Skip to content

Colfax graduate wins big on national TV game show

By Marlys Kruger

For those of you who saw the notice placed in our paper a few weeks ago notifying you that 1994 Colfax graduate Sheila Kolstad (now DeSchaaf) would be appearing on the Wheel of Fortune game show, hopefully you had a chance to see Sheila as she won quite a small fortune by figuring out several puzzles, including one on the bonus round of the show.

Sheila is the daughter of Dianne and Gordy VanDyke of Colfax and while in high school was involved with many activities including basketball, track and the National Honor Society. After graduation, she joined the Air Force and was stationed in several different places including Texas, California, Hawaii and Virginia. In 2000, she moved to Arizona and eventually finished a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Northern Arizona University and has settled down in Payson, AZ with her husband Chad and five children.

Getting on the popular game show was not an easy or short term task. Sheila happened to look on the Wheel of Fortune website and saw they were looking for people who loved the show and wanted to be a contestant who would submit a “Face of the Fan” video. She recorded a 60 second video of herself, giving them background information such as education, employment, family and hobbies. About six months after submitting the video, Wheel of Fortune executives sent her an invitation by e-mail to audition in Scottsdale, AZ.

“The audition was two parts,” Sheila explained. “”During the initial phase with about 150 people, they had everyone in the room call out a few letters and try to solve phrases on a projector. After they got through everyone at least once (I assume they were looking for people who could speak loudly and clearly), they gave us a written test. It was a timed test and consisted of a a variety of common categories that you see on the show. A number of the letters from each puzzle was filled in, and they were looking to see how many of the puzzles we could solve in the time allotted. They also took polaroid pictures of us.”

“After a 15 minute break, they came back and called the names of some people they wanted to remain for a more in-depth audition,” she continued. “My name was called along with about 30 others. The second portion began as they had us stand in front of the Wheel of Fortune contestant coordinators in groups of 4-6. We played a mock version of the game, calling letters and trying to solve the puzzle. Plus, each of us gave a brief introduction of ourselves and a short biography. Afterwards, the coordinators advised us that if we were selected to be contestants on the show we would receive a letter in the mail in approximately two weeks. Two weeks to the day, I opened my mailbox to find a letter with the Wheel of Fortune return address on it. Of course I was ecstatic and I showed my kids and they all screamed and jumped up and down. The letter advised it could be up to 18 months before I would receive additional information about tape dates. Waiting for that follow up letter was like waiting for Christmas morning when I was a child!” she stated.

Finally, on a July afternoon while she was at work, Sheila received a phone call from Jackie from the show asking how she felt about coming to Las Vegas where they would be taping two weeks of episodes. Sheila and her family immediately began making plans for one last summer vacation.

Contestants had to show up many hours prior to the beginning of the taping. All of them who were there for a week’s worth of episodes plus an alternate were sort of sequestered in the studio until after their episode was finished taping, according to Sheila. They also recorded a number of brief interviews that were used for the Wheel of Fortune website the week the show aired and some commercials that were used for their local TV stations to use leading up to their episode.

“Recording those in front of 15 other contestants was sort of nerve wracking,” Sheila said.

Then it was finally on to the game. If you are not familiar with the show, three contestants take turns spinning a large heavy wheel (approximately 2,000 pounds) which has dollar values and prizes on each of the spaces on it along with a “Lose a Turn” or “Bankrupt” space. Players hope to avoid those two spaces and choose letters to fill in a puzzle, much like the Hangman game we have all played. But it wasn’t quite that simple, as Sheila explained.

“There are so many little things we had to keep track of like where to look, where to clap so it wouldn’t make a lot of noise in our microphones, how to read the used letter board, where to put prize wedges if you landed on one and waiting to spin until hostess Vanna White finished revealing letters,” she said. “Not to mention trying to figure out the puzzle before my opponents. And we were all so nervous after the first toss up question when we had to speak to host Pat Sajak the first time. We were just hoping we would be coherent when we introduced ourselves.”

Sheila seemed to adjust just fine as she won the first two toss up questions for $1,000 and $2,000, then won another puzzle for $10,300 along with a trip to Antigua when she landed on the new “Express” wedge. This gave her the opportunity to keep guessing letters for money without having to spin the wheel each time until she picked a letter not in the puzzle. She figured the puzzle out however and her total winnings was enough to send her to the all important bonus round where it was just her alone to figure out a puzzle.

“It was time to be nervous again,” Sheila said. “I had to introduce my family who were watching me in the audience. Pat had been smiling and chatting with me while they set the stage up, then the camera started passing in front of me. The applause sign went dim and everyone in the studio audience suddenly got very quiet and they were all looking at me.”

But that didn’t seem to phase her as she guessed the right letters to help her come up with the phrase “stocky build” to win $45,000, giving her a total of $67,689 in cash with the trip. According to “Good Morning Arizona” a TV show broadcast locally in Sheila’s town, she plans on using the money to pay off loans and set up college funds for her kids.

“It was a great experience,” she said. “The gentleman who was on the same episode with me was from Medford, WI and we struck up a conversation while we were preparing for the show. I wish he hadn’t been on the same one as me so he could have had a shot at the bonus round, too,” she added.