Why the hell buy a damn vowel if you know what the phrase is and then solve it right after buying the vowel?? You're just throwing away $250 for no damn reason!!! Idiots!!!
Two reasons. One, to confirm your thoughts (e.g. "b_ll" is "ball" as opposed to "bell" or "bill"). Two, it helps ease the pressure — you have ONE shot to solve the puzzle and a simple mispronunciation will cause you to lose your turn (and likely, the next player will solve it). $250 is a drop in the bucket when thousands or tens of thousands of dollars are at stake. Not buying the vowel (and getting that breather) leans toward the penny-wise, pound-foolish train of thought.
But the penalty is exactly the same for guessing the phrase and being wrong as it is for buying a vowel and being wrong. Either way, you lose your turn and basically hand victory to the next player.
Think of it this way: Buying a vowel when it's "obvious" that they know the puzzle is like saying, "Timeout! I think I know this" as they regather their thoughts. (You can't delay on your turn or you lose it. And spinning, as noted below, can risk a "Lose a Turn" or "Bankrupt".) Furthermore, just because you can solve the puzzle doesn't mean they can. And you can armchair quarterback it all you want, but YOU are not on the show and thus YOU do not have the pressure of national TV and thousands of dollars at stake and the fear of choking at the worst possible moment.
Additionally, you'll also see people buying vowels when there are still consonants left around. The reason for not spinning to try and gain money from knowing what's in the puzzle (as opposed to solving, which adds nothing to your score—if you have $250 when you solve, you get $250) is pretty obvious: You don't want to land on a "Lose a Turn," or worse, a "Bankrupt."
There's actually more incentive not to spin now, even if you only have $250. Nowadays, there's a $1000 minimum, so if you solve with only $250, they make it $1000 instead.
Also, just because you know what one of the words is doesn't mean you know the whole phrase; You buy an obvious vowel in the hopes that it shows up somewhere else to help you out, and since you know there's at least one, you don't risk losing a turn.
Let's just say there's a reason that you never see any Wheel of Fortune contestants move on to Jeopardy!...
Also, it's not as if the $250 swing would make that big a difference. The scores are usually far enough apart at the end of the game.
If Sajak constantly had to remind players that "Person does not always mean proper name" (and forgot to do so nearly half the time), why did it take them until 1996 to realize the easy solution of just making Proper Name its own category? It's not like they were against making new categories in the 1990s...
I think you are giving TV Producers, Executives, and Developers (as well as all the other many people involved in the decision making process of show) a lot more credit than they deserve. I imagine it was something they thought would not need it's own category back then if people would just understand the difference... which they obviously didn't. And you kind of answered your own question. They did make it a new category in the '90's. It just took the until 1996.
Why do so few contestants employ any kind of strategy in the Bonus Round? It's really not that hard to pick up on something as simple as T_E being THE. Call that H; it might help you somewhere else!
Even worse are the contestants who don't try to "talk it out." Being silent for the whole 10 seconds doesn't help anything. If you have part of the word filled in, try saying that fragment out loud and seeing if you can match any full word to that sound!
Talking it out does not help everyone. If everyone could talk it out and get the phrase on accident I am sure they would, but some people think better in their own heads. Talking it out would probably hurt those people more than it helps.
Actually, knowing that there is a missing H in T_E doesn't necessarily mean you should call an H. If that's the only H in the puzzle, it hasn't helped you, and if it's not, well, it's not like the rest of the puzzle was any more likely to have an H simply because there was a missing H in T_E. This strategy only makes sense if the H appearing or not appearing somewhere will help you actually solve the puzzle. If not, it makes more sense to call the most common consonants.
H is one of the most common consonants — it's the fourth most common, behind only T, N, and S — and if "T _ E" is already showing then T is already taken.
The fact is, there may be no strategy at all to them not choosing the H in T_E. It is a lot of nerves up there. First they made it pretty much by luck of the spin to the Bonus Round (and hopefully some skill), and second there is a lot of time restraints so they must choose their letters quickly. Not to mention the pressure of knowing you will be on TV in addition to the normal pressure of just being there and playing the game in the first place. Putting yourself in their shoes is basically impossible unless you actually get on the show. If you have been on the show... did you feel the pressure?
This is not so much about the show, but about how people see it. Why do people love to associate the show with the elderly? Because of this, some people feel ashamed or embarassed to admit they like watching "Wheel." I'm always on Twitter searching for any "Wheel" news, or just because I like to read people's witty comments about what's going on that night's episode. Just about every day I see a lot of people say things like, "I'm watching 'Wheel of Fortune.' I must be 80 years old." or "Why the heck am I watching 'Wheel of Fortune'?" Why do we treat it like it's such a bad thing to like it if you're not a retiree? Also, if it's true that "only old people watch it," then why are most of the contestants in their 30s-50s or so? Why does it continue to reign the top of the syndication charts ratings-wise? Plus, there are college weeks and teen weeks. Has it ever been explicitly stated somewhere that the show's target demographic is 60+? The only thing I've noticed is the occasional Bayer or Sea-Bond commercial.
Heck. I'm 28 and watch it.
I think it might simply be that the show is so old that the original demographic was whatever it was for the timeslot (which I don't think has changed in the last almost 40 years of the show) and those people have grown almost 40 years older, so if we assume it was targeted to a 25-35 age group, the people that have been watching wheel now are in their 65's-75's. Mostly, I would say that the young just don't want to be associated with the old and want to try and distance themselves.
Does Vanna White have a portrait somewhere that's aging for her? I swear, she doesn't look any older than she did in the 80's!