East Northport native Jerry Wichern learned two things while taping an episode of "Wheel of Fortune" on Aug. 24.
The wheel is heavy.
And Vanna White isn’t.
Oh, by the way, Wichern earned an impressive $68,005 in cash and merchandise on the show, which aired Wednesday night, including two cars.
Wichern started strong, earning $1,000 on the first “Toss-Up” puzzle by buzzing in first and answering “Refrigerator Magnets.” Wichern then scored in the category “Food and Drink” with the answer “Warm Apple Fritters with Powdered Sugar” and the category “Same Letter” by coming up with “Gradually Gaining Ground.” After coming up with “Award Winning Short Film” in the category “Show Biz,” he had amassed $37,850 to easily make it to the Bonus Round. In the process he won a Smart car.
“A Smart car for a smart guy,” host Pat Sajak said.
"One of the things my son pointed out to me was, 'While the other players were spinning, they were clapping and smiling and looking around at people, and you just kept staring at the board,' " Wichern said Thursday morning of his son, Jerry, 40, who attended the taping along with Wichern's wife, Janet, 67. " 'You had this intense look.' ”
Wichern confirmed his smarts in the Bonus Round. After getting the consonants R,S,T,L,N and the vowel E, Wichern said he already knew the answer to the phrase "In Other Words" and chose consonants W,D,H and the vowel O accordingly. By the time he was done, there was only one I left in the puzzle. Wichern immediately answered, winning a Honda CRV and $5,000 to complete his winnings.
"If it [the answer] wasn’t what I thought it was, when I picked them it was going to look pretty silly when Vanna [White] didn't move anything," said Wichern, who may use some of the cash he won to expand his baseball card collection.
The retired math teacher from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn has lived in East Northport his whole life, but now splits time between Long Island and Boynton Beach, Fla. Last March, Wichern went to a “Wheelmobile” in West Palm Beach, which the show uses to find contestants.
“I didn’t get called to the stage, but I filled out an information card, and a couple weeks later I got called to take the test,” Wichern said.
Wichern subsequently tested for the show in April in Boca Raton.
“There were about 40 people there,” Wichern said. “They questioned you individually about your background, they test for your voice, your mannerisms, how you’ll act on camera. Then, they give you a written test.”
Wichern was given 20 puzzles on a sheet of paper, and filled out as many as he could.
“After the written test, the 40 got cut down to 20; then, they put you into groups of three [to play],” Wichern said. “They didn’t have a wheel there, but they made believe you spun the wheel. Then, you called out the letter and solved the puzzle.”
Two weeks after the test, he received a letter saying he was going to be a contestant. Wichern traveled to California with his wife of 45 years, Janet, 67, and his oldest son, Jerry, 40, and barely made it to the taping due to a canceled flight caused by a mechanical failure.
But when Wichern finally got there, the experience was well worth all the travel hassles. He was told the wheel weighs more than 2,000 pounds, so on the day of taping the contestants were brought in five hours early so they have plenty of time to practice.
“The wheel is very, very heavy, they tell you that about a hundred times,” Wichern said. “They tell you that you have to go reach out to your right and pull it as hard as you can, and as it comes to your body you have to push it away from you.”
Wichern got in about 10 practice spins before actually playing.
“I guess it has good ball bearings because it spun pretty well,” he said. “Even the skinniest woman [contestant] was able to push it pretty well.”
Wichern got a chance to meet White before the taping. He said she was very nice, but the former basketball referee and softball umpire for Suffolk County’s Section XI calls it like he sees it.
“She’s very, very thin. Unbelievably thin,” Wichern said. “It was like if she turned sideways she disappeared.”
Photo: East Northport native Jerry Wichern, left, with host Pat Sajak, was the big winner on the "Wheel of Fortune" show that aired Wednesday, hauling in $68,005 in cash and merchandise, including two cars.