Shari Bailey's final puzzle as a contestant on the iconic TV game show "Wheel of Fortune" was "A STROKE OF GENIUS," and it was that genius that the 30-year-old quality assurance engineer said led her to the final round, where she won more than $66,000 in cash and prizes.
"It was the quickest 20 minutes of my life," Bailey said. "But it was also the most amazing 20 minutes of my life."
Bailey, whose show aired last Wednesday evening, said she had been drowning in anticipation to watch the show. She said she taped the show in Las Vegas in late July, just days before her fifth wedding anniversary.
"My friend kept asking me if I won big," Bailey said. "I told them — 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas...until it airs."
When the show finally aired, her friends threw her a watching party at Baldwin's Seafood Restaurant in Joppa.
"They were all so excited; none of my friends knew anyone else who had ever been on a game show," said Bailey, who lives in Edgewood and works for SafeNet in Belcamp.
She said she and her husband, Enrico, are anticipating the trip to Nicaragua, which was a part of her winnings. But Bailey said she's most excited to use her winnings to pay down her undergraduate college student debt.
"I did win a good amount, but it's going toward student loans," Bailey said of her more than $80,000 undergraduate college debt. "It felt good to pay some of that off in cash."
Now, Bailey said she will be able to complete her master's degree in business administration at Frostburg University. She said her winnings will provide her with some financial freedom, something she had never been able to experience growing up.
"We struggled growing up," Bailey said. "My parents didn't know English...And then their accents kept them from moving to the next level in their careers."
Born in Egypt, Bailey said her parents moved the family to the United States when she was 6 years old. She said she didn't know English and her parents used "Wheel of Fortune" to teach her and her siblings English.
"The 'Wheel of Fortune' was actually a bonding time for us," Bailey said. "It helped us laugh and we were in healthy competition mode."
Bailey said she never thought she would actually make it onto the show. She said she received an e-mail in October 2012 that the game show would be hosting auditions in the Baltimore area and raced to the audition.
"Most people say there's a one in a million chance to actually make it onto the show," Bailey said.
Bailey made it to the finals of the audition and was invited to another private audition screening. On Valentine's Day this year, she said, she received her invitation to be a contestant.
"The whole experience was explosive," Bailey said. "There's the high of making the first audition, then the low of waiting to find out if you'll be invited to the private audition."
Bailey said she mostly went on the show for her father, who died of a heart attack in 2004.
"I felt like he was there with me that day on the show," Bailey said. "He was always my biggest fan."