On Tuesday, Alumnus Gets a Spin at the Wheel

Monday, November 27, 2017
On Tuesday, Alumnus Gets a Spin on Wheel of Fortune

It’s not hard to imagine Phil Bennett, ’11, ’15 MBA, on TV.

Bennett has a passion for singing, an outgoing, affable personality and a fondness for bowties that seems meant for the stage. He’s already had a previous brush with national fame — he was invited to be part of ESPN’s ESPY Awards show in 2012 as the University of Kansas’ mascot, Big Jay. So it might not come as a complete shock to Bennett’s classmates, friends or family when he’s introduced as one of the contestant’s in Tuesday’s episode of Wheel of Fortune.

In some ways, it’s an appearance a long time in the making. Bennett said he remembers watching Wheel at his grandparents’ house when he was young. However, he said he never seriously thought about auditioning himself, though he and his wife Stephanie had traded jokes about the idea recently. When, a few weeks later, he got an email about open auditions in Kansas City, he decided to go for it.

“We were told that it could be anywhere from two weeks to two years before we heard if we made the cut for a taping,” he said.

He didn’t have to wait long. Two weeks after his audition in Kansas City, Bennett was invited to a taping in Culver City, California. All those hours watching the show at his grandparent’s house would come in handy. But he also prepared by downloading a mobile version of the game to learn the categories and practice on the go and DVRing episodes to sharpen his own strategy.

“I tried to pick up on some of the best practices of the best players and became more and more familiar with the pace of play,” he said.

And he had to do it all while keeping his upcoming appearance a secret to friends, family and his employers, at least at first.

The filming itself, Bennett said, was a whirlwind — starting at 7 a.m., he said six episodes were shot in one sitting. It was a long day on set, but provided ample opportunities to prepare further.

“The entire morning was spent preparing for the filming of our episodes. We got to practice spinning the wheel, speaking into the microphones that we would be using, and did a few practice rounds on stage. During the afternoon, we began filming episodes back-to-back,” he said. “It was great to see others on stage before I filmed — it helped calm my nerves a bit.”

Bennett said all the time spent on set also afforded the chance to meet the show’s two iconic hosts, Vanna White and Pat Sajak.

“Vanna stopped by while we were prepping to film our episodes. She was extremely sweet and offered several tips and words of encouragement to us all,” he said. “My interactions with Pat were limited to those on stage while we filmed. We had a few side conversations between commercial breaks, but nothing too major. He seemed like a kid at heart, and truly loved interacting with the contestants.”

Contestants can’t share the results of the show before it airs, but Bennett did say the experience was unforgettable — from knowing that his wife was supporting him in the audience, to realizing how small the studio feels, to getting his 15 minutes of fame, this time sans costume. And for any Hawks with buying a vowel on their bucket list, he said he’s happy to offer advice where he can.

“I 10 out of 10 would recommend the experience to anyone and everyone that has ever thought about auditioning,” he said. “It was an experience that I'll never forget. I hope to see lots of Hawks on the show in the future.”

The episode of Wheel of Fortune featuring Bennett is scheduled to air at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28, on Fox 4 WDAF-TV in the Kansas City market.