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Taking a spin at the 'Wheel of Fortune'

Stephanie Nilles is briefly interviewed in "Wheel of Fortune" fashion during the Wheelmobile event at the Urban Plains Center on Saturday. People who made it to the stage were evaluated as potential contestants for the "Wheel of Fortune" show. Chris Franz / The Forum

FARGO -- The atmosphere at the Urban Plains Center was teeming with excitement Saturday, and it had nothing to do with the Fargo Force.

The Wheelmobile for "Wheel of Fortune" rolled into Fargo this weekend, turning the hockey venue into a game show studio full of die-hard Wheel fans.

The Wheelmobile is the game show's method of finding a wide range of contestants, and more than 3,500 people turned out for a shot to be on the nationally televised word puzzle show.

"I watch 'Wheel of Fortune' every night when I make supper," said Pat Buccholz of West Fargo, who stayed home from a fishing trip to be part of the event.

The audition process is pretty simple. Participants fill the arena during one of the day's three hour-long searches and wait for their name to be called to go on stage. About 50 names are called during each search, and contestants guess letters in a traveling version of the show's puzzle board.

Getting on the show is a little harder.

"We're looking for energy, people having fun and good players," said Suzy Rosenberg, executive director of publicity and promotions for the show. "They have to have an idea of how the game works."

Several of the participants clearly had more than an idea. Longtime fan Donette Klever of LaMoure, N.D., guessed the phrase "sound effects" with only the letters "n" and "s" on the board.

"I thought, 'I've guessed all the puzzles in the stands,'" said Klever, who arranged with a friend two months ago to meet at the event. "I just wanted it bad enough, and I didn't want to be embarrassed."

Cheers erupted in the crowd every time a word was guessed, but also every time a new name was announced, a hometown was mentioned or a quirky interest was explained.

Participants told about their loves of coupons, bagpipes, vegetables and, of course, "Wheel of Fortune," all in an attempt to catch someone's attention.

The show's popularity is evident in the crowd's enthusiasm, said Lisa Dee, executive director of promotions and marketing.

"It's one of the last few cross-generational shows that people can watch with their family," she said.

Andrea Manston agrees.

"I know not to call my grandma between 6:30 and 7 because she's watching the 'Wheel,' " said the teacher from Sabin, Minn.

The best of the weekend's participants will be called back to final auditions with the show's contestant department in September, and Rosenberg said the chances are "very good" that someone from the area will become a contestant.