Spinning the wheelIf only Mikayla Netter was leavin’ on a midnight train to Georgia. Instead, she’s headin’ on one. That mode of transportation cost her a lot of money.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
If only Mikayla Netter was leavin’ on a midnight train to Georgia. Instead, she’s headin’ on one. That mode of transportation cost her a lot of money.
“I call it my $30,000 mistake,” Netter said. “I knew it was leavin’ but I said it wrong.”
No matter how she got there, it was still the experience of a lifetime for the Alexandria resident. Netter, the daughter of Julie and Mitch Critz of Alexandria, recently had a dream come true. She was a contestant on the television game show Wheel of Fortune.
“I have loved Wheel of Fortune since I was little,” said Netter, a substitute teacher in Melrose. “I used to watch it to see Vanna’s dresses with all the sequins.”
Netter loved the game too, and always wanted be a contestant on the show someday.
This past October, she and a friend attended two auditions, one at Grand Casino Mille Lacs and one at Grand Casino Hinckley. There were about 1,000 people at each audition, and only 30 were chosen by random drawing at each location.
“We knew it was unlikely. It was a joke with us that we were going to get on the show and be rich and famous and have the paparazzi after us,” Netter said. “We didn’t think we would get on, but it sounded like something fun to do on a Sunday.”
They were right – neither was selected in the drawing – at first. But there was something about Netter’s application that caused producers to take notice. She was invited to the second round of auditions a couple weeks later at the Hilton in Minneapolis.
There, Netter and the other potential contestants were put on stage and had to guess letters and solve puzzles and introduce themselves. They also had to take a timed written test.
“It was really hard. I had given up hope,” she said. “I decided I was going to keep watching the show and I would try again another time.”
Of the contestants called back for the second audition in Minneapolis, the top 15 would be chosen for a more rigorous selection process later that same day. Netter made it in the top 15.
“I thought, ‘Did they call the wrong name?’ I was very shocked,” she said of being chosen for the final audition.
The next stage required Netter to do a 30-second introduction of herself and then play a “very rapid” game.
“They wanted to see if you could handle the pressure,” she surmised. “I was nervous but I kept telling myself, ‘This is my favorite show. I can’t blow this. This is what I’ve been dreaming of since I was a little kid watching Vanna.’ ”
Five days after that audition, Netter got a letter she will never forget – she had been selected to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune.
“I started jumping up and down. I was so excited!” she said.
Just a week later, she and her husband, Tyler, and her parents were on a flight to Los Angeles.
The morning of taping was a whirlwind of signing papers and practicing how to spin the “very, very heavy” wheel. Six shows were taped in the afternoon, with Netter’s the third in line.
Before she went on camera, Netter had a special guest visit her dressing room – Vanna White. But instead of a sequined dress, she was in sweats with no makeup.
“She was gorgeous,” Netter said. “She was a very genuine person.”
When taping began, Netter’s dream was realized. She was officially a contestant on the Wheel of Fortune. And she got the prime spot ¬– right next to Pat Sajak, the host of the show.
“That was a star-struck moment when he walked over and stood by me,” she said. “During commercial breaks he would talk to us and try to make us all comfortable, making small talk and joking around.”
Netter soon discovered that being on the show is nothing like watching it at home.
“When you are a contestant, there is a lot more going on. You are being timed for your answer,” she explained. “It was so fast-paced. It’s nerve-wracking.”
Netter had two goals: She didn’t want to leave with the minimum prize ($1,000), and she didn’t want to be “the next YouTube sensation that everyone laughs at.”
In winning the three toss-up puzzles, in which the letters appear and contestants click the buzzer as soon as they know the puzzle, she accomplished her goal. Each puzzle was worth $2,000.
It was the regular puzzles, in which contestants spin the wheel and guess letters, that thwarted her visions of fortune.
“When I knew the [answer to the] puzzle, it wasn’t my turn,” she lamented.
The one time it was her turn when she did know the answer, her mouth didn’t listen to what her brain told it to say. Although she knew the phrase was “Leavin’ on a Midnight Train to Georgia,” she froze and for some reason said “headin’ ” instead.
Solving that puzzle would have put her in the lead and advanced her to the bonus round, which she knew the answer to. She could have gone home with $30,000.
At first Netter felt horrible and kicked herself at the error. But knowing that she got to live out one of her childhood dreams – and win $6,000 in the process – more than made up for it.
“It was the experience of a lifetime. It was one of those unrealistic things you put on your bucket list,” she said.
With her appearance on Wheel of Fortune, Netter was lucky enough to be able to cross one thing off her list. And she has already penciled in bigger and better things.
“My next thing is that I want to replace Vanna,” she concluded. “But until then, I will stick to teaching.”