TV audiences often thrive when their game shows of choice dish out moments that offer even a sliver of a reason to raise hell, whether it’s jibes for wildly off-base guesses or calling out hosts for oddball behavior or plenty of other reasons. Every so often, the complaints may seem to be more legitimate calls to action, and Wheel of Fortune fans are often quick to challenge Pat Sajak and the show’s judges for contestants’ on-air close calls. Just such a situation occurred recently, perhaps garnering more attention because of the potential $100,000 payday, but was the show actually at fault?
Why Fans Think Wheel Of Fortune Screwed One Contestant
The April 6 episode of Wheel of Fortune featured Texas Woman’s University student Alexa Hoekstra emerging victorious against her fellow competitors, earning nearly $20,000 during the main portion of the game. The possibly controversial moment occurred during the prize round, however, when her attempts to correctly guess the puzzle were deemed unsuccessful, though she came about as close as humanly possible to getting it. To the point where a number of viewers voiced their thoughts on Twitter, such as the user below:
@WheelofFortune I think you folks just denied this girl $100k …I sure heard “Just Winging It”… pic.twitter.com/km8B2HGXgMApril 6, 2023
Of Alexa Hoekstra’s various guesses during the round’s ten-second stretch, the first thing she said sounded the closest to the puzzle’s actual answer, which was “Just Winging It.” To note, the contestant didn’t question the decision in the moment, and even herself noted how close she came afterward. But that didn’t stop viewers from debating the ruling, as seen below.
- She said it!!!! Looks like Pat started to say “say it again” but stopped. You can tell she is confused it wasn’t right. And final expression when it was revealed was “wait I said that”. – @sarahmilroy
- Ok so I re-watched Alexa’s bonus round and from what I heard, she clearly said the answer on the first try. The show clearly owes her the $100k now #WheelOfFortune – @kevinagustin
- Bro the girl LITERALLY SAID “JUST WINGING IT” IMMEDIATELY!!!! You totally ripped her off of $100k @WheelofFortune – @Smith_A_Kyle
- I swear she said “Just WINGING It.” Guess she said Winning. Damn shame. – @ACinPhilly
As social media has proven more than a few times, people are capable of hearing the same series of sounds in different ways (such as that viral Toy Story F-bomb Tiktok). But as far as many of the comments went, this Wheel of Fortune moment was more a case of Pat Sajak and the judges just not hearing things properly. But is that what actually happened?
Did The Contestant Actually Get Wronged?
While there can certainly be exceptions to every TV rule imaginable, this appears to be a case of Wheel of Fortune viewers bringing out the pitchforks at the wrong time. For one, the show’s judges are known to be sticklers about pronunciations, and are listening closely to every perceivable sound being made with every guess. So even if one of the above comments correctly guessed that Pat Sajak started to suggest Hoekstra say her guess again, he presumably cut himself short after the judges made it clear she hadn’t said the right phrase. The host can’t exactly goad contestants when they’re close to the right answer, so he was probably limited in that moment anyway.
But the video that may put this issue to bed is a slowed-down clip of the final round that puts its focus on Alexa Hoekstra’s first guess, and it’s hard to argue against the idea that she pretty clearly says “winning” without the hard-G sound.
#WheelOfFortune did not rip this woman off… she clearly said “wiNNing” all 3 times. Here it is slowed down. pic.twitter.com/yKAtUjbCVxApril 9, 2023
Plus, it’s hard to believe she wouldn’t have caused more of a stir had she felt confident in having said “Just Winging It” only seconds before. Especially after the $100,000 prize envelope was opened. Security would have had to rush the stage had I been in such a predicament, so combatative would be my attempts to prove my case.
Which isn’t to say that her lack of a defense or the slowed-down video are end-all forms of proof, since it could have been manipulated in some way. (The Wheel of Fortune conspiracy goes all the way up to the top!) But if it so happened that the judges actually did mess things up here, would there be a way to make game show amends?
Have Wheel Of Fortune Judges Ever Reversed A Decision After Episodes Air?
Wheel of Fortune fans in particular have called the show quite a few times over recent months both for questionably phrased puzzle answers, and for puzzles that arguably don’t match the categories being given. But it’s not like fans themselves have the power to directly affect how things play out, as famously proven by all the “long pause” ruling complaints that weren’t successful, even if they did convince Audi to step in and award that particular contestant an off-show prize vehicle.
But Wheel of Fortune‘s judges aren’t perfect, and there have indeed been more than a dozen noted cases where questionable calls made during episodes were put under further review, and some of those cases involved similar complaints to the ones made above. However, the usual approach to handling those disputes is by bringing the wronged contestants back to compete anew, as opposed to granting whatever was lost out on in the previous appearance.
For instance, Tony Harrison formally and successfull appealed the bonus puzzle category given during his appearance in December 2017, claiming “On the Highway” was an erroneous choice, and he was brought back the April 6, 2020 episode. Others have been brought back due to other kinds of questionable rulings, as well as for faulty buzzers and more.
The caveat in those cases is that it often seems to take between 18 months and 3 years for the return visits to happen, so it’s unclear exactly what the timeline is like in those cases. With the point there being, even if Wheel of Fortune somehow flipped its decision for Alexa Hoekstra, we probably won’t actually hear about it until 2025 or so.
While waiting to see if anything else comes out it, check out the aforementioned wrestler contestant’s impressive-as-all-hell sweep of every puzzle in a recent episode.