WILKES-BARRE — A string of unlikely breaks led to a whirlwind trip and a 12-hour session in a TV studio where munchkins once roamed, but appearing on Wheel of Fortune was “definitely a chance to cross something off the bucket list,” local school psychologist Bethanne Owens said with a laugh Friday.
Owens, an employee of Wilkes-Barre Area School District, showed up in homes across the nation in the episode that aired Thursday. While she had a fast start by guessing the first “toss up” puzzle with only five of 13 letters showing (it was Omaha, Nebraska) she hit “bankrupt” twice and ended up in third place with $4,000.
To hear her describe the path to Pat Sajak and Vanna White’s game domain, Owens seems to have landed on national TV despite herself.
“I was watching Wheel one night (in 2015), and they said a Wheel Mobile event was coming to Mt. Airy (Casino Resort),” Owens said. Yet when the time came to go tryout, she had no one to watch her children and scrapped the idea, until her husband came home and decided they should go.
“We went down, it was pouring rain, and we were standing outside literally with garbage bags over us,” Owens said. They arrived late, but she filled out an application anyway. “They put it in a big bingo spinner and draw one out. I thought I had no chance with so many people there.”
Her name was the last one drawn for the day, and “They called Bethanne Harris, my maiden name. At first we didn’t even notice it was me.”
She got to do a little try out, and later got an invitation to a full-blown audition in Philadelphia. After a slew of activities that gradually winnowed the field, they asked if her husband would appear with her on one of the couples shows.
“I asked him, and he refused,” Owens laughed. “I said, ‘you ruined my dream!’ He heard it all the way home.”
Owens later got invited as a solo contestant, but she was pregnant and couldn’t make the flight to California. They invited her again around Christmas last year, but her father was seriously ill. After some thought, she and her husband agreed to take the plunge, though without taking much time.
They flew to California on Jan. 6, headed straight to the studio, and spent 12 hours hoping her name would be chosen to appear in one of six episodes being shot. She got the call for the last episode of the day.
Owens praised the “prep team,” and admitted she didn’t recognize Vanna White at first when she came to the dressing room sans make up and sporting sweats instead of a glamorous gown. She learned the tornado scene from The Wizard of Oz was shot in the same studio. “They said the munchkins had signed their names all over the rafters.”
Owens was also told the man who did her make up does Alex Trebek in the set next door, where Jeopardy was filmed. “That was pretty cool.”
Because of the situation with her father, and the fact that her daughters were still at home, the couple left the studio right after the show was finished at 7 p.m, rushing to the airport, where they ate supper “and caught a red eye home,” Owens said. “We didn’t see any of California.”
And while she didn’t win big, the $4,000 she got for solving two puzzles is nothing to sneeze at. “It’ll buy a pretty nice vacation.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish