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UC instructor gives 'Wheel' a spin

Chris Dorst
Annie Brackley, a business department instructor and softball coach at UC, sits at her desk.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the hotel lobby, waiting for a shuttle to take her to the studio to tape an episode of the game show "Wheel of Fortune," Annie Brackley got a head start.

At that early hour, she assumed that the "dressed-up folks" were her potential competitors and struck up a conversation with them. She picked out two whom she knew would be her toughest foes -- and ended up standing right next to one of them around the big wheel.

At 7 p.m. Oct. 30 on WSAZ-TV, Brackley competes on one of the most popular game shows in the history of television.

The vibrant contender is an instructor in the business department at the University of Charleston. She teaches five classes and helps coach softball. She acknowledges that her competitive spirit led to her appearance on television.

Running marathons, finishing a master's in sports administration and an MBA, working for the New York City Marathon and NASCAR -- all are par for the course for the athletic, quick-witted teacher.

"Only 1 in 10,000 make it on the show," she pointed out.

Brackley auditioned this past summer at Mardi Gras Casino for the chance to hang out with Pat Sajak and Vanna White. She made sure the summer class she was teaching (marketing) was finished on time so she could get to the tryouts.

She believes she was chosen because she's 30 and so is the show, though she said she realizes that her bubbly personality might have been a factor as well.

"I clapped at everything," she said, grinning.

"The producer told me, 'If we like you, we'll get in touch in 14 days.' I kept looking at the mail, driving my husband nuts. Our dog, Beans, and I would hang out by the mailbox."

The letter came on Day 13, and then a call followed up to confirm.

"They gave me dates, and I said, 'That is the first day of classes; I'll have to check.' I hung up. Then I called them right back, and said, 'Who am I kidding? I will be there!' The school was great to let me go on the first day of class.

Knowing her appearance would air during the Halloween-themed week, "I wore orange because I'm a nerd," she said. Her best friend from graduate school, who flew out to the taping, helped with wardrobe. Her mom joined them from Elmira, N.Y.

She also prepared for the show by working with a co-worker on a phrase list related to Halloween.

While waiting for her turn on the set and behind the wheel, she said there were lots of legal papers to sign. She also had to do a couple of promotional spots for the local station that carries "Wheel."

"I got really good at saying, 'WSAZ News Channel 3,'" she said.

A few hurdles still awaited the contestant. "I'm left-handed, so I had to learn to spin right-handed," Brackley explained.

Sixteen contestants meet at the studio each day: 15 contestants and one standby. They tape a week's worth of shows in one day.

There were many things she couldn't tell about the taping -- including if she won or not -- to keep the magic of television alive. She said many things aren't exactly as they seem on the show.

Drawing a little map of the studio, Brackley said her husband, Chase, her mother and her friend were on the farthest side away from her during her taping.

"When they ask, 'Who do you have with you?' and it shows them in the front row, well, they bring them down there and do a shot of them there in the front. Then they move them back to here," pointing to a far corner of the set.

"It was so fun, but I was scared to death. I can teach a classroom full of students, but that's much different. And then there's Pat Sajak and Vanna White ..."

One of her opponents was a retired firefighter from Los Angeles who's a game-show veteran.

"He had been on 'Press Your Luck,' 'Card Sharks' and 'The Price is Right,'" she said. The other contestant was a standup comedian who was quite comfortable in front of the crowd.

Brackley said she had no problems with the puzzles, knowing the answers to all of them. The wheel was her biggest competitor, however -- a bankrupt didn't help her bottom line at all.

But win or lose, she's thankful that she took a spin.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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