As they took their places behind the wheel in the studio of Wheel of Fortune this summer, Rodney J. Hobbs (Com ’94) and Shannon Hart (Educ ’18) had no idea they had two things in common. Along with their love of the popular game show, they also were UVA alums.
They exchanged a few pleasantries, Hart remembers. “We both complemented each other on our wardrobe,” she said.
But Hart’s focus was on winning, which she did. After a topsy-turvy show where Hobbs and Hart each took the lead, Hart ended up in the bonus round — where she came up with the correct answer, “private chef,” and took home nearly $56,000 in prizes, including a trip to St. Croix. Hobbs came in second.
Hart, a speech language pathologist, credits her life-long experience watching the show and professional knowledge with her win. As part of her preparation for the game, she studied up on what she knows, thanks to her education at UVA, to be the most common letters in the English alphabet in their order of occurrence. She even skipped a family weekend in San Diego to study, also watching old Wheel of Fortune shows and playing the game on the Wheel app.
“It’s big stuff,” said Hart, who lives in Los Angeles and earned a master’s degree in communication disorders from UVA. “You don’t want to become an internet meme for guessing the wrong letter when it’s obvious. And there’s a lot of money at stake.”
Hobbs and Hart weren’t the only ’Hoos on a game show this fall. They missed meeting Kristin Hucek (Col ’08) by about a week this summer as she sat in Wheel’s studio, waiting for her turn on Jeopardy! The long-running game shows tape next door to each other and use each other’s studios as green rooms for contestants.
Two months later, the shows would air within about a week of each other. Hobbs and Hart appeared on Wheel on Oct. 7. Hucek was a three-night champion on Jeopardy! starting Oct. 15.
For Hobbs, it was just the latest game show appearance. He played the Game Show Network’s Catch 21 in 2010, and he won $28,800 in prizes during a showcase on The Price is Right in 2012. On Wheel, he secured $15,000 in prizes.
Being on The Price is Right was a lifelong dream for Hobbs, who started watching the show as a preschooler. Today, he works as a payroll administrator and working actor with a recurring role as Principal Preston Matthews on Tyler Perry’s Young Dylan on Nickelodeon. He’s also developed a love for all game shows—and for winning money.
An avid Wheel watcher, Hobbs, who lives with his wife, Freda Johnson Hobbs (Col ’94), in Glendale, California, practiced his enunciation and studied the wheel to avoid the bankrupt wedge before his appearance. Now that he’s played the game—and experienced the high of a quickly solved puzzle and the low of a missed one, he says he still yells at the TV when a contestant makes a mistake, “but with empathy.”
For Hucek, the proposal to play Jeopardy! came just a few days before her August wedding. She said yes—to Jeopardy!—and she and her husband adjusted their honeymoon so they could get to Los Angeles for the taping. On the road, her husband quizzed her on topics like vice presidents and Greek mythology.
Hucek started watching the show after school as a kid. While at UVA, Hucek, now a San Francisco lawyer, honed her knowledge of random facts during trivia nights at Mellow Mushroom.
On Jeopardy! she won $24,800—even after failing to answer a clue about a minister to France who discovered good wine and ordered some for himself and George Washington. The response was Thomas Jefferson, of course.
“I did know the answer to the Thomas Jefferson question, I would like to make that clear,” she says with a laugh. But Hucek didn’t click the buzzer in time, and her UVA friends have given her a hard time about that.
Few things are the same during the pandemic, including game show tapings. Contestants now must live within driving distance and test negative for COVID-19. There is no live audience, and masks are mandated, except when filming. “We weren’t allowed to get within 20 feet of Alex Trebek,” says Hucek of the Jeopardy! host, who had pancreatic cancer at the time of the taping. The current season ended up being Trebek's final one. The long-running host died Nov. 8.
Hucek, Hobbs and Hart, of course, are hardly the first UVA alums to appear on game shows over the years. In fact, Hobbs and Hart aren’t even the first ‘Hoos to square off against each other this year on national TV. In February, Travis Gaylord (Engr ’92) was a three-day Jeopardy! champion before losing to Patrick Rice (Engr ’17). “It’s one of those bucket-list items,” says Gaylord, who was in Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity with Hobbs. “It was overwhelmingly positive.”
Hobbs, Hart and Hucek say their own experiences were unforgettable too. “I have been encouraging everyone that I know that’s interested in trivia to try out for the show,” Hucek says. “If it’s your dream, you can make it reality.”