Those tuning in to Wheel of Fortune this week will see Vanna White hosting a full episode, sans host Pat Sajack, for the first time since she turned her first letter in 1982, making her an integral part of the show for the first time.
Last month Sajack was hospitalized for an intestinal blockage, halting production of the show for a day. It was quickly decided that White would take over his hosting duties while he recovers, and various guests will take over White’s job as letter-turner. She has never hosted a full episode in her long run as hostess, though she did fill in for a portion of an episode in 1996.
White has been walking across the Wheel of Fortune stage for 37 years, longer than the average Edmonds Community College student has been alive. Initially her role was vital to the show, as the letters of the word puzzles as the contestants shout out consonants or buy vowels. However, her job became obsolete following the digitization of the puzzle board in 1997. By that time White had become an icon of the show, so she was kept on as hostess. White continues to walk across the stage dozens of times an episode to tap the corners of the letters to simulate turning them, though it’s now unnecessary. So, what’s the point of having her on the game show?
The letter-turner of ‘Wheel’ is more or less just for show now, and it could be argued that this has always been her purpose. The show has always consisted of a male host, who interacts with contestants, and a female hostess who…claps. And looks pretty.
This is evidenced by the fact that viewers are encouraged to talk more about White’s dress of the day over any other aspect of her personality and presence on the show. Every episode includes a short clip of White and Sajack telling users to go to the Wheel of Fortune Facebook page to “vote on Vanna’s dresses.”
White rarely ever has the opportunity to speak in an episode, aside from advertisements and a farewell message at the end of every episode. Her stint as the main host for the show will give audiences a chance to learn more about her and her personality, before she returns to her letter-turner days.
Being the hostess has its advantages, however. Though she only films a few days a month, White racks up millions of dollars a year being a pseudo-letter-turner. This has allowed her to work on other projects; when she’s not filming she flips houses, creates yarn collections and occasionally takes on an acting gig.
White herself has gained an immeasurable amount of privilege from her career, most would gladly do her job for her salary. However, White’s job exemplifies privileges women in the entertainment industry lack compared to their male counterparts. Women are rare among a sea of male, particularly white male, television hosts.
Unless they’re contestants, women on game shows are always the eye candy letter-turners, supermodel briefcase holders, or are bikini-clad while showing off a brand new washer-dryer combo as an anxious dude guesses the retail price.
Within the past few years game shows hosted by women have popped up here and there. Ellen’s Game of Games and Hollywood Game Night, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres and Jane Lynch respectively, are the most notable. The success of these two shows, which have both run for multiple seasons, have proven that women are just as capable of being witty and energetic hosts. Additionally, both shows have been successful without the need to have supermodels in the background just for the heck of it.
Though White will only host Wheel of Fortune for a short time, this perhaps will open a door for more female hosts in the future. It’s unlikely that her hosting will encourage every other game shows to stop using sexy women to get viewers, though with that in mind, it’s only a matter of time before someone capitalizes on an untapped corner of the game show industry: sexy men showing off brand new washer-dryer combos.