So who did release Michael Ivanyo’s audition tape to Wheel of
To this day it remains an Ivanyo Family mystery. Michael says he didn’t. His
mom, Dawn, knows she didn’t. Yet somehow the good folks at Wheel
got their hands on the tape, saw something in Michael they liked, and
invited him to audition at a casting in Chicago.
Except Dawn at home in Chesterton actually took the call--Michael was away
at college--and the casting assistant, with an ear for infectitious joy,
quick as a bunny made it a twofer. “I was so excited for Michael that they
asked us to try out together,” Dawn says.
Which was only fitting. Because the Ivanyos have been watching Wheel
together for years, since Pat Sajak and Vanna White--ageless though they may
be--were still in their prime-time prime. “It’s kind of a family thing,”
Dawn says. “It always came on after dinner and we’d watch it together and
compete against each other.”
So it was that Dawn and Michael went to Chicago to audition. The grand news
is that both were cast to spin, with Michael’s show airing in May and Dawn’s
on Friday, Oct. 19. The grander news is that Dawn came home a winner.
Dawn, a registered nurse and currently a clinical manager in an
ophthalmology practice, has been married to her “marvelous husband, David,”
for 27 years and has an “amazing daughter, Laura, 23, and a marvelous son,
Michael, 21” (as Dawn told Sajak before the spinning began; “Excellent use
of adjectives too,” as Sajak told Dawn).
Yet Dawn’s vocabulary was of small use to her in the first two rounds, as
Cassandra--playing to her right--jumped into an early lead, aided and
abetted in the second round by an unfortunate spin on Dawn’s part: BANKRUPT,
which lost her not only $500 but half a car.
In the Prize Puzzle Round, however--“What Are You Doing?”--Dawn found her
redemption, and found it effortlessly.
Nate--playing to Dawn’s left--spun first and made quick progress, snagging
two Ns, buying a pair of Is, then nailing two more Ts,
until swinging for an E and missing. Cassandra, her hot hand going
cold, promptly spun LOSE A TURN. And then Dawn went to town: grabbing a G,
buying three Os and just as many As, then pegging an R and for
good measure two Ss.
Just begging to be solved: S_ARING _A_ATION __OTOS.
And solve it Dawn did: “SHARING VACATION PHOTOS.”
Bang. Dawn banked $2,000 in cash and a $6,300 vacation to Aruba. It only get
In the Toss-Up Round worth $3,000--“Event”--Dawn buzzed in at E_P_OYEE
O____TA_I_N, to extend her lead to $11,300 by solving “EMPLOYEE
Nate won the last two rounds but his $7,650 was good enough only for third
place, behind Cassandra’s $8,800, and both were forced to watch from the
wings as Dawn entered the Grand Prize Round: “Thing”; “Fun and Games”; or
“What Are You Doing?”
Dawn plumped for “What Are You Doing” and found herself--after being fronted
with the standard R, S, T, L, N, and E--with
a three-word baffler: _____N_ __ ___R.
“Not a great head start,” Sajak reluctantly admitted.
And Dawn’s picks--H, P, D, and A--barely
improved matters: _____N_ __ HA_R.
“You’re not going to get a lot of help but you know what?” Sajak ventured.
“I believe you can solve this puzzle.”
Dawn didn’t hem, didn’t haw, didn’t disappoint: “COMBING MY HAIR,” she
enunciated slowly, as though she’d once seen it in a dream and had never
“DAWN,” Jim Thornton’s disembodied voice announced, “HERE’S A
MOUNTAIN OF GREEN!” How high a mountain? All of 36,000 dollars tall, for
a total haul in cash and prizes of $47,300.
How much of Thornton’s accounting Dawn actually heard is uncertain, as she
was already sharing a congratulatory hug with husband David.
For Dawn the experience was as terrific as she’d always imagined it would
be, as the good folks at Wheel genuinely are good folks. “I
was really suprised how amazing and supportive the staff were,” she says.
“During the breaks they coached you the whole time about the game. They
reminded you of the tricks. Between rounds they offered you water, fixed
your make-up, gave you pep talks.”
And so Dawn went home flush but that’s not, in the end, what she’ll remember
about Wheel. “It wasn’t so much about winning money or prizes,” she
says. “That was icing on the cake. It was about checking something off my
bucket list. I always wanted to be on Wheel of Fortune but figured
there was one in a million chance of that. But to audition with my son, and
then for both of us to get on, and then to fly out with Michael and sit in
the audience to watch his own taping, that was a dream come true.”