JMU student on Wheel of Fortune

Palmieri taped the show in California on Feb. 23

After growing up watching “Wheel of Fortune” with his family, JMU junior Gino Palmieri made his debut on the show as a contestant Monday night. Palmieri, a sports and recreation management major, represented JMU as he participated in the show’s “College Week Spring Break.”

Palmieri walked away from “Wheel of Fortune” winning $17,350 in cash and prizes, which included trips to London and Rome. The end of the taping marked the end of his year-long journey to compete on the show.

 He spent years constantly joking with his mother at the thought of competing on the show. But after years of encouragement from his family, he decided to send in his application last spring.

 “When I got to the studio that morning, it all became real,” Palmieri said. “Being able to see how a show functions … it was unbelievable. It’s something I could’ve never imagined.”

 Kyle Montplaisir, senior coordinator of publicity and promotions for “Wheel of Fortune,” explained how the contestant application for the show is a multi-step process. The first step is to submit an application online.  

 “Our contestant department reaches out to people that they’re interested in bringing in to the next phase, and then you come in for an in-person audition, and from there they let people know if they’ve been selected or not,” Montplaisir said.

 During his audition, Palmieri answered timed written questions and played the actual game.  After he was placed in the applicant pool, he didn’t hear anything for months from the show. However, in February, he was shocked when he found out he was going to be a contestant.

 “I was sitting at my desk at home, doing some studying when I got an email saying they wanted me to come be on the show for ‘College Week,’” Palmieri said. “It’s so hard to even put words to it.”

 Palmieri’s girlfriend, Jenna Schneider, a senior communication studies and dance double major, described Palmieri as someone who doesn’t like to brag about their accomplishments. However, Schneider wasn’t nearly as surprised with the news as he was.

 “He called me and said, ‘You’re not going to believe what just happened,’ and I just thought he got an A on a test or something,” Schneider said. “He said, ‘Why was I chosen of all people to do this?’ and I just was like, ‘Are you kidding? You totally deserve this.’”

 The following weeks were full of excitement for Palmieri and Schneider. They initially had to keep the taping of Palmieri’s episode on Feb. 23 a secret.

 “We felt super sneaky,” Schneider said. “Luckily I have family in California, so we just told all my friends and family that we were going to California to visit my cousin, which was kind of weird to do for a Thursday through Sunday.”

 Palmieri brought his mother, godmother and girlfriend along for the special trip. He said being there in person made a lifelong dream of his instantly come true.

 “When I walked out on the set, I felt like a little kid, my eyes were bulging out of my head,” Palmieri said. “I couldn’t believe that I was there seeing what’s on the other side of the camera.”

 After spending months of preparation and studying the rules of the game, Palmieri felt his nerves settle in prior to taping the show. However, the friendliness of the “Wheel of Fortune” crew made him feel at ease.

 “I’m just really thankful for everyone who made it possible for me to be on the show,” Palmieri said. “Any sort of positive words to describe people — that’s what they were. They made it the best day possible. Memories were made that day that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”

 Palmieri answered puzzles from different categories, such as food and drink, and a special college-themed category. However, the day was full of so much excitement that he barely remembers solving the puzzles. Palmieri strives to live life with no regrets, and he carried that attitude with him while competing on the show.

 “I went in with the mindset that, ‘Hey this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, I have 22 minutes to play this game and I want to have as much fun as I can,’” Palmieri said. “Whatever life throws at you, you have to make the best out of it. This experience was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I’m very lucky and blessed to have experienced it.”

 Contact Andrea Brusig at For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.

Andrea Brusig is a writer for the Culture section of The Breeze and a reporter for Breeze TV. She's a junior media arts & design major with a concentration in journalism and a minor in communication studies.