Advertisement

Tampa Bay area woman wins top prize on Wheel of Fortune

When longtime host Pat Sajak announced his retirement, this Manatee County woman figured the time to try getting on the show was now.
 
Manatee County resident Reesa Cooper said the announcement that Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak, right, was going to retire helped prompt her to get on the show. Sajak is shown in this 2007 photo with co-host Vanna White.
Manatee County resident Reesa Cooper said the announcement that Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak, right, was going to retire helped prompt her to get on the show. Sajak is shown in this 2007 photo with co-host Vanna White. [ PETER KRAMER | AP ]
Published Feb. 7

Ever since she was a kid and learned how to read, Reesa Cooper has been a fan of Wheel of Fortune.

She’s always been pretty good at it.

Cooper, a Parrish resident, decided at the start of 2023 that it was going to “be the year to sign up, step out, just do it,” for all areas. And when longtime host Pat Sajak announced his retirement in the summer last year, Cooper figured the time to try getting on the show was now.

On the Jan. 26 episode, Cooper wasn’t just on Wheel of Fortune. She won the game and the bonus round.

The bonus puzzle answer, “I want to buy a few things,” was solved on her second guess and yielded a $40,000 bonus prize.

“(Pat) said, ‘Of course you do,’” said Cooper, whose winnings totaled $58,750. “We’ve watched it back quite a few times.”

Parrish woman wins Wheel of Fortune

A Southern California native, Cooper went through a process that started in the summer of 2023 for the episode that aired in late January.

First, she applied with a short video audition. Then she received a call back for a series of video auditions, beginning with an interview and then a virtual competition with other contestants.

From there, Cooper was told if she was picked to appear on the show, she would get a call.

In November, the call came that she was to film in the studio on Dec. 1.

“I read the email upstairs and I shouted downstairs at my husband,” Cooper said. “And by the time I got downstairs, he was already looking at airfare.”

In the studio

Wheel of Fortune records six shows in a day, Cooper said. Twenty-one potential contestants were brought in, but only 18 get to play as three contestants play per recorded show.

Cooper, who was an audience member while other shows were recorded, was one of the 18 to play. She got to do so with her husband and two children watching from the crowd.

Filming in the Sony Pictures Studio in Culver City, California, Cooper didn’t have to do a crash course in preparation.

“That’s something I asked myself, ‘What do I do to prepare for this,” Cooper said. “But at the end of the day, I’ve been preparing my whole life for it.”

Any stage fright or nerves were alleviated with her past experiences of singing at her church, Bayside Community Church.

“That did help,” said Cooper, who moved to the area 10 years ago. “I’ve preached in different places and so it did help being familiar and comfortable under lights and with jib cameras.”

Cooper added the staff was great at making everyone feel comfortable and getting rid of nerves. There’s a trial run at the wheel, which weighs 4,000 pounds, showing a technique to spin it and doing a mock round with a mock host to get you comfortable.

Spend your days with Hayes

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.
Subscribers Only

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

At the designated commercial breaks, the staff would touch up hair and makeup while also prepping each contestant for the next round.

Winning a bucket list trip

The theme for the week when Cooper played was “sand and sea.” Most of the prize puzzles on other shows recorded were for Caribbean places such as the Bahamas, Aruba and Barbados.

But a bucket list item for Cooper found its way into the prize round when she competed and won.

“When he said I won a trip to Italy, I was shocked because it didn’t fit the theme in my mind,” Cooper said.

It’s an 11-day trip later this year to the Tuscany region of Italy, with a visit to Cinque Terre along the coastline and Pisa.

But what made the experience special was winning the show with her husband and kids in the audience.

“They’ve seen me watching at home and they’re always like, ‘Mom, come on, you gotta get on this thing,’” Cooper said. “It was fun to win and let them see me experience something like that. My husband was tearing up at the end because it was a proud moment for him, and he knew that it was something I had wanted to do my whole life and that I was finally getting to have that experience.”

“He’s so precious. He was so excited for me and the kids were, too. I think the only one more excited than I was, was my son.”