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