Torrance High pair hits it big on ‘Wheel’
It’s safe to assume Ariel Dela Cruz and Katlyn VanNieuwenhuyse, both seniors at Torrance High School, will never forget the phrase “Boy Wizard Harry Potter.”
That’s the answer to the word puzzle that triggered their hot streak on an episode of “Wheel of Fortune” last week, where the duo cleaned house, netting $52,620 in a teen tournament.
“I was fine at the beginning of the show,” said Ariel, 17. “When I realized how much money we were getting, I could not stop shaking.”
To say the friends emerged victorious would be an understatement. The next runner-up took home just $5,000. The show aired across the nation on Wednesday, but it was actually taped in November.
Like so many adventures, theirs began on a whim. Last school year, the girls occasionally Skyped with the show playing in the background on TV. One day, in the spring, Ariel visited the “Wheel of Fortune” website and decided to sign them up as potential contestants. To her shock, a rep from the show called her up a few months later.
In August, the girls showed up for an audition at a hotel. Part of it involved playing a mock version of the game, but it was more about demonstrating their ability to be lively on camera – to shout key phrases such as the signature “Can I buy a vowel?”
“They wanted big reactions,” Katlyn said.
The girls were told they’d be called back in October if they were needed. When the month came and went without a call, they were crestfallen. But there’s an old saying that a watched kettle never boils. In early November, after the friends had moved on, the call came.
Katlyn, 18, a water polo player, was participating in a match when she found out.
“I ran over to my coaches and started telling everyone,” she said. “I was so happy.”
Later that month, they made the half-hour commute to Sony Studios in Culver City for the taping. The girls were stunned by the lasting good looks of the show’s mainstay personalities, Pat Sajak and Vanna White, both of whom began their stints with “Wheel of Fortune” in the early 1980s.
“He looks great – even up close,” Ariel said, adding that White gave them a victory hug after the match. “He makes sure you’re really calm about it. That you’re not tense.”
Of course, that’s easy for him to say.
During the bonus round, with thousands of dollars on the line, Team Torrance struggled with a two-word phrase.
Katlyn wrongly guessed “baking pan.” Ariel knew she had to come up with something, but blanked out. Finally, she uttered a Hail Mary answer: “waxing man.” Alas, the answer was “moving van.” The answer would have netted them $30,000 more.
On Thursday, classmates were congratulatory, but they razzed Ariel about that one. Even her first-period teacher joined in. “He came up to me and gave me this little note, and it said, `Congratulations, waxing man,”‘ she said with a laugh.
The girls will split the winnings, which won’t arrive until June. Included in the $52,000 prize is a $10,000 trip for four to the Turks and Caicos Islands near the Bahamas. That leaves about $20,000 each for spending cash.
Perhaps as a sign of these lean times, both girls have practical plans for their earnings. Both intend to save much of it for college.
“Most people probably think every girl just wants a shopping spree, but I really want to save a majority for later in life,” Ariel said. “Of course, I’ll treat myself and, of course I’m going to give money to my parents and family.”
As for Katlyn, her 2001 Nissan Sentra is in need of some repair work.
Their only regret about appearing on the show is that they can’t ever do it again.
“I want to do more game shows,” Katlyn said. “It was so fun. It felt cool to be on TV. We got our little 15 minutes of fame.”