Keizer on the Wheel of Fortune

Keizerite Heather Matthews on the set of Wheel of Fortune.

Lights, camera, action. North Keizer resident Heather Matthews appeared on the Dec. 15 airing of Wheel of Fortune, which played on ABC (KATU). 

Every year millions of people apply to be a contestant, 10,000 are given interviews and only 600 people are chosen, making Matthews one of the lucky few to be on America’s game. 

Matthews came in third with $1,150 with fellow contestant Rob Bodner capturing the win with a total of $75,860 as well as a Disney cruise while fellow contestant Amanda Chapin won just over $2,000. 

Matthews’ pot came in round four solving the puzzle PRINCE CHARMING, with the category of character. 

A professed Wheel of Fortune fan since age 2, Matthews described watching the show on the knee of her now-departed grandfather saying, “Grandpa was a huge fan, so he’d do his work and come in [to watch]. That was our thing.” 

Matthews, mother to Jaeden Bell (20) and Bella Matthews (16), is an employee for City County Insurance, an Oregon-based insurance company that focuses on employee benefits and property liability. 

A true local, Matthews grew up in Keizer and graduated from McNary High School. 

“I’m a Keizerite through and through,” Matthews said. 

Matthews has been a fixture in various Keizer scenes such as McNary PTA as well as her current work with the Keizer Network of Women (KNOW). 

Matthews’ whole family, save her husband Ryan, attended McNary High School and expressed how fulfilling it was to have your kids go to and graduate from the same school. 

Now, Jaeden is the section leader for the trumpet section in the Oregon State Marching Band though Matthews said how “we spend a little bit more time in Corvallis than my husband would like being the Duck that he is.” 

Matthews described how the human aspect was her favorite part of the show as it has helped it remain timeless and brings people together. 

“Pat and Vanna are iconic and seem like they are excited for the players, still excited to come and do the show and really support the players there,” Matthews said. “It’s just one of those wholesome shows that has never really had to change throughout their history. I think that’s probably what it is for me.” 

Matthews laid out her experience from casting to production telling a winding story that was brought to a short halt due to COVID. Being a busy mom with a full-time job made it difficult to find the time to pursue her own dreams and, after some cajoling from her husband, she went to the first raffle-style casting audition at Chinook Winds casino on the coast in Lincoln City. 

While not getting called in the first round, she was determined to be cast and remained at the audition. As the second round was nearly finished her name was last pick. 

After completing several Wheel of Fortune-style word puzzles in quick succession, Matthews cemented her spot for a second interview taking place in Portland. In January 2020, she attended that interview noting that “[the auditioners] were really trying to get down to the nitty gritty of whether or not I had what it took.” 

Unfortunately in March 2020, the world shut down creating a freeze on filming for many shows, Wheel of Fortune included. As time passed, the studio, Sony Pictures, began filming new episodes, though contestants were limited to California locals. 

Undeterred, Matthews held onto her dream and in 2023 made another audition, virtually this time. Soon after, she received a call back for another interview. Being a working mom, she had prior work engagements, but through careful planning secured an interview time. 

Getting to her work meeting, she quickly realized she forgot her laptop, her only method for conducting her audition. In response, Matthews stated how she “did what any good Wheel of Fortune fan would do and bought a laptop so I can get on with my audition.” 

After the interview which Matthews said went well, she heard nothing until September 2023 when they asked her to be a part of the Secret Santa Disney Week, which Matthews described as her most perfect trifecta. 

“Disney, the wheel and being able to be a part of Secret Santa? You could not have picked me for a better week to represent my love of that show,” Matthews said. 

Preparing for a long day, Matthews arrived at the studio in Culver City, Calif. for hair and makeup, who she said was the same beauty artist as Vanna White. 

Because the show films multiple episodes in a single day, numerous other contestants were also there and brought to a cafeteria for breakfast where they ate, had coffee and mingled with one another. 

Matthews described how she grew close to Bodnar, another contestant, offering to be the spiritual authority at his wedding to his soon-to-be-husband in Florida next year. 

When finally on set, Matthews was overwhelmed. 

“The minute I stepped on the set, I had tears because it was just a full circle moment,” Matthews said “It was so beautiful and I’d finally done it.” 

Contestants spent several hours on set before filming looking at the wheel and being helped by courteous producers as they explored. 

When asked about the ever-intriguing wheel, Matthews spoke of how, despite its smaller size with only a 7-foot diameter, it was incredibly heavy. “You go to spin it and it just went three [spaces].” 

Matthews spoke highly of the current host, Pat Sajak, describing a man with years of hosting practice though quite possibly ready to welcome retirement. “He keeps a tight schedule. He wants those people running through.” 

Vanna White, on the other hand, could not have been nicer. “She came on set with no makeup on and in a ponytail and sweatpants to greet us and tell us how excited she was for us and everything that morning,” said Matthews. 

“You’re really pampered by all the crew. It was probably five or so at night and I hadn’t had any coffee all day and I was like, what can I do to get some coffee? Somebody just went and grabbed coffee for me and that was the best coffee I’ve ever had in my life,” said Matthews. 

In order to prepare for her time on the show, Matthews described her training regime as a mix of becoming more familiar with the show and the types of puzzles and practicing the puzzles from old and new episodes. 

Watching the old episodes, Matthews described how, oftentimes, holiday-themed puzzles will make their way onto the show. 

“The later seasons have newer versions of puzzles. They didn’t used to have crossword puzzles and now they do. I watch every single night, so I already had familiarity with that kind of thing,” finished Matthews. 

Matthews celebrated her time on set with a watch party renting out a house in Keizer, watching the show with more than 40 of her closest friends and family. 

Contact Quinn Stoddard
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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