By Jessica Hall, Northwest GuardianFebruary 17, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- While going through her email shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Army spouse Renee Parker was intrigued by a message from "Wheel of Fortune" Wheel Watchers Club. The popular television show was looking for contestants in the Seattle area, so Renee decided to submit the required video.
"I've never had this opportunity before. Both of my kids were sleeping, so I thought, why not?" Renee said. She initially didn't tell her husband, Sgt. Brydon Parker, because she wasn't sure what, if anything, would come of her submission. But one day he found the video on their computer.
"The video was absolutely hysterical, every time any of our friends came over I showed them," Brydon said. The short video features Renee sitting on the couple's couch during her kids' naptime, explaining why the show's producers should pick her.
"Let's be serious here, having two children under the age of two doesn't allow a lot of time for a mommy to get out. So what better way than to be on Wheel of Fortune?" Renee said in her video.
The parents of Brady, 2, and MacKenzie, 5 months, the Parkers moved to Olympia in October 2010 from their home state of Pennsylvania. Brydon is a flight engineer instructor on CH-47 Chinook helicopters in the 1st Battalion, 214th General Support Aviation Regiment, a reserve unit based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Renee's video landed her an audition Dec. 7 in Seattle. She played a practice game with about 70 other people and took a quiz with partially completed puzzles. The casting team from Wheel of Fortune left to discuss her performance and Renee assumed she would be allowed to leave fairly soon; she was anxious to get home since Brydon worked that afternoon.
"They come back out, I think to say goodbye so I'm ready to go and they called my name. I thought, 'oh my gosh!'" she said. "I am half thinking he needs to get to work but I get to (go) further. So I text him that I made it through; I have to stay (for another hour)."
Brydon's platoon sergeant didn't believe him when he told him why he'd be late to work that afternoon, but his friends who had seen the video confirmed the story. While he was still skeptical, he told Brydon to just get to work when he could.
A week later, Renee got a call from producers asking her to be a contestant on the program's first Military Spouses Week. The shows featured spouses from all military branches.
Reneé and Brydon headed to Los Angeles to tape the show Jan. 12. Upon arriving, she met the other spouses playing that week and spent time getting to know them and making friends. On the morning of the taping they headed off to the studio, which was much smaller and darker than she expected -- but the weight of the wheel was what surprised her the most.
"It is extremely heavy. It weighs 2,500 pounds," Renee said. "Depending on where you stand it can be difficult to spin. It was easier for me when I practiced before the show in the first slot (nearest Pat Sajak), but when I played I was in the third, so spinning was really difficult so I used the opposite arm."
Brydon was worried that since the couple has been married for only about a year that the military-centric categories would be a challenge to Renee.
"I was really concerned that if it's too military in depth that she may not know it. Luckily all of the puzzles seemed to draw parallels to our life," he said.
Renee correctly answered three puzzles: "Fighter Pilot," which is what her brother-in-law does in the Air Force; "Motion in the Ocean," the couple loves sailing and Brydon's brother is also in the Navy; and "San Diego, California," where his brother is stationed and whom they visited after the show finished taping.
Her biggest concerns while filming were not calling the same letter twice or making a fool of herself on national television.
When the show aired Feb. 6, the Parker's family and friends on the East Coast immediately began calling Renee and posting on Facebook.
"It was her day," Brydon said. "From 4 o'clock on she had to sit down and talk on the phone."
The couple watched the show at O'Blarney's Pub in Olympia with 15 of their friends. The restaurant put Wheel of Fortune on their biggest screen. Renee didn't remember much from the show taping because she was so focused on the other contestants, what money they had and when they got it, and when they lost turns. The camera caught the moment that she kissed Pat Sajak after winning a prize puzzle.
"I was hoping they wouldn't show that," she said. "I did it because one of my friends told me that if you kiss Pat Sajak it's good luck and you'll win. I knew I was losing so I had to do something."
While Renee didn't make it to the final round, she won $8,700 in cash and prizes, including a Caribbean cruise. She and Brydon are planning to make it their belated honeymoon later this year.
Overall, Reneé said it was a great experience.
"People dream of being on Wheel of Fortune their whole life and it just happened for me."
Brydon's platoon sergeant finally believed his story for being late to work when he saw the show.