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A Wheel-Watcher's Lament

Wheel of Fortune, you let me down.

I have been loyal to your spinning tomfoolery since I was but a young, pastel-clad lass, sitting beside my mother, who always called out the answers much too quickly for my taste. Nowadays, I don't particularly care for pastels, and I've blossomed into a vowel-resisting, puzzle-solving, R-S-T-L-N-E-ing mother-fucker, mother-fucker. I maintain an average 98% accuracy in correctly-guessing puzzles well before the idiots on the show know them. And I keep my own statistics.

I inherited the "Wheel gene" from my mother, although this was as much nurture as nature. In order to stay afloat with mom, my sister and I had to seriously and sternly narrow in on becoming the best Wheel Watchers that we could be. My mom spared no one - age, size, weight class.

My mom also got me into crosswords at a very young age, for which I am terribly grateful. While Wheel may have exercised my competitive side, crosswords satisfied my boredom. And also taught me that if you enjoy your mind, you can never really be bored. Still to this day, I always travel with one or two books of crosswords in my purse. You won't find me resorting to Us Weekly at the doctor's office. Or when I am getting my oil changed, and the crinkled stacks of whored magazines, groped by the greasy, dirty fingers of everyone who has recently sat in that waiting room, scream up to me that BRITNEY'S CRAZIER THAN YOU THOUGHT! or THIS ASSHOLE IS NOW DATING THAT ASSHOLE, SINCE THEY BOTH CHEATED ON AND DUMPED THEIR PREVIOUS SIGNIFICANT ASSHOLES! I have a very low tolerance for these diversions, though I confess my interest will be graciously piqued the day they boast something like WE ADMIT: CHILD STARS ARE INESCAPABLY FUCKED!

I prefer word games.

But Wheel, you have let me down. You aren't what you used to be.

I understand the need to adapt. But you have gone too far with your fancy-dan graphics and ridiculous new puzzle topics - not to mention your lewd sponsorship stroking. The only thing worse than Pat Sajak deliberately fondling the cute female contestants is the constant fondling of product placers. There are now consistently three or four spots on the wheel that display a company logo. I remember when Zatarain's had the only blatant ad on the wheel - and that's because they were forking over big dough to accommodate the Jackpot Round. Now the sponsorships change almost daily. I don't know whose rice to buy anymore.

Perhaps even more distressful is the recent tinkering with the actual puzzles. I cannot tell you how many times I have been let down to discover that that first word of the puzzle is actually an adjective that need not be there. For example, the puzzle could be a Thing, and let's say that thing is goat cheese. Well, instead of just putting "goat cheese" up there on the board, you decide to describe it somehow. It can never just be goat cheese anymore. It has to be worthwhile or unexpected goat cheese. I exaggerate ever-so-slightly here - my examples may seem to not go with goat cheese on a normal, everyday level, but how many actual puzzles have had unfitting adjectives misleading them from the solution! (This is a statistic I have not been keeping).

The puzzle topics are even worse to behold. There was once a select few categories from which to pick puzzles: Thing, Person, Place, Before & After, Fill in the Blank, Phrase, Clue. Then there was Song Title/Lyric, Event (don't even get me started on what you consider to fit into this particular category), On the Map, Food & Drink, and In the Kitchen (not to be confused with Around the House). Lest we forget the latest category, People; as in, the glorified gossip magazine that poses as a news source. An example of a puzzle from this category is: BRAD PITT AND ANGELINA JOLIE ADOPT BABY. Seriously.

An evolution of any long-running show is necessary. But despite all the flashy ways in which Wheel has upgraded format and prizes alike to better resemble today's style of game show, Pat Sajak remains one of the most awkward and unfunny hosts in the history of television. He is downright embarrassing, especially when he goes "off-the-cuff." And his semi-scripted dialogue with Vanna at the end of each episode is like a a farewell reminder of how little they should both be allowed to talk. I believe that Vanna probably emotes on a human level and speaks with inflection in real life, but on TV she has mastered the art of being a dumb, well-dressed prop whose purpose is to feed lines to Sajak, the "personality."

It is difficult to evolve a show when your hosts are increasingly lame. I completely understand the appeal of having the familiar faces of Pat and Vanna on the screen. There would be a angry storm of senior citizens if Wheel just replaced these two for no apparent reason. I have wondered for a long time what would happen when Pat and Vanna were ready for retirement. How could Wheel replace the two faces that are synonymous with the entire success of their broadcast?

Here's one clue: I have noticed the strategic placement of Pat Sajak's daughter on the show. She makes an appearance here and there, in which she delivers lines about as comfortably and smoothly as eating cottage cheese through a cocktail straw. Alas, she is only a teenager and not yet primed for succeeding Vanna's throne. I have my suspicions anyway. It makes sense that you would want a direct Sajak descendent to take over. Wouldn't want to employ a host with any sort of comedic timing to carry the torch. After filming a week in Chicago (Pat's hometown), in which Pat and his daughter filmed segments around the city, I text-messaged my sister that I couldn't stand Pat's daughter. Her reply was simple: "Pat's daughter is a douche."

Overall, I long for the Wheel of yore; when the puzzles were clever and unique, rather than stolen from the rack at the grocery store. When Pat had some youthful charm to back his awkward pervertedness, instead of just looking like an old dude being creepy and touchy. I will not turn away, nor change the channel regardless. I am a Wheel-Watcher to the core, and just as a shock-jock can lure an audience who wants to gape their jaws, I have learned to respond to Pat's crazy comments in the same way: "I cannot believe he just said that," or, "Ewww! Stop touching that poor girl; you are lingering again, Pat!"

Despite all the disappointing changes on the show of late, I admit my loyalty remains. After 25 years of broadcast, Wheel spins on as one of my favorite game shows in existence, crappy adjectives and all. But lately, Wheel, you've been trying my patience.



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Posted on January 28, 2008


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