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TV stint pays off for Gainesville native
Chris Severn and Taylor Altizer recently won more than $28,000 on "Wheel of Fortune." Severn, who was born in Gainesville but now lives in southern California, said he and Altizer will split the money, which includes a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Chris Severn’s friend, Taylor Altizer, was on the phone. It seemed she had a rather unusual invitation.

"It was really informal. She just called and said, ‘Want to audition for "Wheel of Fortune"?’" recalled Severn, 17, a senior at Westlake High School in Westlake Village, Calif.

And in the end, that call ended up netting the pair more than $28,000.

Severn, who was born in Gainesville but moved to California with his family at age 3, is the son of Steve and Donna (Pepper) Severn. Donna Severn is a Gainesville native who found her few minutes of fame years ago when she appeared on "The Price is Right."

"I got married in Gainesville and we left that night and we came (to Los Angeles)," she said. "It was so funny because I always come home to Gainesville (and) I’ll always run into someone and they say, ‘I saw you on "The Price Is Right."’"

Chris Severn and Altizer, 17, a senior at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, showed up for the "Wheel of Fortune" auditions in August. They were looking for pairs for their "Teen Best Friends" week. Unfortunately, getting on a game show like "Wheel of Fortune" isn’t as simple as just showing up and winning a few word puzzles.

First, the pair had to go through some test rounds — Chris described it as similar to playing the home version of the game, with the words on a computer screen. And they also needed to show the producers that they were friends who knew how to have fun.

"They wanted to see you upbeat and exciting. They were looking for people who would be exciting to watch on the show. You had to have fun," Chris said. "They’d spin like a small wheel, and they’d call your name and you’d just right away start playing. ... It’s just kind of natural to be up there and be very excited, and we knew what they were looking for, too."

Altizer said her family routinely watches "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!," although she admitted Chris was better at word puzzles than she was. It was her mother, actually, who originally submitted her name to the TV show in hopes of getting on a "Mothers and Daughters" week.

The process was a little overwhelming, Altizer said. In fact, after spending a day solving puzzles, the pair had to wait six months before they found out they had made the cut and would be on the show.

"I was really excited throughout the whole process. It was really fun to get to hang out with the other kids who were doing it, and it was also, like, kind of emotionally draining," she said. "We had a lot of time to just try and psych ourselves into it."

At 6 a.m. Jan. 11, Donna, Chris and Altizer arrived at Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif., just outside Los Angeles, to start the process of getting on the game show. After an hour of signing contracts and meeting with the production company’s lawyers, the kids were sequestered for four hours. At noon, the audience, including Donna, filed in and they taped six 45-minute shows.

"You’re clapping through the whole thing," Donna said of being in the audience. "You’re clapping when the wheel is turning, when Vanna’s turning the letters."

At the end of the day, Chris and Altizer walked away with more than $28,000 in cash and prizes, which they would split. Included in the haul is a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, which they plan to take their families on as well.

"Taylor’s really good," Chris said. "I was a little nervous, but we ended up solving six puzzles out of the eight. They gave us eight puzzles in the televised game."

And while some teenagers might brush off "Wheel of Fortune" as a has-been, Chris said he’s been the talk of the school since the taping of the show.

"It’s like, once people found out at my school, it was really exciting," he said. "People were asking, ‘Oh my God, you’re going to be on "Wheel of Fortune"?’ It felt like the biggest thing to happen this year. We’re going to have a big viewing party."

The show is scheduled to air at 7 p.m. Thursday on WATL-TV Channel 36 (channel 3 on Charter, channel 13 on Comcast).

Altizer contends Chris was the one who helped the team the most.

"Chris was really good. I’m not, like, normally really good at (word puzzles)," she said. "It was so much fun. Like getting to spin the wheel and stuff, and getting to meet Pat (Sajak) and Vanna (White). We met them on the show and we were on the bonus round."

Chris said while he plans to put most of his $10,000 in newly acquired cash toward college, he does want to splurge just a little.

He’s planning to use some for a mission trip to Brazil he had planned for this summer. And perhaps a new guitar, too.

"I think I’m going to buy a new guitar and the rest will go for college," he said. "I’m looking for an electric, so maybe a really good Gibson. It’s weird to have that comfort of buying something nice."

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