On March 25 my 23 year-old nephew, Robert Santoli, appeared as a contestant on television’s popular game show, Wheel of Fortune.  And although the episode had been recorded nearly two months earlier he kept his outcome a secret, not even sharing how he did with family and friends (other than his mom and dad who accompanied him to the show).  He wanted us all to experience the result when the show actually aired just a week ago.

As it turns out, not only did he become the big winner of the day ($76,086 and two cruises), but his appearance became a viral internet sensation, not so much for his outstanding money win but for his unbelievable skill at the game.  He won the day on seven of the show’s eight puzzles, barely gave the other two contestants a chance to get a guess in edgewise, and solved the first puzzle, a two-word, 14 letter stumper (“Port & Starboard”) with just one letter and the ampersand showing.  Oh, and he also won the bonus round.  A wonderful result indeed, but little did he know what was to come in the days ahead.

robert-wheel-of-fortune-zoom-58261aef-7552-40bb-a677-b6ddcf466b42As a totally unexpected result of his appearance and his remarkable puzzle solving skills, particularly on the “one letter” solve, social media began to buzz…and buzz…and buzz, sparking what became a frenzy of internet chatter.  Robert and his win went viral!  Then the media picked up the story and headlines exclaimed, Wheel of Fortune’s Contestant’s Epic Performance Goes Viral, Wheel of Fortune Contestant Solves Puzzle With One Letter!, Wheel of Fortune Genius Takes the Day, Man’s Amazing Performance on Wheel of Fortune Goes Viral, Wheel of Fortune Player Destroys Competition, and the ultimate headline, Greatest Wheel of Fortune Player Ever.

The TV news coverage was even more astonishing.  Over 350 local media outlets across the country ran stories on the win that blanketed nearly every market in the United States including national stories via CNN, Fox News, ABC World News Tonight, Good Morning America, Today, The Five, The Talk, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, Inside Edition, Time Magazine, and on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (twice!), among others.   France, Australia, and the UK jumped into the fray as well with London’s Daily Mail headlining, Would YOU Have Guessed It?  Wheel of Fortune Player Solves Puzzle With Just One Letter.  And to date, the You Tube video with highlights of Robert’s win has been viewed by 4,005,402 people! 


But HOW did he do it?  Preparation.

“The instant I got the nautical theme for the show on which I’d be appearing (given to all contestants in advance), I immediately created a list of possible puzzles themed to cruises, sailing, fish, boats, anything on or in the water,” said Santoli.  “I just began typing anything that came to mind.  Then, I went to an online Wheel of Fortune episode guide and searched for ‘cruise,’ ‘fish’ and ‘sea’ and added what I found to my list.  I then alphabetized everything and organized it by category and studied it.”  His response to his amazing win?  “I guess doing the work really paid off.”

Something important to think about.  When you have something significant coming up, think about Robert.  Does preparation count?  You bet it does.Robert $76,086 photo

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Lorraine Santoli is the former Director of Corporate Synergy for The Walt Disney Company, author of the book, Inside the Disney Marketing Machine, and public speaker. 






  1. Since you were 18 (!!!) you continue to amaze me. It’s been a roller coaster of fun. How grand that our paths crossed at NBC — way back when.



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