Ashlee Martin had a wheel big time on America’s most beloved game show.
The Marietta Elementary School teacher and Booneville business owner dominated the competition on Monday’s episode of Wheel of Fortune, bringing home cash and prizes totaling $68,755.
Martin took control of the show from the start, prompting host Pat Sajak to quip, “Welcome to the Ashlee Martin show” after she took the first two toss-up puzzles and the first round of the game on her way to victory.
It all began when she started watching the show a little girl with her father, Jon Caviness.
“I have always been a fan. I watched it with my daddy growing up. I always remember trying to beat him. He is the best. You can’t beat him. Even last night when we were watching it, he got the puzzles before me,” she said.
In December of 2021 the educator saw they were asking for virtual auditions and she saw this as an opportunity to make a lifelong dream come true.
“I saw they were doing the virtual auditions now and you just send in a tape, so I decided I’m going to do it. I videoed myself and I said, I’ve got 531 students and I’m trying to convince them that reading is cool and I need your help.”
Her students seeing her do well on the game show was what motivated her to make the tape and send it in.
“I tell them all these things about reading and it can be fun.”
In January 2022, she was informed she had made it to the next level and in March she received the call she could be called to be a contestant anytime during the next 18 months, with 14 days notice. During that time she was interviewing to change jobs. During the interview process for her new job at Marietta she told them she had been selected as a contestant and could be called to participate in the show and she was told about a very special student, Holden Taylor.
“Holden is a seventh-grade student, and he is obsessed with Wheel of Fortune and Pat Sajak. That’s his favorite in the world. I knew I had to meet him. My first day I was looking for him, and he and I have bonded over it,” the reading advocate said.
While waiting for her phone call Holden, helped her practice and offered great tips for her upcoming appearance.
“We kind of made a game plan of what category I might pick in the bonus round,” she said.
Holden got his own moment of fame Monday as his beloved teacher mentioned him by name, along with her Marietta Raider students and family, during her introduction on the show.
Her students also got to enjoy the fruits of her winnings as the teacher bought snow cones for the faculty, staff and students of Marietta Elementary School on Tuesday after the show aired.
The phone call she had been waiting on since December 2021, finally came in mid-July, and the game show star found out she needed to be in L.A. on August 11, 2022.
“I went that morning. They tape six shows in one day. I went to the Jeopardy set, because it’s all there at Sony Studios, which is surreal in and of itself. We did hair and make-up, met with an attorney to do a non-disclosure. You cannot tell the results until it airs. They like to protect the integrity of the show until it airs,” she said.
As they were practicing for the taping she noticed an unassuming woman walk onto the set.
“All of a sudden a girl came out and she had on a t-shirt and a hat, and we didn’t really pay attention to her at first, and then she said, I’m sorry to interrupt you guys, I’m Vanna White. We turned around and it was her. She hadn’t had her hair and make-up done. She gave us some tips and told us not to be nervous. Vanna was precious. She is 65 years old, this is the 40th season, and she looked like a 20-year-old model, she was amazing. She told me she owns all of her shoes and her earrings, but her dresses she does not own. She wears those for one taping and has only repeated a dress twice, and it was a mistake. She talked to us during commercial breaks.”
She also got to spend some time with host Pat Sajak.
“He came out right before show time, and that was the first time I saw him. Since I got to stay for the whole show I got to talk to him close to the end. I felt like he was really rooting for me, he likes to see people do well, and he said they like to give money to teachers,” she said.
Her total winnings for the show including cash and prizes totaled, $68,775.
“I won a trip that was worth a little over $8,000. I think my cash total was around $59,000 or $60,000,” she said.
Of course, the IRS will get their share of the winnings.
“They will send a 10-99, and it’s a thirty-minute work day instead of a year. You just pay the taxes on it as soon as you get it,” said the teacher.
Martin knows exactly what she wants to do with her game show winnings.
“I own HeARTbeat, and for the first time owning that business I had to take out a loan, because the building was a historic building and of course needed renovations, I had to take out a loan. I was kind of torn about that because I had financed it completely from my savings, but we had run out so I took out the loan for the renovations and this is enough to pay that off and have some to boot,” she said.
Another thing some might not realize is the weight of that gigantic wheel.
“It is heavy. The set is smaller. My daughter said, that’s the power of editing, everything looks so big. We were just right up on top, the wheel was not that big, but when you spin it, it is very heavy. We did a few practice spins and drew ping-pong balls for who went first. You’d think they would have a real complicated system, and I drew the yellow position, which is the middle position. The theme for the week was California Coast, and one of my toss ups was Santa Monica, and we’d gone there to eat there the night before, just kind of like the Lord preparing that,” said the winner.
Martin and her father had a strategy about the best way to play the game.
“My dad and I talked about it a lot, that’s the thing about it Wheel Of Fortune is a chance, but a good puzzle player can do well. I knew the letters I needed to call, Holden and I talked about it, I knew I needed to buy vowels every chance I got. Every word has at least one vowel,” she said.
Martin felt the love and support of the community, “ I just felt so supported. Everybody just cheered me on.”
Wheel Of Fortune is a staple still in the Martin household.
“Wheel Of Fortune in this day and age so many things are different from when I was young and different for my daughter. We have all these worries and concerns, but for 40 years Wheel OF Fortune has been Wheel Of Fortune and it has changed a lot, but what it was to me and my daddy, as a little girl watching and playing, it still is that for me and my daughter, Dani Marie. I love that these kids who have never watched an episode in their life are talking about watching it tonight and tomorrow night. It’s been awesome!,” she said.
The contestant said summarized her experience, “I just had the time of my life.”
The show aired on September 19, 2022, on WTVA and can be rewatched online by searching on Youtube.