What Is Wheel of Fortune?

What Is Wheel of Fortune

Wheel of Fortune is an American game show based on the game Hangman, in which three contestants compete against one another, filling in the letters of short words or phrases to win cash prizes. The show is nationally beloved and has been airing since its debut in 1975. Four rounds are played (or more, if time permits) in this way, after which the contestant with the most money is declared the episode’s winner and taken to the bonus round, in which they attempt to solve a single puzzle to win a prize separate from their cash winnings.


Wheel of Fortune was originally created by media personality Merv Griffin in the mid-1970s. Griffin and his sister frequently played Hangman while on road trips; inspired by these games, Griffin pitched a Hangman-based game show to personnel at his production company. They enjoyed the idea but felt it needed something to hook potential viewers and add to the entertainment value.

Based on his own perception of the draw of roulette wheels in casinos, Griffin added the idea of the large wheel and pitched the show to NBC. They also liked the show but felt it needed a bit more glam to boost female viewership. To accommodate this, Griffin added a shopping mechanic to the game, in which viewers could buy prizes with their winnings, and debuted a pilot entitled Shopper’s Bazaar in 1973.

After much workshopping and change in aesthetics and leadership, this show eventually became Wheel of Fortune, which debuted in 1975, hosted by Chuck Woolery. Woolery continued to host until a salary dispute in 1981 caused his departure from the show.

Griffin next hired then-KNBC weatherman Pat Sajak as host, who took over the show and remains in the hosting position today. Soon afterward, following a few changes in the female host paired with Sajak, Vanna White became the permanent hostess of Wheel of Fortune alongside Sajak in 1982, and the two have hosted together ever since.


The ultimate objective of Wheel of Fortune is to obtain the most money from guessing letters and solving puzzles to win the episode and advance to the bonus round. On each of their turns, a contestant spins the large wheel, which will land on either a cash value or a special wedge.

If they land on a wedge that does not cause them to lose their turn, the contestant then guesses a letter in the word puzzle currently being played. If that letter is present in the puzzle, the contestant wins the cash value that they landed on once for each time the letter occurs in the solution. Thus, if a contestant landed on a $500 wedge and guessed the letter “C,” and there were three Cs in the puzzle, the contestant would win $1,500 that turn.

A contestant’s turn continues as long as they keep guessing correctly and do not lose their turn from a bad spin. Once this happens, play passes to the next contestant, who begins the same process. Each round of an episode begins with a Toss-Up Puzzle, in which a solution’s letters are gradually revealed, and all three contestants play together. The first to buzz in and solve the puzzle wins a $2,000 bonus.

Toss-Up winners also generally get to play first in the upcoming round, and the winner of the first Toss-Up is the first player to be interviewed by the host. Rounds are played until the episode’s runtime reaches a certain point, at which point the contestant with the most money is taken to the bonus round to play for an extra prize.


Wheel of Fortune is currently filmed at Stage 11 of Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. The set, which has gone through several iterations since its debut, is now known for its reflective black floors and large video display. Starting in the mid-1990s, it has become customary for nearly every episode of the show to come with its own special theme, which often influences the episode’s special prizes. The set is always specially decorated to match the theme.

Contestants are chosen through an open audition process. In the past, a large bus called the “Wheelmobile” facilitated auditions, traveling to various public audition venues and allowing anyone over the age of 18 to enter their name and play a shortened version of the game. However, this stopped after the COVID-19 pandemic. In lieu of physical auditions, the show’s staff have pivoted entirely to digital auditions, in which hopeful contestants submit a self-taped video showcasing their personality. Promising players are invited back for a second round.

How to Play

A game of Wheel of Fortune begins with the first Toss-Up Puzzle. Whoever wins this is interviewed first by the host, followed by the other two contestants. The host then initiates the first puzzle. The first contestant begins by spinning the wheel, which lands on a wedge representing a cash value; they can then guess a letter, buy a vowel for $250 of their current cash prize, or solve the puzzle, filling in all the blanks and saying the completed phrase.

If a contestant lands on “Bankrupt,” their turn ends, and they lose their earnings from that round. Landing on “Lose A Turn” immediately ends that turn and takes away the contestant’s next spin. A player’s turn ends when they guess an incorrect letter, solve incorrectly, guess an already-used letter, hesitate for too long, or land on “Bankrupt” or “Lose A Turn.” When a player’s turn ends, the next contestant repeats the same process. Turns are played until the puzzle is solved.

After four rounds of play (or more, if time permits), the contestant with the most money wins the episode and is taken to the bonus round. There, they spin a smaller wheel to select an envelope with a special prize and are presented with their puzzle. The letters R, S, T, L, N, and E are already filled in in the bonus round. The contestant provides three more consonants and one vowel and then has 30 seconds to solve. If they do, they receive the special prize in the envelope they selected. Either way, they receive their full cash winnings from the main game.

Summary of Rules

  • Wheel of Fortune is a Hangman-like game where players spin a wheel and try to fill in the letters of a hidden phrase to solve the puzzle.
  • Typically, three contestants play the game.
  • The game begins with a Toss-Up Puzzle, where all three players watch the board as a phrase is gradually revealed automatically. The first to buzz in and solve the puzzle correctly gets to start the main round.
  • After the Toss-Up, contestants start their turns by spinning the wheel.
  • If the wheel lands on a cash value, the contestant guesses a letter. If it lands on “Bankrupt” or “Lose A Turn,” play proceeds to the next player.
  • If the letter guessed is present in the puzzle, it is revealed, with each instance awarding the player the value that they spun.
  • A turn ends when a player guesses incorrectly. This continues until time runs out, at which point the winning player is taken to the bonus round.
  • In the bonus round, the winning player has 30 seconds to solve a single puzzle with some letters revealed in order to win a special prize.


What is Wheel of Fortune?

Wheel of Fortune is an American game show based on hangman. Contestants spin a wheel to determine a cash value, then guess a letter in a word puzzle. If their guess is correct, they win that amount of money once for each time the letter appears. The show is known for its flashy aesthetic and themed sets and is the longest-running game show currently on the air.

How do you play Wheel of Fortune?

To play Wheel of Fortune, contestants spin a large wheel on their turn. This wheel displays multiple cash values. The contestant then guesses a letter that they think is in the Hangman puzzle currently being played. If it is, it is revealed, and the contestant wins the cash value they landed on. This process continues until a player wins.

Who hosts Wheel of Fortune?

Wheel of Fortune is currently hosted by Pat Sajak and Vanna White, who have been in their positions since 1981 and 1982, respectively. Sajak was hired by Merv Griffin, the show’s original creator, who liked the peculiar sense of humor that he exhibited as the weatherman of KNBC. White, a former Miss Georgia USA contestant, joined the show after a few previous appearances in other game shows and movies.