It was the evening of Oct. 30 when Jeana Pulaski got the news. Hurricane Sandy had just battered New Jersey, knocking out electrical service to much of the state, including her home in Lawrence Township.
“We were in the pitch black because we didn’t have any power. I was checking my phone and I got an email and I actually started to cry hysterically and hyperventilate because I was so excited,” the 26-year-old said, recalling how she learned that she had been invited to compete on the popular television game show “Wheel of Fortune.”
“It was kind of like a sigh of relief from everything that was going on, a happy moment during the storm,” she said.
The “Wheel of Fortune” episode staring Jeana will be broadcast next Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 7:30 p.m. by WPVI (Channel 6) from Philadelphia and WABC (Channel 7) from New York.
Wanting to support the ongoing efforts to rebuild the towns in New Jersey hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, particularly with her appearance on the TV game show forever linked in her mind to that horrible storm, Jeana and her mother, Anita, on Jan. 23 will host a “Restore the Shore" fundraiser from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at American Legion Post 458 at 1438 Brunswick Ave.
The highlight of the night, of course, will be the viewing of Jeana competing on “Wheel of Fortune” at 7:30. The fundraiser, co-sponsored by the American Legion and Fred and Pete’s Deli on Route 33 in Hamilton, will feature music, drink specials, food, a Chinese auction and a 50/50 raffle.
All proceeds from the event will go to One Simple Wish, a local nonprofit that will use the money to buy items specifically needed by New Jersey families devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
Competing on “Wheel of Fortune” had always been something Jeana dreamed about.
“I’ve always watched [the show] ever since I was little,” she explained. “I watched it with my grandma, usually every night. That’s what made me what to try out for it.”
A graduate of Notre Dame High School, she holds a bachelor’s degree in business marketing from Monmouth University and an associate’s degree in pastry arts from the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. Now employed fulltime as pastry chef at Monmouth University, she also teaches pastry and culinary classes part-time at the new Sur La Table at Quaker Bridge Mall.
While Jeana filled out the online application to be a contestant of “Wheel of Fortune” a few times in recent years, it was an in-person audition on Sept. 8 in Atlantic City that landed her a spot on the show.
“There were about 3,000 people there to audition that day,” she said. Using a bingo-link machine, show producers selected 75 people – among them Jeana – who actually “got to go on stage and play a fake ‘Wheel of Fortune’ game. If you got to go up on stage, that gave you a chance for them to see if they liked you to go into the next round.”
Jeana actually went through three separate rounds of auditions that day, she said.
After she was notified that she had been selected for the show, Jeana received a packet of information from producers.
“The packet tells you ways to prepare. You have to get your mind ready for it,” she said.
Jeana’s was one of six episodes of the show that were recorded in a single day – Friday, Nov. 16 – at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif. With her boyfriend, Steve Hodgdon, accompanying her for moral support, Jeana flew to Los Angeles the day before the recording.
The following morning, she was at the television studio by 7 o’clock with the other contestants to meet with the producers.
“They went through the whole show step-by-step, answering any questions, going through everything,” she said. “We got to practice spinning the wheel. And you practice saying your words clearly and pronouncing your letters properly. And you got to practice solving puzzles.”
While Jeana and the other contestants did not get to meet show host Pat Sajak until the actual recording of the episodes, they did get to spend some time with co-host Vanna White during their morning practice sessions.
“When they were explaining the game to us, Vanna randomly just came in. We didn’t know it was her at first because she was in sweats and her hair was up and wet,” Jeana related. “We had no idea it was her. Then it was like, ‘Wow, it’s Vanna White.’ And she was so friendly. She introduced herself and was prepping us and giving us advice. She was so friendly.
“We didn’t meet Pat in advance but he was very friendly too. I talked to him a lot during the episode. We were going back-and-forth talking a lot during it. He’s very friendly too. And he’s very personable and comes up with witty comments very quickly,” she said.
Recording of the episodes began about 11 a.m., with Jeana appearing on the third of the six episodes.
“I wasn’t nervous. I was comfortable with the cameras and the lights because I dance. The thing that was difficult was they have you doing a lot of things at once. You have to smile, clap. There’s people talking to you in the background. There’s the big board you have to pay attention to. There’s a used puzzle screen. So you’re doing all these things at once and spinning a wheel while trying to solve a puzzle. There’s a lot to mentally prepare for that you don’t realize till you’re taping the show.
“They have a countdown clock and they’re counting you down and then they’ll buzz you out, so you have to say something really quickly. So it’s a lot of pressure [compared to watching the show on TV from home],” she said.
At home, “it’s always your turn” to solve the puzzle. But when playing the game for real, even though you may know the answer, you may never get a chance to solve the puzzle, she said.
“I would recommend that if people want to go on the show, that they should do anything they can to do it, because it was one the greatest things I’ve ever done,” Jeana said. “There’s only 600 people a year that are on the show. I got to be one of those people. I had a lot of fun. I loved it. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
And how much did Jeana win on the show, you ask?
Well, for that answer you’ll just have to tune in to watch “Wheel of Fortune” on Jan. 23.
Better yet, stop by American Legion Post 458 next Wednesday, where you can meet Jeana in person and help “Restore the Shore” at the same time.