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McLean High School physics/astronomy teacher Jeff Brocketti on “Wheel of Fortune” (courtesy Eric McCandless/Wheel of Fortune®/© 2022 Califon Productions, Inc. ARR)

McLean High School teacher Jeffrey Brocketti can’t wait to tell everyone what he discussed with host Pat Sajak during a “Wheel of Fortune” commercial break.

He will soon be allowed to share that story and more after his episode — the 10th of the game show’s 40th season — airs at 7 p.m. Monday (Sept. 26) on ABC.

When it comes to solving the hangman-style word puzzles, though, even Brocketti may draw a blank when he turns on the TV next week — a common phenomenon, based on conversations with fellow contestants.

“They don’t remember all the puzzles from their show, which sounds ridiculous,” Brocketti told FFXnow. “You’d think this would just be burned into your brain, but it’s not. So, I’m kind of looking forward to seeing the episode, just seeing how it went and does it match my memory of it.”

Brocketti, who has taught physics and astronomy at McLean High for over a decade, describes the experience of filming a show he watched as a child as “surreal.”

He applied to become a contestant “on a whim” in April 2021 at the suggestion of his wife and one of his kids. Initially, he dismissed the idea, but while “sitting around” a few weeks later, he decided it couldn’t hurt, especially since the pandemic had pushed the entire tryout process online.

After submitting the form and a 30-second video pitch, Brocketti admits he forgot about the whole enterprise until this past January, when an unexpected email appeared in his inbox: he’d been selected to participate in a virtual audition.

“The first thing I did was check the email address to make sure it wasn’t some sort of phishing email,” he said. “I thought it was a scam, and once I figured out it was legit, then I realized, oh, this might actually happen.”

Told in February that he made the cut, Brocketti set his DVR to record “Wheel” and watched each night with his family, pretending to compete against the contestants on screen with a pen as a mock buzzer.

He fell out of the routine around mid-April, though, so a backlog of over 70 episodes had accumulated by the time he was told that his episode would film at the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City, California on July 28.

“I watched over three months’ worth of episodes in two weeks,” Brocketti recalled with a laugh. “So, that was my preparation. Just watch the show and play against the people on TV and try and get better at it.”

In some ways, competing in person was easier than at home, Brocketti says. Unlike on TV, contestants can always see the boards displaying each puzzle and the used letters, and after going through two dress rehearsals, his nervousness evaporated once the real game started.

However, the “flood of information that you have in your brain” made it hard to focus and fully digest the experience, he added.

Brocketti isn’t the first person to represent Fairfax County on “Wheel,” following in the footsteps of a former Chantilly Little League coach who won nearly $123,000. He encourages anyone interested in competing on the show to give it a shot.

“Just try it out, and see what happens,” he said.

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Mike Halpern appears on “Wheel of Fortune” (courtesy Carol Kaelson/Wheel of Fortune, Califon Productions)

A former Chantilly little league coach has another title: “Wheel of Fortune” winner.

Mike Halpern won $122,903 in cash and prizes during his appearance on the TV game show yesterday (Monday), an outcome that he mostly kept secret even from his family and friends.

“I wanted them to be surprised,” he said. “They had a little bit of a hint of the fact that I didn’t completely bomb.”

With over half the letters missing in the final puzzle, Halpern guessed a two-word phrase that won him $100,000, leading him to make a snow angel in the prize confetti that rained down around him.

Talking with host Pat Sajak at the beginning of the episode, Halpern said he was a baseball coach with Chantilly Youth Association Little League for 14 seasons. He coached both of his sons there, too.

“I loved being on the field, and it was great to watch them grow up,” Halpern said on the show.

Halpern filmed his appearance in Culver City, California, near the Los Angeles Airport on March 23. He arranged a watch party at Mustang Sally Brewery in Chantilly, which found a way to open on a closed day for them.

Early in the game, both of his competitors lost their prize earnings with a spin and mystery wedge that led to bankruptcies. One contender lost her earnings twice.

Halpern also won a $9,003 trip to Aruba, which he’s never visited before.

A regular viewer of the show since he was a kid, Halpern and his wife decided to share the news of his appearance on the show with their two teenage sons by creating a “Wheel of Fortune” puzzle on a piece of paper. The boys took turns guessing until they revealed the answer: “I got picked to spin the wheel.”

The family also helped him prepare.

“We would pause every night’s episode before the bonus round,” Halpern said. “They would watch it. I would…leave the room.”

To complete the simulated experience, one of their sons set a 10-second countdown with a timer on his iPhone.

At the brewery watch party, Halpern’s friends also released confetti cannons to help recreate the experience.

“I knew what happened, but like, no one else in the entire place had any clue,” Halpern said.

When Sajak opened the envelope with the prize, the Chantilly watch party lost its mind.

“It felt like a dream,” he said. “It was just awesome.”

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Herndon native Almira Zaky represents Virginia on NBC’s new reality show “American Song Contest” (courtesy Almira Zaky/NBC)

Almira Zaky has always been, in her own words, a little girl with a big voice.

A native of Herndon who is of Indonesian descent, Zaky has been singing since she was a young girl. She now represents Virginia on “American Song Contest,” NBC’s take on the yearly Eurovision music competition that has been around since 1956.

An R&B artist who released her first independent album “Learn to Love” this month, Zaky takes influence from many artists in that genre that were popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, including Aaliyah, JoJo, and Destiny’s Child.

“My influence comes from women in R&B who were able to express themselves so freely and unapologetically,” Zaky told FFXnow. “I feel that women from that era are bold and not afraid to tell it like it is with their emotions.”

When she was a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, Zaky learned the ins and outs not just of performance, but the business side of music as well.

She originally enrolled as a health science major but soon switched to business. She also began to help with campus events, booking artists and performers like Travis Scott and Torey Lanez.

“Being able to bring people together through music brought me back into music and on the music industry side,” Zaky said. “That experience, throwing these concerts and events in that genre turned into networking opportunities that I have now.”

Nicknamed “Boss Lady,” which reflects her personal philosophy of inspiring people to be their own boss no matter where they’re from, Zaky advanced her music career while still in college by recording in Los Angeles and hosting events while her fellow students went on spring break.

“I’ve taken advantage of all the opportunities that have been presented and I want to inspire people to do that as well,” she said. “To take control of their lives, it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you may know, go after your dreams as long as you work hard, stay passionate, and maintain a good heart.”

Zaky’s dedication goes back to her childhood in Herndon, when her mother would take her to music lessons. In addition to her R&B diet, she absorbed the music of the D.C. area though local station WKYS 93.9.

“I’d go to lessons every weekend so I’d listen to go-go bands playing on WKYS 93.9, it definitely added to my music as well,” Zaky said. “Like the Jump or the Bounce with its own groove and style, artists like Wale who was a trailblazer. Being a part of the next generation and taking the torch is just inspiring.”

A reality competition where the public votes for their favorite contestants, “American Song Contest” is hosted by hip-hop legend Snoop Dogg and original “American Idol” winner/talk show host Kelly Clarkson. The show debuted on March 21 and airs at 8 p.m. on Mondays.

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