How well do we really know Vanna White?
After 37 years on TV as the elegant, charming, grinning, twinkly-eyed, mostly mute, stiletto-shuffling, letter-turning sidekick on “Wheel of Fortune,” the woman is an enigma. The woman is a MY-T–Y. She is a CO—DR-M. She is a H-M-N PR-P.
That is not criticism. I have always adored Ms White and, I suspect, this is because I really don’t know much about Ms White. Who does? All I really know is that she’s been on TV for most of my life. And there is something refreshing about her longevity and devotion to a shockingly tedious job that, after one week, would drive most of us to swig vodka out of a hip flask during commercial breaks: “If I hear one more rube ask to buy a vowel, I’ll give them a ‘U’ and throw in the ‘F’ for free!”
But White loves her job and, presumably, loves skulking in the background. She’s like the Honda Civic of game-show personalities: D-RAB-E, PLE-S-NT, U—MA-KABL- and, in the great odometer of life, L-W M-IN-EN-NCE.
And that is exactly why I’m now worried about her.
On Monday, White did something she’s never done before: host the show. The episodes airing this week (and next) were taped last month, after real host Pat Sajak was rushed into surgery when doctors discovered a blocked intestine, which would actually be a great puzzle: BL-CK-D IN–S-IN-.
So when producers asked White to fill in, the trouper jumped into battle and slinked into a foxhole on the frontlines. Watching her mingling with contestants or spinning the big wheel or conducting the game is definitely weird, you know, like spotting Robin behind the wheel of the Batmobile or seeing Groot pilot the Milano.
But two nights in, she’s doing fine. Nothing spectacular. Just fine. Early on Monday, her nerves were obvious, which was endearing. She looked like a recent grad with a certificate in lion-taming and this was Day 1 in the cage. There were some hiccups, as when she accidentally identified a “$ 500” spin as “Bankrupt,” because she was looking at the wrong arrow on the wheel. No big deal.
Fans will be forgiving because White is part of the family.
But while almost everyone this week lavished praise on her — “Vanna White Shines In First Stint As ‘Wheel of Fortune’ Host,” declared the Los Angeles Times — no one seemed to tweak to something else in this dynamic that’s not good news for her.
White is finally in the foreground, that’s the media storyline. It’s as if she had toiled for 37 years making casseroles in the caf at IBM and now she’s running R&D. But filling in for White this week in her old job, in a corporate cross-promotion, are costumed Disney characters, including Minnie (Monday) and Mickey Mouse (Tuesday).
And you know what? Not only are these anthropomorphic rodents absolutely terrible at White’s job, they are demonstrating there is no reason for her job. The fact Minnie and Mickey can get away with just clapping or pantomiming excitement should freak out White. It’s as if she were a baker and, while on vacation, her temp decided to never turn on the oven.
White is getting kudos for filling in as host this week. That’s the media story.
But her fill-ins, the bigger story, I’d argue, are proving her real job is redundant.
It’s not like the early days when White actually had to physically turn letters on the puzzle board. “Wheel” is now a digital operation. Ostensibly, she has to “touch” the squares to reveal the letters. But as we are seeing this week, that is a lie. Minnie and Mickey ain’t touching squat. Half the time, these giddy mascots aren’t even pointing toward the right box that has just illuminated.
They have demonstrated Vanna White could be replaced by a Roomba.
I fear she has made a colossal mistake by guest hosting. Why? Because she has just accidentally helped prove her real job is obsolete, that it’s a fake job. For the first time in 37 years, watching Minnie and Mickey this week, I wondered why anyone needs to patrol the puzzle board. People, there is no need for this charade! This is make-work! This is an affront to game show common sense!
My heart goes out to Ms White. This poor woman who in nearly four decades has never worn the same outfit twice and, according to a scientific calculation conducted the University of Toledo a while back, has walked more than 2,000 miles on the show, got a promotion that only made clear her real job is a joke.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse couldn’t fill in for most of us.
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But they filled in for her and nobody is the wiser.
Vanna White will regret leaving the background this week.
In the foreground, in the spotlight, she has never seemed more extraneous.
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