Tammy Mitzel has been watching "Wheel of Fortune" since the early 1980s, when Pat Sajak took over hosting for Chuck Woolery.
She was about 13 years old then.
"You would think I'd remember a time before Wheel of Fortune, but I don't," said Mitzel of Hellam Township.
After 30 years -- and a 50-hour cross-country drive -- Mitzel, 43, finally made it on the show she loves.
And she won.
She took home $81,967 in cash and prizes, including two trips.
Some might say Mitzel made winning look easy, banking nearly $37,000 in cash and prizes during the game before she went on to win $45,000 in cash during the bonus round. In part, it was easy, she said.
"I'm really good at the show," she said, then clarified she doesn't want to sound like she has an attitude about it.
Despite her ability to solve the word puzzles, she almost didn't make it on the show.
The journey to "Wheel of Fortune" started in Wilkes-Barre in May 2012. She went with her family -- including her husband, Bob, with whom she co-owns Mitzel's Tree Service, and children Colby and Tara -- to a public audition.
Colby was 17 at the time, and he wanted to try out for the show, too. Contestants have to be 18 to play, but Colby's birthday was only a few months off.
Mitzel didn't do well during her interview, she said, but she stuck around so Colby could try out.
Colby did well. He was told to look for an email with a private audition invitation. The email came, but Colby didn't see it immediately. Their family was at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia with Tara, who has Fanconi Bickel syndrome.
By the time Colby saw the email, the audition had passed. Mitzel said she "desperately called" to see if Colby could attend another audition. He was granted another audition in Pittsburgh, and since Mitzel was driving, she was allowed to try out, too.
People from the show realized Colby wasn't 18 yet. They invited him to continue with the audition process after his 18th birthday.
Mitzel did well, and she received a letter inviting her to a taping in California in November.
When Colby auditioned in Atlantic City after his birthday, he didn't do as well as he did the first time. Though he wasn't selected for the show, he said he doesn't mind.
"It's her thing," he said of his mom's enjoyment of "Wheel of Fortune."
And he got to go along for the ride when their family set out on the 50-hour, cross-country drive to California.
"We made a vacation around it," Mitzel said.
She said she plans to spend her winnings wisely. She contacted her mortgage broker, Jim Barry, to refinance her mortgage.
She also needs a new car.
"A new used car," she clarified. The one she drives now -- a 1996 Chevy Lumina -- has 216,000 miles on it and a leaky sunroof. She also plans to get Colby a used vehicle, since without him, she wouldn't have made it on the show.
But, she said, the money isn't going to change life too much.
Tuesday, the day after her show aired, Mitzel's phone was still ringing. Friends and family called to congratulate her. Some calls came in from tree customers, too.
"I won a lot of money," Mitzel said, "but not enough to retire."
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Plans for the winnings
Tammy Mitzel hasn't gotten a check for the cash she won on "Wheel of Fortune" yet.
However, the Hellam Township woman said the winnings are already spent. She plans to buy a used vehicle to replace her old, leaky one and to refinance her mortgage, among other things.
Although she won big on the show, Mitzel said she isn't going to forget about one place that helped her family years ago.
Mitzel's daughter, Tara, 13, has Fanconi Bickel syndrome. As a result, Tara is small for her age. Her body flushes out nutrients that she needs to grow.
When Tara was 7, the family was in financial need. While the medical bills were covered by insurance, the cost for transportation to Philadelphia for Tara's care was not covered. Around the holidays that year, the Tourist Inn called the Mitzel household.
Tara was chosen as the beneficiary of an annual benefit the Tourist Inn does for sick or disabled children.
Since then, Mitzel said her family has gone every year to support the benefit.
This year, she said, won't be any different.
Can you solve the bonus round?
Tammy Mitzel won $45,000 in cash during the bonus round of "Wheel of Fortune." That money was added to the cash and prizes she won during the regular game for a total of $81,967.
When Mitzel got the to bonus round, where her clue was that the answer was a thing, she was given the consonants RSTLN and the vowel E. Her puzzle looked like this:
Can you solve it?
(Answer: TRICK PLAY)