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Notre Dame junior spins to success on popular game show

Joe Piarulli | Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It may have been the luck of the Irish that landed Badin Hall junior Lisa Fetta a spot on Wheel of Fortune, but her ensuing $11,060 in winnings had more to do with skill.

The wheel itself wasn’t exactly a lucky charm for the political science and engineering major. She spun five lose-a-turns or bankrupts but took second place against students from Indiana and Kansas as part of Wheel of Fortune’s College Road Trip.

The show was filmed in Los Angeles on Sept. 15 and will air Oct. 25. The day of filming started at 6 a.m. for Fetta. She and about 25 other college students went through make-up and hair sessions and hours of practice.

They also filmed several commercials, including promotions for local channels and a commercial for Ford.

Fetta’s father, brother and two younger sisters met her in Los Angeles to cheer her on.

“My family all thought I would win a lot of money,” Fetta said. “My brother missed school and flew from Dayton [Ohio]. They knew I was pretty confident.”

Unlike some other contestants, Fetta was not at all nervous before going on stage.

“I was just antsy. They try to touch you up every two seconds. I just wanted to play the game,” she said. “Some girls were shaking, one girl threw up. I was more nervous during the audition.”

Fetta said she was pleasantly surprised this past summer when she received an e-mail granting her a private audition in Chicago. She was in Philadelphia at the time for a service project and wasn’t sure if she could make the trip.

“My parents flew me out for one day to do the audition,” she said. “There were about 300 people and only 30 moved on … It all happened really fast.”

Fetta filled out an application online several years ago and forgot about it. But all along she felt she had a knack for games like Wheel of Fortune.

Fetta said the most difficult parts of her experience were knowing that so much was on the line in such a short amount of time, and feeling like she had no control.

But Fetta said there were plenty of upsides, including the chance to see how game shows really work.

“You’re really lucky to be in that position,” she said. “There are so many people that want to be on the show.”

Wheel of Fortune only films twice a week for five weeks a year, Fetta said, so she had the opportunity to watch a girl from Madison in the show filmed before her win around $66,000. Fetta noticed the people backstage were just as excited as most of the competitors.

“They hire all these people to pep up the contestants. They get you all excited,” she said. “Everyone that works on the show wants you to make money. They really want you to win.”

Fetta said a few details about the show would surprise people who have only seen it on television.

“The set is really small. They have a lot of tricks to make it look bigger,” she said, adding, “You have to hold the wheel a certain way. They have lawyers standing on the side to make sure you do it right.”

The college contestants all had time to get to know each other, and Fetta said she still keeps in contact with some of them. She also got to meet Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak.

“Pat’s really short,” she said, laughing. “He’s really personable. It’s the perfect job for him.”

Fetta met some even more interesting – and unexpected – characters in her hotel, which seemed more like a zoo. College mascots from all over the country were participating in the shows and wearing very elaborate and expensive costumes around the hotel.

“They’re the strangest people,” she said. “They flew in people to help carry their costumes.”

Fetta will be doing some more flying of her own, since she is spending her spring semester in London. She may even use some of her winnings, which will probably total closer to $8,000 after taxes when she receives them in February, to throw a party while abroad. However, she said most of her money will go towards law school, if she decides to pursue that path.

Fetta said the University and her friends and family have all been very supportive. The Hammes Bookstore let her pick out any shirt she wanted, for free, to wear on the show. and on the night the show airs, she thinks that her dorm and her friends will be making a party out of it.

“It was a good experience and I feel more comfortable in front of crowds,” Fetta said. “Anybody can be on television, and that’s exciting.

“It was a whirlwind experience.”