BEMIDJI - It’s a bit ironic that Katie Hoody won the bonus round on “Wheel of Fortune” by solving the puzzle with the answer “gutsy choice.”
Because her letter selections were anything but. Every decision the Bemidji native made en route to her $56,299 winning appearance on the show was founded in reason and research.
The Bemidji native who now lives in Texas and her husband, Karl, a math professor, came up with a rather detailed plan in case she made it to the bonus round. After studying all of the bonus round puzzles online for the last few years, they determined the most common letters used in the puzzles.
Then, taking it a step further, Katie determined which letters would be more likely to appear based on where other letters appeared (each bonus round now automatically receives the letters R, S, T, L, N and E before the contestant chooses three more consonants and one vowel).
So, when the last letter of the six-letter word was E, she knew that a C or G was more likely to precede it.
She selected her letters - G, C, H and O - and Pat Sajak, the host, said each and every one was on the board. (Later, he would ask her if she knew it before she chose her letters, but as Katie would explain, she did not. And if she did, she would have chosen different letters, those not in her suspected answer in case she was incorrect.)
After Vanna White displayed the letters, leaving just three blanks, it was mere moments before Katie called out the correct answer, thus winning $30,000.
All said and done, she won $56,299 in cash and prizes, including a six-day trip to Nicaragua.
“It was just a lot of fun,” Katie said, addressing a house full of supporters in her parents’ Bemidji home.
The guest of honor, Marion Dessert, sat next to her on the couch, clutching Katie’s hand and cheering for her wins and for her opponents’ tough breaks.
Katie only sought the “Wheel” appearance as a gift for Marion, her 94-year-old friend and former next-door neighbor. They have developed a tradition of watching “Wheel” together every time Katie is in town.
“I might need to take a break (for that),” Katie quipped, referencing the constant practicing she’d been doing.
Forbidden before to tell Marion - or anyone else - how she did on the show, Katie smiled after the show was over, hopeful that Marion, who repeatedly said she was hoping Katie would win $1 million, would be pleased.
“This is the best evening I’ve had in a long time,” Marion said.
Katie didn’t get the first puzzle but easily solved the second, a $2,000 win for “Building a bonfire.”
But then she got a bit stuck. One contestant won $4,000 and then the other $6,000, also securing for himself a chance to win $1 million.
The house was suddenly a wee bit quieter.
But not for long.
In the “What are you doing?” category, a prize puzzle, Katie was second, having followed a contestant who got five Ns on the board before spinning a bankrupt.
Every letter Katie guessed was up there: G, I, T, E, H, S, U, A.
It was only a matter of time.
“Basking in the radiant sun,” she called out, winning another $4,100 - and then learning she won the trip. That brought her total to $14,299.
“After that puzzle they cut away from me pretty quickly,” Katie said, addressing her guests during the commercial break.
The slight woman often joked about her “weak” arms and how difficult it was to spin the heavier-than-you’d-expect wheel. Well, on one spin, she temporarily forgot her instruction and grabbed hold of the peg too low, banging her hand against the rubber stopper, or the flipper. It caused her to hurt her finger.
“Pat was very nice,” she said, laughing as she recalled the experience. “He asked me, ‘Do you need some help?’
“I did have a bruise the next day,” she continued, noting she also had some on her knees from bumping them against the contestants’ podium.
“I came away with some battle wounds,” she said.
And a lot of winnings.
She cemented her win in the regular round by solving the next tossup, “Home Alone” with just two letters on the board, and then the next, the final puzzle, “How the west was won,” with few letters itself.
Katie, who won’t receive her winnings until May, said she went in with no expectations or specific hopes.
“I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, but I didn’t really think I could control that,” she said. “I just wanted to have fun.”
The self-described introvert offered a quick and emphatic “No!” when someone asked if she would now try to earn an appearance on another game show.
“This is absolutely a one-time thing for me,” she said.
“She’s recruiting for a real good trivia buff,” Katie said, smiling.