I'd like to buy a 'wow': Mother-daughter duo gets chance on Wheel of Fortune

Jessica Young

It might seem effortless to spin the giant, ticking circle divided into colorful pie wedges on “Wheel of Fortune.” But on the contrary, it requires the proper technique.

Now, Janet Bradley and her daughter Lisa, of Downers Grove, are masters at executing the perfect rotation. The mother/daughter team was selected to compete on the long-running game show when Pat Sajak, Vanna White and the gang went on the road earlier this month to tape some live family episodes at Navy Pier in Chicago.

“We sat through an actual training session on how to spin the wheel,” Janet Bradley said. “You have to grip it a certain way and make sure to follow through with the shove. Lisa and I – we have upper body strength. But wow! It’s incredibly difficult.”

The Bradleys will show off their toned biceps during their small-screen debut 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 5, on ABC7. They are planning a viewing party at a local hangout and are antsy to watch their performances on the show and a promotional commercial they taped with the help of cue cards.

“I can’t wait to see it, but I’m pretty sure I made a dork out of myself,” said Lisa Bradley, a 19-year-old Eastern Illinois University student.

“I’m more worried about how much weight the camera added on me,” Janet Bradley said with a laugh.

But at least the local ladies, who were among 45 Chicagoland contestants, are certain that they’ll appear with flawless, glowing skin thanks to the celebrity treatment they received. Before the show, make-up artists dolled up each contestant, and during each commercial break, teams stepped off of the wheel and got touch-ups and water.

For Janet Bradley, who has been an avid viewer of the game show for more than 20 years, having the chance to participate in “Wheel of Fortune” fulfilled a lifelong dream.

“Getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the whole process of the show was amazing,” she said. “The whole experience started off with me feeling like I was filling out a sweepstakes form -- never in a million years thinking that it’d go any further than that because your odds of being selected are slim to none -- so for us to gain backstage entry was insane. When we first were notified that we were chosen, it was shock, but after it hit us, the nerves set in.”

It all began on a whim. Janet Bradley saw a TV advertisement about the Chicago family team tapings, and she downloaded the application form off of the ABC7 Web site and sent it in Oct. 7, 2007. After forgetting about her submission, she checked her e-mail Dec. 14, 2007, and discovered that she and her daughter were asked to come to an audition on Jan. 16.

“They were screening people for articulation, presence and enthusiasm as they simulated the game and had you call out letters,” Janet Bradley said. “During the first round of auditions, they gave us a five-minute test of like hangman puzzles from Merv Griffin. After that part of the tryout, we made callbacks, but we got nervous because we were the second-to-last name called when they were making cuts.”

Then on Feb. 15, Janet Bradley received the phone call she was waiting for.

“I checked my voicemail at work, and I heard ‘Hi, this is Cassandra from ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ and I just freaked out,” she said. “My boss heard me and said ‘I guess Janet got on the show.’ Then I called Lisa, who was shopping, and she started screaming in the middle of the mall.”

Janet and Lisa Bradley went through a rigorous orientation before the filming, memorizing informational packets with dos and don’ts and puzzle categories and samples. Representatives from the show’s compliance department gave seminars on contractual terms of participation, such as requirements that they agree not to run for public office within a year from the taping and not to divulge the outcome of the game or prizes until the episode airs.

From 8 a.m. until about 3 p.m. on taping day, producers went through instructions on what a wild card or free-spin wedges meant, offered a rundown on prizes and completed practice puzzles with the contestants.

“They run a tight ship! It’s a well-oiled machine over there,” Janet Bradley said. “Things went so fast, it was a total blur.”

But the Bradleys almost didn’t make it on the show due to a technicality. Contestants are required to show an identification card and Social Security documentation before being allowed on set, and Lisa Bradley forgot hers.

“We’re panicking. We didn’t know if we’d get booted for the backup family they have waiting in case of an emergency,” Janet Bradley said. “Thankfully, they called my boyfriend who was back at the hotel to run it over, so we can laugh at the mishap now.”

Once the duo was settled in, the fast-paced show allowed them little time to reflect on the surrealism of buying a vowel and avoiding bankruptcy.

“At home, it seems like you have a lot of time to solve the puzzle, but it’s harder than it looks. You have to pay attention to the called letter board,” Lisa Bradley said. “So we didn’t really have time to be starstruck by Pat (Sajack) or Vanna (White). Besides, they were super down-to-earth, and Pat was cracking jokes left and right, so they were completely normal people.”

Jessica Young can be reached at

“Wheel of Fortune” trivia:

--Throughout 25 seasons, the show has awarded more than $171 million in cash and prizes to its contestants.

--About 3,200 people try out each year to be contestants, and fewer than 500 lucky viewers are selected to appear.

--In 1992, the “Guinness Book of World Records” listed Vanna White as the world’s most frequent clapper. She puts her hands together for contestants about 28,080 times a season -- an average of 720 times per show.

--The first letter Vanna White ever turned on the show’s puzzle board was a “T.”

--The wheel weighs 4,000 pounds.