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5 Interesting Stories That Involve Pat Sajak

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Arthur Chu captured national attention for becoming an 11-time Jeopardy! champion in March 2014 and is now shamelessly extending his presence in the national spotlight by all available means.

The most common question people ask me when they learn that I was on Jeopardy! for twelve episodes is, “What is Alex Trebek really like?”

They’re usually disappointed that I’m unable to give much insight into the man’s character, since I only interacted with him for a total of 240 minutes. Besides, I spent most of that time thinking about how much money I could win (while enraging some fans in the process).

As fascinating and enigmatic a mystery as Alex Trebek is—Why did he shave off his iconic mustache in 2001? What’s the deal with all those little hints he drops to his badass hockey-playing past? Is he officially the world’s most successful Canadian?—I must say that, for drama and excitement, you should be looking to Jeopardy!’s companion show, Wheel of Fortune.

Yes, Wheel of Fortune is looked down upon by the brainiac set, but the show has an anarchic, free-wheeling style that Jeopardy! can't match. Jeopardy! looks the same from week to week, whereas Wheel of Fortune keeps you on your toes (you'll never see "Cincinnati Week" or a Wild Card wedge on Jeopardy!).

But most interesting of all is the man behind the Wheel, Mr. Patrick Leonard “Pat” Sajak. Most of America knows him as the blandly genial guy who congratulates you for winning a car. But he’s had a long and colorful life in showbiz, one that rivals the legends people tell about Alex Trebek. I’m here to give you just a few of the highlights.

1. Pat Sajak Once Cut Off President Nixon’s Radio Broadcast to the Troops in Vietnam

As you may know if you’ve ever watched one of Wheel’s “Honoring Our Veterans” weeks, Pat Sajak is a Vietnam War veteran. Not just that—Pat Sajak got an early start to his broadcasting career as a DJ for Armed Forces Radio in 1968, much like Robin Williams’ character in Good Morning, Vietnam. (He describes his experience in an interview here.)

While his experience wasn't quite as exciting as what happened to Adrian Cronauer, the real-life military DJ whose experiences inspired the film, Sajak did, in fact, get to yell the famous phrase, “Goooood morning, Vietnam!” while hosting the “Dawnbusters” early-AM show.

In 1969, when President Richard Nixon was giving his Christmas address to the nation, Pat Sajak thought he heard him finish the speech and flipped the switch to start playing “1, 2, 3, Red Light” by The 1910 Fruitgum Company. As the music played, Sajak belatedly realized that Nixon hadn't finished his speech, but was actually at the portion of the address where he was giving his Christmas greetings directly to the troops.

Faced with the dilemma of whether to admit he messed up or ignore it, Sajak took the latter option. President Nixon unknowingly delivered Christmas greetings to only one of the troops in Vietnam: Sajak himself—a fact for which Sajak later apologized.

2. Pat Sajak Once Switched Roles (But Not Outfits) With Vanna White

Pat Sajak has never been seen onscreen in one of Vanna White’s signature evening gowns, but he has actually switched places with her. In 1989, Vanna hosted the show while Pat turned the letters, a last-minute decision made because of his growing case of laryngitis. He tells the story to Good Morning America here.

3. Pat Sajak Was Once a Contestant on Wheel of Fortune—Which Was Hosted By Alex Trebek

Wheel of Fortune

Jeopardy!

If you haven’t seen them yet, hie thee posthaste to view these legendary April 1, 1997 episodes of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!. Pat Sajak and Vanna White appear as celebrities playing for charity in an April Fool’s Wheel of Fortune (which is hosted by Trebek), and Sajak hosts an episode of Jeopardy! featuring a trio of adorably confused contestants. (Yes, this means that Alex Trebek has never, ever played Jeopardy! on camera. Start working on that change.org petition now, America.)

Trebek had previously hosted Wheel of Fortune for a one-week stint as a replacement for Chuck Woolery in 1980 and as a one-episode fill-in for Pat Sajak in 1985. However, these April Fool's episodes were the only time since the syndicated revival of Jeopardy! in 1984 that anyone other than Alex Trebek has hosted the show. (Although, the show pulled a similar April Fool’s gag in 2010 with Will Ferrell in his SNL “Celebrity Jeopardy!” get-up “hosting” the show using pre-taped, spliced-in footage.)

Notable moments from these April Fool’s episodes include the incredible meta-ness of Pat Sajak solving a puzzle that reads “PAT, I’D LIKE TO SOLVE THE PUZZLE,” and the introduction of “Before and After” to Jeopardy!, which Pat says is “something we took from another show, you’ll figure it out.” 

The woman clapping and turning letters in the April Fool’s Wheel of Fortune is Pat Sajak’s little-seen wife Lesly Sajak, making Pat Sajak the only Wheel of Fortune contestant to have ever purchased a vowel from his own spouse.

4. Pat Sajak Was Once Replaced By A Former NFL Player

Part of the convoluted history of Wheel of Fortune includes the fact that from 1983 to 1991 there were actually two versions of the series—a daytime show on NBC and a nighttime show on syndication. From 1983 to 1989, Pat Sajak hosted both versions, but Sajak retired from the daytime show to host The Pat Sajak Show, a late night talk show conceived as CBS’s response to Johnny Carson.

During the widely publicized search for Sajak’s replacement, Merv Griffin saw former San Diego Chargers placekicker Rolf Benirschke discussing “healthy habits” in an interview on an L.A. morning show and decided that he liked the young man so that he invited him in for an audition, despite his lack of broadcasting experience.

Benirschke was not a very good host—he frequently forgot the rules to the game and it got to the point where contestants would have to correct him. He was fired after six months and NBC dropped the daytime Wheel of Fortune in 1991.

Lest we think unkindly of Merv Griffin’s taste, the host of Wheel of Fortune had traditionally gone to people with little game show experience. Griffin originally cast Chuck Woolery to host Wheel of Fortune after seeing him perform as a country singer on The Tonight Show in 1975.

Sajak was also an unlikely choice—he was the weatherman for KNBC-LA when Griffin tapped him as Woolery’s replacement. Fred Silverman, the president of NBC at the time, was so opposed to putting Sajak in Woolery’s seat that the standoff between Griffin and Silverman put a halt to all tapings of Wheel of Fortune until Griffin finally won and Silverman was forced out of his position.

5. Rush Limbaugh Had A Huge Meltdown on Pat Sajak’s Talk Show

In case you were wondering, the effort to make Pat Sajak the new Johnny Carson didn’t go that well—The Pat Sajak Show was canceled after one season. (I invite aspiring science-fiction writers out there to imagine the ramifications of a timeline where Pat Sajak has Jay Leno’s career, however.)

The strangest and most notable thing about the waning days of The Pat Sajak Show was CBS cycling through guest hosts as stealth auditions for his replacement. This culminated in the March 30, 1990 incident where Rush Limbaugh hosted the show in Sajak’s stead.

The situation deteriorated almost instantly, with Limbaugh apparently being in front of a non-specifically-prescreened-for-Limbaugh audience for the first time in his career, and a few of his multitudinous haters seized the opportunity to fill up slots in the audience. Whatever the actual initial plan for this episode was, it quickly turned into a raucous back-and-forth shouting match between Limbaugh and an army of hecklers, including a whole group who somehow got through pre-screening wearing ACT UP! T-shirts.

Limbaugh later accused the studio of intentionally letting an audience of detractors through in order to boost ratings which, if it is true, is one of the most awesome things to ever happen on TV.

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
iStock

Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
iStock

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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