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Heart like a wheel: A 20-year quest ends with game show apperance

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Michele Battaglino couldn’t stand to watch herself as she competed in the final minutes of “Wheel of Fortune” Tuesday night during a party at her home in Ricefields.

She knew what was coming in the Bonus Round of the tape-delayed show and left the room known as her husband’s man cave with its three TV sets and about 40 neighbors cheering and laughing.

With $14,500 in her pocket, Battaglino had already beaten her two competitors, Jonathan and Tracy, and held hands with host Pat Sajak to walk to her spot for a big bonus opportunity.

Battaglino had waited 20 years for this moment. She had auditioned for the show and been disappointed time and again. After her last attempt at Coastal Grand Mall she was told her name would go into a barrel with others and some would be selected for auditions.

She was thrilled when she got an e-mail inviting her to a “private audition” with 50 others in North Myrtle Beach. “It’s weird how it all fell into place,” she said.

When Battaglino solved the audition puzzle “Your luck is about to change,” she had a feeling that she was going to be selected. When she got a letter in the mail inviting her to California, “the whole neighborhood heard me scream,” she said.

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Wearing her name tag from the show and a big T-shirt that said SPIN THIS, Battaglino was nervously pacing through the packed TV room 15 minutes before the broadcast Tuesday. There was food everywhere, enough for a Super Bowl party. Neighborhood children, including daughters Olivia, 15, and Julia, 12, occupied almost all of the seating in front of the TV. Husbands were in back, at the bar, with the wives caught in the middle. Neighbors Donna Fanning, Michelle Sodano and Tracy Hannon tried consoling the pacing Battaglino with little effect.

Pebbles, the family’s tiny black Yorkie-Poo, darted back and forth, trying to avoid being stepped on. She was nervous too.

At 6:59 p.m., Battaglino demanded quiet. “All right, people,” she said.

Enter host Sajak and the world’s most famous letter-turner, Vanna White, in a long fuchsia-colored gown with a slit exposing one leg. It was showtime.

Battaglino grabbed a quick $1,000 by solving the puzzle “Gymnastics meet” and chatted with Sajak about her daughters. He joked with her that she was a “cougar,” an older woman with a younger man, because she met her husband, Mark, when she was 6 years old and he was 3. She had been his baby sitter, she admitted.

The small talk finally ended, and Battaglino won $2,000 more by solving “The Avengers” puzzle.

She was on a roll, and the spinning dial stopped on a jackpot and a chance at $5,600 more.

The crowd in the Battaglino man cave broke into laughter when she won a gift tag and danced with it.

Her luck seemingly changed when she answered incorrectly, but the wheel stopped on “Bankrupt” for one contestant and “Lose A Turn” for the other.

Battaglino raised her total winnings to $6,850 by solving the puzzle “Singles, Doubles and Triples”.

Jonathan, using an extra turn, grabbed the prize for “Big, Buff, Brawny Bodybuilder” after Kelly did all the work and blew it with her answer “Big, Buff, Brainy Bodybuilder.”

“Everybody wanted her,” Battaglino said. “Without the free play, that would have been mine.”

Jonathan won again by running the table on “Private Surfing Lessons” but got only one of two tags necessary for a new car.

“We’ll put that half-car back in the half-garage,” Sajak said, tossing the playing piece back on the wheel.

Jonathan was still sitting pretty with a vacation to Hawaii and $10,820 in winnings.

Back at the man cave, Battaglino was on the phone with her family in New York.

She grabbed a $3,000 toss-up by solving “Green Leafy Salad” and won the game by solving the final spin’s “Philadelphia Phillies” to raise her total to $14,500.

Her telephone practically exploded with Facebook posts and messages as she walked hand-in-hand with Sajak for the Final Spin. The answer would be a phrase. She was given the usual letters R, S, T, L, N and E. She choose C, H, D and A.

“You got this, Michele,” someone said.

The puzzle appeared on the screen. She got the second word, “Experience” but the first word left her blank.

The word was “Previous”, but she couldn’t visualize it.

The crowd groaned.

Sajak opened an envelope to reveal that Battaglino could have won $50,000 more.

The groans grew louder.

“It went by very fast,” Battaglino said after the show went off the air. “I did better than I thought. It goes to show that if you want something, never give up.

“I just wish I had won that freakin’ Bonus Round.”

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