Cranford resident competes for prize money on ‘Wheel of Fortune’

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CRANFORD, NJ — Cranford resident Giovanni D’Onza recently competed for prize money on ABC’s “Wheel of Fortune,” and his family and friends were able to see him in action.

An athletic trainer and newlywed, D’Onza cheers for the Mets and Rangers, has run two New York City marathons and volunteers for the Catholic Worker in Manhattan.

“I’m from Brooklyn, but my wife, Alyssa, and I moved to Cranford earlier this year, after we bought our first house,” D’Onza said on Sunday, Sept. 26. “I would watch ‘Wheel of Fortune’ as a kid with my grandma. She definitely sparked my interest in the show, and, even though she’s no longer with us, she would’ve been the most excited to see me as a contestant. I always said I wanted to be on the show. I think I just had a ‘why not’ moment while watching one night, which pushed me to apply.”

Watched by 23 million people weekly, “Wheel of Fortune” reaches more viewers than any other program on television. Trademarked as “America’s Game,” it has earned seven Emmy Awards, including a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Game/Audience Participation Show.

D’Onza was selected to be a contestant following a video application. The show was taped on Friday, July 23, and the episode with him aired on Thursday, Sept. 23.

“The experience was great,” D’Onza said. “Everyone that works on the show is very gracious and accommodating. They definitely helped us to feel comfortable. I think the hardest was waiting. Once I was chosen as a contestant, I wanted to start filming right away. It was like marathon training. I just wanted to get to the starting line. (My) total winnings are $66,500 in cash and prizes, including trips to Maui and Virginia.”

D’Onza said his family knew how much he wanted to be on the show, so they were excited just to hear that he would.

“We didn’t have a real viewing party or anything, but I’m very grateful I got to watch with my parents,” he said. “The opportunity was amazing. I wish three-day champions still existed, because I would play every day if I could.”

Now that D’Onza can walk away with his winnings, he said he is closer to meeting the objective of providing for his future family.

“As a newlywed, every bit helps. Alyssa was very supportive throughout the whole process, and I’m looking forward to our future together,” D’Onza said.

According to a press release announcing the show’s new season, on Monday, Sept. 13, “Wheel of Fortune” kicked off its 39th season, as hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White have signed on to continue hosting the iconic show through the 2023-2024 season; as part of the deal, Sajak has added consulting producer to his responsibilities on the show.

“Wheel of Fortune” announcer Jim Thornton is celebrating his 10th anniversary with the show, according to the press release, so viewers will get to see more of him on screen this season. In addition, Maggie Sajak, Pat Sajak’s daughter, is joining the game show’s digital space as social correspondent, where she will be a presence across all the channels of “Wheel of Fortune,” including, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

The set and music have been refreshed for the new season, with the familiar “Wheel of Fortune” theme song, “Changing Keys,” returning with a modernized arrangement, said the press release. Another change this season is that Sajak no longer does the final spin of the game. Instead, the contestant in control of the wheel at the time will spin to determine the amount each consonant is worth during the speed-up round.

“If you think about it, by doing the final spin, I, as host, had an impact on the outcome of the game, and that has always bothered me, because it just didn’t feel right,” Sajak said of the change within the release. “With this change, only the contestants determine the outcome of the game, and the host does not impose himself in any way.”

With the removal of the “Free Play” wedge from the wheel, which was replaced by an $850 wedge, more money will be up for grabs in Season 39, said the press release. Also, a $4,000 bonus is being added for contestants who solve all three puzzles in the Triple Toss Up round, making the round worth $10,000. Finally, the minimum amount that can be won on the Bonus Wheel has been increased to $39,000, in honor of the show’s 39th season in syndication.

According to the release, fans can once again look forward to the show’s annual “Secret Santa Holiday Giveaway.” This popular sweepstakes gives Wheel Watchers Club members the chance to win everything a contestant wins, including the million-dollar grand prize. To date, “Wheel of Fortune” has awarded nearly $3 million in cash and prizes to viewers through the Secret Santa promotion.

Viewers can watch “Wheel of Fortune” weeknights on ABC7 at 7:30 p.m.

To apply to be a contestant on “Wheel of Fortune,” submit an application at for a chance to be invited to a virtual audition. Everyone selected to be on the show goes home with a minimum of $1,000.

Photos Courtesy of ‘Wheel of Fortune’