SRU alumnus sees fortunes change as contestant on ‘Wheel of Fortune’
From left, “Wheel of Fortune” game show host Pat Sajak and Slippery Rock University alumnus Ryan Muldowney react to the revealing of the bonus round puzzle during Muldowney’s recent appearance on the show. Photo by Carol Kaelson, © 2021 Quadra Productions, Inc.
May 3, 2021
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Ryan Muldowney learned from his time as a student at Slippery Rock University that "good things happen if you put yourself out there and work hard." Buying the right vowels and not landing on BANKRUPT when you spin the wheel also helps. A 2005 SRU graduate with a degree in journalism, Muldowney was a contestant on a recent airing of the popular television game show "Wheel of Fortune."
Luckily for Muldowney, who did in fact land on BANKRUPT and LOSE A TURN, he managed to advance to the bonus round and had a chance to win $1 million, but he instead settled for a $7,100 trip to Costa Rica and total prize winnings of $14,850.
"Opportunity meets preparation," Muldowney said. "That approach led to some of the success I've had in my career, and the same thing applies to 'Wheel of Fortune.' I kind of had a rough start and it was to the point where I had to get the next puzzle or it wasn't going to happen for me. I kept spinning the wheel and kept the right attitude and eventually my fortune changed."
Muldowney trailed the other two contestants, who had accumulated three and five times as much money as he did at one point in the game, before he landed on the $1 million prize wedge. This grand prize, which has only been won three times since it debuted on the show in 2008, can only be won if 1.) a contestant lands on the $1 million wedge, 2.) then calls a correct letter, 3.) solves the current round's puzzle, 4.) avoids BANKRUPT for the rest of the game, 5.) advances to the bonus round, 6.) lands on the envelope with $1 million (which replaced the normal prize of $100,000 on the 24-envelope bonus wheel) and 7.) solves the bonus round puzzle.
Muldowney did all of that except the final two steps. He missed "Checking My Availability" in the bonus round and his envelope was for $38,000. He desperately blurted "Cheating at Poker" after having only H, E, N, two L's and T available to him. In earlier rounds he solved for "Landscape Architect," "Nature and Wildlife Tour," "Please Leave a Message," and toss-up puzzles "James Madison" and "James Buchanan."
"I won that prize puzzle to Costa Rica and I ended up winning almost $15,000 total, so I went from like zero to that really quickly," Muldowney said. "So, if you just keep a positive mindset and put yourself out there, your luck will change for you, whether that's in 'Wheel of Fortune' or in life."
Pointing to his own career, Muldowney "put himself out there" as an SRU student when he hosted a late-night talk show titled "Gettin' Later" on WSRU-TV, the student-run television station. A producer saw the show online and contacted Muldowney, which led to him landing his first entertainment job in Los Angeles right after graduation as a casting assistant on "Vas o No Vas," the Telemundo version of "Deal or No Deal."
He is currently a freelance reality television writer and producer, having written and edited theDiscovery Channel series "Homestead Rescue" since 2019. His portfolio of work includes popular television programming such as "Masters of Disaster" on Discovery, "Treehouse Masters" on Animal Planet and "Planet Primetime" on The Travel Channel. In 2015, "Planet Primetime" was nominated for a daytime Emmy award in the "Outstanding Travel and Adventure Program" category.
Living in Los Angeles with his fiancée, Aubree, and newborn son, Malcolm, Muldowney had heard that, because of COVID-19, "Wheel of Fortune" was only accepting contestants from the Los Angeles area.
"I've always been a fan of 'Wheel of Fortune,' and I thought, statistically, there's never going to be a better chance of getting on the show," Muldowney said. "I just went on their website and filled out the application and recorded a 45-second video and sent it off to see what would happen."
That was last fall, and the producers called him back within two weeks. He had a follow-up interview via Zoom where he answered questions about himself and solved word puzzles.
"Shortly after the start of the new year, I got an email saying, 'Would you like to come on 'Wheel of Fortune,' and I'm like, 'Heck yeah!' Then two weeks after, I was on the show. It's pretty crazy."
With only two weeks to prepare, Muldowney said he practiced a couple hours each night leading up to his appearance, reading a book of "Wheel of Fortune" puzzles, watching the show on YouTube and playing the "Wheel of Fortune" video game.
"I didn't want to take this situation lightly," Muldowney said. "Yeah, it's a game show and it's fun, but how many chances do you get to win a trip or $10,000 with only a half hour's work?"
After the episode was recorded, he had nearly three months before it was broadcasted, April 14. Because of nondisclosure agreements, Muldowney couldn't share the outcome.
"It was killing me to not talk about it because people were asking me," Muldowney said. "My friends would joke with me and say, 'You won the $1 million, didn't you?' And I'm thinking, 'You guys have no idea how close I actually got to doing that.'"
Muldowney has 120 days until he receives what he's calling his "summer bonus" and up to a year to travel to Costa Rica, but there's a possibility that because of COVID-19 that could be extended.
"It looks beautiful and I'm excited to go, so thank you to 'Wheel of Fortune' for the opportunity," said Muldowney, before reflecting on fate, his preparation and his path from The Rock to "The Wheel."
"Had I not hosted that talk show (at SRU), I would not have moved out here, so none of this probably would have happened," Muldowney said.
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