Is Pat Sajak the Original Host of ‘Wheel of Fortune?’

Game show enthusiasts hold a special place in their hearts for Wheel of Fortune. The iconic wheel has been spinning for almost 45 years, first airing in January 1975. Host Pat Sajak and letter-turner Vanna White are pillars of the program, but was Sajak always the prime puzzle master?

“Wheel of Fortune’s” Pat Sajak | Jim Spellman/WireImage

Talk about a great gig

Wheel of Fortune remains a ratings winner, making Sajack and White two of the most renowned celebrities in game show history. The hosting gig sounds pretty sweet – Good Housekeeping reports that both Sajack and White shoot the show just four days a month, doing about six shows per day. Do the math, and that works out to approximately 26 days off per month.

Then there’s the salary. Turning letters has turned quite a profit for White, who reportedly makes $4 million per year at the puzzle board post, according to Good Housekeeping. Even she marvels at her salary, telling Market Watch, “I’ll be the first person to make fun of my job. I’m a letter toucher! They pay me to touch letters!”

White added that she has also worn upwards of 6,700 gowns on the show, which are on loan from designers. “Some of them are beautiful, long sequined gowns, but literally you feel like you’re sewn into the dress,” White told USA Today. “You can’t breathe. But they’re beautiful, and they are fun to wear.”

Wondering about Sajak’s paycheck? Celebrity Net Worth reports that Sajak makes almost four times more than White, earning a hefty $15 million per year as host. Not bad for a month and half’s work out of 365 days.

Sajak wasn’t the first to spin the wheel

Fans of the iconic game show may not know that Sajak was not Wheel of Fortune’s original host, nor was White the first to turn those letters.

The host to first gaze upon the infamous wheel was Chuck Woolery, who was partnered with Susan Stafford at the board. According to Daily Press, Woolery was a singer and composer before being discovered by media mogul Merv Griffin and signed onto the Wheel. He left the show in 1981 after contract negotiations fell apart. Woolery’s exit was followed by Stafford’s departure in 1982.

Griffin then hired Sajak, a former Los Angeles weatherman, at the end of 1981. White beat out 200 applicants for the job of letter-turner.

Woolery went on to host other shows, with the original dating show Love Connection being the most memorable from 1983 to 1994. The show was known for live interaction, where audience members would vote on who the contestant should date out of three prospects.  

Celebrating a milestone

In May, Sajak and White celebrated a mind-boggling 7,000 shows together, as reported by USA Today. White said she didn’t think she’d be “doing the show for more than five years. I thought, ‘Well, this is gonna be fun, but I can’t imagine it lasting that long,’ I remember sitting in the chair next to Pat saying, ‘I wonder where we’ll be in 10 years?’ … And here it’s been 36.”

Sajak earned a Guinness World Records title for the longest career of a game-show host for the same show. “When we went on, there were only three networks,” he said. “Cable was in its early days and streaming networks didn’t exist. We’re in such a different environment, and yet still succeeding. I think that’s the biggest accomplishment of the show.”

Sajak has no intention of retiring anytime soon, though he’d like it to happen while the show is still a hit. “I’d like to leave while the show’s still popular, and I’d like to leave before people ask me to leave, and I’d like to leave before people tune in and see me and go, ‘Ooh, what the hell happened to him?’” Sajak said.

White also has no plans to abandon the board.  “I’m not planning to go anywhere soon. If I could do it forever, I would, because I do love my job.”