Professors use game show for research

Using “Wheel of Fortune” for academic research may seem far-fetched, but that’s exactly what two TCU professors had in mind when they tried out for the game show. Mark Toulouse and Stacey Floyd-Thomas, who both teach in the Brite Divinity school, said they tried out for the show’s “Best Friends” week because they wanted to research the shift in American values from religion to fame.

“Money, winning and success have become major values in America,” Toulouse, a professor in the Brite Divinity school said. “We wanted to immerse ourselves in popular culture.”

Their game-show experience proved to be profitable. They won more than $20,000 and a trip to Argentina on the show that aired Monday night.

Anne Butrum, a sophomore education major who watched the show regularly growing up said she was excited that TCU was going to be represented. She said she planned to tape the show to watch the professors.

Floyd-Thomas, an associate professor of black church studies, said shows that are a part of American culture, such as “Wheel of Fortune,” have taken on religious values.

“People say the show has changed their life and it brings them comfort,” Floyd-Thomas said. “People also say that about God.”

“Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak acknowledged in an interview with the Dallas Morning News that the show is an important part of popular culture.

“It’s kind of comforting to know it’s out there,” Sajak said.

Toulouse and Floyd-Thomas said they were chosen to audition for the show after applying online. They said they were one of 259 pairs who auditioned for the “Best Friends” week, and Floyd-Thomas said she knew they would be chosen.

“We’re not your typical best friends,” Floyd-Thomas said. “You’ve got a white man and a black woman: That’s a rare combination that I knew the producers would like.”

According to the Wheel of Fortune Web site, the show’s staff looks for contestants who are poised, energetic and have a sense of humor.

After making it through several rounds of auditions, the professors were chosen to be one of 15 pairs to appear on the show.

To prepare for the show, Toulouse and Floyd-Thomas said they practiced puzzles and bought an electronic version of the game.

All five “Best Friends” shows were taped Aug. 25 at the Nokia Theatre in Grand Prairie. During the auditions, contestants were given written quizzes where they had to solve puzzles, and they practiced an actual show. Toulouse and Floyd-Thomas said they were paired against what they thought were the two best teams during their taping.

Toulouse said one of the most challenging aspects to the show was making the transition from observer to contestant. But Floyd-Thomas said observing from the view of a participant will help them with their research.

Toulouse said their experience with “Wheel of Fortune” has helped their research and they hope to have a book published about religion and popular culture in the near future.