Jerry Wichern, Boynton Beach man, wins big on Wheel of Fortune

The phrase was the final answer on Wheel of Fortune. It won the retired Boynton Beach teacher his second car of the night and brought his winnings to $68,005. In the studio, his wife, Janet, galloped onto the set to hug him.

That was Aug. 24, and he's been sworn to secrecy about his victory since. On Wednesday night, Wichern, 67, and Janet held hands, and he grinned as he watched himself on TV, surrounded by friends in the Boynton Beach retirement community where he lives.

"Jerry! Jerry!" the friends chanted as Wichern turned to give an interview to the local news station.

It's a long road to Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif. And for Wichern, who used to teach math to Brooklyn high schoolers, it began in Palm Beach Gardens, where he applied to be a contestant. After he made the first cut, he tried out for the show in Boca Raton.

"They have you get up and call a letter and see how your voice is and see how you smile and all that stuff," said Wichern, a father of five, a baseball fan and a watcher of Wheel of Fortune since the syndicated word-guessing game show premiered in 1983.

Some 10,000 people will have applied this year to be on the show, producers say, and Wichern was one of 600 who will have made it. Only a third will vanquish their two competitors.

Wichern took an early lead but quickly stumbled, landing on "bankrupt" and losing it all.

"Well, that was fast," Jerry said to Pat Sajak, the show's iconic host.

But he came right back, correctly answering one puzzle after another. The TV audience and the one in Boynton Beach cheered. He said the other contestants mobbed him afterward to congratulate him.

Wheel of Fortune's contestant panel has been populated by South Floridians a few times over the years. In 2001, Leslie Bowe, a councilwoman from Pinecrest, in Miami-Dade, won $48,050 on the show — this after winning $17 million in the Florida lottery in 1994.

In 2004, a Boca Raton nurse, Marietta Avrus, shouted "A bad hair day" on the last puzzle for a cool $48,400. And during a single week in 2009, three Broward County contestants went on the show.

Most recently, another Boynton Beach teacher, Amy Antheil, 32, won $16,000 and a GMC Acadia sport utility vehicle. After taxes on the cash and the car, she walked away with $10,500 and a reputation among her friends.

"They bring it up to anybody and everybody," said Antheil.

Wichern says he's going to keep the Cadillac he drives now, give the Smart Car he won to his wife and let his kids duke it out for the other trophy, a Honda CR-V. With whatever cash he has left after taxes, he says he'll fix up the house, take a vacation and buy some baseball cards.

"I can probably get a couple Mickey Mantles," he said.


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