Vanna White is an American icon—not in the hyperbolic way you see listed across media, but in the real, actual way. As one-half of Wheel of Fortune's onscreen duo, she is the keeper of the puzzle board, once making letters come to life with the flip of a block. Now, the words are digital and require only a tap, and after 37 years in front of the camera, she's confident that she has walked thousands of miles, all in the name of revealing words that equate to thousands and thousands of dollars in incredible cash and prizes.
This week, her role has changed for the first time. Host Pat Sajak had to have emergency surgery and White was asked last minute to step up and take over hosting duties for three weeks. The episodes have been filmed and Sajak has recovered and taken back hosting duties, but for a few weeks, Vanna's quiet tenure on Wheel got a lot chattier.
Make no mistake though—the hosting gig isn't one she's gunning for, nor does she see it as a promotion or demotion. Vanna White is no one's sidekick. She's one-half of an American institution and the puzzle wheel is just as important as the man (or woman) who spins the wheel.
Esquire stole a few minutes of her time to discuss what those three weeks hosting were like, how she and Sajak have formed an unbreakable team, and how working the puzzle board is just as important as that hosting spot. And bonus: she didn't even make us buy a vowel. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Esquire: I have to ask you the obvious question that I know you’ve been asked probably at least a dozen times. What’s it like stepping into that spot next to the wheel?
Vanna White: This is a great description: it’s like I’ve been playing first base in this ball game I’ve been playing, and all of a sudden the captain comes up and says you’re gonna play pitcher today. It’s like, ooh, wait, I know how to play first base, and I know how to play the game, but putting myself in another position is totally different.
ESQ: Of course.
VW: I was very nervous, but I felt like the show must go on. I’m gonna do this for Pat and for everybody else, you know? I think people feel comfortable with me and Pat. They’ve seen us together for 37 years, and I thought it would be really strange with somebody else up there, so I stepped in.
ESQ: Well, it felt so natural, almost immediately. Is it something you’ve ever wanted to do before?
VW: No. No. It's just out of my realm. I never even thought of that. It just kind of happened, and I didn’t have enough time to think about it.
ESQ: There seems like there’s a conversational element to hosting that maybe you hadn’t experienced before, but you seem like you picked up on it really quickly. Did that worry you at all?
VW: It did because I’ve been doing this for a long time, and you never hear me talk, right? I think you’ve heard me say more words in the past few days than you’ve heard me say in 37 years.
ESQ: But it’s also cool because we’ve all become so used to Pat leading the show, but—I think it might have been last night—you’d made a comment about a contestant’s shoes. Pat wouldn’t have done that. There’s just a whole different angle that you get to take over the next couple weeks.
VW: No, it is! There’s differences between personalities, you know? What I might find interesting Pat might not. I thought that was very interesting, with her shoes. I wanted a pair of those shoes; I’m sure Pat didn’t. Everybody has a different way of looking at something, so I just was myself up there. I wasn’t trying to pretend to be him.
ESQ: Are you done with the filming? I know it films ahead of time.
VW: We are finished. I did three weeks of shows and of course this week and next week, two of the weeks I hosted will be airing, and then the week of January 6th a week of shows that I hosted will be airing.
ESQ: Pat’s doing okay now, correct?
VW: He’s doing great. We started back last Thursday and we shot two weeks of shows last week and now we’re here today. We’ll be shooting today and tomorrow. He’s back to normal!
ESQ: Can you give us the smallest hint who will end up being Mickey and Minnie’s replacement as puzzle board turners in the final week of your run?
VW: Nope, sorry! It’s a surprise. You’ll have to tune in.
ESQ: Sometimes the best surprises are worth waiting for.
VW: It will be a pleasant surprise, everyone’s going to love it.
ESQ: I’ve watched you since I was a kid. Everybody knows Pat and Vanna, but I imagine that it’s really really cool for little girls now and little girls back when to see you kind of have your moment in the driver’s seat. What are your thoughts on that?
VW: I don’t think of it; I think of it as taking one for the team. I don’t feel like my job at the board is any lower than Pat’s job at the wheel. You know what I mean? I think we’re both equal and people have said, “Well, what do you think about more women hosting shows?” It’s like, hey, if you want to host a show go for it. I’m not, “Woohoo, I’m hosting the show now, I’m in charge.”
I don’t think of it that way. I just think of it as I’m just part of the show. I’m not any better than anybody else. I mean, yes I am running the show, which is kind of scary. But I don’t think of it as being empowered, in a way. Does that make sense?
VW: I think I’m equal to everybody. We have 150 staff and crew. It’s not just me up there. There’s 150 of us that put the whole show together. So we all have our roles to play.
ESQ: And no insult to Pat but I don’t see him putting the miles on a pair of heels like you had to do in the past.
VW: That’s true! My position is much more, what’s the word? I work a lot harder. I’ve walked thousands of miles. And he didn’t have to do that. In my heels, no less.
ESQ: If there were ever a crazy world in the future where you’d get the chance to go back and forth between maybe the puzzle board and hosting duties, is that something you would ever want?
NW: No. I like my puzzle board, I want to stay at my puzzle board. And there’s no competition either. It’s Pat’s job, and I’m filling in for him. I’m not looking to take his position.
ESQ: I can’t imagine a Wheel of Fortune without the two of you there together.
VW: That makes two of us. I feel the same way. We are a team.
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