Sunny Hills counselor spins her way to nearly $23,000 in cash and prizes on TV’s ‘Wheel of Fortune’ game show

Guidance+counselor+Tracey+Falletta%E2%80%99s+Oct.+8+appearance+on+the+TV+game+show%2C+%E2%80%9CThe+Wheel+of+Fortune%2C%E2%80%9D+nets+her+%2422%2C900%2C+which+includes+a+trip+to+the+Caribbean+island+of+Saint+Martin.+Because+of+COVID-19+health+and+safety+guidelines%2C+no+one+was+allowed+to+be+in+the+audience+during+the+show%E2%80%99s+Aug.+7+taping+in+Culver+City.+

Image used with permission from Tracey Falletta.

Guidance counselor Tracey Falletta’s Oct. 8 appearance on the TV game show, “The Wheel of Fortune,” nets her $22,900, which includes a trip to the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. Because of COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, no one was allowed to be in the audience during the show’s Aug. 7 taping in Culver City.

Divya Bharadwaj

Sunny Hills counselor Tracey Falletta will never forget the words “puffy” and “fluffy.”

With $22,900 in cash and prizes and a $13,850 lead heading in the Final Spin round of TV’s “Wheel of Fortune” game show, Falletta was unable to give the answer to the category titled, “Rhyme Time.” Instead, one of her other competitors pulled out the victory by shouting out, “Fluffy and puffy,” to foil the counselor’s attempt at advancing to the show’s Bonus Round in which she could’ve earned up to $100,000 for another correct guess at a puzzle.

“That last puzzle was hard,” said the counselor, who has three sons and a husband teaching at Troy High School. “I didn’t know it. I didn’t think any of us knew it. I think that guy just got really lucky.”

Falletta, who started watching the 45-year-old game show when she was 10, said she decided to see if Lady Luck was on her side by auditioning for “Wheel” after some nudging from her eldest son, 13-year-old Anthony.

“I’ve wanted to be on it for years,” she said. “When quarantine started there was more downtime, so he was like this is the perfect opportunity.”

Falletta said she submitted a one-minute video that her eldest son helped her produce in March after all schools in the district were closed to live classroom instruction. It included information such as where she lives, who her family members are, where she works and what she likes to do in her free time.

To this day, the counselor said she is not sure exactly what prompted producers to choose her as a contestant, but she did try to keep her video very upbeat and energetic. 

“I was pretty indifferent after I submitted the tape,” Falletta said. “I honestly thought it was a long shot as so many people submit audition tapes every year.” 

But Anthony Falletta had high hopes that his mom would appear on the game show.

“Once the audition tape was submitted, I felt very hopeful and confident,” he said. “I knew she was going to make it onto the show, but I did feel a little nervous as well. 

“Of course I was very happy for her. I also wondered if I was going to be able to go or not.”

LADY LUCK COMES HER WAY

A “Wheel of Fortune” producer then contacted the counselor in May to schedule a follow-up audition through Zoom. This virtual meeting included two other potential contestants and three “Wheel” producers, she said. They asked questions to get a feel for the contestants’ personalities and see what they were like in front of a camera.

“They wanted us to talk about the game and what my favorite wedge on the wheel is,” said Falletta, adding that it’s the Express one that allows a contestant to keep making guesses until either the puzzle is solved or a wrong letter is called, which would then bankrupt the contestant.

“I kind of felt like they were testing us to see how well we know the game and how well we knew the wheel,” she recalled. “After the Zoom interview, I thought I had done OK.

“They seemed to like my personality, and I did a decent job with the sample puzzles.” 

PLAYING THE “WHEEL” WHILE KEEPING WITH COVID-19 HEALTH AND SAFETY GUIDELINES

Falletta’s episode was eventually shot on Aug. 7, four days before the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Contestants had to arrange for their own transportation to Culver City in Los Angeles County, where the “Wheel” episodes are produced, she said.

Additionally, they had to take a COVID-19 test and have a negative result.

“On the day of, we [also] had to wear masks the entire time until we were actually on stage,” Falletta said. “We each had our own wheel cover that we had to use [to spin the wheel so germs would not be spread]; they completely sanitized in between tapings and rehearsals; we had to stand six feet apart, and there was no audience.”

Because of coronavirus health and safety guidelines, the show and contestants were not allowed to invite anyone — not even family members — to come watch the taping.

Not having a live studio audience actually became a blessing in disguise for Falletta, who was standing in the second position on the stage between the other two contestants.

“I remember trying to focus on the puzzle, and not what was happening with the two people next to me,” she said. “I just kept my eyes on the board and not on the two gentlemen on either side of me because both of them were very distracting.” 

On the day of, we [also] had to wear masks the entire time until we were actually on stage. “We each had our own wheel cover that we had to use [to spin the wheel so germs would not be spread]; they completely sanitized in between tapings and rehearsals; we had to stand six feet apart, and there was no audience.”

— Tracey Falletta

BUYING VOWELS AND SOLVING PUZZLES TO WIN BIG MONEY AND PRIZES

The taping was eventually aired locally Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. on KABC TV, Channel 7. It can also be accessed on YouTube 

Though Falletta missed the first puzzle worth $1,000, she nabbed the second one for $2,000 with her answer, “Cute little puppy,” after all three contestants were given the category title, “Living Thing,” as a clue.

“To be honest, I was OK with [missing that first puzzle],” she said. “The two contestants were very strong puzzle solvers, and they were probably better than me. I got really lucky with the wheel.” 

Her next fortune arrived in the second round, earning her $1,750 for the answer, “NASA astronauts return to Earth,” from the clue, “Headline.”

“I was excited when I got this one because [one of the other contestants] messed up again,” Falletta said. “I got lucky he messed up.” 

FORTUNE SMILES ON FALLETTA

With $3,750, Falletta headed into the Prize Puzzle round in second place. As a fan of the show, she knew that this level would make or break the fortunes of the contestants.

“Wheel” host Pat Sajak introduced the category as “Event.” In that round, one of the counselor’s spins landed on a $3,500 prize, and she correctly guessed “R,” and two of them popped up on the puzzle screen; eventually, Falletta was able to give the correct answer, “Wonderful Adventure,” winning another $7,450.

And since it was the Prize Puzzle, she also earned a free trip to the Caribbean island of Saint Martin worth $7,700, making her total winnings so far up to $18,900.

“[Anthony] really wanted me to win [the Prize Puzzle], so I think when I won it, he was the first person that popped into my head because I knew he was going to be so excited,” Falletta said.  

Although the trip is meant only for two and must be taken by the end of 2021, Falletta said she plans to take her three sons with her and her husband using some of her prize money. 

“I had to identify three weeks that I would be planning to go, and they were really strict,” said the counselor, who has never been to Saint Martin.

PADDING HER LEAD … UNTIL THE FINAL SPIN

Before that fateful Final Spin round when Lady Luck caught up to her, Falletta scored big again, winning $2,000 for the answer, “Chutes and Ladders,” and another $2,000 for “Candy Land” given the category, “Fun and Games,” adding up her total to $22,900.

Such a winning streak even prompted Sajak to say, “That hardly seems fair. She’s padded her lead.” 

In a sense, Sajak helped foil Falletta’s run, as the host always gives the Wheel a final spin, which on that particular episode it landed on the $5,000 wedge. That meant each correctly guessed letter would add $5,000 to the contestant’s total earnings.

“After I got the two puzzles after the Prize Puzzle, I remember thinking, ‘I got this,’ and then when the host spun the wheel at the very end, and it landed on the $5,000, my heart just sank,” Falletta recalled. “I’ve watched the show long enough to know that was the only way that I was going to lose, and that’s what happened.”

Contestant Adam Richmond “stole” Falletta’s lead with his answer based on the category clue, “Rhyme Time.” He had guessed the letters R, L, G, C and five F’s correctly, earning him $35,000, adding to his total, which ended up at $45,050.

Before leaving the show, Falletta said to Sajak, “No complaints. That was awesome.”

Once Richmond moved onto the Bonus Round, Falletta said she was pulled off the stage and immediately signed paperwork, such as tax documents. She was given information about who would contact her to schedule the trip and also was notified that she would not receive the money until 90 days after her episode aired. 

Through a monitor that producers had there, she watched Richmond win a mini-cooper convertible car worth $36,850 by correctly guessing, “In plain view” (the category was “Phrase”). 

His total earnings ballooned to $81,900, nearly four times what Falletta had won.

“I know that if it had hit anything other than the $5000 [wedge], then I would have been the one to go to the Bonus Round, but who’s to say that I would have solved the puzzle,” she said. “I had to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t lose because it wasn’t something that I ever had.” 

As to whether Falletta would want to apply for another shot at the game show, she added this: “It’s not something I necessarily would do again, but I’m glad I had the experience.” 

OCT. 8 WATCH PARTY

Falletta said she had signed papers prior to the show’s taping agreeing not to discuss how she did until after it aired; that’s also when she was informed of the Oct. 8 airing on TV.

The counselor also received a reminder email from “Wheel” producers about the episode being on TV two weeks before. Upon mentioning it to some of her co-workers in the guidance office, word eventually leaked to principal Allen Whitten.

“I did not promote my episode at all,” Falletta said. “Mr. Whitten wanted to tell the staff, and I let him.”  

Whitten promoted Falletta’s appearance on the show in an email to the whole staff on the morning of the show’s airing:

“Looking for something to take your mind off of all the craziness?” the principal wrote. “We have just the thing. … Tonight one of our very own Lancers will be on TV competing for their share of the Wheel of Fortune prizes!! … Tune in to find out who! 

“LETS GOOOOO — BIG MONEY!!”

Falletta said she held a watch party Oct. 8 at her house with her family and a few friends, including head counselor Beth Thomson.

“I had no idea what it was going to look like on TV,” she said. “I had my family over and a couple of close friends, and everyone was so awesome. They were screaming, and we watched it a couple of times just to go through the whole thing.” 

Not knowing the outcome of the show, Whitten also tuned in to watch that Thursday night.

“We were all so impressed with how well she did,” he said. “The whole staff watched, [and] I am [a fan] now.” 

No complaints. That was awesome.”

— Tracey Falletta

Falletta’s “Wheel” appearance is reportedly the first time an SH staff member made it to a TV game show since as long as 2002, when the counselor was first hired to join Sunny Hills’ counseling team. 

Thomson had nothing but praise for her colleague.

“I was very excited for her, and I think it’s cool she won a trip because winning a trip is something that you are forced to do,” she said. “If she had won more money, she’d be less likely to spend that on a trip so I think it’s great that she and her family get to experience Saint Martin.”

Falletta encourages other staff members to audition for the game show and gives the following advice: “Go in knowing that it’s going to be crazy and stressful.”