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Tinker major to play 'Wheel of Fortune'

Earlier this year, Maj. Greg Hurley, the 552nd Operations Support Squadron’s deputy chief of Current Operations, auditioned for “Wheel of Fortune” and is waiting for a callback. (Air Force photo by Brandice J. O’Brien)

Earlier this year, Maj. Greg Hurley, the 552nd Operations Support Squadron’s deputy chief of Current Operations, auditioned for “Wheel of Fortune” and is waiting for a callback. (Air Force photo by Brandice J. O’Brien)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Maj. Greg Hurley said he has his retirement plan figured out and it's under way. He will go on TV and play "Wheel of Fortune," bank a lot of money and prizes, and live the high life with his wife and children. He's not kidding. He's just waiting for a callback from the producers.

Last November, the 552nd Operations Support Squadron's deputy chief of Current Operations auditioned for the game show at The Joint, Tulsa's Hard Rock Hotels and Casinos amphitheater. He was one of roughly 5,000 people to try out, and he received a callback. In late January/early February, he went to his second Tulsa audition and performed very well. Two weeks later, he received a letter announcing he would be a contestant on the show.

"There's a lot of people that are into weird retirement plans like 401Ks and IRAs. I'm more of a Powerball lottery, Wheel of Fortune kind-of guy," said Major Hurley, 39. "I'm banking on it. And, I'm really looking forward to meeting host Pat Sajak and hostess Vanna White; that'll be really cool."

Major Hurley said he has been a fan of the game show since he was a kid growing up in upstate New York. He and his brother, Randy, would watch the show and try to solve the puzzles.

"I've played him for 25 years and I've never beat him but once unless it was the occasional fluke. He's wins like 98 percent of the time," said Mr. Hurley, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex Contract Support Office contracting officer representative. "There were three times when he correctly guessed the puzzle with no letters on the board."

Major Hurley remembers those puzzles. The clues and answers, respectively, were: Fictional Character -- The Incredible Hulk; Star/Role -- Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man; and Landmark -- Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.

"Now that I've totally jinxed myself, I'll probably screw up big time on the show," Major Hurley said with a laugh.

Despite being an excellent Wheel contestant at home, it had never really dawned on Major Hurley to try out for the show until his then 7-year-old son, Tyler, planted the idea seed roughly two years ago.

Major Hurley said one evening while watching the show at home with his son he solved all of the episode's puzzles. Tyler made his father promise he would try out. Major Hurley added a condition to that promise - he'd go if the tryouts were in this area.

Major Hurley joined the "Wheel Watchers Club," a group for fans that allows them to win prizes, discounts, game show information and news feeds. Major Hurley joined to learn when auditions and the "Wheel Mobile" were in town. Through the group, he learned the "Wheel Mobile" was scheduled to be in Tulsa roughly a month before the arrival date.

Major Hurley said the first tryout was open to anyone. Contestants were assembled into groups of 500 to 600 people per audition and there were three auditions per day. Once in a group, contestants were randomly selected to appear on stage and play the game. Major Hurley said he was surprised to have received a callback.

The second audition was only for contestants who received a callback after the open audition. There were roughly 60 people and the major said he solved two out of the three puzzles.

"I felt more confident at the second audition," Major Hurley said. "The initial audition was very energetic and they wanted to see people go crazy and 'act a fool,' which I did. You have to show enthusiasm when they call your name and go on stage. They also looked for good sportsmanship. I didn't solve any puzzles on the initial audition, but I still got a callback."

Major Hurley said the audition puzzles were challenging. One of the clues from the first audition was "Same Name" that consisted of four total words.

"The first word was a four-letter word that preceded 'and porch swing,'" he said. "I knew the 'and porch swing' part early, but I couldn't figure out the first letter of the first word. I knew the two 'o's in the middle. So I guessed 'wood and porch swing,' which was a dumb guess. But, it was 'mood and porch swing.' I thought I blew my chance there, but luckily I got the call back."

Major Hurley said he really enjoyed the second audition. It began with introductions, followed by a fill-in-the-blank puzzle test in which he scored 12 correct out of 20 questions. Then, the contestants were split into groups of three and participated in a mock game show where they spun a wheel and guessed letters all while being judged by a panel to determine which contestants would perform well on TV.

"They literally were writing notes and seeing if we were smiling when we spun a 'bankrupt,'" Major Hurley said.

Major Hurley said in 2012 there were 600,000 auditions and 600 people made it on the show.

Major Hurley received his acceptance letter in February and has 18 months to make it onto the show before his eligibility expires in August 2014. In the meantime as he waits for another callback, he's still watching the show almost every night and is solving 50 to 75 percent of the puzzles before the contestants. He said he's learned an important lesson in this journey.

"Don't give up on your dreams and follow your heart," he said. "And, if in doubt, buy a vowel."