Watching Wheel is a religious habit Jones keeps, and it was while watching a show last year she saw that St. Louis TV station KSDK was doing a drawing for auditions. She put her name in and was invited to a final audition in St. Louis. Six days later, she received the call that she had won and would be going to Sony Pictures Studios in California for a taping on Dec. 10.
Jones said last Friday that she was happy just to have made the show and would have been content to walk away with the $1,000 minimum prize — only a little less than the $1,200 price tag of the trip for her and her husband, during which they got to visit some old friends.
“Even if I hadn’t won anything, I would have been glad that my husband and I got a little getaway,” she said. “ ... In my opinion, $200 for a vacation with my husband on a weekend to see friends we hadn’t seen for two years in Los Angeles is pretty good.”
Once Jones and her husband and friends got to the studio, she was nervous — until the taping began and she had to remember everything her contestant coach had taught her that morning.
“It’s a lot harder being on the game show than it is watching it at home,” she said. “They don’t really want you to actually look at the wheel. What I had done in practice that morning was look at the wheel, and they said, ‘Lori, don’t look at the wheel; Pat will tell you what you landed on. Just focus on that puzzle board and make sure you’re concentrating and getting the answer.’”
The start was not good for Jones. Halfway through the show, after two toss-up puzzles and two spinning-round puzzles, she had no money and had only taken one turn. It was then, as the third puzzle — a “prize puzzle” with a bonus at the end — came up, that she altered her ambitions.
“At the beginning, my goal was, ‘I want to win $5,000,’ and then after I hadn’t won all that time, I just said, ‘One puzzle,’” she said. “So I was comeback girl, and the funny thing was after I said that, the next puzzle was the prize puzzle, and I thought to myself, ‘This would be the puzzle to win, for sure,’ and of course, I did.”
Jones swept through the third puzzle — “A soothing experience at the spa” — without even giving a chance to the other two contestants, whom she had become friends with as they prepared.
“They’re all doing the same kind of practicing and getting the same kind of coaching, so you kind of develop a little bond with all the contestants; you’re all excited and nervous,” she said. “After the two toss-ups and the two spinning rounds, they looked at me and said, ‘OK Lori — it’s your turn.’ I bet they regret saying that now.”
After she solved the puzzle with $4,750 in cash, she found out the prize for the winner: a trip to Belize valued at nearly $8,000. She won $2,150 more in the fitting fourth puzzle — “The undisputed champion” — before taking $18,000 in the final spinning-round puzzle.
In the bonus round, she assumed that the puzzle — “--st ----r-t-” — started with the word “just” and guessed a “J” along with “C,” “D” and “A.” When the “J” popped up later in the puzzle where she didn’t expect it, she started going through the alphabet as her time ticked down, trying to figure out the first word.