RICHMOND, Va. – Over the years, few things were as predictable in Deloris Johnson’s household as her whereabouts from 7-8 p.m., Monday through Friday. Every weeknight, she could be counted on to tune in to “Wheel of Fortune”, the iconic, long-running syndicated game show. It’s been that way for years.
But Monday’s episode was like no other for the Louisa County resident. That’s because on Monday night, she watched her granddaughter, former VCU track star Verniece (Johnson) Love, win nearly $71,000 on the show.
Love, who was raised by Johnson, says she’d watch “Wheel” nearly every night with her grandmother and used to talk about spinning the wheel when she grew up.
“She was so excited,” Love said of her grandmother. “I talked to her again this morning. She kept saying how proud she was of me and how pretty I looked on TV. She’s been talking about it nonstop. I think she called everybody in Louisa County.”
Johnson won’t be the only one sharing the story now. For the first time, Love is able to talk about the big win on “Wheel.” Love actually filmed her episode on July 11 at the show’s studios in Culver City, California, but was required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Now, it’s all anyone wants to talk about.
“Since last night, my phone has been blowing up,” said Love, who lives in Richmond with her husband, Darryl, and their two children. “I had people who didn’t believe I was going to be on the show, and now my phone and my Facebook have been going bananas.”
Love attended VCU from 2005-09 and was a standout on the track and field team. She still owns the program’s indoor and outdoor long jump records. She graduated in 2009 with a degree in marketing, and also minored in African American studies and economics. She met her husband, who studied finance, at VCU. Today, she is a certification officer with the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity.
Last year, Love says she filled out an online “Wheel of Fortune” survey. It wasn’t until months later that the show invited her to audition in February in Springfield, Virginia. Afterwards, she was informed she’d been selected as a candidate to become a contestant. In late June, Love was informed she’d be chosen for the show. Once she got there, Love says the experience wasn’t what she expected.
“I went in expecting it to be just like I was sitting on the couch. It’s completely different when you’re on TV and the audience is watching. It was just the hardest part for me. I had to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself. Once I played for a little bit I calmed down,” she said.
Love was calm enough to forge ahead to a dominant victory, besting contestants from Charleston, South Carolina and Seattle.
She’d already piled up more than $38,000 and a trip to Hawaii by the time she entered the bonus round. Once there, she correctly solved the final puzzle for the phrase “Going Backstage” for an additional $32,000.
To begin, Love chose the letters DGMA (contestants are already provided RSTLNE) for a puzzle from the category “What Are You Doing?”. When the correct letters were exposed, Love was left with a final board that read: G _ _ NG _ A _ _ STAGE. It was then Love says she remembered host Pat Sajak’s own words from a newsletter contestants are mailed prior to the show.
“It said to always remember that in the category ‘What Are You Doing?’, it always ends in ‘-ing’. You’re going somewhere,” she recalled. “So I’m just sitting there trying to process and thought, oh, I’ve got to go backstage.”
On Monday, Love invited family and friends over to watch the show and admitted that she was somewhat uneasy, even though she knew the outcome.
“I was very nervous seeing myself,” she admitted. “I kept thinking, I hope I don’t look crazy or sound crazy because I’m going to be on TV and millions of people are going to be watching.”
Now that the secret is out, Love says she and her husband don’t have any lavish plans for her winnings. She says they’ll pay off some debts and then look to buy their first house. The rest they’ll stash away in savings. The couple is expecting their third child in March.
Meanwhile, Love is still trying to process the win, one that began with a simple, online form and ended as the experience of a lifetime.
“Honestly, I don’t know what made me complete the online application,” she said. “I don’t know what made me, but I’m glad I did it.”