BENTON Rachelle Michel has been watching Wheel of Fortune ever since she was a little girl.
“I started watching it with my grandparents, and then my parents, and now my husband,” said Michel, 34. “We have been watching for a long time.”
Michel, who lives in Benton, recently got to fulfill a lifelong dream of being on the show, traveling to Los Angeles for a live taping in March. Her episode aired May 29 on KATV Channel 7, where she won $45, 217, including a trip to Jamaica and a 2018 Toyota Highlander.
“I don’t know if the reality will ever sink in,” Michel said. “It is rare, maybe once my prizes get here. I didn’t think I was going to win since I hit bankrupt, lost a turn, and then I called a letter that was already on the board.
“For me to come back and do as well as I did — I think that’s awesome.”
Michel made it to the bonus round of the episode, solving the final puzzle, “A Group of Hedgehogs.” Her dad, Virgil Hobbs, went to the taping with her.
“Her mom, Irene, and I have watched Wheel since the kids were little,” he said. “We have always played it and are good at it.
“Anytime your child can do well, you like that. You always want your child to do well. I was just going to go out there for support, and I enjoyed it.”
The show tapes six episodes, so Michel and her dad where there all day. It allowed the two to meet and visit with other contestants and their families. Michel said she really bonded with one particular contestant.
“Her name was Kayowa Tani Kasongo, and she taped right before me,” Michel said. “She made it to the bonus round, too, but she didn’t win the car. And I did. So I kind of felt bad that I got it and she didn’t.
“But after the show, she was in the studio waiting on me to congratulate me. She was cool. We were doing jumping jacks before our tapings, trying to get our jitters out.”
They are now friends on Facebook.
“I think everybody bonded that day,” Michel said. “It was really cool. I wanted everybody to win.”
Michel said she has to wait 120 days after the broadcast for her prizes. The trip to Jamaica is worth $6,300, including $500 for incidentals. She also won $4,350 in cash. She will have to pay taxes on her prizes.
“I was a little nervous,” Michel said, “but I don’t think you could tell on TV. Pat [Sajak] was really sweet, and he put me at complete ease.
“He is really good about being cool and treating everyone equally.”
Michel, who has been married to Sean Michel for two years, said she did have to pay for air travel and the hotel room out of pocket. She said she was able to get a good discount on the hotel room, thanks to Wheel of Fortune, so out of pocket, she spent about $1,200 to make it to the taping.
“I am so thankful,” Michel said. “It still doesn’t even seem real.”
She said that, initially, her husband was going to go with her, but he is a musician and already had shows booked for that day. So she took her dad instead.
“When she was playing, it was hard to describe how I felt,” Hobbs said. “But I had a good warm, fuzzy feeling about my child.
“When she won, it just put the icing on the cake. It was really enlightening, on my part, to see my child do well. It was a fun time.”
Hobbs said one of his favorite parts of the trip was seeing his daughter win, but also getting the opportunity to meet Pat Sajak and Vanna White.
“My dad really liked seeing her up close,” said Michel, who graduated from Bryant High School in 2002. “He has always had a little crush on her. I’m pretty sure he told her that, too.”
“I was really glad to meet her,” Hobbs said. “It was almost as much fun as Rachelle getting the money.”
“I just went up for her and just to be supportive of her,” he said. “I didn’t want her to go to a big city by herself. It was fun going on the show and seeing it taped.”
Michel said it is a semi-long process to get on the show. Back in November, she sent in an application on the show’s website, along with a 60-second video. She was directed to go to the live auditions that were held in Little Rock, and about two months later, she was contacted, asking if she would like to go to the live taping in California.
“I think what made me stand out was my personality,” Michel said. “I am super bubbly and Southern.”
Michel, who is a server at Colton’s Steak House in Benton, said being on the show has definitely been a blessing. She said she had about 40 people attend a watch party at Luigi’s in Bryant.
“I am just overwhelmed with all the love and support from everyone,” she said. “It means so much. I sure did hope for the best, but the outcome exceeded my expectations.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.