Catching up with Pat Sajak.

Tonight, I watched my first Wheel of Fortune in what had to be twenty years. Jeopardy to boot, although I saw that one in the days of Ken Jennings.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out Pat Sajak and Vanna White still host the thing! Practically everything else but the wheel changed though. In fact, the first two puzzles, they just throw out letters until someone guesses the answer. I thought the whole game went like that, until my Dad said, no, that’s just the warmup.
(Some Wheel of Fortune if you don’t even spin a wheel, eh?)

Is there a need for Vanna White? People who remember the original Wheel, which had Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford, remember that Susan’s job was to turn the puzzle letters when they lit up. Now, it appears, it’s all computer graphics, so there are no letters to turn. But they can’t get rid of Vanna, because she’s part of the show, right? So she just motions her hands to the letters that appear. It’s kind of Japanese, actually, although she uses the broad sweep gesture.

I swear that Wheel is filled with a bunch of additions and junk. It used to just be dollar values, free spin, lose a turn, and bankrupt. Now it seems like every third piece has a product endorsement or a catch. Everything is so elaborate.

What happened to plain? The rules for Wheel of Fortune were simple: spin the wheel, whatever money you land on, you get that for each consonant you guess right. If you solve the puzzle, you get to go shopping in whatever prize theme you chose. You spent what you could, and then the rest could either be “on account” or as a gift certificate from Service Merchandise. Now, they just hand you the cash, but they’re throwing it at you ten different ways.

The woman who came out on top won something like $54,000 in cash. It felt way too much like a show that was just throwing money at the contestants, except Jeopardy had had the third highest-grossing player on there (and lose tonight), and he had racked up a quarter million.

As a guy who feels a bit like he was a 5 1/2 year contestant on the game show, “Who wants to live in Japan?”, I guess I can relate to these people. Except the part about winning the big money.

[Update: maybe I was more like a panelist on the Japan Show.]

[Update: I don’t know if anyone remembers one called the Gong Show . . . ?]