‘Wheel of Fortune’: Do You Need to be Pat Sajak’s Height to Get on the Show?

If you think Wheel of Fortune has been on all your life, you’re probably right. The mega-hit game show debuted in January of 1975–that’s over 45 years ago! It also seems like the dynamic duo hosts of the show, Pat Sajak and Vanna White, have always been there spinning the wheel and selling vowels. As it happens, Sajak and White have only been on the Wheel together since 1982, and when the show started, there wasn’t even a wheel to spin. 

Pat Sajak smiling in front of a green textured background
Pat Sajak | Jerritt Clark/Getty Images

Wheel Of Fortune was called Shoppers Bazaar in the pilot episode

Way back in 1975, Chuck Woolery was tapped to host a new game show, Shoppers Bazaar.  The show’s premise was a combination of the children’s game Hangman and playing roulette. Contestants spun the wheel, and they had the chance to win the amount the wheel landed on if they guessed a correct letter. In this version, contestants chose the prizes they wanted to win and played for fake money to buy the real prizes.  In a clip from the 1973 pilot episode, you see some of the prizes–a set of Gucci luggage, a Tiffany sterling silver tea set, and a vintage Firebird.  The original set design was a living room, but one with a casino wheel on the wall.

Shoppers Bazaar turns into the Wheel

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Wheel Of Fortune debuted on NBC in January of 1975, going head to head in daytime against CBS juggernaut The Price Is Right. The living room full of fabulous prizes was replaced by a Carnival-inspired set, full of bright colors and a giant, glittering wheel in front of the contestant’s podiums. Woolery oversaw the spinning from his own podium, and model Susan Stafford turned the letters.  

Contestants still used their winnings to buy merchandise, but the game was played the same as the pilot outlined. Winners of each round went on a shopping spree after the round, and any leftover “cash” went into a gift certificate or into the contestant’s account. If they hit the Bankrupt spot on the wheel in a subsequent round they lost all their winnings. 

Wheel producers switched to cash winnings in 1987, both to speed up the game and for tax reasons. 

Pat and Vanna make an entrance

Like many TV stars, Woolery wanted a raise in 1980. Like many producers, Wheel creator and producer Merv Griffin declined to give it to him, and replaced Woolery with Chicago weatherman Pat Sajak. Griffin hired Vanna White to be Sajak’s sidekick in 1982, mostly because he liked the way they quickly developed a sibling-like relationship. Since then, they have taped over 6,500 episodes of Wheel together, and neither shows any interest in leaving the show. Why would they–each is a millionaire many times over for working four or five days a month, and Vanna gets to model all those great gowns. Have you ever noticed that Pat’s bow tie always complements her dress?

The Wheel set has gone high-tech

Wheel of Fortune’s set has come a long way from the early days, when a set technician had to lie under the wheel to stop the spinning. Vanna doesn’t even have to turn the letters anymore, it’s all digital and she just has to touch the block to reveal the letter. One thing that hasn’t changed is that on your TV, all the contestants are the same height–Sajak’s five feet, 10 inches.  This leads many would-be contestants to wonder if they have to be 5’10” too, and the answer is no. It turns out that the Wheel producers have all the contestants stand on risers so that they all appear to be Sajak’s height, according to Radio. White is only 5’6″, but is usually wearing heels that bring her just about to Sajak’s eye level. 

See? They’re all the same height. 

If you want to stand on a riser and spin the wheel, you’ve got to be patient. Over one million hopefuls filled out an application and sent in a video last year, and only 600 were chosen as contestants. But you never know, so go ahead and practice standing on a box. Just in case.