Let there be no doubt — when Tensie Taylor sets her mind on something, chances are it’s going to happen. That was certainly the case with Taylor’s lifelong quest to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune.
Taylor’s fascination with Wheel of Fortune began when she was just five years old, when her family watched game shows after catching the evening news. “Jeopardy was okay,” she says, “but I loved Wheel of Fortune. Two or three letters would be up there, and I could solve the puzzle.”
Taylor’s mother bought her a Wheel of Fortune video game for a Gameboy and then a version of game that could be played on the computer. “I played these games religiously,” Taylor says. “I was just fascinated by the show.”
“I loved Vanna because she got to wear elegant dresses and turn the letters on the puzzle board,” Taylor says. “Pat Sajak seemed so nice. And everyone on the show went home a winner.”
Taylor is 27 years old now, having graduated from NC State in 2009 and gone on to earn a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern California in 2014. She is a manager at the Black Alumni Association at USC. She also works part-time as a hostess at Hollywood events such as the Grammy Awards and the NAACP Image Awards.
But her interest in Wheel of Fortune has never waned. When she was in graduate school, Taylor would make sure to schedule night classes so they didn’t interfere with her nightly viewing of the show.
Taylor had occasionally applied to be on the show when she was living in North Carolina. But when she moved to Los Angeles, Taylor decided to take her efforts to a new level.
“I’m very initiative driven,” she says. “When I put my mind to something, I go all out to do it until I accomplish that goal.”
So Taylor applied online to be a contestant every single day of 2013. That’s 365 consecutive days that Taylor sat down at her computer and applied to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune.
But she still wasn’t selected. “I was disappointed,” Taylor says. “But it was more motivation to keep on trying and trying. And that’s what I did.”
And it finally paid off, when she got a call in early January 2014 inviting her to audition for the show. She was one of 100 people who showed up for auditions on Jan. 16, and then one of 15 to make the cut after completing a quiz of 16 puzzles and participating in a mock version of the show (she won a Pat Sajak bobble-head figure for correctly solving a puzzle). A couple of weeks later, Taylor received a letter inviting her to be on the show on May 2.
Taylor’s episode is scheduled to air this Thursday, and she is not allowed to talk about how she did on the show. But she was able to talk about what it was like to finally fulfill her dream.
“I was so nervous,” she says. “I was going on national television, and I might have the opportunity to win a million dollars.”
Taylor was determined not to become what she called a “YouTube sensation” by making a spectacular mistake on the show. So she decided not to make any wild guesses, to be calm when calling out letters and to be deliberate when solving puzzles. She was surprised by how small the studio was and how difficult it was to spin the wheel, which weighs 2,400 pounds.
“To be able to meet Vanna and Pat was great,” she says. “It was the quickest 20 minutes of my life — wow, that’s it! It was an amazing experience.”
But having accomplished one dream, Taylor already has her sights set on another goal. She wants to be a contestant on The Price is Right.