The best wedding present received by Coast Guard Lt. Nate and Emma Rhodes, Mays Landing residents who were married July 7, wasn't even on their registry.
A self-professed superfan of the game show "Wheel of Fortune," Emma signed up for the show's official fan club earlier this year.
Soon after, she received an email asking her if she would like to try out, initially dismissing it as spam.
Ultimately, she replied and traveled to Washington, D.C., for an audition. When she mentioned she was newly betrothed - to a Coast Guard pilot at that - the producer's ears perked up.
She was asked if Nate would be willing to come down for an audition the next day, which he did, performing well.
"They say they're going to call you in two weeks. And two weeks, and three weeks, and about eight weeks went by," Emma said. "We didn't hear anything, and then, what, like five minutes before (Nate) was going to take off in a helicopter, they called (him) and told (him) that we were going to be on the show."
They went in for taping Oct. 17, and their episode aired Nov. 9 as part of the show's military families week. They finished second, but still took home a sizable prize, winning a little more than $8,000 in cash as well as a trip to Hawaii, which boosted the total value of their haul to more than $14,000.
"Wheel of Fortune" is not like it looks on TV, the pair said. For one, the set is much smaller than it appears, and despite Emma's longtime fandom, she said she found herself overwhelmed by the speed of the live game.
"It felt like it was one of those things where you're kind of using all of your senses at once, kind of like you're patting yourself on the head and rubbing your stomach at the same time," Emma said. "We were just kind of guessing at random letters at some point, because it was just going so fast, you don't even have time to think about what letter you want next."
Nate and Emma, who met in Connecticut while he was in the Coast Guard Academy and she was attending Connecticut College, have lived in South Jersey since March, when Lt. Rhodes took a position as a pilot stationed at the FAA Technical Center in Mays Landing.
Despite only having been in the area for a short time, the pair have made many close friends in the Coast Guard, inviting several over for a viewing party on their air date.
Lt. Dustin Williams, also a pilot, was one of those who attended, saying he was proud of the pair for their success. Still, he couldn't resist sending a jab his buddy's way.
"It was actually kind of funny to watch. To see Nate covered in makeup - priceless," Williams said. "It's just neat to see your friends on TV in a different light and a kind of different environment."
Nate said he and his wife's phones exploded immediately after the airing of the show, although their fame was short-lived. While Emma enjoyed basking in the minor celebrity glow, her husband said he's fine with their brief moment in the spotlight.
"I'm OK," Nate said. "That was my fifteen minutes of fame. Fifteen minutes of fame, and I'm happy, I'm done."
The couple will receive their winnings and will schedule their Hawaiian second honeymoon in March.
The experience was a whirlwind, Emma said, but one she's sad she'll only do once, as Wheel appearances are one-off. There's always Jeopardy, though.
"It was so much fun," Emma said. "the only regret is that we can't go on again. They only let you go on once, so now I have to move on to a new dream. It was amazing."
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