When she was just learning how to spell, Jessica Stean would call out letters while watching “Wheel of Fortune” with her grandparents in their Westbury home.
As a loyal fan of the show, Stean, 29, of Westbury, has become much better through the years at solving its puzzles, and she was able to prove it during the episode that aired Friday night. Stean won $25,262 in cash and prizes, including trips to Hawaii and London, during the March 19 taping of the game show’s “Fabulous Food Week” in Manhattan.
“It was a dream come true,” said Stean, who has long aspired to be a contestant on the show, and put it on a list of things she’d like to accomplish before turning 30.
Prior to the show, Stean had also been eyeing a trip to England, but had concluded that she wouldn’t be able to afford it. Now, she’ll not only stay eight nights in London, but she also won a second vacation in Hawaii.
Being a teacher — she works at Dutch Broadway Elementary School in Elmont — Stean told “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak that it will be a challenge figuring out how to take both trips in the same year.
“That’s a good problem to have,” he replied to her.
The Hawaii trip nearly went to another Long Islander, though.
Jim Faulknor, 42, of Shoreham, had solved most of the puzzle, “Dinner and a Traditional Luau,” when he reached for the wheel to spin one more time. As he touched one of the spokes, he figured out the phrase in his mind, but had to proceed with his spin anyway. Staring up at the board, he kept saying to himself, “I’m going to Hawaii. I’m going to Hawaii.” But his celebration came to an end when he heard the audience groan.
“That’s when I looked down and realized I was on ‘Bankrupt,’” said Faulknor. “I was the last person in the room to realize it.”
Faulknor, the owner of a small digital marketing firm, did walk away with $12,500, solving three puzzles, including “Collecting Baseball Cards.”
“My whole childhood, that’s all I would do .?.?. I said, ‘My friends will kill me If I don’t get this one,’” he said of the pastime.
Faulknor’s five kids — Jackson, 13, Chase, 11, twins Madeline and Samantha, 11, and Paige, 9 — have been encouraging him to apply to the show for years, so he’s going to spend the money on building them a game room and taking them on a trip to the Grand Canyon next summer.
The most memorable part of his “Wheel of Fortune” experience, though, didn’t make the broadcast. During the taping, Faulknor solved a puzzle -- “That Is It in a Nutshell” -- with only one letter, but he was less than one second over the time limit. As production of the show came to a standstill so judges could review the tape, Faulknor and Stean said the audience started shouting, “Just give it to him! He has five kids!” and chanting, “Jim, Jim, Jim.” Show producers ended up throwing out the puzzle.
“It was a great experience and a lot of fun,” said Faulknor, who along with Stean were the last of 19 Long Islanders who competed on the show during Manhattan tapings that took place March 15, 16, 18 and 19 at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden. “It’s a story I’ll have for the rest of my lifetime.”
Stean plans to use her prize money to pay off some bills including her student loans, and help her brother, John Stean, 27, buy a new car.
“I’m very thankful,” added Stean. “It was a dream come true.”