Ask Charles McDonald about his love for television game shows and he’ll say he’s watched them since he was a baby.
Favorites include “The Price is Right,” “Jeopardy,” “Let’s Make a Deal” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
But right now, “Wheel of Fortune” tops his list. It is the only show where he’s competed and won.
On Tuesday, McDonald’s friends and family watched the 23-year-old walk away with $54,790 in cash and prizes, including a trip to Hong Kong.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” the Lakewood resident said Thursday.
A computer information and technology student at Clover Park Technical College, McDonald is such a die-hard fan of the show, he even plays the video game.
“When I first walked on the studio of ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ I said to myself, ‘Boy, look at this studio filled with glamorous prizes and exciting merchandise,’ ” he said. “That’s how they used to introduce the show back in the 1980s.”
McDonald auditioned in Seattle in March and found out he made it this summer. He flew to Los Angeles to tape in August.
Despite some friends “nagging” him for the results, McDonald kept the win a secret for two months until the show aired. So did his mother, Lynne; she was in the audience for his victory. His family had a viewing party this week.
Seeing himself on television was “kind of weird at first,” said the 2009 graduate of the School of the Arts in Tacoma.
After he overcame nerves — his legs started shaking after the first round — he dominated. He won the first puzzle with only four of the total 24 letters on the board.
He plans to visit Hong Kong next year and will use some of his winnings to buy a hybrid sport utility vehicle. He said he hopes to use the rest to launch a business where he hosts quiz shows at parties and events.
One fact McDonald didn’t mention on the show: He has Asperger’s syndrome, and he said he’s grateful the show’s producers would allow competitors with special needs.
Having the opportunity to compete and be welcomed by the show’s two stars, Pat Sajak and Vanna White, was an experience he won’t forget.
“I get to enjoy my well-deserved 15 minutes of fame,” he said.