(NEXSTAR) – A couple of contestants on “Wheel of Fortune” have made headlines for their astonishing gameplay in recent weeks, including the Iowa man who won $86,165 in cash and prizes and the wrestling enthusiast who solved every single puzzle (including the bonus round) to achieve a “perfect game.”
Both of these contestants displayed an admirable ability to identify the many “Things” or “Food & Drink” answers in each day’s puzzles. But they’re far from the most successful contestants the show has ever seen.
In fact, they’re about $1 million short.
Throughout the broadcast history of “Wheel of Fortune,” only four contestants (including one celebrity) have managed to win million-dollar prizes during the game’s bonus rounds. Each of these instances occurred after the show added a $1 million “wedge” to the wheel, which needs to be earned during previous gameplay and allows contestants the possibility of winning that amount during the bonus round should they make it that far.
The first such prize was awarded to Michelle Loewenstein in 2008 — the same season the $1 million “wedge” made its debut on the show. Lowenstein, then 24, correctly guessed the bonus puzzle and walked away with a total of $1,026,080 in cash and prizes.
Five years later in 2013, Autumn Erhard won the second $1 million prize after solving an especially challenging bonus puzzle. Together with her winnings from earlier in the show, Erhard took home $1,030,340 in cash and prizes — the largest ever awarded to a single contestant on “Wheel of Fortune” to date, according to an official ranking shared with News 2’s parent company, Nexstar, by Sony Pictures Entertainment.
A teacher named Sarah Manchester became the third winner of the $1 million prize in 2014 after racking up $17,490 during earlier gameplay.
However, the most recent and perhaps most memorable winner of the $1 million prize was “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Clarissa Explains It All” actress Melissa Joan Hart during an episode of “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune” in 2021. Hart made it to the final round with a million-dollar wedge and correctly solved the bonus puzzle, winning a total of $1,027,800 for the Youth Villages charity.
Unless “Wheel of Fortune” ups the stakes in coming years, it’ll probably not likely that anyone will win much more than the four contestants above. The value of cash and prizes won by each episode’s winning player — before the bonus round — rarely exceeds more than $90,000, according to a representative for Sony Pictures Entertainment, meaning the total possible winnings can be estimated at slightly under $1.1 million.
There’s also no way to determine a specific maximum prize amount, seeing as each episode’s puzzles have different lengths and different combinations of letters (allowing contestants to make more or fewer guesses), and the prizes or trips won during pre-bonus rounds have varying values.
Plenty of other big winners have walked away with well over $100,000 in cash and prizes when accounting for money they accumulated in the bonus round. Once, a contestant even won an entire home at a Latitude Margaritaville living community valued at $375,000 during her bonus round for a total of $398,690 in cash and prizes.
On the other hand, there is indeed a minimum amount that any contestant (victorious or otherwise) can win, according to the Sony Pictures Entertainment representative.
“No contestant leaves empty-handed even if a contestant ends the game with [nothing],” according to the rep. “They will still get $1,000 to take home.”
You can watch “Wheel of Fortune” at 6:30 p.m. every weeknight on News 2!