After a wild week on the Wheel of Fortune stage, long-time host Pat Sajak couldn't believe what was happening; a contestant had made it to the bonus round on the beloved game show - and that's when things took a wild turn...
Caught off Guard
Who knew, after all these years, Pat Sajak could still get surprised? After over 40 years dedicated to the Wheel of Fortune, you would think he's seen it all. And he almost had seen it all before Bree Yokouchi came along.
It's not every day that Sajak is at a complete loss for words - if anything, he has more than enough to say! However, on this particular day at work, he had passed his limit. The game show host opened the envelope, looked down at the card, threw it to the ground, and marched right off the stage. What happened?
Let's quickly rewind for a second to truly understand how Sajak became the face of the iconic television show. Wheel of Fortune began back in 1975 with Sajak joining the team in 1981 - which places him at just over four decades! Now that's some major dedication.
"Years go by fast," Sajak acknowledged on his 40th hosting anniversary. But, he said, "We're getting near the end. It's been a long [time]. We're not gonna do this for another 40 years." But we'll get back to that in a bit. Regardless, he's landed 19 nominations and three Daytime Emmys during his time as the cherished host.
As for Vanna White? Sajak's co-host has dedicated four decades of her life to the game show and has yet to plan to go anywhere! Merv Griffin, the show's creator, "saw something between" the co-hosts and hired the dynamic duo us a "brother-sister type relationship." And they quickly took over television.
And even 40 years later, White still is dedicated to her craft! "Honestly, I've loved every minute of it," she says. "Who still says they love their job after 40 years? Me! I really do. It's a fun show. Everybody watches and enjoys it, and it changes people's lives and it makes people happy. So it's a great job."
For those that are not too familiar with how the colorful wheel works, let's break it down. The competition series is based on hangman, where three contestants compete to be the first to guess the missing words in the unknown puzzle. The board contains 52 spaces.
With each round, the host shares the category, and the contestants must read the puzzles exactly to move forward. In 2016, crossword puzzles were added to the show, which allows the host to give clues to the contestants connecting the words in the puzzle. And then, of course, you have the wheel.
Seeing as though the game show is called Wheel of Fortune, there does have to be a wheel involved! The multi-colored wheel is similar to the one seen in roulette but has 24 pieces. Most wheel pieces are labeled with dollar amounts starting at $500.
The amount on the wheel increases with each round, and contestants can either win cash or high-value prizes. Unfortunately, the wheel is not all fortunate. For example, it has two Bankrupt wedges and one Lose a Turn wedge - where players forfeit a turn or lose out on their money. However, players can also strike gold with a massive cash prize.
For a show that's been on continuously since 1975, it checks out we're currently on the 39th season! Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford initially hosted the show until the baton was passed down, and Sajak and White were left to host the beloved show.
The show is currently marked as the longest-running syndicated game show in the United States, with thousands of episodes taped and aired. Which also makes Sajak a daytime television legend! He's inherited the title of longest TV host from Bob Barker, the previous The Price is Right Host, which he headed for 35 years.
The Big Announcement
After more than four decades as the host of Wheel of Fortune, Pat Sajak announced on Monday that he will be stepping down from his position. In a statement posted to Twitter, Sajak shared that the upcoming 41st season, set to begin in September, will be his last.
He expressed gratitude to viewers for their support over the years and teased that he'll have more to say in the coming months. "It's been a wonderful ride, and I'll have more to say in the coming months. Many thanks to you all. (If nothing else, it'll keep the clickbait sites busy!)," Sajak said.
Hitting the Jackpot
But let's rewind a bit. During this current season, the long-time host witnessed something he had never seen before - a first in Wheel of Fortune, or Wheel, history. And then, contestant Bree Yokouchi entered the colorful ring, anxiously awaiting to see what the fate of the wheel would bring her.
By the time Yokocouhi's episode had come around, the contestants on Wheel had already been having quite the week! The week started strong when Lisa Kramer (above) made it to the $100,000 bonus round, a place where only one other player had made it to that season. But she wasn't going to be the last…
Second Times the Charm
In fact, another player made it all the way up the ladder the very next day. Mark Baer somehow had surpassed all the puzzle hurdles and made it all the way to that bonus round. No one could believe what was going on; not even Pat Sajak could believe what was happening right before his very eyes.
Once Baer reached the bonus round, Sajak shook his head and immediately blurted out, "Huh, that's never happened." In his 41 years on the job, the host had seen a variety of outcomes, but this was unparalleled. Not to mention, the prize is hidden inside an envelope, so both Sajak and Baer had no idea how much money was involved.
Being in the game as long as Sajak has, the host is barely surprised by the outcome anymore. However, every once in a while, something will happen that will spark instant shock. When the show's announcer Jim Thornton, said, "Mark, it's like déjà vu; it's all starting again," Sajak quickly responded.
He laughed out loud and said, "You wouldn't know; I just sold out my entire stock of confetti." He continued, "Even after almost 40 years, new things are happening here." That's right, even after 40 years of hosting the show, things no one could expect were happening.
Breaking the News
Once the show had reached a historical moment with the back-to-back bonus prize winners, Twitter had a whole lot to say! Lisa Kramer had earned $116,700 on the first night, and Baer left with $126,550 the following night. The show immediately tweeted, "whoa, did that just happen?! A Wheel of Fortune first!"
One fan wrote, "Wheel of Fortune just gave out $100k two days in a row, get ready for some crazy words the next few days, or else they're gonna run out of money." While another tweeted, "For the first time in Wheel of Fortune, we got ourselves back-to-back $100,000 winners this week, guys!! This is just great y'all."
However, some people suspected there to be unscrupulous behavior behind the wheel. Audiences were suspicious how two players back-to-back had reached the bonus round-it simply never happens! So after hearing the allegations, Sajak took to Twitter to address the situation.
He wrote, "A quick reminder to conspiracy theorists: thanks to the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, fixing a TV game show is a federal crime. I really like our players, and I'd like them all to win, but I draw the line at serving prison time." We can totally understand that…
Ignoring the Rumors
The host didn't stop there! He wrote, "Anyone silly enough to believe in things like that cannot be convinced of anything. It would be a total waste of time. I love how one day we're 'robbing' players of their winnings, and then we're 'allowing' them to win."
Sajak was defending both his beloved show and all the players who were competing! He explained that some viewers would prefer to invest in a conspiracy theory even with no evidence to accompany it! So, all in all, he told his followers, "best to ignore."
Introducing Bree Yokouchi
After addressing all the conspiracy theories, it was time for Pat Sajak and the crew to get back to business. The day after Mark Baer's performance on the show, Bree Yokouchi was up competing for the grand prize of Wheel of Fortune. What would her fate be on the show?
Originally from Maui, Hawaii, Yokouchi was a teacher working in an elementary school in Portland, Oregon. Yokouchi shared that she still regularly returns to Hawaii. The contestant shared that she was getting married soon and hoped to win some money before the 'I do's.
Finding the Wheelmobile
Yokouchi decided to sign up for the show after hearing about the "Wheelmobile event in Lincoln City." She thought to herself, "this was my chance." What exactly is the Wheelmobile? It is a 38-foot Winnebago that tours all over the nation looking for contestants to participate in television's number one game show.
She said in a statement, "all this started in my dining room with my family every night." Bree Yokouchi heard that a tour bus for the famous show was coming into town, and without any hesitation, she knew she wanted to get involved. And so she did.
Yokouchi made it to California and was ready to spin that wheel! The school teacher started the game strong by immediately getting on the board with the "complimentary upgrade" in order to win $1,000. And then "Schools of colorful fish" won her an incredible overseas vacation in St. Lucia.
Bree was on fire! She already had money in the bag and a vacation around the corner waiting for her, and well, her luck didn't stop there! She just kept on winning! Yokouchi guessed the "fill in the blank" to land a place in the bonus round after already having more than $20,000 worth of prizes and cash in the bank!
The Tension Is Growing
Yokouchi was on fire! She had made it to the bonus round and was determined to win that grand prize. Winning $100,000 would be life-changing for Bree, especially with a wedding coming up. The audience cheered on Bree as the bonus round came around, but what would happen next?
"After the last two nights, we had to send out for an emergency shipment from Confetti R Us in order to film," Sajak announced to the crowd. "So we're back; we're reloaded; that $100,000 is back out there." The camera faced Yokouchi. Could she guess the puzzle and take home the grand prize?
What Are the Odds?
The pressure was high, and a lot was riding on that final spin. Before Bree could attempt the puzzle, she had to spin the wheel for the bonus. Sajak had previously explained that "there are 24 (spaces), which means you have a 4 percent chance of landing on the $100,000."
So what exactly does that mean? He explained that it is "just over 4 percent, and of course, the chances are even higher because you have to solve a puzzle." So again, the pressure was really high! Bree had taken a leap of faith and spun the wheel, waiting for Sajak to open the envelope and see whether she had won or not…
The Bonus Round
She was so close to winning $100,000! The bonus round could get tricky, but Bree was focused, and ready-she was determined to win. With the bonus round, the contestant begins by picking out one of three categories, and then the fun begins. What would Bree choose?
The letters E, L, N, R, S, and T appeared on the board, and the player then chose three more consonants and another vowel. The elementary school teacher had been given the choice of selecting from these three topics: a phrase, a thing, or “what are you doing?”
Can She Solve the Puzzle?
Bree had selected the "phrase" category, and the blank spaces appeared on the board. Four-three-four was the pattern, but would the free letters actually help her? The answer on the board now read --ST --- ---T. Which letters would she choose next?
The audience was silent, Yokouchi was trembling, and all eyes were on the board. Bree chose the letters D, H, M, and A. Immediately, the letter A popped up in the last word, posing some major confusion amongst the audience and Bree. The audience fell silent.
Just You Wait
All eyes were on Bree Yokouchi. She had to say something! The camera panned to the school teacher, and a huge smile had taken over her face. She looked towards Sajak with that smile on her face as he responded back to her, "this looks troublesome."
He continued, "But I don't know. With her, who knows? It's a phrase," he reminded her. "You have ten seconds." The clock was ticking, and Yokouchi was on the verge of exploding with excitement! "Just you wait," she yelled. Did she just solve the puzzle?
Couldn’t Be Happier
"How are you doing it?" the host asked Bree as he revealed she had correctly guessed the puzzle. "Just you wait," was the answer, and Bree had guessed it correctly! The school teacher immediately jumped with joy! Neither she, the audience, nor Pat Sajak could believe what was going on!
Bree had guessed the correct phrase almost instantly; it was unbelievable! For the third day in a row, a Wheel of Fortune contestant had taken home a major prize! But what exactly would Bree's prize be? All eyes turned to Sajak as he began to open the golden envelope.
The Lucky Number!
What would the inside of the envelope say? Was it possible that she was the third contestant in a row to take home the $100,000 grand prize? It felt almost impossible, but in all honesty, anything was possible on Wheel of Fortune. So what happened next?
Sajak opened the envelope to find $100,000 written on the inside! "Who's going to book my trip to Vegas," he asked the crowd. There was some great luck running through the Wheel of Fortune stage. Bree Yokouchi was the third consecutive $100,000 winner.
What an incredible moment! Bree Yokouchi immediately screamed and jumped with joy; she couldn't believe she had just won such a large sum of money! Confetti immediately fell from the sky, validating Sajak's hilarious Confetti R Us joke from earlier in the show.
The crowd was going wild, Bree was in hysterics, and Pat Sajak was still in shock. What was in the Wheel of Fortune water that week? The host was in disbelief over the winning situation. "I'm outta here. That's it; I'm through." And just like that, he dropped the envelope and fled the scene.
However, Sajak eventually returned to the stage to congratulate Bree on all her successes. He said, "It's not just landing on that. That's amazing enough… But that was a heck of a solve. Because I looked at you like, you know, this is daunting — and you're looking at me like, 'I got this pal, don't worry.'"
And she got it! "I was just excited to be here this morning," the elementary school teacher said in a statement. "But to be the third $100,000 winner in a row is just amazing!" Yes, it is! So now we wonder what she is going to do with all that cash?
After the show was over and the confetti was cleaned up, Sajak called up his daughter Maggie who also works for the game show, as a social correspondent to discuss the unbelievable moment. She asked her father what he thought of three consecutive contestants taking home the bonus prize.
"I'm running out of words to describe my reaction. Stunned, surprised, I don't know. It's all inadequate," he said to Maggie. He genuinely couldn't believe the week he's had! It's rare for one contestant to take him such a massive prize, so three in a row felt nearly impossible.
Four in a Row?
After telling his daughter he was "stunned" and "surprised" by the bonus round winners this week, Maggie asked the question we all wanted to know the answer to. "So this leads, dear father, to the following question: could it happen again tomorrow?"
Immediately Sajak responded by asking, "You mean four in a row, Maggie?" She confirmed that was exactly what she was asking, to which he said, "that would be ridiculous, virtually impossible. Three feels lucky already, so let's not push that luck with four, although it would be incredible.
12,167 to 1
However, Maggie quickly responded back to her father, saying, "You mean like three in a row was virtually impossible?" Yes, exactly like that. So basically, anything was possible when it came down to it. All three contestants had beaten out all the odds and went home with $100 grand.
And the odds were slim. The chances of landing on any particular part of the wheel were 23 to 1, so for every $100,000, there were 23 other possibilities to land on. So, to have it happen three times in a row is 23 multiplied by 23 multiplied by 23, meaning 12,167 to 1. Those are some major odds.
Million Dollar Winners
Lisa Kramer, Mark Baer, and Bree Yokouchi might have all taken how the $100,000 prize, but believe it or not, these three are not the show's biggest money-winners of all time. Actually, it's possible for contestants to win $1 million on the competitive game show, and it's happened before.
In fact, it's happened three times before. Back in 2008, contestant Michelle Loewenstein took home the big prize with the answer "leaky faucet," and in 2014, Sarah Manchester won $1 million with the puzzle answer "loud laughter." But believe it or not, there was someone who surpassed $1 million.
The Big Bucks
However, the biggest winner to come out of Wheel of Fortune was Autumn Erhard. Back in 2013, the California native won a whopping $1,030,340! She was competing during the "Celebrating 30" week on the popular game show, which celebrated the show's 30th season with players who have "30" in their life, and she was 30.
Throughout the game, Erhard was on fire, earning over $30,000 in cash and prizes, including trips to Arizona and Belize. She eventually got the "Wild Card" in the bonus round, which allowed her to gain an extra consonant, leading to her guessing the phrase "tough workout" and winning over a million bucks!
The Gambles Continue...
So, after all the excitement surrounding the three consecutive bonus prize winners, audiences were dying to know if someone took home the $100,000 on day four as well. And unfortunately, no. There were only so many zero's to go around, and Donna Maine did not win the grand prize.
As the fourth day approached, retired nurse Donna Maine spun the famous wheel and made it all the way through to the bonus round, but unfortunately couldn't solve the puzzle. However, she still took home prizes of almost $28,000 with trips to Texas and Curaçao. And that marked the end of the lucky bonus round winners!