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Jill Jurgens bought a vowel and still came home with some cash following her experience on the TV game show "Wheel of Fortune."

Jurgens, an assistant professor of educational leadership and counseling, was chosen from hundreds of potential contestants from Hampton Roads and went to Los Angeles in January to appear on the show.

The episode of the long-running program featuring Jurgens will air at 7 p.m. March 19 on WVEC-TV.

Jurgens' "Wheel" odyssey began in September during a mass contestants' call at the Virginia Air and Space Museum in Hampton. More than 6,000 people showed up and she waited 5-1/2 hours in the rain for a 15-second interview with screeners from the show.

She played mock "Wheel" games and took a test with 159 other potential players in Williamsburg in November. That group was narrowed to 40 and then to 10.

Two weeks later, Jurgens was told she'd been chosen to appear on the show. She didn't have to wait long for her chance - representatives from the show wrote her in December, asking her to come to Los Angeles in January.

She and her husband, Chip, flew to L.A. and lodged themselves at their own expense.

Once she was paired with two other contestants who would be her competitors, all the day's contestants were sequestered in a dressing room. They met with a lawyer who went over the rules of the game, and they filmed promo spots for local affiliates which air the show. A knock on the door turned out to be hostess Vanna White, who dropped by to say hello.

"She is probably the sweetest person I've ever met," Jurgens said, "down-to-earth and so nice to everyone, just like everybody said."

Jurgens' group didn't wait long, either, to get on stage. They were called second of all the groups to be filmed that day.

"They said, 'Have fun, you're not playing against one another, you're playing against the wheel,'" she said.

Jurgens said the intricacy of the behind-the-scenes action on the "Wheel" set surprised her. Scores of producers, assistants and makeup artists mill around before and during the taping. Viewers also don't realize that contestants on the program are able to see, in addition to the main letter board patrolled by White, two other boards telling players which letters have been chosen and how much money they've won.

During commercial breaks, contestants are made to turn away from the letter board while their makeup is fixed to prevent excess studying of the wheel.

"It was so cool, unbelievable, a big production," Jurgens said. "It was possibly the most fun I had in my life. To be on 'Wheel' was a dream come true. It was so much fun."

This article was posted on: March 1, 2002

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