iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Pat Gallagher


Pat Sajak Reveals When His 'Wheel' May Stop Turning

Posted: 11/12/2013 6:06 am

Pat Sajak is always on top of his game. The Emmy award-winning Wheel of Fortune game show host knows how to please an audience (sporting those boyish good looks and charming his audience with his quick wit and effervescent smile). And he's never met a contestant he didn't like. Okay, only two in 31 years. That fact alone may just keep him from being perfect.

Sajak spent an hour with The Huffington Post to tell us a few things that won't be in the autobiography he's not planning to write. Has he ever had a crush on Vanna? Does he watch reality TV shows? Does he want to break Bob Barker's record? Has he ever had a face lift? Did he watch Ed Grimley fuss over him on SNL? And, does he want out of the bowels of those vowels? Oh, yes, he nailed the correct pronunciation of c-u-r-i-o. (Long story... he explains.)

First order of business. A lot was written about the contestant who mispronounced the word curio and supposedly "lost a million dollars." How do you pronounce the word C-U-R-I-O?

Curio. It's not that hard to say. You know, what's interesting... First of all, the people who wrote about it, a lot of them didn't know what they were talking about, like, 'He lost a million dollars.' Well, he didn't lose a million dollars. There's a million dollar wedge on the show, and you have to jump through hoops, and so many things have to happen for you to have even a chance to win it. That's only happened twice in all the years we've been on. So he didn't lose a million dollars, number one. I mean, had he hit a bankrupt anywhere from that point on, he would have lost even the chance to take it with him.

Number two is there are rules on the show, and the rule is, you have to say the puzzle. You have to say what's up there whether there's two letters showing or they're all showing. And we allow for dialects and accents. They'll come to me before a show and say, 'That lady's from the Philippines and these letters are a little challenging for her,' or whatever it is, and be careful. We always allow for that. It's very easy, and I understand the impulse of viewers to say, 'Just give it to him.' Well, that's fine, except there are two other players who are supposed to be playing by the rules too. So once you start saying, well, we won't apply the rule here, where do you draw the line, and how do you explain to the other people that yeah, there are rules but we didn't really want to enforce them in this case?

We take no pleasure out of doing that, by the way. It makes no never mind to us who wins the game. We just want good games. Big winners are good for the show. So it's not as if we're trying to stop someone from getting money. So we are scrupulous in trying to be fair to people. At the time when we went to commercial, he turned to me and said, 'I have no idea what I said.' And it happens. People freeze up.

You've hosted Wheel of Fortune for 31 years, and Bob Barker hosted The Price is Right for 35 years. He gave it up when he was 83. Do you see yourself hosting Wheel until you're 83?

The short answer is no. I'm getting near the end... I have two criteria, I think. I'd like to leave while the show's still popular. That would be kind of nice, leave it in good hands. And I'd also like to leave before people tune in and see me and go, 'What the hell happened to him?' So I'm trying to walk that line. I'm in a contract that will take me at least another couple of years. I'm not out to break any records, and I don't want to hang on for the sake of hanging on. Bob was great until the day he decided to leave, and good for him. But I think my time line is a little different.

What's the most asked questions you get from your fans?

If I'm out, they'll say, 'Where's Vanna?' Like I travel with her in my carry-on baggage. (Laughs) And then, not that they'll ask a question; they don't really want an answer. They're making a little joke, and I hear it about 300 times a day, which is, 'Can I buy a vowel?' And what interests me is that each person who asks it laughs as if it's the cleverest thing they ever heard, and they're sure it's the first time I've ever heard it. I try to be polite and I laugh back, but I'm going to start charging them $250 and make some money. (Laughs)

You and Vanna have been working together over 30 years. Do people ever ask you if you've ever had a little crush on each other? Do people want to know?

Sure. Especially in these days of Twitter and whatnot, where people can be anonymous and crude, they'll ask more direct questions than that, which, by the way, I don't answer. But, yeah, sure, they ask. We've been together a long time. People think of us as a team.

So how do you answer that question?

We figured out early on somehow, and I'm glad it worked out that way, that that wasn't going to work out. Besides which, we've gone through various boyfriends and girlfriends and marriages on each side, and that's kind of kept us on the straight and narrow. I think it would be very hard to work with someone for as long as we worked together and really have a romantic relationship. I think you're asking for trouble. But it's been perfect for me, and I've talked to her about it, and I think for her too. We're very close, and we care very much about each other, and worry about each other's lives, and want to make sure everything's going okay, and we'll cry on each other's shoulder if we need to. But that's it. And we can do that because we're friends, as corny as that sounds. That's in fact what we are.

Do you ever plan to write an autobiography?

I can't imagine doing that. I have no interest in doing that. First of all, I'm always stunned by people who ... and I'm not talking about the tell-all books that are really looking to look for scandal or anything. But even in a non-tell-all book, where you're just trying to be accurate about your life, it seems to me unfair to bring other people into it who don't necessarily want you to even if it's fairly benign. You know, the thing is, my life's been fine, it's been great. I'm not sure it makes for compelling reading. The short answer is no.

Michelle Pfeiffer just surprised everyone by saying she was once in a cult. So there's no cult activity in your background?

No. And you know the things that are in my background, the things that people don't know about me, I probably don't want them to know. (Laughs) So I don't think I'll be writing a book. I may read one soon.

One of the funnier Martin Short sketches on Saturday Night Live was the Ed Grimley character who was obsessed with Pat Sajak. Did you ever make a guest appearance with Ed on SNL?

No. I didn't. In fact it's funny because at the time, I didn't watch the show very often. I mean, it's terrific, but I just hadn't seen it. When all that was going on, I was not a viewer of it. So an odd thing started happening. People would come up to me and start twitching and doing this weird impression [of Ed Grimley] and saying what a decent guy [I was] or something like that. And I had no idea what they were doing. I just thought the world had gone bananas. Finally someone clued me in on it. I finally met Marty about six or eight years ago so we had a chance to talk about it a little bit.

You are a very humorous guy. Did you ever consider becoming a standup comedian early in your career?

No. I've written some humorous pieces, and I tweet a little bit. When I did the talk show on CBS there was an opening monologue, and I kind of stopped that. But the idea of standing at a comedy club in front of a couple hundred people, 50 of whom are drunk and heckling you, fills me with dread. I get flop sweat just thinking about it. But, no, I don't see that.

You're very funny on Twitter. You should give Steve Martin a run for his money when it comes to number of followers.

I've really just begun. I tweeted a few years ago. I tweeted for a few months, and it got to be kind of a burden actually. They were modestly amusing tweets, but I would get up in the morning thinking, 'Oh my God. I've got to tweet something funny.' And it got to be too much. So I closed up my account. And then a few years later people said, "Why don't you try it again?" I said, 'Okay.' So it's only been a couple of months. So I assume the followers will come. I'm not too worried about the number of followers. For example, Justin Bieber has a gazillion followers, but are they really interested in anything he's saying? So I'm going for quality in followers. (Laughs) I try to be sort of broad based in what I tweet. I don't tweet pictures of my lunch. Or my cat. Or my cat's lunch.

Do you watch reality shows?

You know, I don't. I confess that is the one area of television that I don't quite understand. Although I do have a theory as to why reality shows exist, and I think you might buy into this. The year that Wheel of Fortune went on the air at nighttime, 1983, another show went on called Entertainment Tonight. And I distinctly remember a bunch of us sitting around going, 'Are they nuts? How are you going to do a half hour of show business news every day? That doesn't exist. How are they going to do that?' Well, now fast forward ahead, that's all there is on television. There are 15 Entertainment Tonight's, and there are entire networks devoted to nothing else. And the problem is, there were not enough celebrities to fill all that, so they had to manufacture celebrities, and the way to do that is with reality shows. They're celebrity factories, where you can make new celebrities that you can cover, and they become celebrities, and then you have a reason to have your celebrity show.

One of the great misnomers is reality TV. Wheel of Fortune is more reality TV than reality TV. We don't know what's going to happen. They know what's going to happen. They make it happen. And that's fine. I'm not putting it down. But I laugh at the name of the genre because if anything, there's almost nothing better planned than reality TV.

What do you miss about the old days of television?

It's hard to talk about this stuff without just sounding like an old man grousing at the way things are now, and that's what happens in every generation. I'm sure that in the '30s, people like me were sitting around going, 'Oh, what happened to vaudeville? We got these movies now. It's not the same.'

When there were three networks, the crap was sort of limited numerically, because there were just three networks. There are 200 now. So there's just more bad stuff. There's more good stuff too but just the numbers are overwhelming. I'll flip through the channel guide and look at these shows, and you roll your eyes and say, 'How can there be 200 channels and nothing worth watching at this moment?'

You just turned 67, but you don't look a day over 52. How do you explain your youthful appearance?

(Laughs) There are a couple of things at work here. Number one is, the advantage of being on every day for 30 years is people get used to you getting older. It's like if you go to a high school reunion, a 25-year reunion, people you haven't seen in 25 years look like death. And the people you've seen throughout those 25 years, they look pretty normal, because you kind of got used to them getting old. So I have that going for me. Because I have aged. I'm not delusional about that. But, I guess, I have some genetic help in there. There's certain things you control and certain things you can't. I've always tended to look a little younger than I am. But it's funny, when I was about 61, and someone was trying to pay me a compliment, and said, '61? I can't believe it. You look like you're 58.' I thought, that's not nearly enough to take off if you're complimenting someone. I mean, I was kind of depressed.

I feel your pain.

It's funny. You get to a point though where people start accusing you... Not accusing you, but suggesting that you're enhancing something. First of all, I'm so squeamish, there's no way I could ever let anyone cut on any part of my body to make it look better. If they had to remove something for health reasons, that would be one thing. So that has never occurred to me. And I'm lucky. My hair is still there, despite the bald show we did once. But the one thing I do do, and I'm happy to admit, because a lot of people do it, if I let my hair be normal it would be mostly gray, but gray with streaks in it. It looks like kind of a skunk. So I did give in to that a little bit.

Follow Pat Sajak on Twitter: @patsajak

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Andy Griffith

    Raise your hand if you can even believe that our favorite sheriff of all time (Mayberry's Andy Taylor) didn't receive one nomination for his brilliance on <em>The Andy Griffith Show</em>. Our favorite sidekick -- lovable deputy sheriff Barney Fife (aka Don Knotts) -- <a href="" target="_hplink">took home five Emmys</a>, and, rightfully so, but it's shocking that Andy was never recognized by the Academy. 'Barney' may have gotten all the laughs, but 'Andy' set 'em up! The old cliché 'That's just wrong!' seems to apply here.

  • Jackie Gleason

    If 'Ralph Kramden' (aka Jackie Gleason), boisterous bus driver on <em>The Honeymooners/The Jackie Gleason Show</em>, never took home an Emmy, but co-star Art Carney (aka sidekick Ed Norton) <a href="" target="_hplink">took home three </a>for his role as Ed, is that an oversight? Yes, yes it is! We loved Ed, but Ralph kept the home fires burning with his bigger-than-life character which fueled Norton's fidgety, erratic behavior that made us all laugh out loud. Gleason should have taken home a busload of Emmys!

  • James Arness

    James Arness, who portrayed Marshall Matt Dillion on <em>Gunsmoke</em> for 20 years, was nominated for an Emmy in 1957, '58 and '59, but didn't take home the prize, although <a href="" target="_hplink">he has a star</a> on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Maybe the Emmy voters didn't love him - but we certainly do - and we're sure Miss Kitty put a notch or two on his belt.

  • Jerry Seinfeld

    So one of the great sitcoms of all time, 'Seinfeld,' <a href="" target="_hplink">didn't produce an Emmy </a>for its star, Jerry Seinfeld. How can that be? Don't get us started on the bad clichés... a show about 'nothing' reaps <em>nothing</em> for the star of the show? That's what Jerry gets for giving away all the funny lines to his costars. (See 'Andy Griffith.' )

  • Jason Alexander

    After missing out<a href="" target="_hplink"> seven consecutive times in the 1990s</a>, Jason Alexander (aka Seinfelds' George Costanza) must have screamed 'Serenity Now!' after going home empty handed so many times. Losing three times to that madcap <em>Seinfeld</em> neighbor Kramer (Michael Richards), must have made him feel like he was somehow missing in action. "<a href="" target="_hplink">Yeah, I'm a great quitter</a>. It's one of the few things I do well. I come from a long line of quitters. My father was a quitter, my grandfather was a quitter... I was raised to give up."... GC 'George' made us laugh until our bellies hurt. That should be Emmy worthy!

  • Angela Lansbury

    It's no secret that Angela Lansbury is one of the best actresses on planet Earth. It's a mystery, though, why the <em>Murder, She Wrote</em> actress never pulled off the Emmy she deserved after <a href="" target="_hplink">15 nominations</a>. Broadway recognized her talent with <a href="" target="_hplink">five Tonys and the Golden Globes</a> got it right six times, but Miss Emmy... what's the deal?

  • Kim Cattrall

    That sexy siren (Samantha Jones) from <em>Sex and the City</em> could pull off the big 'O,' but somehow the Emmy voters must have looked at that as method acting, and never rewarded her 'real' acting abilities even though <a href="" target="_hplink">she was nominated five times</a>. Ooooooh, my!

  • Steve Carell

    Steve Carell got little more than a paper cut after <a href="" target="_hplink">six nominations</a> and no wins for his role as Michael Scott, regional manager of Dunder Mifflin Inc, a mid-sized paper company in a big NBC hit show called <em>The Office</em>. He can thank Jim Parsons (twice), Alec Baldwin (twice), Ricky Gervais and Tony Shalhoub for making off with his hardware. He can thank himself for his part in making that show a hit!

  • Henry Winkler

    No, you are not hallucinating. Henry Winkler <a href="" target="_hplink">did not take home an Emmy</a> for portraying one of the most iconic and recognizable television characters of all time -- Arthur 'The Fonz' Fonzarelli! The <em>Happy Days</em> character brought the goods when it came to 'hip,' 'cool,' and 'sexy.' Although Winkler eventually won two <a href="" target="_hplink">daytime Emmys</a>, his three nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy Series/Happy Days somehow didn't cut the mustard with Emmy voters which means they were obviously sitting down on the job. Primetime Emmy voters: Sit on it!

  • Desi Arnaz

    Emmy voters, you have a lot of 'splainin' to do! Why oh why didn't 'Ricky Ricardo' share in the Emmy love that his wonderfully ditzy wife <a href="" target="_hplink">Lucille Ball</a> enjoyed as 'Lucy Ricardo?' <a href=",,20300978_20631353_21214393,00.html#21214375" target="_hplink">Trivia</a>: Arnaz was the only one of the four stars on<em> I Love Lucy </em>who did not receive an Emmy nomination. Shameful!

  • Hugh Laurie

    Six -- count 'em -- six times Hugh Laurie <a href="" target="_hplink">was nominated</a> for his role as Dr. Gregory House in the Fox medical drama <em>House</em> but had to stay in his seat when someone else's name was called during the Award presentations. <a href="" target="_hplink">Grumpy Cat</a> meet Grumpy Doctor. It's likely that the actor became as grumpy as his character after those six defeats.

  • Ed O'Neill

    Interestingly, actor Ed O'Neill, who was best known for his role as Al Bundy on Fox TV sitcom <em>Married... With Children</em>, was never nominated for that part. Although he has been nominated three times for playing patriarch Jay Pritchett on the award-winning ABC sitcom <em>Modern Family</em>, he has <a href="" target="_hplink">never taken home the award</a>. Maybe this year his luck will change. Stay tuned!

  • Katey Sagal

    'Peggy Bundy' was not the best-dressed distressed housewife in her role on<em> Married... With Children</em>, but she brought self-indulgence to a new high on this hilarious sitcom. She owned the bouffant hairdo and skintight Spandex pants. Entertainment Weekly once listed her as one of the <a href="" target="_hplink">biggest Emmy snubs of all time</a>. We second that.

  • Michael Landon

    Wouldn't you think the odds of Michael Landon winning an Emmy for his roles on <em>Bonanza</em>, <em>Little House on the Prairie</em> and/or <em>Highway to Heaven</em> would be good to great? Not so much. According to "<a href="" target="_hplink">Michael Landon Trivia</a>," he never won an Emmy in the 28 years he spent entertaining the masses on any of his three television shows.

  • Pernell Roberts

    That handsome, debonair, rugged hunk, Pernell Roberts, aka 'Adam Cartwright' of the Ponderosa, was never nominated for his role on the popular western <em>Bonanza</em> and was <a href=" " target="_hplink">nominated only once</a> for his CBS drama <strong>Trapper John, M.D.</strong> Roberts rode off into the sunset without an Emmy to keep him company on the trail. Just doesn't seem right.

  • Redd Foxx

    Nominated <a href="" target="_hplink">three times</a> for his superb performance as Fred Sanford in the comedy series <em>Sanford and Son</em>, Redd Foxx didn't take home the prize in spite of the show's popularity during its six-year run. Who plays <em>lovable</em> and <em>cantankerous</em> all at the same time better than Redd Foxx? Nobody. Unfortunately, he never won 'the big one.'<a href="" target="_hplink"> Right, Elizabeth? </a>

  • Larry Hagman

    We all know who shot J.R., but what we don't know is why the man who put <em>Dallas</em> on the map, <a href="" target="_hplink">never took home an Emmy</a>. Hagman first came into our living rooms playing the mild-mannered astronaut -- sidekick to a 'genie' -- in the NBC sitcom <em>I Dream of Jeannie</em>, but it was his role as J.R. Ewing in the primetime TV soap opera <em>Dallas</em> that got our attention! Unfortunately the audience doesn't get a vote so Hagman never got the 'girl.'

  • George Clooney

    Paging ER Dr. Doug Ross. Put the Emmy down. Oh, never mind. You don't own an<a href="" target="_hplink"> Emmy</a>, but, so what? George Clooney owns just about every other award one could ever hope to acquire in the big wide world of entertainment. Check 'em out <a href="" target="_hplink">here</a>. (Just sooooo many!) We're wondering if the<em> Syriana</em> actor keeps his Oscars on the same shelf his Emmy(s) should have gone? Great actor! Apparently can't win 'em all.

  • Phylicia Rashad

    Hard to believe that actress Phylicia Rashad was <a href="" target="_hplink">only nominated once</a> in eight seasons for playing matriarch Clair Huxtable on the hit NBC sitcom <em>The Cosby Show</em>. In 2008, Rashad was nominated for her role as Lena Younger in the revival of <em>A Raisin in the Sun</em>.

  • Elizabeth Montgomery

    Elizabeth Montgomery was <a href="" target="_hplink">nominated nine times</a>, five for her role as domestic witch Samantha Stephens in <em>Betwitched</em>, but no matter how hard she tweaked that cute little button nose, she couldn't make even one Emmy appear on her mantle.

  • Ron Howard

    Ron Howard's two most famous roles on television: Opie Taylor on <em>The Andy Griffith Show</em> and Richie Cunningham on <em>Happy Days</em> were priceless. His <em>Happy Days </em>role didn't earn him a Primetime Emmy award, but the actor-turned-director hit pay dirt with a <a href="" target="_hplink">boatload of awards</a> for his films which includes an Academy Award for Best Directing for <em>A Beautiful Mind</em> in 2002 (and a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Children's Animated Program for Curious George).

  • Steve Allen

    Mr. Pioneer of the late-night genre, Steve Allen, who was the first host of the original Tonight Show, didn't win an Emmy for his efforts because... he was never nominated for his efforts. He was, however, <a href="" target="_hplink">nominated twice</a> for his primetime variety show, <em>The Steve Allen Show</em> but, alas, didn't take home the gold lady. Is there a 'Pioneer' award in the future of the Emmys? Let's hope so!


Follow Pat Gallagher on Twitter: