The University of Arizona

UA Student Wins Cash and Prizes on 'Wheel of Fortune'

By Yara Askar, University Relations - Communications | April 10, 2014
"It's more nerve wracking thinking about going on air after I was done than when I was filming," said UA senior Steven Palmer (Photo courtesy of Steven Palmer)
"It's more nerve wracking thinking about going on air after I was done than when I was filming," said UA senior Steven Palmer (Photo courtesy of Steven Palmer)

UA senior Steven Palmer appeared as a contestant on “Wheel of Fortune” this week.

"Having my family there was comforting, especially as I am about to leave college. To be able to go on a trip with my family was so most fun," Palmer said, who attended the filming with his parents, grandmother and younger brother. (Photo courtesy of Steven Palmer)
"Having my family there was comforting, especially as I am about to leave college. To be able to go on a trip with my family was so most fun," Palmer said, who attended the filming with his parents, grandmother and younger brother. (Photo courtesy of Steven Palmer)

After competing on the popular game show "Wheel of Fortune," University of Arizona senior Steven Palmer walked away with $11,283 in cash and prizes, including a trip for two to Hawaii. 

Palmer appeared on Wednesday's episode during the show's College Week, which is open to college and university students and is taped several months before it airs. 

For Palmer, who made his first-ever trip to Los Angeles to be on the show, the experience was a lifetime in the making. 

"I have been preparing for it for 20 years, watching game shows with my grandmother," said Palmer, who is studying physiology. 

Being invited to appear as a contestant on "Wheel of Fortune" is no easy task. Every year, more than 10,000 people audition for a chance to appear on the show, and fewer than 600 are selected. 

Palmer isn't the first from the UA to appear. UA alumna Kasey Clapp was on the show in 2009. 

Originally, Palmer had taken the audition test for Jeopardy but couldn't make the in-person audition. Then, he received an email from "Wheel of Fortune" asking if he would like to audition. 

After a three-hour audition at The Venetian in Las Vegas last May, the contestants were narrowed down to 25 college students from all over the U.S. It wasn't until February of this year that Palmer was notified – two weeks before the taping in Los Angeles. 

Once in Los Angeles, prepping began at 6:15 a.m. and taping ran until 6 p.m., with six episodes recorded in a single day. 

After the long hours of prepping, taping and filling out paperwork, Palmer was ready for the show. 

After giving a shout out to his Wildcat family, Palmer competed against a Purdue University student, who won $3,000, and a University of Oklahoma student, who ultimately won the game and took home $17,250 in cash and prizes, including a trip to France. 

Palmer received his winnings after guessing two puzzles correctly. His first win was in the "Food and Drink" category. After the first word of the puzzle was revealed, the answer just clicked for Palmer: "Refreshing coconut water." 

In the second puzzle that he won, the answer was a hyphenated phrase. After spinning the wheel, Palmer chose the letter "T," which showed up in two spots on the board. After two turns, he guessed the correct answer: "On-the-job-training." 

"I knew if I had given my turn to someone else they would have solved it, so I went ahead and guessed it," Palmer said. 

The show wasn't all smooth sailing for Palmer. With a few thousand dollars in the bank, he at one point hit the dreaded bankruptcy slot on the wheel and lost a turn. 

"The wheel was not playing in my favor. When I hit bankruptcy it killed my momentum," he said. 

"The weird thing is that my nerves didn't set in until half way through with taping, when I finally hit my first puzzle," Palmer said. "I had it in my head this is going to be on TV." 

The show's set looks a bit different in person than it appears on television, Palmer said. For example, the wheel is much smaller than it appears, and it is extremely heavy to turn, he said. 

One of the main perks of appearing on the show, Palmer said, was meeting host Pat Sajak and co-host Vanna White. 

"It was a surreal moment watching someone you've seen on TV every day for 20 years, then having them shake your hand, put an arm around you and tell you, 'Congratulations,'" Palmer said. 

"It made me think: if it felt that good to compete on a game show, imagine what it would feel like completing medical school, finishing college or getting a job," Palmer said. "That's one of the things that stuck with me the most – how good it felt to accomplish something.”