Wheel of Fortune kicked off a milestone season on Monday night. The show began the 40th season of the syndicated edition, with Pat Sajak and Vanna White as hosts. Producers also gave the show a brand new puzzle board that uses NASA technology.
The new board is the first makeover since 2003. Instead of 52 individual monitors that White had to tap to reveal letters, the new board is a single LED screen. The frame features two sensors that activate the screen when White's hand gets close to a letter block. Producers used LIDAR (Light, Imaging, Detecting, and Ranging) laser technology that is used in self-driving cars and on NASA's Mars Rover. White does not even have to physically touch the board for the boxes to reveal the letters. The new puzzle board also allows producers to add fun graphics for individual puzzles.
"We have a beautiful new puzzle board. We're trying to give away the most money ever offered on the syndicated version of the show," Bellamie Blackstone, the show's new executive producer, said in a statement earlier this month. "But, more than anything, I want our viewers to continue to enjoy this classic game while adding a few new and interesting twists. We are all looking forward to this being our biggest season ever!"
The first week of Season 40 was dubbed "XL Week," in honor of the extra-sized prizes and the historic season. There will be "Extra Luxurious" prizes, and "Extra Large" puzzles, and it will be "Extra Lucky" for contestants and fans. There will be two full $1 million wedges on the wheel to double contestants' chances of winning the big prize. If a contestant brings one of the $1 million wedges to the bonus round, they could double their winnings because a second $1 million envelope was added to the small bonus wheel. If a player takes the "XL Wedge" to the bonus round, they will automatically win an extra $40,000.
After the first week, gameplay goes back to normal. However, the minimum Bonus Wheel prize was increased to $40,000 for the rest of the season. This season will also feature College Week, Veterans Week, and Secret Santa events.
Wheel of Fortune was created by Merv Griffin and has aired continuously in at least one form since January 1975. The syndicated version hosted by Sajak and White premiered in September 1983 and has been on the air ever since. When Season 40 premiered, Sajak officially passed The Price Is Right's Bob Barker as the longest-running host of any game show.
"Vanna and I used to sit around after like 10 years and go 'How long do you think this thing can go on?'" Sajak recently told ABC News. "Well, we stopped asking about 20 years ago. It just seems to keep motoring along."