"Wheel of Fortune" contestant Charlene Rubush of Nevada missed her chance at winning an Audi Q3 car earlier this week after pausing briefly while offering the correct answer, a technicality under the game show's rules. But when executives with the automaker heard about the incident, they rode to the rescue and gave her a new Q3.
Rubush had progressed to the bonus round on Monday, in which she was asked to solve a four-word puzzle. She beat the 10-second timer and correctly guessed the phrase "Choosing The Right Word." But host Pat Sajak then told Rubush she lost because of a five-second pause between uttering the words "right" and "word."
"You know, this one's tough because you said all the right words — including the word 'word' — but, as you know, it's got to be more or less continuous," Sajak told Rubush. "We'll allow for a little pause, but not four or five seconds."
Sajak also told her that she did a good job guessing the phrase, "but we can't give you the prize." A visibly disheartened Rubush walked away with $16,500 in cash instead. A 2021 Q3 starts at $34,000, according to Audi.
Wheel of Fortune fans watching the episode immediately protested, saying Rubush had been robbed. Video snippets of the show were soon posted on social media as people vented their disapproval.
"Come on @WheelofFortune, the woman literally chose the right word," tweeted Alex Jacob, who won the Tournament of Champions on Jeopardy in 2015. "Give her the car."
Seth Weinstein, a pianist in Massachusetts, said Rubush's case shows that television producers need to apply the same rules across game shows.
"I like games to have strict rules, but I'd judge this as a win," Weinstein, citing "Jeopardy," tweeted. "On a Daily Double you can say 'What is' immediately and then fill in the rest just before the buzzer. Why not the equivalent here?"
The Twitter hashtag #GiveHerTheQ3 started gaining momentum as this week progressed. Then Audi stepped in. The company announced on Wednesday that it would give Rubush the same model car she attempted to win on "Wheel of Fortune."
"You're a winner in our eyes Charlene," the company tweeted. "Now, let's get you a prize. Time to #GiveHerTheQ3."
Audi confirmed the car giveaway in a statement to Newsweek, saying the car will be gifted to Rubush.
"[We] saw Charlene's 'Wheel of Fortune' episode on Monday and were collectively disappointed that she missed out on the opportunity to take home an Audi Q3 due to a technicality," the company said.
"Wheel of Fortune," which has been on the air since 1975 and is owned by Sony Pictures Television, didn't return a request for comment. It's unclear if the game show will continue enforcing its rule on pausing between words.
"Wheel of Fortune" fans in April also railed against another of the game show's rules, when a different contestant lost a crossword puzzle challenge because he used the word "and" in listing a group of words in his response, which isn't allowed. Fans have called on the show to eliminate the rule, Entertainment Weekly reported.
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