Ford, who currently lives in Atlanta, recently competed on the nationally syndicated game show “Wheel of Fortune,” where she was able to win just under $60,000, a trip to Antigua and a Sony Camera.
Ford said she was born in Talladega and, with the exception of a few years in Tuscaloosa, grew up here. She graduated from Talladega High School in 2002, and most of her immediate family still lives there.
After graduating from the University of Alabama, she said she moved to Fort Myers, Florida, but eventually relocated to Atlanta to be closer to her family.
While still living in Florida, Ford said she decided to sign up for an audition for the show, and picked up an application. “They ask you to send in a video of yourself, no more than 60 seconds long, telling about yourself like you do at the beginning of the show. If they pick your video, then you are invited to audition.”
Ford’s audition was in Clearwater, Fla. In May. “I didn’t even have to take off work for the audition,” she said, citing the first of several fortunate coincidences. “I was going to a friend’s wedding, and I would have had to pass through Clearwater anyway, so the audition was kind of like a pit stop for me,” she said.
The good omens continued during the audition. “The guy who was spinning before me had a song title, and he got a couple of letters and I knew exactly what it was. He didn’t get it. It was ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ Someone asked me where I was from, and when I said I was from Alabama, they were amazed, because all the puzzles are picked out at random. That was really cool.”
Still, she had to get through the audition process first. “I got there, and I saw how many other people were auditioning, and I just thought yeah, right. There’s a lot of people here.”
The potential contestants were given a chance to warm up, play a few games, solve a few puzzles. Then they were given a timed test involving puzzles with some letters already filled in. “We had to complete as many as we could in the time allowed,” she explained.
After that, casting directors cut about half of the people there. “Once those were eliminated, they would take us up in groups of six, and we would play is if we were on the show, to test our skills and our personalities. They didn’t tell us anything that day, they just said that if we were selected, we would be getting a letter in about two weeks. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t get anything. Well, I got a letter two weeks later.”
Once a contestant gets a letter, they are put into a database and their information is kept on file for one to two years. At any point, they could call you to come out for a taping on two weeks notice.”
Ford got the call in September, and headed to Los Angeles with her mother and grandmother. “We got in on a Thursday, and Friday morning I was at the studio all day, from about 7:45 a.m. It went by so fast, it was really hard to let everything soak in. I just didn’t feel real. Things always look different in person, and the studio was a lot smaller than it looked on TV. Also, they had to let us practice spinning the wheel, which actually weighs 2,400 pounds. “That’s the only wheel they have, and they take it with them wherever they are taping,” she said. “I was nervous about being able to even spin the thing. But they let us play before they started taping, and everything was just really cool.”
On the day Ford was there, they taped a total of five shows. Players drew to see first which show they would be on and then to see which position they would be playing from. “I drew the third show, and then drew the third spot, which is not the one I wanted originally. But I watched the first two shows, and the third person won both, so I was thinking maybe lucky three.”
Everyone was very friendly, even the competitiors. “One of the ladies on the second show was from Pinson, so we talked about Alabama for a while. And Vanna (White) and Pat (Sajack) really are the nicest people, really normal and down to earth. I was in the green room, and a woman was touching up my hair, and I didn’t even notice that Vanna had come in. She was just wearing normal street clothes, jeans, had her tied back, no makeup. She was tiny, and I didn’t even realize who she was until the lady doing my hair introduced me. She said hello to me and wished me luck. She was so sweet, and Pat was the same way, telling us to relax, making jokes. He was super nice, really easy to be around, humble, you know.”
It did not feel real while it was happening, she said. “Once you’re up there, there’s no time to be nervous, you have so much to concentrate on. They’ve been doing this for 30 plus years, so they’ve got it down to a science. They don’t do any retakes, so there’s really not time to think about anything beside the game. You forget the audience and the cameras. It’s only for 20 minutes, but it was definitely the funnest, coolest experience I ever had.”
The trip and the camera came via a prize puzzle. “As soon as I solved, I was like ‘Where am I going, where I am going,’ she said. Pat was like ‘settle down,’ and then told me. Now everybody asks me who I’m going to take with me.”
After she won, she said her grandmother pointed out to her that “today was paw-paw’s birthday. He passed away in the 1990, but now his wife, daughter and granddaughter were all together and it was like he was our guardian angel. It was a huge blessing. We all have our burdens. This will really help me pay off my student loans. Overall it was a super-cool experience.”
The next toughest part was not telling anyone she had won before the show aired. “People kept asking, and I kept telling them that I couldn’t say anything. I think they all thought I did okay, but not as well as I did.”
“Afterward, people said I must have a great poker face. I even impressed myself.”
It was surreal,” she continued. “When it was over, me, my mom and grandmother went to this little room to file our paperwork, then we got in a taxi and I remember thinking ‘what just happened. The next day, I felt like it was a dream.”
When the show finally did air, Ford said she watched it with a group of co-workers who didn’t know how things came out. “It was really fun watching their reactions, it was pretty hilarious,” she said. “People were yelling and cheering for me, and some people passing by stuck their heads in to see what we were watching. They said it sounded like we were watching a football game.”