When he was in elementary school, Matthew Velasquez would always go to his grandparents’ house after school in the afternoon while his parents were still at work. And every night at 7 p.m., his grandfather would watch the TV game show “Jeopardy!” immediately followed by “Wheel of Fortune.”
“I would just see it on the TV at dinner time or while I’m doing my homework,” said Velasquez, a sophomore tourism and hospitality management major. “They’d be watching ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ so I would watch it with them.”
Velasquez’s grandmother was always particularly fond of “Wheel of Fortune,” he said.
“I told her, ‘You love Wheel of Fortune,’” Velasquez said. “She’s like, ‘Yeah, it really makes my day.’”
Recently, Velasquez competed on the same game show he first came to enjoy on those daily visits to his grandparents’ house. Serving as a contestant on last Wednesday’s episode, Velasquez was one of two students who represented Temple as part of the show’s “College Road Trip Week,” which exclusively features college students as contestants.
“It was just an honor to be representing Temple, especially the School of Tourism and Hospitality,” Velasquez said. “I just felt myself like kind of a leader in representing the school.”
Saskia Kercy, a sophomore economics and global studies major, also competed on the episode that aired March 29.
“I thought it was cool to have multiple people representing [Temple],” Kercy said.
Kercy and Velasquez did not know each other, however, prior to flying to Los Angeles for their respective episode tapings.
“I did not expect to see anyone else from my school,” Kercy said of the taping day. “It was nice being able to talk to somebody.”
Before competing on the show, Kercy and Velasquez both had to complete several stages of application requirements, including an in-person audition in October at The Westin Philadelphia, a hotel in Center City.
Velasquez was out with friends when he found out he would definitely be on the show.
“I was just really excited,” Velasquez said. “I know people saw me jump up and down, being really excited. I was like, ‘This is an amazing opportunity.’”
Kercy and Velasquez were later notified that they would fly to California to tape their episodes in mid-February.
Kercy made her first trip to Los Angeles for the show’s taping. She said one of the highlights of her experience out west was meeting the game show’s co-hosts, Vanna White and Pat Sajak.
“I love Vanna,” Kercy said. “Seeing her in real life was like, ‘Am I even real? Is this happening right now?’”
“When I was playing, I would be able to stand next to Pat Sajak,” she added. “We hugged a couple times and he was shaking my hand, talking to me, and I was just like, ‘Wow, I’m next to Pat Sajak. That’s like, crazy.’”
Kercy ended up coming in last place on her episode, being beat out by both a student from Brooklyn College and another student from Bradley University. Kercy still walked away with $4,100 in prize money.
“I swore I was going to do like so great, like, ‘I’ve got this, I’ve been watching this forever,’” she said. “Then the wheel was just not nice to me. I just got bankrupt over and over.”
Velasquez came in second place during his episode, in which he competed against two students—one from Rowan University and one from The University of Texas at Austin.
He found success during the competition, he said, by continually buying vowels.
“Even though it costs money, they help figure out where things go in the puzzle,” Velasquez said. “And then when you spin, you’re able to call more logical consonants.”
“It was a very close match,” he said of the competition. “I was in the lead up until the very last round.”
Velasquez ultimately won $8,450.
With his prize money, Velasquez plans to spend some of his winnings during a vacation back to Los Angeles this coming spring. He also set aside some money to help pay for college.
Velasquez said he walked away from “Wheel of Fortune” with more than just prize money, though. He gained a newfound sense of confidence.
“I just feel more confident engaging with other people now thanks to this experience,” he said. “It really helped me in every aspect.”
“It was actually the best experience of my life,” he added. “It tops off all the other experiences.”
Jenny Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.