When Vanna White learned she was filling in for Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak amid his emergency surgery last month, the veteran letter-turner said she had just 30 minutes to prepare before the first show was taped.
"P-A-N-I-C. Panic is the word that comes to mind!" White told Vulture with a laugh in a recent interview. "Our executive producer came up to me and said, 'Hey, Pat has to go into emergency surgery right now. How would you feel about hosting the show?' Panic set it at that moment, but I made a quick decision and realized the show must go on. I felt like I had to do it, and I did. I did have a choice, but I didn’t. I had no practice whatsoever. It was just before it."
White's hosting debut did display the requisite jitters one might expect for her first time on the job, but she settled into her groove and ended up loving her temporary promotion with the "way too heavy" wheel.
"It was a huge shift because all of a sudden all the attention was on me," she said. "I had to carry the show and make sure the contestants were well taken care of. I had to be present for every second, every spin, every letter called, every prize on the wheel. It was like being on a ball team. All my life I’ve played first base, and now I had to step in and play second base. It’s out of your comfort zone when you’re not familiar with it."
And as some longtime fans of Wheel might have picked up on, White said she did alter her dress code slightly to keep up with the physicality of the promotion.
"We did decide not to wear full-length gowns now that I had to walk," she told Vulture. "I didn’t want to be concerned about tripping, so I decided to wear cocktail dresses." What about a power suit? "Never!"
White's first episode as solo host of the longrunning game show aired Monday, with more of her solo episodes set to air through next week up until Dec. 20. After that, a string of pre-surgery, Sajak-led taped episodes will air over the holidays and White will return for another week in January. Sajak started filming new episodes last week following his surgery for a blocked intestine and will return for good on Monday, Jan. 13.
Wheel of Fortune airs weekday nights. Check your local listings for availability.