No amount of consonants and vowels could have prepared us for the delightful surprise of Vanna White’s stepping in to host Wheel of Fortune for the next three weeks — a temporary promotion initiated by Pat Sajak’s taking a leave of absence to undergo emergency surgery. (He’s expected to return at the start of the new year.) White, the patron saint of fabulous evening gowns, who has been turning and tapping those puzzle-board letters for over 37 years, had somehow never been given the chance to host an entire show until now. As she told Vulture in a recent interview, she had only 30 minutes to get her act together before that very first show was taped.
“P-A-N-I-C. Panic is the word that comes to mind!,” White said with a laugh. “Our executive producer came up to me and said, ‘Hey, Pat has to go into emergency surgery right now. How would you feel about hosting the show?’ Panic set it at that moment, but I made a quick decision and realized the show must go on. I felt like I had to do it, and I did. I did have a choice, but I didn’t. I had no practice whatsoever. It was just before it.”
Although her hosting debut on Monday evening had the requisite jitters you’d expect from a new gig — in one endearing instance, White thought a contestant had landed on a bankrupt spot when it was actually $500 — she soon settled into a groove and was thrilled to spend some quality time with the “way too heavy” wheel.
“It was a huge shift because all of a sudden all the attention was on me,” she added. “I had to carry the show and make sure the contestants were well taken care of. I had to be present for every second, every spin, every letter called, every prize on the wheel. It was like being on a ball team. All my life I’ve played first base, and now I had to step in and play second base. It’s out of your comfort zone when you’re not familiar with it.”
And because we know you’re wondering: Wearing anything other than those signature dresses was never an option for White, but one subtle tweak was required. “We did decide not to wear full-length gowns now that I had to walk,” she said. “I didn’t want to be concerned about tripping, so I decided to wear cocktail dresses.” What about a power suit? “Never!”