8 Surprising Facts About Pat Sajak

Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

For nearly 40 years, Pat Sajak has been the world’s most famous man of letters. As host of the seemingly indestructible syndicated game show Wheel of Fortune, Sajak might be rivaled only by Alex Trebek in the pantheon of game emcees. Take a look at eight things you might not know about Sajak and his career, from his early days as a DJ in Saigon to the reason why his failed late-night talk show was really a hit. (For him.)

1. HE WORKED FOR A SPANISH RADIO STATION EVEN THOUGH HE SPOKE NO SPANISH.

Preoccupied with broadcasting from an early age—he would pretend a wooden spoon was a microphone and talk into it—Sajak got a job at a Spanish-language radio station in his hometown of Chicago in the 1960s. Sajak spoke no Spanish, but was hired to come on and do an English language news briefing once every hour from midnight until 6 a.m.

2. HE ALSO WORKED AT THE PENTAGON.

Pat Sajak speaks to a reporter during a black tie event
Gregorio Binuya/Getty Images

Sajak enlisted in the Army in 1968 and was dispatched to Saigon, where he spoke to the troops via armed forces radio for 18 months before being assigned to a military base in Texas. After that, Sajak found himself in the bowels of the Pentagon running slide projectors for military officials. Sajak once said he probably “heard very high-level secrets,” but that most of the talk had to do with the then-pending postal strike.

3. NBC DIDN’T WANT HIM AS HOST OF WHEEL OF FORTUNE.

After his service, Sajak bounced between jobs in radio, as a hotel desk clerk, and as a weatherman for KNBC in Los Angeles before game show giant Merv Griffin approached him in 1981 to replace a departing Chuck Woolery on the daytime series Wheel of Fortune. The game show's then-network, NBC, was not as enthusiastic. Considering him a “local” talent, they refused. It wasn’t until Griffin threatened to shut down the series entirely that the network relented.

4. HE AND VANNA USED TO DRINK BEFORE TAPING THE SHOW.

Pat Sajak stands next to co-host Vanna White
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

When he first started on Wheel of Fortune, Sajak and co-host Vanna White had exceptionally long dinner breaks due to producers having to shuffle prizes like cars on and off stage between tapings. While appearing on The Dan Le Batard Show in 2012, Sajak said that he and White would have “two or three or six” drinks before taping the final shows of the day. (Speaking to ABC later, he said he might have exaggerated a bit, and that he and White might have only indulged a total of six or so times.)

5. HE TURNED DOWN THE COVER OF PEOPLE MAGAZINE.

In the 1980s, Sajak was seen by more than 40 million people on Wheel of Fortune every week. That level of notoriety led to his being somewhat reserved and publicity-averse in his down time, Sajak told The New York Times in 1988. When he was offered the cover of People to help promote his then-debuting talk show on CBS, he declined. Sajak said he didn’t want to be “any place where one week it’s me and the next week it’s John Hinckley.”

6. HIS TALK SHOW BOMBED, BUT HE STILL MADE OUT.

Sajak received a certain level of infamy for his attempt to compete with Johnny Carson, the venerable late-night host who remained king of the 11:30 p.m. time slot until his retirement in 1992. The Pat Sajak Show debuted on CBS in 1989 and lasted just 15 months—but Sajak’s deal called for him to be paid for two years, regardless of whether the show made it that far or not. His salary was $60,000 a week.

7. HE WAS IN AIRPLANE II.

Sajak has occasionally tried his hand at acting, including one early ’80s stint on Days of Our Lives. His biggest role came when he had a walk-on in the 1982 film Airplane II: The Sequel, a follow-up to the Zucker brothers comedy hit of 1979.

8. HE WAS ONCE A WHEEL CONTESTANT.

In 1997, as part of an unannounced April Fool’s prank, Sajak swapped hosting gigs with Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek. Trebek hosted Wheel with Sajak as a contestant; Sajak hosted Jeopardy!, although Trebek did not appear as one of the three vying for game supremacy.

The Psychology Behind Kids' L.O.L. Surprise! Doll Obsession

Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Isaac Larian, the founder and CEO of toymaker MGA Entertainment, is an insomniac. Fortunately for him, that inability to sleep forced him to get up out of bed one night—a move that ended up being worth $4 billion.

Larian’s company is the architect of L.O.L. Surprise!, a line of dolls with a clever conceit. The product, which retails for about $10 to $20, is encased in a ball-shaped plastic shell and buried under layers of packaging, forcing children to tear through a gauntlet of wrapping before they’re able to see it. The inspiration came on that highly profitable sleepless night, which Larian spent watching unboxing videos on YouTube. It resulted in the first toy made for a generation wired for delayed gratification.

The dolls first went on sale in test markets at select Target stores in late 2016. MGA shipped out 500,000 of them, all of which sold out within two months. A Cabbage Patch Kid-esque frenzy came the following year. By late 2018, L.O.L. Surprise! (the acronym stands for the fancifully redundant Little Outrageous Little) had moved 800 million units, accounted for seven of the top 10 toys sold in the U.S., and was named Toy of the Year by the Toy Association. Videos of kids and adults unboxing them garner millions of views on YouTube, which is precisely where Larian knew his marketing would be most effective.

A woman holds a L.O.L. Surprise doll and packaging in her hand
Cindy Ord, Getty Images for MGA Entertainment

The dolls themselves are nothing revolutionary. Once freed from their plastic prisons, they stare at their owner with doe-eyed expressions. Some “tinkle,” while others change color in water. They can be dressed in accessories found in the balls or paired with tiny pets (which also must be "unboxed"). Larger bundles, like last year’s $89.99 L.O.L. Bigger Surprise! capsule, feature a plethora of items, each individually wrapped. It took a writer from The New York Times 59 minutes to uncover everything inside.

This methodical excavation is what makes L.O.L. Surprise! so appealing to its pint-sized target audience. Though MGA was advised that kids wouldn’t want to buy something they couldn’t see, Larian and his executives had an instinctual understanding of what child development experts already knew: Kids like looking forward to things.

Dr. Rachel Barr, director of Georgetown University’s Early Learning Project, told The Atlantic that unboxing videos tickle the part of a child’s brain that enjoys anticipation. By age 4 or 5, they have a concept of “the future,” or events that will unfold somewhere other than the present. However, Barr said, they’re also wary of being scared by an unforeseen outcome. In an unboxing video, they know the payoff will be positive and not, say, a live tarantula.

L.O.L. Surprise! is engineered to prolong that anticipatory joy, with kids peeling away wrapping like an onion for up to 20 minutes at a time. The effect is not entirely novel—baseball card collectors have been buying and unwrapping card packs without knowing exactly what’s inside for decades—but paired with social media, MGA was able to strike oil. The dolls now have 350 licensees making everything from bed sheets to apparel. Collectors—or their parents—can buy a $199.99 doll house. So-called “boy toys” are now lurking inside the wrappers, with one, the mohawk-sporting Punk Boi, causing a mild stir for being what MGA calls “anatomically correct.” His tiny plastic genital area facilitates a peeing function.

Whether L.O.L. Surprise! bucks conventional toy trends and continues its popularity beyond a handful of holiday seasons remains to be seen. Already, MGA is pushing alternative products like Poopsie Slime Surprise, a unicorn that can be fed glitter and poops a viscous green slime. An official unboxing video has been viewed 4.2 million times and counting.

The 8 Most Anticipated Horror Movies of 2019

Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Michele K. Short, Universal Pictures

Between Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and Halloween, 2018 was a killer year for horror moviesand 2019 is shaping up to be just as impressive. While remakes seem to be dominating the schedule in the coming months, there are plenty of sequels, adaptations, and even a few promising original titles coming out as well. Here are some of the scary movies we're most looking forward to seeing this year.

1. Us

In 2017, Jordan Peele revolutionized the horror genre with Get Out. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker plans to do the same again with Us, which features a predominantly black cast—a rarity for a horror movie. "I dedicated a lot of myself to creating a new horror mythology and a new monster," Peele said of the film. "I think that monsters and stories about monsters are our best ways of getting at deeper truths and facing our fears as a society ... It’s also important to note that this movie, unlike Get Out, is not about race. It is instead about something I feel has become an undeniable truth. That is the simple fact that we are our own worst enemies." Us, which stars Elisabeth Moss and Lupita Nyong'o, arrives in theaters on March 22, 2019.

2. IT: Chapter 2

Stephen King fans were thrilled with 2017's IT, the second adaptation of the horror master's beloved 1986 novel. Andy Muschietti is sitting in the director's chair again for the second chapter, which will follow the Losers Club as they return to Derry, Maine in their adult years. While Bill Skarsgård will reprise his role as Pennywise, impressive new additions to the cast include Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and James McAvoy. The film debuts on September 6, 2019.

3. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you’ve been a horror fiend since childhood, you’ll no doubt remember Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. The books included memorable illustrations by Stephen Gammell, some of which no doubt haunted many children’s nightmares. The film adaptation will be released on August 9, 2019.

4. Zombieland 2

Venom director Ruben Fleischer's feature debut, 2009's Zombieland, was an instant hit with both horror and comedy fans. And they've been waiting 10 years for a sequel. Finally, we’ll be getting a second film this year with Fleischer directing and Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and even Bill Murray all confirmed to return. Zombieland 2 is set to hit theaters on October 11, 2019.

5. Happy Death Day 2U

The hilariously bad-but-fun Happy Death Day (2017) surprised audiences with how flat-out entertaining it was, so much so that fans were thrilled to hear there were plans for a sequel. Much like the original movie, the second film will follow protagonist Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as she’s killed every single day. But this time, the killer is coming for her friends, too. Happy Death Day 2U premieres on February 14, 2019.

6. Pet Sematary

Though Mary Lambert's original Pet Sematary (1989) was not met with much critical acclaim, fans of the Stephen King novel were pleased with the adaptation, and are excited to see the story come to life again. The remake, which is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and stars John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, debuts on April 5, 2019.

7. Child’s Play

When rumors began swirling that there was going to be another Chucky movie, and that it would be a remake of the original Child’s Play at that, people—including the original series creator Don Mancini—didn't initially seem too excited.

But as more details—including a cast list that includes Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry—were made public, interest in the project seemed to grow. Child’s Play hits theaters June 21, 2019.

8. The Prodigy

Creepy kids will never fail to make terrifying horror movie villains. In The Prodigy, Taylor Schilling’s character discovers something supernatural might be happening to her son when he starts acting as if he’s possessed. (Spoiler alert: He probably is). The film will be released on February 8, 2019.

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