PEORIA — As a kid, Joey Kouri loved game shows and would rush home to watch them.
And on Wednesday night, a national television audience got to see the Peoria native spin the wheel and bring home serious cash on “Wheel of Fortune.”
“It was incredibly cool. Just think, now some kid at 1 a.m. is going to be watching a rerun of the show, and I’ll be on it,” he said late Wednesday, hours after the show aired at 6:30 p.m. on WMBD-TV (31).
He finished in second place after winning three "toss-up" puzzles and raked in a cool $6,000 in prizes. His puzzles? He solved "Atlantic City," "I'm trying to concentrate" and one more that he can't remember.
Kouri is a graduate of Peoria Notre Dame High School and Saint Louis University, where he was the lead manager for the men's basketball team. Currently, the 26-year-old Kouri is a legislative correspondent in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria.
Kouri first auditioned for "Wheel of Fortune" about two years ago after seeing a notice in the local news. He said it was supposed to be a guy thing.
“I said to my friends, ‘Why don’t we do this? We’ll never get on the show, but we’ll have some fun, grab a beer and laugh about it. Most said no thanks, but I went, and they saw my form and asked me back,” he said.
Kouri was one of six contestants chosen from a field of about 150.
"He had them in stitches," his father, Danny Kouri, proprietor of Peoria restaurants Kouri's Pub and Lariat Steakhouse, said. "He showed he can play the game."
From that point, Joey Kouri was on call for "Wheel" producers, who might contact him on short notice if they wanted him on the show. That call came last September, but Kouri was ill and couldn't make the trip to Los Angeles for taping, Danny Kouri said.
His son's visit was rescheduled for early February. Kouri's family attended the taping.
"Wheel of Fortune" has been aired on various TV channels and networks since 1975. Pat Sajak and Vanna White have been hosts since the early 1980s.
White, Kouri said, came to talk to all the contestants — several shows are taped in a day — and urged them to have fun and to play against the wheel, not each other.
Speaking of that iconic wheel, Kouri says it’s pretty darn heavy.
"They give you a test spin before the show to give you a sense of how heavy it is. My first time, it almost felt like I was going to fall into it. It took every bit of strength and even then, I got only a full rotation or a bit more. It takes a lot of power to spin that wheel," Kouri said.
So how did the experience sit with this game show fanboy? Pretty well.
"Pat and Vanna are the faces of America’s game, so it was surreal. It’s not every day you get to take or shake a celebrity’s hand, let alone make them laugh. Next celebrity to meet would most definitely be Billy Joel."
Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz. Nick Vlahos can be reached at 686-3285 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.