Since 1975, contestants on Wheel of Fortune have been buying vowels and solving puzzles to win a variety of prizes, from trips and cars to even $1 million in cash. But when it comes to the hangman-style word game, taking home the big bucks is a lot harder than it looks on TV.
It’s so hard that only three people have won the $1 million prize since its debut in 2008 (via Closer Weekly). But even the luckiest wordsmiths can’t escape the state and federal taxes that go along with their Wheel of Fortune winnings, no matter the sum. That means you might win $1 million on the show, but sadly that’s not nearly how much you’re taking home at the end of the day.
Sandwiched between two “Bankrupt” wedges on the Wheel of Fortune wheel, contestants have a 1-in-72 chance at landing on the tiny green sliver that signifies the million-dollar mark, and even then, the large cash prize isn’t guaranteed. Landing on the $1 million wedge only affords you an opportunity at the prize.
To win a million dollars on Wheel of Fortune you have to land on the million-dollar wedge twice
The first step in winning the million-dollar prize on Wheel of Fortune is landing on the prize sliver during regular gameplay. That’s the easy part. You then have to win the game, and make it to the bonus round without ever hitting the bankrupt penalty wedge, which would immediately wipe out your million-dollar prize.
Here’s where the show separates the lucky from the really lucky. As Time explains, once you get to the bonus round with the million-dollar wedge, one of the prize envelopes which contains $100,000 is replaced with the $1 million prize. The contestant then has to spin for a prize envelope, essentially requiring the individual to land on the $1 million wedge again. The envelope’s contents are kept secret until the end, with the contestant either solving the puzzle or running out of time.
That’s a whole lot of spinning combined with a whole lot of luck. Which is probably why only three people have walked home with the rare prize. In some states, based on the percentage of income tax and the possibility of being put into a different taxable income bracket based solely on your winnings, a $1 million winner could end up giving half of the prize money right to the IRS (via NerdWallet). Still, going home a half million dollars richer wouldn’t be a total hardship!
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