Sajak responded as the audience laughed. “I think I got it. Alright.”

Farewell, Mr. Sajak

Sajak’s “one final spin” took place during Friday evening’s episode of Wheel of Fortune. He ended his 41-season run with these final words:

I always felt that the privilege came with the responsibility to keep this daily half-hour a safe place for family fun. No social issues. No politics. Nothing embarrassing, I hope. Just a game. But gradually, it became more than that — a place where kids learn their letters, where people from other countries honed their English skills, where families came together, along with friends and neighbors and entire generations.

Sajak added, “What an honor to play even a small part in all of that. Thank you for allowing me into your lives.”

in Disney, Entertainment, Featured, Movies & TV

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