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Jumping through hoops to spin the wheel

Local residents find out hard hard it is turn the 'Wheel of Fortune'
by: Submitted Photo Barbie Minor of Aloha is all smiles during an episode of

Folks who gather around the tube on weekday evenings to take in 'Wheel of Fortune' are often, shall we say, easily moved.

From the anonymous comfort of the family room couch, it's not uncommon to hear answers to an unsolved word puzzle yelled at the screen. Rude taunts often question the basic intelligence of hapless contestants the viewer considers too slow on the draw.

As it turns out, however, the familiar ritual of spinning the legendary wheel, choosing letters for Vanna White to reveal and making quick decisions for big-time prizes and money is not as easy as it looks.

Just ask Beaverton resident Lisa Sophy.

'It was the most draining day of my life,' she said of her day in March on the temporarily relocated 'Wheel' set in Portland. 'Everybody was nervous. No matter how much they try to comfort you, it's still nerve racking. It's not as easy as when you sit on the couch at home and say, 'Come on! Don't they know the puzzle?'

'And that wheel is heavy too.'

Minor will appear on 'Wheel of Fortune' on Wednesday night as part of the iconic show's 'Going Green Week,' which was taped at the Oregon Convention Center in Northeast Portland in late March.

If you don't believe Sophy about the show's intimidation factor, ask Aloha resident Barbie Minor. Her 'Wheel' appearance - set for the 'Portland Week' theme - is set for broadcast on Wednesday, May 9.

'My family said I looked great and was really composed,' she said. 'But I knew underneath my skirt those little legs were shaking back and forth.'

Minor, an account executive for Northwest Staffing Resources in downtown Portland, said not even her theatrical training prepared her for the intensity once the 'Wheel' camera was on.

'I'm a trained actor. I've been onstage in front of cameras. This was nothing like that at all,' she said. 'There's not really a way you can prepare. It's not like a play where you have a dress rehearsal. This is in front of an audience of 3,500 at the convention center.'

Along with Beaverton resident Kyle Hibbert, whose episode is set to run Tuesday evening, Sophy and Minor were the chosen few from the Westside who made the final cut for the Portland-based shows. The 'Wheel of Fortune' cast and crew set up camp in late March to record 20 episodes at a steady clip of 20 per day.

Spinning a dream

Minor, a longtime 'Wheel' fan, came upon the audition opportunity for the Oregon shows while visiting Chinook Winds Casino in Lincoln City last fall. She wrote her name on a card and tossed it into a large drum. On the third round of names called - after hearing both a 'Barbara' and a 'Barb' - she finally heard the magic word.

'A friend of mine joked, 'The only one left is 'Barbie,' and sure enough they called me.'

In February, she heard she was selected, along with about 75 contestants, for a callback audition. There were still plenty of hoops through which Minor had to jump. She took a written, multiple-choice test that included Hangman-like word puzzles to solve.

'You continue to play and practice,' she said. 'They wanted you to be animated, excited, to see how you would play and respond.'

One day, after another lull, a different kind of message appeared on her phone's voicemail.

'I barely heard the whole phone message,' she recalled. 'I dropped the phone and screamed."

Appearing on the show fulfills what Minor, 35, calls a 'lifelong dream." It's one she shared with her beloved cousin, Chrissy, who lived in Oklahoma and died two years ago after battling illness. Minor dedicated her appearance to Chrissy and managed a 'shout out' to her from the 'Wheel' set.

'We were basically siblings,' Minor said. 'Any chance she got, she was up here visiting. She very much loved Oregon. I take her everywhere I go.'

Beating the odds

Like Minor, Sophy, 44, signed up for a 'Wheel' audition at Chinook Winds. She and her husband, Cullen, saw an ad in the paper and made a beeline for the casino.

Sophy wasn't crazy about the odds.

'You have to fill out these little cards and pick things randomly,' she said. 'They said even if you didn't get called (there), we're taking the cards back to California and we'll process 'em. I said, 'Yeah, right! Do you know how many cards and how many people showed up?''

Her skepticism proved unfounded in March, when she got an email that said she passed the tests and qualified for final auditions. The serious, reserved demeanor of some of her competitors at that stage perplexed her.

'It's fun, but at the same time you're in competition with everybody in the room,' she said. 'It wasn't the time to be reserved in your personality if you wanted to be on the show.'

One vowel at a time

Sophy, who traded a longtime job with Safeco Insurance to volunteer delivering food to the less fortunate through Meals on Wheels, said the crew couldn't have been any more accommodating to her and fellow contestants.

'Pat and Vanna were awesome,' she said. 'They were so nice.'

She plans to watch her show with a group of friends and neighbors.

'We're having a viewing party at my expense,' she said with a laugh. 'They asked if they could come over and bring a vowel. So everybody has to bring an appetizer that starts with that vowel.'

Regardless of her performance, Sophy realizes she had an experience few could match.

'How many people can say before I died I was on 'Wheel of Fortune,' and it was the first time it was taped in Portland? I was a part of history,' she said.

Minor, who plans to have a lower key viewing experience when her show airs, echoed Sophy's sentiments.

'It was a great experience,' she said. 'I was able to give my cousin a shout out. It was definitely a bucket list item."

That said, Minor has a little advice for anyone who thinks the show is an effortless breeze.

'Find a way to practice spinning a 1,000-pound wheel before going on the show," she said.

'Wheel' goes green

Grouped in different themes such as 'Green Week' and 'The Great Outdoors,' the "Wheel of Fortune" shows recorded last month in Portland will be broadcast throughout May, weeknights at 7:30 p.m. on KATU-TV.

As part of the 'green' theme, the show - which has aired since 1983 - made a point of using eco-friendly practices, as well as prizes, on its trip to the Great Northwest.

Hybrid cars, gift packages from organic products companies, crew meals served with compostable products, a set constructed of all natural materials and reusable greenery reflected the earth-consciousness of the production. Even Vanna White's trademark stylish dresses were made from organic materials by designers EcoSkin, EcoVibe Apparel and Jet Clothing.




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