On Friday night on an episode of Wheel of Fortune aired on the ABC network, Trinidad-born stand-up comic Arthur Joseph emerged as the big winner, with almost US$16,000.
Joseph said there is a big difference between watching the game on TV and being live on stage, and at one point he was doing so poorly he wondered if he could switch to Jeopardy.
He broke down his experience on the show during a telephone interview with Newsday.
"What was I thinking? Not to sh-- my pants. I'm on national television and I make no money? I can't go back to Trinidad!"
The 50-year-old native of Fanny Village, Point Fortin was joined on stage by college academic adviser Annie and trauma centre worker Tami for the final episode of Island Hopping week.
Host Pat Sajak noted that Joseph was from Trinidad and quipped that he would have to pronounce his name as "Art-thur." He also pointed out that Joseph had cruised all over the Caribbean as a vacation planner (for Carnival Cruise Lines).
For the first toss-up Annie won both puzzles, then Tami won $4,700 in the first round with the answer "blanket, ball, bum, umbrella" in the category "crossword." In this first round, Joseph did not get a chance to spin.
In the second round with the category "song lyrics," things appeared to improve for Joseph. After narrowly avoiding "bankruptcy" he correctly guessed two Ms at US$900, bought four Os, correctly guessed C at US$900 and then bought an I. The puzzle was almost complete but his guess of R was incorrect and Annie stepped in to solve "Come With Me to the Sea of Love" for US$1,800. The lyric was from the 1959 song Sea of Love by Phil Phillips.
"Apparently not a big song in Trinidad," Sajak commented.
Asked about the song lyrics puzzle, Joseph said there are a lot of things you have to remember on stage, including what level to clap at, when to pick up the buzzer, and when to smile at Sajak. He recalled he was carried away with the Island Hopping theme and was thinking the answer included a real place.
"The only word could be 'Rome.' Sea of Rome."
Only after he said "R" did he realise that it should have been an L.
After two rounds Annie was on US$4,000, Tami on US$4,700 and Joseph was on zero. But the third round was the big turnaround for him. It was the prize puzzle and he was the first to spin. He correctly guessed one T at US$650, two Ns at US$800, and two Ds at US$500. He then bought five As and was up to US$3,000.
"Doing great," Sajak told him.
While guessing he also bought O, I, E and U. He explained that backstage they told him, "Buying vowels is your friend," and he included that in his strategy.
He continued to spin, correctly guessing three Ls at US$650, one S at US$600, two Hs at US$500, one F at US$650, two Vs at US$650, and one R at $650. Asked why he kept spinning with the threat of the Lose a Turn or Bankrupt, Joseph explained that he had figured out how to spin and avoid Bankrupt which was a technique he developed from playing the game's app. He also took Sajak's advice to solve the smaller words first to fill in the larger words.
After successfully guessing almost all the letters Joseph recalled the answer clicked like a lightbulb switch, and he solved "All You Have To Do is Have Fun and Relax," winning US$8,050.
"They going to kill me back home (if I missed that)," Joseph joked afterwards.
He said he took his time to pronounce every word as he did not want to mispronounce anything and get it wrong, especially with his Trini accent.
Sajak then asked him if in all his travels whether he had been to Belize and Joseph replied, "No."
Sajak said: "Well you're going."
Joseph responded: "Whoa!"
The Belize vacation package took his winnings up to US$15,968. Joseph said he was concentrating so hard that he did not know it was a prize puzzle and the Belize trip was the icing on the cake. After winning he felt a weight off his shoulders.
"I could come back to Trinidad. I have money."
He recalled backstage the contestants were told not to give up and there have been occasions where people came back and won. He said during the game he kept this at the back of his mind.
In the triple toss-up Annie took the first two puzzles and Tami the third. In the final puzzle and the Around the House category, Tami solved Insect Repellant and took her total up to US$14,200, but it was not enough to beat Joseph. Annie went home with US$8,000.
Joseph explained the contestants were not really competing against each other but against the Banker, and the aim was to have everyone go home with winnings. He added this was one of the reasons he did not "stress" the last puzzle.
He proceeded to the bonus round and of three categories Thing, Place and What are you Wearing? he chose Place, though in hindsight he realised it is a difficult category .
"Place is any place. It could be in your gallery. Standing at a bus stop."
He added that Thing was equally hard and he should have chosen What are you Wearing? He described the experience of the bonus round as "surreal."
After spinning the wheel he was faced with a 12-letter puzzle. The free RSTLNE netted him two Ls, one E and an R. He guessed the consonants M, C and P and the vowel A but only uncovered a D. During his 10 seconds to guess he just mumbled until the time ran out. The answer turned out to be Luxury Duplex and the prize he lost out on was US$100,000.
Sajak told him: "I know how disappointing it is."
He added, however, that Joseph had won US$15,968 and had a lot of fun.
Joseph told Newsday it was a tough puzzle because of the Xs and Ys, and he was thinking the answer included "sample" at one point. He recalled that backstage one of the cameraman told him it was a hard one to figure out.
He recalled when Sajak opened the prize envelope with US$100,000 he did not want to see it.
"It was Deal or No Deal all over again!"
Back in 2007 Joseph was a contestant on the game show Deal or No Deal and accepted a package of over US$70,000 from Miami Heat's Dwayne Wade that included refurbishing a basketball court in Point Fortin instead of a chance at winning US$1 million. He has also made recent appearances on To Tell the Truth and Let's Make a Deal, and won US$1,000 on the latter show.
On his Wheel of Fortune appearance, Joseph had no regrets. He said he had a good time, enjoyed meeting Sajak and co-host Vanna White, and appreciated the money he won.
"I will do a lot with it. I can carry my mom on a vacation. And buy a car."
He added: "My purpose was to entertain. And I did my job as a comedian. I am happy with the outcome."