Longtime Puzzler To Certified Wordsmith, In One Fortunate Spin
As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.
Ever since Autumn Erhard was a kid, she spent her evenings on the couch solving word puzzles on Wheel of Fortune.
"I was always told growing up, 'You should try out,' " Erhard says. "For some reason, I just decided, 'I'm going to do it.' "
Erhard, a sales representative in Orange County, Calif., couldn't have timed it better. Last year, the show was celebrating its 30th anniversary — around the same time she turned 30. Erhard says that's why she was chosen to be a contestant.
Solving puzzles on the show, it turned out, was a lot different from playing on her couch. With the audience, lights and cameras, she says she was shaking and sweating.
"You just try to do your best and get in the zone and pretend like you're playing at home," she says.
Erhard made it all the way to the bonus round and took one final spin. The wheel stopped, host Pat Sajak took the sealed envelope, and Erhard looked at the board for her next word puzzle.
"My category was a 'thing,' " she says.
It was a two-word phrase, with 12 letters. She picked her letters, but only two T's, an R and one G appeared on the board.
The puzzle seemed impossible to solve, but Erhard had an idea.
"With the T and the G in the first word, I pretty much figured out it was 'tough.' And me being the workout junkie that I am, somehow 'workout' popped in my head," she says.
The timer started, and Erhard immediately called out her answer: "tough workout."
"All of a sudden, streamers come down and [Pat Sajak] opened the envelope," she says.
It was the $1 million prize.
"I was just completely shocked," Erhard says. "I couldn't even speak anymore, I could barely breathe. I thought I would cry but I think I had so many emotions going on that I was almost frozen."
She became the show's second million-dollar winner.
"Not in a million years would I have thought that I would've been on the show," she says. "Let alone win a million."
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