Senior Deidra Debnam has been watching Wheel of Fortune since she was a kid, always with a dream of one day being on the show.
This spring, she finally had the opportunity to compete in an episode that aired Monday. And she didn’t just compete — she won $11,700.
Her winnings included a $9,650 trip to the Treasure Island resort in Fiji.
They also are the result of a two-year effort to become a contestant on the show.
In 2009, the Wheelmobile — a bus that recruits contestants across the country — came to Fayetteville, Debnam’s hometown. She and her roommate, Edith Tharpe, made the trip.
“There were probably hundreds if not thousands of people there,” Tharpe said.
“Everyone put their name in a raffle and people were randomly called to go on stage.”
Although neither was chosen, in 2010 Debnam was invited to attend an audition in Raleigh, where she played simulations and took a written test.
“About two weeks later, I got a letter saying that I was chosen as a contestant,” she said.
After months of practicing — and buying the Wheel of Fortune Wii game — Debnam traveled to Los Angeles to film the show on Feb. 25.
She said the game was more difficult in reality than it seems on television.
“It’s much different from sitting on your couch at home. When I watch it at home, I just do really, really good at every puzzle.”
But in Los Angeles, puzzle skills weren’t enough. Luck was key, Debnam said.
“I didn’t have great success with the wheel. I landed on bankrupt a bunch of times,” she said.
Debnam’s mother — Alisa Debnam — joined her daughter in California for the filming.
She said she was surprised by the studio’s small size and by the fact that contestants weren’t allowed to bring cell phones or cameras on set — so no one could take a picture with the cohost Vanna White.
But Debnam’s mother said she was happy with the outcome.
“She solved some puzzles that I had no clue about,” she said. “Even if she had not won anything, we were just so extremely proud of her and I think she did a fabulous job.”
Debnam said she plans to purchase a membership to UNC’s General Alumni Association, and to donate her prize money to her church and to the Fayetteville Red Cross to help victims of last Saturday’s tornado.
But that’s not the only gift she will bestow.
“I have an idea of who I’m going to take (to Fiji). I just haven’t told them yet.”
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