Home Our Diocese St. Mary Magdalen parishioner Nancy O’Laughlin spins the ‘Wheel of Fortune’

St. Mary Magdalen parishioner Nancy O’Laughlin spins the ‘Wheel of Fortune’

Nancy O’Laughlin of Wilmington holds a light saber on the set of “Wheel of Fortune.” O’Laughlin appeared on the show in June during a celebration of “Star Wars.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Television

If you mix an affinity for television game shows with a love for “Star Wars,” what can you get? For a north Wilmington woman, the answer is a chance to spin the “Wheel of Fortune” while trying to solve puzzles related to the enduring film franchise.

Those two interests helped Nancy O’Laughlin land on “Wheel of Fortune” during the show’s “Star Wars Galactic Celebration” during the last week of May. And although she wasn’t the big winner in her group, O’Laughlin was left with a lifetime of great memories.

She was on vacation in Punta Cana, Mexico, in January when she checked an email from Sony Pictures Television asking if she was a “Star Wars” fan who might want to be a contestant. She had signed up to be on a mailing list for potential candidates some time before that. The email set into motion a series of events that ended with an invitation to travel to California near the end of February to spin the wheel.

Six shows were taped on Feb. 23, which meant a long day in Burbank. The 18 contestants and two alternates arrived at the studio around 6:45 a.m.

“It was a long day, a very long day, but it was a lot of fun,” said O’Laughlin, a member of St. Mary Magdalen Parish. “There’s a lot of excitement around it.”

Before the actual taping began, the contestants were shepherded to the “Jeopardy!” staging area, where they received instructions and watched some videos from the legal department. Everyone received a “Wheel” shirt.

“While all that was going on, Vanna White just walked in. She just came in to say hi to everybody,” O’Laughlin said.

While the contestants had just met each other, O’Laughlin said they came together nicely as a group in short order because of the theme of the week. “Wheel of Fortune” is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2023, and “Return of the Jedi” was released around Memorial Day four decades ago.

“We all had an interest in ‘Star Wars.’ We had a lot to talk about. We were really supportive of each other. It was really kind of nice. It was our own little community there,” she said.

O’Laughlin’s group had to watch the taping of several shows before their turn came with host Pat Sajak and longtime letter-turner White. It started well for the retired educator from Wilmington, who solved “Return of the Jedi” in the opening tossup puzzle. Her fellow contestant, Cindy Luckett of Costa Mesa, Calif., took the next tossup before the third player, Victoria Boyle-Sprinkle of El Paso, Texas, found her groove.

Boyle-Sprinkle won $16,500 and a cruise for solving a non-“Star Wars” puzzle. She followed that with a sweep in the Triple Tossup of franchise characters, and she also solved another puzzle — in which O’Laughlin’s guesses provided five of the letters out of a total of 15 — to become the big winner.

O’Laughlin, who retired last year after 20 years at the University of Delaware, where she worked in academic technology services, came home with some prize money and a lifetime of memories.

“We all had fun, but timing is everything,” she said. “It was very exciting to witness. Unfortunately, it was not for the other person or myself to have had an opportunity, for example, on the prize puzzle. But I’m happy. I had a great time.

“I don’t think your expectations should be that you’re going to go in and, ‘I’m going to win a lot of money.’ That’s the frosting on the cake. You end up enjoying it more and having more fun when you realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The experience also gave her some insight into how “Wheel of Fortune” and other game shows are produced, which she found interesting. During breaks in filming, there was a whirlwind of activity. White would be taping promotional clips for upcoming “Wheel” events, or she would take questions from the audience. The contestants were removed from the wheel while the crew cleaned the equipment or swapped out various prizes on stage.

“When you’re watching the show, it looks like one big continuous thing, but actually there’s a lot of activity that happens in between time. It’s really neat to see,” she said.

After she returned to Delaware, O’Laughlin kind of had to put the taping out of her mind for a few months. She wasn’t allowed to say anything about it until the episode aired on June 1. She watched with her husband, Michael, while communicating with extended family who were tuned in elsewhere. She got some texts from friends who had no idea she was on the show.

The next day, she recalled, she was at the bank when a gentleman approached her. He was staring at her before finally asking, “Were you on TV last night?”

“That’s the kind of stuff that surprises you a little bit because you don’t know who’s watching ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ That was an added bonus I didn’t expect,” she said. “This truly caught me off guard.

“I’m just grateful for having done it.”

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