...I'd like to solve the puzzle, Pat.
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Pretty much any $100,000 win, but especially:
The first $100,000 win, made even more amazing in that the contestant had just barely hit the $100,000 envelope, and his bonus puzzle had only one letter missing after he called his extra letters.
There was also a pair of contestants in the December 4, 2002 episode who performed a clean sweep, leading to a then-record total of $121,831 (counting a $100,000 win in the Bonus Round). This was later beaten on February 13, 2007 by a team consisting of country singer Julie Roberts (playing for charity) and a contestant, who exceeded $120,000 by clean-sweeping and winning the $100,000.
Whenever a contestant makes a clean sweep (i.e. wins all the Toss-Ups and rounds, plus the Bonus Round).
April 5, 2011: A contestant does not only that, but also goes to the Bonus Round with the Million-Dollar Wedge and Wild Card.
Any time a contestant solves a Main Game puzzle with only one or two letters showing (see Main Game below).
Any time a contestant who begins the round calls every consonant in a puzzle without any lost turns or mistakes on Free Play (or before Season 27, without using a Free Spin).
Whenever a contestant solves a bonus puzzle with little to no help from the "three more consonants and a vowel" (see Bonus Round below).
Bonus points if the contestant gets it immediately or just before the buzzer.
Whenever a contestant solved a bonus puzzle without RSTLNE in it, regardless of the letters they chose.
Anyone whose letters allow them to fill in the bonus puzzle entirely, which typically gets a well-deserved round of applause and a good deal of sarcasm from Pat.
October 8, 1992: In a particularly amazing example, given a three-letter puzzle in the category of Place, a contestant chose C-D-Z-O to fill in the very difficult bonus puzzle of ZOO.
February 13, 2004: Following a technicalnote (The $1,000 Toss-Up went unsolved) main game sweep, a couple chose C-H-V-A to fill in A CLEAN SHAVE.
October 16, 2009: The contestant chose C-H-F-O-W to fill in CHOSEN FEW.
February 16, 2010 (shown in the second part of this video): Despite being up against a more difficult puzzle (no Wild Card this time), the contestant nonetheless confidently chose Y-V-H-U to fill in VERY HUSH-HUSH.
November 5, 2012: H-D-P-O fills in ON THE PHONE, though the D was not needed.
It's common for a contestant to know the Bonus Round answer before picking his or her letters, and thus calls four letters that are in the puzzle. One particularly awesome instance (December 19, 2008) involved a Bonus Round answer of JIGSAW PUZZLE, for which Z-W-J-I were called.
Another instance was when the contestant obviously knew that the Bonus Round answer was JUNEAU ALASKA right away. Not as awesome as the above example due to his picks of J-C-K-A just not being as cool as Z-W-J-I, but still pretty awesome.
December 1, 2010: A contestant called Q-B-H-O on the very easy puzzle NO QUESTION ABOUT IT. As far as anyone can tell, this was the first (and only) time Q has ever been called in the Bonus Round.
Main Game Solves
Circa 1985 (nighttime): _______N_ ____ (CLEVELAND OHIO).
Circa 1985 (nighttime): _______ N__ ____ (BUFFALO NEW YORK).
Fall 1985 (nighttime): T_TT_-___TT_ ___ _____ (TUTTI-FRUTTI ICE CREAM).
1988 (nighttime): ___ ___ T__N__N_ ___T _'_ T__N__N_ (ARE YOU THINKING WHAT I'M THINKING).
December 8, 1989 (nighttime): ___ ______ _N_ _NN_ __N____T (MEL BROOKS AND ANNE BANCROFT).
September 10, 1992: _L_____ _N _ __N_N_ ___L (SLIPPED ON A BANANA PEEL).
December 23, 1994: C________ ______ (CHRISTMAS WREATH).
March 7, 1996: B___ ____ (BORN FREE). According to the next day's interviews, this was a total fluke; since he thought the category was Place instead of Title, he guessed B, thinking it was BORA BORA.
April 2, 1996: ____ & __RR_ ___ ____ (DICK & JERRY VAN DYKE).
September 26, 1996: G____ _GG_ ___ ___ __ __. _____ (GREEN EGGS AND HAM BY DR. SEUSS). Also led to the first-ever Jackpot win.
Week of December 30, 2002: ___S__ _R____R _S _R. _R_S__R _R___ (KELSEY GRAMMER AS DR. FRASIER CRANE). Not surprisingly, said contestant confessed to being a big Frasier fan.
December 20, 2004: A Toss-Up of __ __ __ __ _A __ __ __ __ (FA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA).
May 6, 2005: N_N-_____ ____N_ __N (NON-STICK FRYING PAN).
May 29, 2007: A Toss-Up of ___ __J _____ (THE TAJ MAHAL).
April 25, 2008: S_S___ ___ (SISTER ACT).
November 26, 2008: ____ T__T T_____T (HOLD THAT THOUGHT).
February 6, 2009: T__ ___ T__T __T ____ (THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY).
November 16, 2009: B____TB___ ____ __ ____ (BASKETBALL HALL OF FAME).
December 17, 2009: __TT__ ____ ________ (LITTLE ROCK ARKANSAS).
November 19, 2009: T__ B____ B___H (TOM BRADY BUNCH).
December 1, 2009: S_____ & S_____-___ (SHAGGY & SCOOBY-DOO). Also led to a Jackpot win. This contestant said he had extra time to ponder the answer since his opponents were calling incorrect letters.
January 7, 2010: T__ ___T __T_ T__ ___T (THE HOST WITH THE MOST).
January 8, 2010: _______T__ ___T_ ________ (CHARLESTON SOUTH CAROLINA).
May 3, 2010: A Toss-Up of ___ ____Y ____ (THE WINDY CITY).
May 4, 2010: A Toss-Up of ___Y ____ (NAVY PIER).
September 15, 2010: ______ ___SS__S (CHERRY BLOSSOMS).
September 22, 2010: A Toss-Up of ___ _-___M (THE A-TEAM).
October 28, 2010: T_E_'_E __EE__ ___ T_E_'_E _____ (THEY'RE CREEPY AND THEY'RE KOOKY).
November 5, 2010: _'__ ___ _ ____ ___L___ _____ ____ (I'VE GOT A GOOD FEELING ABOUT THIS), a Prize Puzzle. Yes, that's one letter out of twenty-seven. Pat was dumbstruck for several moments, and the contestant (Caitlin Burke) appeared on several talk shows after her big solve.
May 12, 2011: ___S____ _____T_T___ (FRESHMAN ORIENTATION).
May 19, 2011: ________ __N ___N__ (ELECTRIC CAN OPENER), which actually ended up proving why it's not always a good idea to solve as quickly as you can. Since it was a Speed-Up, he could've easily let time run out (as it's very unlikely his opponents would've known the puzzle that early, and one could've easily called an S) and waited for control to come back for him so he could call the C's to win the game. Instead, he lost by only a couple thousand.
January 24, 2012: ______-T____ ____ (COFFEE-TABLE BOOK). Bonus points to the contestant for not being thrown by the improper hyphen.
June 8, 2012: A Toss-Up of __________S (BRIDESMAIDS).
November 12, 2012: A Toss-Up of _ ___ ____ __N (A FEW GOOD MEN).
December 18, 2012: ___________ N__ ______ (ALBUQUERQUE NEW MEXICO) A literal Speed Round, as it was solved in three seconds.
January 1, 2013: __T __TH TH_ ___ __ __TH TH_ ___ (OUT WITH THE OLD IN WITH THE NEW), with both spins good for the Wheel Prize and the Gift Tag. The same contestant later won the ˝ Car by picking up both tags in the second round and solving the puzzle.
January 31, 2013: _E ___ __ES_ ___ ___ SE____E __ __E _ES_ (BE OUR GUEST PUT OUR SERVICE TO THE TEST).
February 7, 2013: A Toss-Up of ___ ____M ____ (THE DREAM TEAM).
April 29, 2013: A Toss-Up of ______ _F _______ (STATUE OF LIBERTY).
October 1, 2013: A Toss-Up of __. _______'S ____ (MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS).
October 29, 2013: A Toss-Up of _____-_R- ________ (TRICK-OR- TREATING).
November 12, 2013: C_RN___ ____ __N (CORNISH GAME HEN).
December 3, 2013: A Toss-Up of ___I__ _______ R__N (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN).
December 3, 2013 (again): __SH & ____ ______ (FISH & GAME WARDEN).
Bonus Round Solves
September 3, 1982: __L__RT __D S_LL____ (GILBERT AND SULLIVAN).
February 1985 (nighttime): TR___ ____ER (TRIAL LAWYER).
December 1988 (nighttime): E__N__ (EGGNOG).
October 2, 1989 (nighttime): S____RON (SQUADRON).
January 25, 1991 (nighttime): _O___-_ORSE (HOBBY-HORSE).
May 6, 1992: DE_A __ (DEJA VU).
May 8, 1992: __EN_ (BUENO).
September 7, 1992 and May 13, 1996: _R__ (FROG). Yes, it happened twice.
October 5, 1992: _A_ (WAX), a great example of thwarting the Bonus Round's Fake Difficulty.
December 15, 2009: ___T _O_ (GIFT BOX). Also solved at the last second.
April 11, 2011: S_L__ PR___ (SOLID PROOF).
March 5, 2012: __N_ - __ T__ (WIND-UP TOY).
October 16, 2012: ___TE _N E_ENT (QUITE AN EVENT).
November 21, 2012: C__N _AN_ (COIN BANK). Also led to a $100,000 win, and this was during the Secret Santa Sweepstakes.
December 11, 2012: _I__T S_N_ (FIGHT SONG).
March 21, 2013: _N T_E ___O_T (IN THE DUGOUT).
May 30, 2013: T__G_ __R___T (TOUGH WORKOUT). Again, Pat shouted "WHAT?!" when the contestant blurted out the answer. Even better, the G was her Wild Card pick, so she probably would've been toast had she not picked it up. See below for more info on this round...
November 18, 2013: __RE_ER ___N_ (FOREVER YOUNG). Another buzzer beater.
December 10, 2013: ____NT __LL_GE (QUAINT VILLAGE).
Early 1976: Judy Bongarzone, a big winner who also won the show's All-Star Dream Machine Championship, a total of $64,461.
September 1983: The first nighttime Wheel, which had a noticeably higher prize budget than the daytime show.
The nighttime premiere offered over $85,000 in prizes, whereas daytime shows at the time averaged in the $40,000 range. Top prizes on the first syndicated show included a Pontiac Firebird (worth about $13,000) and a $5,000 "once-in-a-lifetime" trip around the world.
The $5,000 spot, which back then was really something to write home about. A lucky spinner, along with excellent gameplay, could quickly amass a score of $20,000 or more.
The top-end bonus prizes were typically more than $20,000, with one of the early ones — an Auburn roadster — topping the $60,000 mark; a log cabin (also offered during the 1980s) was worth $59,000. (Both the log cabin and Auburn roadster were won.) Numerous Oldsmobile Toronados and Cadillac Sevilles were also offered and won. Compare those offerings to the more common econo-car offerings (such as the Mazda GLC hatchback) and trips offered as bonus prizes on the daytime show, rarely topping $10,000.
The first big front-game winner, who solved THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA for $25,100 on the fourth episode...and went on to buy nearly everything in the "guest bedroom" showcase plus two cars (a Pontiac 1000 and Pontiac Sunbird station wagon) and a trip to Japan. The prize budget for that episode was a paltry-by-syndicated-standards $55,000...and it was very quickly upped considerably.
December 1985: In the famous "THE THRILL OF VICTORY AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT" episode, Terry's opponent, Niki — an older, excitable woman, to say the least — went on to win $10,000 in the speed-up round (she used part of her winnings to buy a London-Paris vacation) and win a Mazda RX7 in the Bonus Round, salvaging what could have been a disastrous episode. The bonus puzzle: TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT (which she excitedly exclaims for the rest of the show as Pat tries to throw to the closing credits).
Incidentally, in the "THRILL OF VICTORY ..." round, Niki used her $1,100 in winnings to buy a bedroom set. All told, Niki left the show with $28,000-plus in prizes. (And in a Moment Of Funny, Pat pretends to pass out as the closing credits are rolling, owing to the overall excitement of the show.)
Summer 1986 (daytime): Because of the Free Spin wedge and a few wrong letters from the yellow contestant, the blue contestant is denied the chance to even spin the Wheel. Thanks to a $2,000 Speed-Up, the blue contestant wins the main game.
November 1986: The all-time syndicated regular round winner during the shopping era was a woman who solved AN AMERICAN SUCCESS STORY for $44,300. (That's nearly $20,000 less than what Terry, the contestant who was unable to cash in with $62,400 on the infamous "THE THRILL OF VICTORY AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT" episode.) By comparison, the top single-round winners on the daytime show seldom topped $10,000.
November 14-25, 1988: The entire two-week stint in New York City. This was the first time Wheel had traveled, and it was such a success that traveling is now a tradition for the show. For a long time, Wheel was the only show that went on the road — Jeopardy didn't hit the road until the late 1990s. The highlights of Wheel's stint in New York:
Don Pardo announcing, in his only appearance on a game show since Jackpot ended in 1975.
An extremely high budget (an RV and a boat were suspended above the set), with over $342,000 worth of prizes available (over twice as much as what the show normally offered at that time)!
A special set with diamond backdrops for the contestants (this would become permanent in 1991).
Cameos from lots of New York-born celebrities.
Early 1989: A daytime winner during Rolf Benirschke's tenure broke Bongarzone's record, albeit barely, with a total of $65,271.
January 1994: There are no words to describe the awesomeness of Raymond Taylor. Pat's reactions around him are equally priceless. The Funny Moments page describes him in greater detail.
February 20-24, 1995: The only "Some of the Greats" week, which brought back eleven former champions (yes, including Raymond Taylor) to compete for charity. TV Guide gave the show a "cheers" for this, but there were two problems:
The contestants were more "zany" than "big winners", as their totals ranged from the $39,000-$91,000 regions and at least two weren't undefeated (in fact, one lost her second game by a huge margin).
They were nighttime players from after Wheel moved to Television City (post-Season 6) — one player from Season 7, one from Season 8, one from Season 9, three from Season 10, and five from Season 11.
Week of February 6, 1996: A team hands in the Double Play token (only used for that season) and hits the $10,000 prize, which is one-third the width of normal wedges. Normally, the token did not have any effect on prize wedges, only dollar amounts. However, it did apply for the $10,000 despite being a prize. It would be worth $20,000 if won, which it was. Sadly, no video of this moment exists online, though there are several recollections of it on an old game show forum. On their second episode that week, they used the token again and hit $1,500 for $3,000 per letter. The team went on to become the highest overall winners of all time until the first million-dollar winner.
Week of December 9, 1996: Four, count 'em, four Jackpot wins. One was on the Friday Finals, meaning that someone won the Jackpot twice.
The season premieres for 1997 and 1998 celebrated Labor Day (they both debuted on that Monday in September) with contestants who were all members of labor unions. 1998's also took place in Philadelphia, featured a cameo from the AFL-CIO's leader, and consisted entirely of prizes that were made in America by union members.
Week of February 9, 1998: On a show from Las Vegas, a contestant wins a custom-built Shelby Cobra worth over $105,000 in the Bonus Round. Even more impressive, as bonus prizes rarely exceeded even $30,000 at the time.
February 18, 2005: A contestant sets a one-round record of $54,000 in the Speed-Up. However, the contestant lost the $100,000 in the Bonus Round and, as a result, missed a chance at setting a new overall winnings record.
This record of $54,000 was later tied by two other contestants.
April 24, 2007: A contestant is apprehensive about his bonus puzzle being In The Kitchen, but still manages to solve with a wild guess of BACKSPLASH. He then asks Pat "What's a backsplash?"
Season 25 (2007-08): Any time a contestant landed on the Big Money Wedge and called a correct letter while $25,000 was showing.
October 14, 2008: The first $1,000,000 win by Michelle Loewenstein, which blew the aforementioned records out of the water. The first $1,000,000 and $100,000 wins also happened within a month of their debut. The odds against that happening are huge! (To make it even more impressive, the $1,000,000 winner picked up the Million-Dollar Wedge on her first spin.)
October 1, 2009: Contestant Jessica has $0 before the Speed-Up, but becomes the big winner with $24,000 thanks to a $6,000 Final Spin. This also results in a contestant finishing with a high 3rd place total of $13,700.
October 1, 2010: Chris, throughout the main game, spun the Wheel five times. After landing on a Bankrupt four times with the first one edited out (Pat would later note that he got four Bankrupts despite only the latter three airing), he lands on $5,000...only to call a letter not in the puzzle. During the Final Spin, he solves the puzzle with $24,000, and goes from $1,000 after solving only a Toss-Up to the Bonus Round, where he solves the puzzle and wins a further $45,000, leaving with a total of $70,000.
January 21, 2011: A contestant lands on a Mystery Wedge and decides not to flip it over, lest she risk the Caribbean trip she got earlier in the round. Later, she lands on the other Mystery Wedge...and decides this time that she will risk both $2,800 and the trip for a chance at $10,000 extra. She gets the $10,000 and then hits $3,500 on her next spin, eventually solving the puzzle for $17,000 combined. That took balls.
May 5, 2011: The blue contestant (Josh) fails to solve the $2,000 Toss-Up FRIENDLY FACES with only the C missing, and it goes unsolved. Because of this, he begins Round 3; he spins $3,500 three times in a row for 4 T's, 2 H's, and 4 D's, respectively (buying some vowels between spins), and then solves for a whopping $34,250.
December 21, 2012: Leanne wins $69,300 in the main game alone, including the $10,000 Mystery Prize, and $36,000 in the Speed-Up.
December 28, 2012: Exactly a week later, Cindy wins $42,000 in the Speed-Up, then $100,000 in the Bonus Round. Her end total of $147,000 puts her first among all non-million-dollar winners.
February 19, 2013: Curt has only spun twice in the entire game so far, landing on Bankrupt both times, and has nothing but the $3,000 from the last Toss-Up to his name. Pat's Final Spin is a middling $1,550 per letter… but thanks in part to finding five N's on the Speed-Up, he comes out on top and wins the Bonus Round as well. The Speed-Up puzzle? STUNNING TURN OF EVENTS.
May 30, 2013: The aforementioned puzzle TOUGH WORKOUT (see Bonus Round above) results in the second $1,000,000 win, and the contestant sets a new winnings record of $1,030,340.
And if that wasn't enough, the show that taped immediately after said episode (but would not air until June 11) had a $100,000 win.
September 17, 2013: In Round 3, contestant Luis lands on the new Express wedge on his first spin. He calls a right letter and decides to hop aboard. Cue him successfully filling in the entire puzzle DIVING NEAR CORAL REEFS by himself, thus netting $11,000 and a trip to Antigua. (Luis also ends up winning a Camaro in the Bonus Round.)
November 12, 2013: A pair of contestants enter the Round 5 Speed-Up with $2,000, only solving the second Toss-Up of the game. With consonants worth $6,000, they solve the aforementioned CORNISH GAME HEN puzzle just before getting buzzed out with $18,000 in the bank, winning by just under $2,000.