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Wheel Of Fortune's Biggest Winners, Ranked

Very few of us will ever appear on an episode of the ageless game show "Wheel of Fortune," much less win big on it, but the genius of the show is the feeling that any of us could. True to its name, the rules of the game depend on chance as much as knowledge; no matter how well you have your consonants and vowels in place, a turn that lands on the "Bankrupt" space can end it all in a heartbeat. It's a show that begs to be played along with at home, with the family gathered in the living room or around the kitchen table at dinnertime, parents and children yelling over each other to get the exact turn of phrase right to solve the puzzle. In fact, many of the show's big winners have confirmed that their "Wheel" training began as kids, watching Pat Sajak and Vanna White spin the wheel and turn letters every day after school.

The show's 2022 season has had an unprecedented number of big winners. At the midway point of the year, seven contestants have won over $100,000, three of whom won on consecutive nights in February, the most ever in a single season. In honor of this incredible run, let's take a look at the biggest winners in "Wheel of Fortune" history, ranked.

10. Bree Yokouchi

On February 9, 2022, Portland elementary school teacher Bree Yokouchi became the third winner in a row to break the $100,000 threshold in the show's 39th Season. After making it to the bonus round, where contestants are given the letters R, S, T, L, and E, she chose another three consonants and a vowel to help solve the puzzle — but only her vowel choice showed up in the puzzle. Faced with a ticking clock and just three letters in a three-word phrase, Yokouchi blurted out "Just You Wait," to the delight of the audience and the astonishment of host Pat Sajak. "How are they doing it?" he wondered aloud.

But the surprises didn't stop there; Sajak followed up Yokouchi's Hail Mary correct guess with the reveal that the bonus round envelope she chose contained yet another $100,000 prize, the third in as many episodes, tossing the envelope in the air and pretending to walk out in mock exasperation. The bonus prize brought Yokouchi's prize total to $121,638 and a trip to St. Lucia.

9. Mike Halpern

The trail of big winners continued through the first half of 2022. D.C.-area little league coach Mike Halpern made it to the bonus round in May, facing down a two-word phrase with the clue "What are you doing?" His three consonants and a vowel only yielded the first letter of the first word, a P, but that was enough for him to correctly guess that the answer to the clue's question was "Parting Ways."

"So if you could have any prize, what would you take?" Sajak asks at the end of the episode. "$100,000?" Mike replies with a nonchalant shrug, but that faux cool melts away when Sajak reveals that he has in fact won the $100,000 bonus prize. Halpern cheers and whoops and jumps up and down. "I kind of blacked out because I just couldn't believe it," he later told local news radio station WTOP. Halpern might have been the sixth $100,000 winner this year, but he was the first winner, perhaps ever, to lie on the stage floor and make snow angels in the confetti. His prize total was $122,903, plus a trip to Aruba.

8. Mark Baer

The night before Bree Yokouchi hit it big, Elkhart, Indiana native Mark Baer won an even bigger jackpot. Winner Lisa Kramer had cracked $100,000 the night before, but it was Baer's win that turned it into a bona fide trend. Once again, the real money was made in the bonus round, where Baer landed three vowels in the puzzle and confidently announced that the answer to this "Event" was "A Quick Flight." Sajak, in the middle of recommending that Baer work through his options carefully, lets out a slightly defeated "Well ..." as soon as Baer guesses the correct answer.

Afterward, Sajak seemed genuinely surprised that the bonus round prize envelope contained another $100,000 payday. It was the first time that two $100,000 prizes had been won back-to-back in the show's history, but as we would soon see, it would not be the last. "Let's go for three," Sajak jokes at the end of the show, though by the next night it would be no laughing matter. Baer's prizes totaled $126,550 and a Dominican Republic vacation.

7. Jinger Lough

One of the endearing things about Pat Sajak as host of "Wheel of Fortune" is that he's not quite as unflappable as other game show hosts. By the time speech language pathologist Jinger Lough won the season's seventh $100,000 bonus prize in May 2022, there's the sense that Sajak is a little worn out by this parade of confident winners. Lough's performance on the show was already impressive even before the big bonus round, winning top spot over the other contestants with over $31,000.

The bonus round appears to be tough, and Sajak, as he often does, softly counsels Lough. Her choice of three consonants and a vowel only yields two Os on the puzzleboard, but that is enough for her to pull the phrase "On the Bandwagon" out of thin air. As Lough jumps up and down with joy, Sajak shakes his head and snaps, "Don't make the host look stupid!" with just enough cranky humor. Afterward, he asks Lough if she would be willing to help clean up all the confetti, a joke he has told in one form or another at the end of nearly every one of the season's big wins, and one he is likely getting awfully tired of.

6. Scott Kolbrenner

In March 2021, California businessman Scott Kolbrenner did pretty well for himself in the show's early rounds, racking up $45,000 even before the bonus round put him in rarified air. Faced with a three-word puzzle whose clue was "What are you wearing?" Kolbrenner chose particularly well in his consonants and vowels and got to the answer "Flowing White Gown" by process of elimination more so than a wild lucky swing.

Kolbrenner's performance on the show was impressive, earning a total of $145,000 after the bonus round, but what made headlines after his episode aired was what he announced he would do with the prize money: Donate it. Half of the money went to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, and the other half to Uplift Family Services, a California-based health organization of which Kolbrenner is a board member. "I got lucky that day," Kolbrenner told Yahoo News, referring to the day in November 2020 when he won at "Wheel," "and knew right away that I wanted to share that good fortune."

5. Cindy Kling

Records are made to be broken on "Wheel of Fortune." 10 years before Jinger and Bree and the gang brought home more $100,000 prizes in one season than ever before, contestant Cindy Kling set the record for the largest non-million prize in the show's history. Coming into the bonus round with $47,000 under her belt, Kling stared down the three-word puzzle, and with her family watching from the front row, correctly guessed that the "Phrase" was "We Heard You," with a slightly unsure cadence that made the answer sound like a question.

Inflection is no disqualifier on "Wheel," fortunately, and Kling won not just her $47,000 but the $100,000 bonus prize as well. At the time of airing, in December 2012, it was the most anyone had won on the show other than its million-dollar prize-winners. Speaking to The Everett Herald (her hometown newspaper) a few days after the episode aired, Kling revealed that she had been trying to get on the show for 12 years before finally getting selected for an audition, and that "Wheel of Fortune" was a family affair for the Klings; her son had won $15,000 on an episode about 15 years earlier.

4. Laura Trammell

Cindy Kling's non-million dollar record would hold for nearly a decade until April 2021, when California school teacher Laura Trammell hit it big on the bonus round. Starting out with about $23,000, Trammell's puzzle was a four-word phrase, with two of those words being single letters. Her selected consonants and vowel reveal just enough for her to decipher the phrase "I Caught a Glimpse," and she lets out a relieved "Whooo!" when it proves to be correct.

This time, however, the bonus prize was no mere $100,000, but an entire house worth $375,000, bringing her total winnings to $398,690. The house, a 2,000 square foot home in the Jimmy Buffett-branded retirement community Latitude Margaritaville, was a brand-new prize; Trammell was its first and thus far only winner. In an interview with the Orange County Register, Trammell's hometown paper, she said that she and her husband had opted to take the house rather than its cash equivalent, with plans to rent it out for a while before retiring and moving in themselves.

3. Sarah Manchester

$100,000 is alright most of the time, but every so often it just will not do. That was the case when Maryland math teacher Sarah Manchester made it to the bonus round on a "Teacher's Week" episode in September 2014. Earlier in the game Manchester, had landed on the One Million Dollars wedge on the wheel (first introduced in 2008). Since she made it all the way to the bonus round without going bankrupt, the customary $100,000 bonus prize envelope was replaced by a $1 million envelope.

Manchester lucks out, in that the show's RSTLNE gave her the first letter of both words in her puzzle, as well as the last letter of the second word. Her consonants and vowels are likewise well-selected, giving her nearly the entire puzzle — "Loud Laughter" — without even having to guess. Her bonus prize envelope had the $1 million prize, and her entire family rushes the stage to hug and cheer as confetti fell — which, according to Manchester in an interview with "Good Morning America," was her entire goal for getting on the show. The $1,017,490 must have been a nice bonus, though.

2. Michelle Loewenstein

The One Million Dollar prize wedge was introduced in 2008, and it didn't take very long for someone to win the unwinnable. In October 2008, California florist Michelle Loewenstein made every right move on the road to $1 million dollars. She caught the $1 million wedge, which in normal play is just a sliver in the middle of a Bankrupt wedge. She didn't go bankrupt. She made it to the bonus round with $26,080, already an impressive haul, and spun the bonus wheel containing the $1 million prize envelope.

The final puzzle clue was "Around the House," and Loewenstein lucked out with both the letters the show provided and the ones she picked out. Still, it was a tricky puzzle, not so much for its complexity but for its unusual combination of letters — a K without a C preceding it, and a rare AU in the second word. Loewenstein, however, knew exactly what it was: "Leaky Faucet." She had won, and the bonus envelope she pulled contained the $1 million prize, the first the show had ever awarded. "Do you know everything that had to happen for that to happen?" Sajak shouts as she celebrates on stage, nearly as excited as she was. Loewenstein's total for the episode was $1,026,080, a record for the show that would go unbeaten for nearly five years.

1. Autumn Erhard

It's a testament to how difficult "Wheel of Fortune" has made its million dollar prize that only three contestants in 14 years have been able to win it. Nearly five years after Michelle Loewenstein proved that it could be done, animal pharmaceutical sales rep Autumn Erhard took the top prize in May 2013. Even without the skill and luck required to get and keep the $1 million prize wedge, Erhard had an exemplary episode, winning over $30,000 before the bonus round, trips to Belize and Arizona, and gaining the Wild Card, which allowed her to pick an extra consonant in the bonus round.

That wild card and the letter she picked with it turned out to be a crucial bit of good fortune, as it was the only one of her letters that appeared in the puzzle. From that, though, she was still able to solve it with just three letters — two Ts and an R — on the board. "Tough Workout?" she guesses, so quickly that it doesn't seem to register at first that she has won. A slight moment of silence follows, and then finally Pat Sajak exclaims, "Whaaaat?!" Vanna White raises her arms in celebration, but the real celebration is yet to come, as Sajak opens the bonus round prize envelope to reveal the $1 million inside. "Wheel of Fortune" may be a game of luck as much as skill, but rarely have those two forces come together as they did for Autumn Erhard, who walked away with $1,030,340.