Clapping comes at a very high cost on TV game show

Berl Falbaum

Let’s deal with an issue which admittedly is not earth-shaking but has been the subject of some major media coverage recently.

I got hooked on the game show, “Jeopardy!” a couple of years ago and watch it when I can.  As a result, I usually see the end of another game show, “Wheel of Fortune”, which features co-host Vanna White, who, as she did some years ago, is once more the focus of the press because she has negotiated a big raise from her $3 million annual salary. Her new salary remained secret.

In the late 1980s, the country was swept by “Vannamania” and she became a pop-culture super heroine. Why, you ask? Well, let’s take a look.  

In the show, three contestants, in hangman-game fashion, try to fill in words and phrases on a huge board composed of individual panels. Each contestant chooses a letter and if they guess correctly, Vanna walks over, punches or turns a switch, the panel turns blue and the letter appears. Throughout the half-hour, that’s all she does. Well, not really. When not walking, she claps; boy, does she clap.

The Guinness Book of World Records reported in 2014 that Vanna has clapped more than 600 times per episode, totaling about four million times across the show's 40 seasons.

Of course, that was nine years ago, so she has added to that impressive record. One review of the show, called her clapping “legendary.” Guinness hailed her as Television’s Most Frequent Clapper.

In a “Time” magazine interview, she informed us, “[My hands] are kind of cupped. And I will point out that I have no calluses from all the clapping I’ve done over the years.”  Thank God!

She never says a word except at the end of the show when she engages in some banter for a few seconds with co-host, Pat Sajak, and waves while saying goodbye.

The first time I saw the show, I waited for Vanna to do something else, but she didn’t. I told my wife, I don’t think I would last a half-hour. After about 15 minutes, I would get bored, walk off the set, and let Sajak handle the chore.

Not Vanna.

Which led me to the question of how long she has been doing this…. a week, month, a year?

No, she has been walking past that game board since 1982. Yes, 1982. That’s not a typo. In her audition, she beat 200 others for the job. She appeared in her 7,000th show in 2019 and she has also been honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.   

From time to time, in public opinion polls, she is been listed as one of the most admired women, among the likes of the late Mother Teresa and the late former prime minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher.

In interviews, Vanna has stated emphatically she loves her job and does not want to do anything else.  

But she was angry because she had not received a raise in 18 years and Sajak was paid $15 million a year -- five times her total. Sure, he moderated the show, but he did not clap.

At $3 million a year, she received about $120 million since 1982. At 195 episodes per season that’s $15,384 per show and, at 600 claps per show, she earns $25.64 per clap.  The per clap total, of course, will increase given her new two-year contract.

Given the math, it all came together. Now, I understand perfectly.

Vanna also is a very reliable employee. In August, because of a case of COVID, she missed several tapings of the show (broadcast in September), the first in 30 years, and she has only been absent three times since she landed the job. Now, that deserves some applause. Clap, clap.

She is 66 years old and we can assume, given that she has been “rehired,” that, despite her age, her clapping is as vigorous now as it was 41 years ago.

But there may be trouble on Vanna’s horizon. When she was ill, she was replaced by California’s Teacher of the Year, Bridgette Donald-Blue.

With very little practice, Donald-Blue walked across the game board eloquently, and clapped very enthusiastically. And she also waved when the show was over.

She may well make a pitch to replace Vanna.  At a reported teacher’s salary of a little more than $100,000 a year, Donald-Blue probably is prepared to accept a salary well below $3 million, the amount of Vanna’s expired contract. That might bring applause from the show’s executives. They might very well have Donald-Blue spell “Sorry, Vanna” on the game board.

Whatever happens, if I ever visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I will stand by Vanna’s star and clap for several minutes. 

And when I leave, I promise to wave goodbye.