Tax Breakdown of My Wheel of Fortune Winnings

One of the more common questions I've gotten about my experience of winning on Wheel of Fortune has to do with taxes. People want to know how much of the $50,150 I get to actually keep. To this point, I've just been able to share what I've known (which isn't much) and defer until I get my 2015 taxes done (since my winnings check didn't come until 2015, though my episode aired in 2014). Well, tax time has come and gone. Now I have a clearer picture of the whole Wheel/Tax thing.

First let it be said that I don't know much about this tax stuff. So if you're an IRS agent, please understand that I tried my best to get it right. I hired a well-respected tax guy and didn't try to cut any corners. I played by the book. But even you've gotta admit that that book isn't so easy to follow. So if there's an error, please understand that it is an honest one. Let's talk about it.

My big shiny number at the end of the show was $50,150—$41,200 in cash and a trip to Hawaii valued at $8,950. But the actual value of the trip was much lower than that. Looking at actual airfare, hotel costs, perks, spending cash, etc., the trip was $4,600. I don't fault Wheel at all for the overvaluation. Had I had to fly from the East Coast at a different time of the year, the numbers might have been much closer. So it was only because of the details of my situation that the valuation was off as much as it was. And to their credit, in the post win interview, they even pointed out that I only had to pay tax on the actual value of the trip, rather than the assessed value.

So that brings us down to $45,800 actually won. Then there are the expenses that it took to win that: hotel, flights, parking, meals, etc. You don't have to pay tax on that. All those deductions came to $800, so leaves the taxable amount at $45,000. That's my net.

Here's where I wish I could just say "and tax on $45,000 is $X" and we'd be done. But winnings are just a part of one's income. And with our progressive federal income tax, the percentage of tax you pay is based on how much you earned. So had I won this money in a year where I made a different amount of money, I might have had to pay a different amount of tax on it. Luckily for me, I'm what the government calls a "worthless lackabout", so my meager income puts me in the lower tax brackets.

So taking my tax bracket into consideration and the taxable net from the show, my tax guy figures I paid about $5,860 in federal income tax on the Wheel winnings*. And since the money was earned in California, there's gotta be California state income tax as well. That came to $1,788*. So where does that leave us?

Correction for actual trip value-$4,350
Federal Income Tax-$5,860
CA Income Tax-$1,788
Tax Prep*-$250*

Overall, this is much much better than I was expecting. I was thinking I would be walking about with more like $30,000 after taxes. And while a portion of that $37,102 was in the value of the trip to Hawaii (i.e. not cash), the post tax cash portion of the winnings is still nothing to sneeze at. Yep, while it is sad to say goodbye to the last bit of excitement associated with my Wheel experience, it is nice to have the tax question no longer hanging over my head. And as long as no auditors come knocking on my door, I'm a happy dude.
Saturday April 23 2016File under: wheel


A Wonderful Hawaiian Vacation

An escape to a warm tropical place in the middle of a northwest winter is really a treat. When it is a fancy vacation paid for by Wheel of Fortune and spent with the one you love, it is ever better! Such was the case on our recent Hawaiian trip. And while there was hiking, exploration, friends, and more, what will really stick is how nice a true relaxing vacation can be.

The hotel they put us up in was quite fancy, the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, where our balcony was right on the ocean (from which we even saw whales!). The hotel had a manta ray viewing deck*, a free trolley to town, and, possibly most exciting, a wonderful pool with waterslide! We took part in the daily speed races (even training in between). I never achieved the glory of a first place finish*, but Della did.

As part of the package, the Sheraton also treated us to an all out luau. Held outside against a beautiful sunset, we were treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet of traditional fare and lovely history and storytelling through dance and music. They even had some demonstrations of traditional activities, like tattooing which Della took full advantage of (process/result).

As luck would have it, we had lots of friends on the Big Island, either as locals or who happened to be visiting at the same time. Almost every day, we got to do some visiting, and, with the help of the locals, some exploring. My friend Becca* took us on an epic hike that included adventurous climbs and culminated in a hunched hike through tunnels carved through mountains. She even made a video to document it! Later, we were led on a hike down a lavatube by another friend. At the bottom, in the pitch darkness, freshwater filled the caves making for a place to do some epic (albeit a bit eerie) snorkeling.

After our week at the Sheraton, we headed over to the other side (courtesy of our "ugly" rental car) for more exploration. We had some serene beach time, saw some fun waterfalls, power-hiked Waipio Valley, and snorkeled in some of the clearest water I've ever been in. We also got to check out Bellyacres* and even attend a juggle club!

With everything from relaxation to adventure, this Hawaiian vacation was a wonderful prize. During the trip, we sang the praises of Wheel of Fortune, often wearing our custom shirts to spread the word (leading to some wonderful conversations*). And that's how I'll end it here, with a big old thanks to Wheel of Fortune for an incredible trip to Hawaii.
Wednesday March 11 2015File under: travel, hawaii, wheel

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My Wild Wheel Ride Winds Down

Yesterday (103 days after air date, 17 days ahead of schedule) I got my check from Wheel of Fortune. After California State income tax (7%) and deducting the "value"* of the Hawaii trip (including $1000 spending money to cover meals*, etc.), the grand total came to $37,689. More taxes will be deducted when I file for 2015, but the amount is yet to be seen.

Don't let my focus on the details lead you astray: I'm pumped. This is huge. And while the lasting impression of my whole Wheel experience will be one of the excitement, etc., the money means a lot as well. We're talking 3 years' salary, give or take. So please don't think I'm not stoked.

But there is some bitter-sweetness to it all. This check represents one of the last things to be delivered from this experience of a lifetime which has spanned almost a whole year. There was the invitation to try out, then the tryout, then hearing I got on, then waiting for my taping date, then doing the taping, then the air date, then getting my Hawaii trip dates, then getting my Hawaii spending money check, and now the big check. All that's left is the trip to Hawaii (Della and I leave next week.) It's been one exciting thing after another and now it is all coming to an end.

So what did I do to celebrate my nouveau riche status? After considering splurging on a fancy lunch out, I remember I had ramen and cereal at home so did that instead. I guess I'm a man of simple tastes. I'm sure Della and I will do something fun to celebrate (can anyone say Red Lobster?), but for now, the check went in the bank* and life continues as normal—that is to say awesomely.
Wednesday February 11 2015File under: wheel, misc

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Further Minor Media Mentions - Anacortes American

Click here for the rest of the story.

(Or if you want to view the online version, you can find that on, at least for the time being.)
Thursday November 6 2014File under: wheel, misc

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Wheel Of Fortune Viewing Party

This Wheel of Fortune experience (previous covered here, here, and here) just keeps on giving! The big night of the airing of my episode, I put out word that I'd be watching it at H2O and I'd love it if anyone interested would join me. And people came out in droves! It was the party of a lifetime, with so many good friends and family, all interested, exciting, and supportive!

I started out by giving a brief talk about the experience (audition process, taping day, etc.) and taking a few questions. Then we watched the episode on the big screen. During the commercials, I got up and talked about what was going through my head, what was happening behind the scenes, and tried to answer more questions*.

Then [SPOILER ALERT], after enough time to really put people on the edge of their seat, I won! The place went wild. It was so much fun having the excitement that I felt then, that I've been having to keep bottled up, be shared by and with so many people! Then out came the desserts, lots of handshaking, hugging, and congratulations, and just so much smiling.

This was truly a night to remember. A good time has had by all, but not nearly as good a time as was had by me. Thanks so much to all that came and shared in the event to make it special.

And to those who watched it at home, posted about it on facebook, and generally shared in all the excitement with me, thanks to you too. Coming home from the party and seeing all the messages of congratulations and support was so amazing. And to those that missed it due to work, being abroad, or having local news preempt programming*, I'm working on getting a copy that I can send your way, so you can share in the fun, albeit a bit late.

And lastly, a giant thanks to the Wheel of Fortune producers, staff, and crew whose show was the catalyst for all this fun. Thanks to you for such a great experience all around!
Saturday November 1 2014File under: wheel, Anacortes

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Minor Media Mentions - Anacortes American

It's less than a week now until I make my big national TV debut* and word is building. I've got my facebook invite* out, gchat status blaring it, and I'm constantly hounding friends and family to spread the word. The Anacortes American even did a story about it! It's a good story with only super minor factual errors. Yeehaw for hometown media!

And since I know the story won't be online forever (as opposed to this blog which will!), here's a scanned copy for posterity.
Saturday October 25 2014File under: wheel, misc


Wheel Of Fortune Taping Day

First, let me assure the Wheel of Fortune producers and legal team that there is nothing in this post about the winners, outcome, or any content of any episode (as I agreed to in my contract). This post is merely to share a little about the process with my friends who are very interested in this great show and institution. Please contact me with any concerns. And thanks for being totally awesome!

Among the things I've gotten to do in my life, there are quite a few neat ones: running away with the circus, spending time on a deserted tropical island, getting a crossword published, building a cabin in the woods, etc. etc. Well, I've now got another great experience to add to the list: being on Wheel of Fortune!

My taping was last week down in Culver City, CA. Della and I flew down for a 3 day stay* where we got to explore the area a little, but mostly it was a focus on the task at hand.

The day started early with a shuttle picking me up at the hotel and whisking us off to the studio where we went through some paperwork, logistics, etc. Then it was time for make-up, a whole new experience for me. The make-up lady was so super nice (just like everyone I interacted with*) and the hair lady said I looked great and didn't need to do anything.

After we were all gussied up, they took us out on the set to first ooh and aah over seeing the set, which was totally awesome! but then to film our hometown howdies, a short clip of us saying where we're from and when you can watch us on our home station. I don't know if KOMO airs these (some stations do and some don't), but I look forward to seeing it!

Next was spinning practice. You might think there isn't much to spinning, but there is! The wheel weights 2400 lbs and to get it moving is not as easy a task as you might think. They actually had us do stretches before hand so as not to pull a muscle! When it was our turn to spin, they had us practice our calling out of letters in loud clear voices. They really want the show to be as good as possible.

Seeing the set, spinning the wheel, and even a cameo appearance in the green room by Vanna both served to calm my nerves in getting me more comfortable with everything but also get me more nervous in knowing that it was actually happening! While I won't say that I was a wreck, I was more nervous than I thought I would be, and I wasn't even playing yet!

After spinning practice, they divvied us up into games* and our positions on stage. I was put in the 4th show of the day, just after lunch. This meant that Della, who was to arrive at 11:00, would have to wait until I went on at 3:30 but not know it. As the contestants came out for each show, she said she was on the edge of her seat waiting to see if it was me!

Those of us not in the first show were then ushered into the audience* to watch the tapings before it was our turn. While I initially was bummed at my draw of a later show (thinking that it just meant more time to stew), seeing how everything was done (commercial breaks, movement of the contestants, etc.) helped me feel more comfortable in knowing how things were going to play out*.

And then it was my turn to hit the set, which is where this story will have to end for now. I fully intend to keep my promise to the producers about not revealing the outcome, and I wouldn't want to anyway. I want you to watch and find out for yourself. So tune in on October 30, 2014. Check your local listings for times and channel.

Overall, I have to say again how wonderful the whole experience was. Between the clear communications, wonderfully helpful people, great co-contestants, and the extreme neatness of seeing how things that you love are done, this experience ranks up near the top of my Life Neato list no matter what the outcome. To know that outcome, be sure to watch!
Wednesday July 16 2014File under: wheel

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Wheel of Fortune Audition(!)

I auditioned for Wheel of Fortune and all I
got was this LO_S_ _ENC_L NUB...for now*
Last week, I got an e-mail inviting me to an invite only audition for Wheel of Fortune (yes, the TV game show). Score! So I RSVPed, downloaded the app for studying purposes, donned my neglected pair of fancy pants, and hopped the bus(es) down to Seattle for my chance at fame!

The audition was held in a conference room at the Edgewater Hotel on the downtown Seattle's waterfront. There were about 50 of us auditioneers with the demographic somewhat skewed towards men in their 30s and 40s. I felt I fit right in*.

The other online recounts* of what to expect at the audition were pretty much on the money. There was a first round with the whole group where we were called on randomly to shout out a letter and try to solve a puzzle presented on a screen. They told us they were looking for loudness, clarity, confidence, and "vibe". Those who solved the puzzles got a t-shirt or tote bag. After a time or two around the room, we took a 5-minute written puzzle test. There were lots of WoF-style puzzles in 4 different themes and I'm sure no one got them all right. Then they took our tests and left the room for 15 minutes or so, leaving us to mingle amongst ourselves. Lots of fun people there trying out. Then they came back and announced 15 names of those who got to continue while everyone else headed back to work.

And that's where I expected my experience to end. But no! When the contestant search crew left to deliberate, the fellow next to me, apropos of nothing, said "You're in" with such confidence that I started to believe it was true. He said I nailed my "shouting a letter" test and that was the most important thing. I chose to believe that he knew what he was talking about. As for the written test, I felt pretty good about it. While I'm no Grandma Schultz, I pulled a few obscure ones out. I'm convinced that the 3 hours of App time on the bus ride down got my mind in the mode for it.

Now that we were just down to 15, we did some more mock games, this time standing in front of the group, mimicking spinning the wheel and with more opportunity to guess letters and solve puzzles. Then there was "tell us about yourself" portion. While I didn't have the requisite words "lovely wife/husband" in my spiel*, I had a few interesting things to say which the "judges" seemed to like, or at least humored me on.

Then we're done and they're getting the room ready for the next back of hopefuls. All in all, it was about 2 hours. From here, the deal is that we'll get a letter in the mail in the next 2 weeks if we get to be on the show. If not, better luck next time. While I can't say I feel confident per se, I will be anxiously checking the mail with my fingers crossed. Needless to say, stay tuned to BdW for any further developments.
Tuesday March 4 2014File under: wheel

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