Local Resident Emerges Triumphant on “Wheel of Fortune”
Writer / Julie Engelhardt
The iconic game show “Wheel of Fortune” has been a programming staple on local television stations since its debut on January 6, 1975. Faithful fans are familiar with every aspect of the game, from the phrase, “I’d like to buy a vowel,” to the fact that years ago, contestants were able to purchase prizes on the spot with the cash they’d won.
St. Matthews resident Jenn Koch falls into the category of being a true “Wheel of Fortune” fan. She says she began watching the game show with her family when she was a child, and although work and other commitments keep her quite busy these days, she does her best to catch an episode when she’s able.
Koch admits that for years she had the desire to become more than a just regular viewer – she wanted to become a contestant. She had her heart set on going to Los Angeles, meeting host Pat Sajak, spinning the wheel, and calling out consonants and vowels to co-host Vanna White.
Everyone around her knew that Koch would be the perfect contestant for a game show that centers around letters, words and phrases. She is the library media specialist at Chenoweth Elementary School, a position she’s held for the past 12 years. She also loves playing games like southerntimesafrica.com, and doing puzzles, like Scrabble and word jumbles.
Koch has a fun-loving spirit and she encourages her students to embrace books and literature in any way she can. One way she accomplishes this is by dressing in clothes she’s designed, which are fashioned from whimsical fabric adorned with story characters like the Cat in the Hat, Harry Potter and the Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Her road towards becoming a contestant didn’t take place instantaneously. It actually took more than a decade for her to realize her dream.
“Before COVID, there was something called the Wheelmobile,” Koch explains. “The Wheelmobile would go to different cities. It was like a pretend show and some people would get to go to Los Angeles if chosen. It was my 31st birthday and they came to the zoo, so that was the first time I tried out. That was in 2011. Then just a few years later in about 2014-2015, another Wheelmobile came to the Kroger parking lot in Middletown, and I went to that. They put your name in a big drum and turn it around and pick the names out. Both times my name was never chosen, but it was a lot of fun.”
When the COVID outbreak was at its peak, Koch says she stayed in and watched a lot of TV, especially “Wheel of Fortune.”
“I thought, ‘Man, I need to apply,’ and I finally did in May of 2022,” she says. “I made a video and wrote a poem, and applied online, but didn’t hear anything until November.”
She was contacted by a producer and had a Zoom audition with him, and then she was scheduled for a follow-up Zoom call where she met with another producer as well as additional casting personnel. “Then you have to wait,” she says.
Koch says a couple of weeks passed and she never heard anything, until she was at a Christmas party one evening.
“I had a missed call and of course my phone didn’t ring,” she says. “The missed call was from Beverly Hills. I was like, ‘What?’ I excused myself and listened to my voicemail. The message said, ‘Well, we sent you an email but we didn’t hear back from you, and now the time has passed, but call us if you get this.’ They had my email address wrong. I got back to them and told them I was absolutely interested.”
The producer asked Koch if she could come out for a taping on January 13, and she agreed to do so immediately.
She says her family was absolutely thrilled by the news.
Koch had yet another Zoom meeting with producers, and then the next step involved booking airline tickets and a hotel room. The entire family went to California – her husband, Todd, her stepson, Graham, and their two daughters, Kyla, 12, and Kendall, 14.
“We flew out that Thursday the 12th, and the show was taped the next day,” Koch says.
After arriving in Los Angeles on Thursday, the family took advantage of their trip to the West Coast. They visited California landmarks including Venice Beach, the Santa Monica Pier, the end of Route 66 and the J. Paul Getty Museum.
On Friday Koch had to be at the studio by 6 a.m. She and the other contestants attended an informational meeting, and were then taken to the studio where the show “Jeopardy!” is taped.
“That was kind of our landing place,” she says. “It was really, really cool. We used that almost like a big dressing room and holding area. Then the producers give you more information, and after that you get your hair and makeup done.”
Once they’d been prepped, the contestants had breakfast, then they were taken into the actual “Wheel of Fortune” studio.
“We walked inside and were kind of awestruck to be standing on the set,” Koch explains.
The contestants were able to go through a short practice run, which included spinning the wheel, guessing a letter and using the buzzer system.
“You get to take it all in and see the lights and see where the sound booth is, and where the audience sits and all of the people working,” Koch says. “It is a well-oiled machine. Everyone has a job and they know exactly what to do.”
After their practice session, the contestants were taken back to the “Jeopardy!” studio where they had their microphones placed, and had final touches to hair and makeup. They also had the opportunity to watch a couple of shows being taped.
Koch says when it was finally her turn to play, she really didn’t feel anxious about appearing before the audience or the cameras. Not only was she prepared for the game because of her background as a librarian, but she says she had also been practicing daily by using the “Wheel of Fortune” app.
“I wasn’t nervous, not one bit,” she says. “It was really kind of surprising, because I get really nervous about speaking in front of large crowds and things like that, but I was not nervous at all.”
Koch’s appearance was scheduled to air on Tuesday, March 7, so she and her family invited friends and co-workers to a big watch party at Dundee Tavern.
“It was like March Madness,” she says with a chuckle.
She and the other contestants had to sign nondisclosure agreements, which meant they could not discuss anything about their appearance prior to the air date. So when the gathering took place, everyone in attendance found out that night that Koch was the big winner, walking away with more than $22,000 in cash and prizes.
Koch says she is going to save the majority of the money, but she would like to use a portion to go on a belated honeymoon with her husband, and she’d also like to go on a trip with the family to Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies.
When asked if she would like to try her hand at another game show, she says she isn’t opposed to the idea.
Congratulations, Jenn Koch!