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Pat Sajak Departs ‘Wheel of Fortune’: Relive the Show’s Best Moments!

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Pat Sajak is saying goodbye to Wheel of Fortune after 41 seasons as the host of the beloved word puzzle game show. 

Sajak announced the news last summer, ahead of the start of his final season.

“Well, the time has come. I’ve decided that our 41st season, which begins in September, will be my last,” he wrote on social media. “It’s been a wonderful ride, and I’ll have more to say in the coming months. Many thanks to you all.”

Sajak has served as host of Wheel of Fortune since 1981, when he took over the position from Chuck Woolery, and has been the stalwart leader of the popular game show ever since.

Sajak spoke with ET in September 2022, and admitted at the time that retirement was on his mind.

“Years go by fast. We’re getting near the end. It’s been a long (time). We’re not gonna do this for another 40 years. The end is near,” he shared. “It’s an honor to have been in people’s living rooms for that long. People were out there welcoming us. We’re happy and proud.”

As for what he’ll be up to upon his Wheel departure, Sajak told his daughter, Maggie, “I’m perfectly happy if it just means that I’ll continue with my crossword puzzles and play with grandchildren. Hint hint hint, no pressure.”

In addition to those plans, Sajak has landed his first post-Wheel gig: a starring role in Hawaii Theatre’s production of Prescription: Murder. He’ll act in the Roy Duval-directed play alongside Joe Moore, Bryce Moore, Therese Olival, Amy K. Sullivan and Aiko Chinen.

While Sajak is saying goodbye to Wheel, Vanna White will remain the hostess of the game show. White spoke out a day ahead of Sajak’s exit, tearfully stating in a YouTube video, “I don’t know how to put into words what these past 41 years have meant to me, but I’m going to try.”

“When I first started, I was so green,” White said as old clips of the duo played. “You made me so comfortable and made me so confident, Pat. You made me who I am, you really did.”

“As the years have gone by, we’ve grown up on television, but we’ve also shared so much more behind the scenes. And as much fun as we had on camera, those memories, milestones and life events we shared with our families outside the studio are my favorite,” she added. “We’ve watched our children grow up together. We’ve traveled all over the world. We’ve eaten hundreds of meals together. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve celebrated. Oh, gosh. What an incredible and unforgettable journey we’ve had. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it with you.”

White concluded her speech by stating, “As this chapter of our lives is coming to an end, I know you’ll still be close by. You’re like a brother to me, and I consider you a true lifelong friend, who I will always adore. I love you, Pat.”

Before Ryan Seacrest steps in to take over as Sajak’s successor, let’s take a look back at some of the biggest and best moments that we’ve seen in recent seasons of Wheel.

THE NSFW SURPRISE

The most recent viral moment from Wheel came just last month, when Tavaris Williams made a NSFW guess that left Sajak, the game show crowd and the audience at home totally speechless.

The category was “Phrases,” and when Tavaris saw the letters “_ _ _ _  I _  T _ E  B _ _ T!,” he immediately buzzed in, believing he knew the right response to the phrase. 

“Right in the butt!” he said, drawing a loud gasp from the audience.

To be fair, Tavaris seemed to instantly regret the answer, and Sajak let him down easy with a gentle, “No,” as the audience cracked up.

The actual answer? “This is the best!” 

A-LIST APPEARANCES

The puzzles on Wheel can often leave viewers scratching their heads. But even more mind-bending was the time Jared Leto took Sajak’s place for an April Fool’s Day 2024 episode, with no explanation given to the audience or the contestants. 

The actor walked out at the top of the show with Vanna White, as they were introduced by the announcer: “Here are the stars of our show, Jared Leto and Vanna White.”

After hitting their mark, the long-haired Suicide Squad actor turned to White and wished her a great show as he went over to the wheel to start the game, sans any mention of why he was acting in the role. 

“All right everybody, grab those devices, it’s time to give away some money,” he told the episode’s three contestants — who each looked slightly puzzled.

After the first puzzle, Sajak returned, taking over for Leto, again without any explanation. The show’s social media pages later confirmed the swap was merely an April Fool’s Day prank.

SPOILER ALERT

On an April 2021 episode of Wheel, Sajak made a historic slip-up when he accidentally said the answer to the bonus round puzzle out loud. Even more surprising? The contestant, Jeffrey, didn’t notice!

After guessing his four allowed letters, Jeffrey stared blankly at the puzzle, struggling for the answer. 

“Well, I’d rather be standing here than there, quite frankly,” Sajak mused.

As it turns out, “quite frankly,” was the answer Jeffrey was looking for. And he didn’t get it!

At the end of the episode, White called him out on the slip. 

“Did you hear what you said?” she asked.

“It goes to show you that people are concentrating and they’re not paying any attention to me,” Sajak quipped. “It’s funny what your mouth will say that your brain says, you shouldn’t do that.” 

Earlier that same year, Sajak also slipped up by opening the bonus round prize envelope before the contestant started playing.

“Oh, I already looked at it!” he said, catching his mistake just after it happened. “I’m not sure why I did that. But I know what she’s playing for and you don’t!”

PAT SNAPS

Sajak has drawn some criticism over the years for instances where he seems to lose his temper with contestants. In a May 2023 episode during “Grandparents’ Week,” Debbie Pilgrim and her granddaughter, Sarah Hunt, guess incorrectly on all three puzzles during the Triple Toss-Up.

On their final incorrect guess, Sajak seemed like he’d had enough. “Why are you bothering?” he snapped.

The host tried to make good as the episode continued, joking with the duo, “I don’t care what happened. I could listen to you solve Toss-Ups all night long.”

Viewers also criticized Sajak after a March 2022 episode, in which he mocked contestant Scott Ingwersen’s introductory anecdote story, in which he attempted to thank a pair of paramedics who helped him as a child.

“It’s important to know that when I was 12 years old, I was riding a 10-speed bike with flip-flops, and I fell and completely cut off the top of my toe,” Scott recounted. “The next car that came by were two paramedics that were on their way to a job, and they said, ‘It’s just a laceration.’ But I didn’t know what that was, so it freaked me out even more. And my toe is reattached, and I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ to them 30 years later.”

Sajak replied, “That may have been the most pointless story ever told. And you told it, Scott. Congratulations to you.”

AUDI MAKES GOOD

Wheel of Fortune fans were outraged after contestant Charlene Rubush lost her final round prize due to a little-known timing rule on a December 2021 episode.

Charlene’s category was “What Are You Doing?” Though she at first guessed a wrong answer — “choosing the right card” — she eventually said the correct phrase, which was “choosing the right word.” However, Sajak said that because she paused too long in between guesses, she would not get the prize, which was an Audi Q3.

“This one’s tough because you said all the right words, including the word ‘word’ but as you know, it’s got to be more or less continuous,” Sajak said. “We’ll allow for a little pause but not four or five seconds. I’m sorry, you did a good job in getting it, but we can’t give you the prize.”

The episode sparked a fair amount of fan outrage online, however, the story ultimately had a happy ending. Audi reached out via social media to give Charlene the car on their own.

“There’s no community like the Audi community. With your help, we tracked down Charlene!” they shared. “More to come as we help #GiveHerTheQ3.”

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