Pratt Junior Spins the Wheel

When a crowd of students pack themselves in front of the big-screen television at the Armadillo Grill, it’s usually to watch the Blue Devils compete against another university on the playing field or basketball court. However, they also recently gathered to view another type of competition -- to cheer on a Pratt biomedical engineering junior against other university students on the set of Wheel of Fortune.

Alaina Pleatman, a native of West Bloomfield, Mich., who had been watching the show since she was kid, matched wits with students from Temple University and the University of San Diego in a special college edition of the popular game show.

“Ever since I was young, my family would watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy while we ate dinner,” she said. At that time, she didn’t know she’d one day appear on the show. “So one day last year, on a whim, I went on their website and signed up to be a contestant.”

Not long after she was invited to attend an audition being held in nearby Dearborn where members of the Wheel of Fortune traveling roadshow evaluated possible area contestants. Spinners-to-be were put through their paces with interviews, written tests and puzzle-solving.

“There were about 80 of us, and after a process that simulated different aspects of the show, they narrowed down the list to 20,” she recalled. “Two weeks later, I got a letter saying I’d made the cut.”

She had to wait another six months before she heard again from the show. With a little more than two weeks’ notice, she had to make travel and lodging arrangements and head out to Los Angeles.wof_schroeder_apleatman_mpleatman.jpg

Fellow Pratt student Karen Schroeder accompanied her on the trip. She also met up with her brother Matthew Pleatman, who lives in California, and toured an Edwards Life Sciences facility there. They also drove to Burbank to watch the taping of an Access Hollywood episode.

While she read contestant blogs before heading west, she was still surprised at the pace of the show and how many different things are going on at once.

“When you’re watching it on TV, it seems so easy,” she said. “But when you’re there, you’re always having to do something and do it quickly. They don’t want contestants just standing there. It was harder than I thought it would be. They taped six shows that day, and I was fortunate to be in the second group, so I could get some pointers on what to do and what not to do.”

So how did she fare?

While she did not win that day’s competition, she did leave LA-LA Land with cash and prizes worth just under $10,000, including a week for two in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

What did she learn that she hadn’t known before the show?

The wheel itself weighs two tons.

Contestants get disqualified if they make eye contact with friends or family in the audience.

Vanna White, at 52, looked good in sweat pants and ponytails during rehearsal.