Tonight brings the season 39 premiere of Wheel Of Fortune and while the past few seasons have brought some small changes in gameplay, this literally is a situation where there's no reason to fix what isn't broken. Wheel Of Fortune is a predictable ratings dynamo and while I expect there will be some big changes when Pat Sajak or Vanna White eventually retire, we're not there yet. Instead, we get some modest changes and the beginning of "Teacher's Week."
The set has been updated a bit. The big video splash screen has been replaced by a more subdued background with logo. A bit more modern and less "game showey," even though I realize that's not really a word.
As far as the gameplay goes, there are a couple of tweaks. In the triple toss-up, contestants try to solve three puzzles, all of the same category. Previously, each puzzle was worth $2,000, for a total of $6,000. This season, while that amount stays the same, there is also a $4,000 bonus if a contestant correctly solves all three phrases, which would mean one contestant could win a total of $10,000.
My suspicion is that it's a way to try and make the games closer and we'll see how that works out throughout the season. It didn't turn out that way on tonight's episode, because while one contestant did sweep the three toss-ups and win the $10,000, it was the same contestant who had already won trips to France and Hawaii.
Another change in the game this season is that on the final spin of the game (the one that determines how much money will be at stake for each letter in the final round), the spin is now taken by the contestant who has control of the wheel when the final warning bell rings. I'm not sure how much impact it has to have a contestant do it instead of Pat, but I don't think it'll have any negative impact on gameplay, either.
So why was that change made? Well, when asked about it at the end of the show by Vanna, Sajak tells viewers to go to the show's social media feeds, where they'll find video of him explaining why the show made this particular tweak.
Turns out that the change was made because Sajak says he never really liked the idea of the host imposing something on the players. And they made the change so that the final round was entirely in the player's hands.
He also mentioned that he is frequently asked how he never hit a bankrupt or prize when he spun the wheel for the final time. He said that he did do that regularly, but they just edited those moments out to save time, since it didn't affect gameplay. And that they'll do the same thing now that one of the players is doing the final spin. I am guessing that editing is one of the reasons why you sometimes see the "this episode has been edited but the results of the game have not been affected" disclaimer at the end of some episodes.
The final change this season is that the minimum amount a contestant can win in the final round has been increased by $1,000 to $39,000.
In the end, teacher Allison won the $39,000 prize after naming every consonant that was part of the final puzzle. She walked away with $81,225, which is a pretty impressive way to kick off a season.