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Hatter Friends to Spin ‘Wheel of Fortune’

Michael Socha ’04 and Jonathan Arteza-Acosta ’04

Name the two alumni who will be appearing on the Wheel of Fortune game show Tuesday, April 24?

Here are the puzzle letters: M-c-a-l S-c-a and J-n-t-an A-t-za-A-o-s-a. OK, here’s more help: Each graduated in 2004 from Stetson’s School of Business Administration.

Michael Socha and Jonathan Arteza-Acosta.

The longtime friends, who met during their second semester as first-year students at Stetson, achieved a bucket-list goal on March 9 when they taped an episode of “Wheel of Fortune Best Friends Week” – complete with the legendary Pat Sajak and Vanna White in front of a live audience in Los Angeles.

Airtime for the show is 7:30 p.m. Eastern on WFTV, the Orlando television affiliate of ABC.

“Jon always wanted to be a game-show host, always,” remembered Socha. “Every single time we had a group project that we would have to do together, he would somehow figure out a way to make it a game show.”

On a conference call, Arteza-Acosta quickly added, “That’s true!”

They became fast friends on campus and known for fun. “People knew that when we entered a room together, they were going to have a good time,” Arteza-Acosta commented.

“We did have some fun; that was true,” Socha chimed in.

They remained in touch following Stetson, eventually both living in Denver, when their big game-show chance arrived via the Wheelmobile, which visits cities looking for contestants. That was in May 2015 at sort of a cattle-call of hopefuls. Names were randomly selected from a hat to try out on a makeshift stage. Remarkably, each was selected to, as Socha described, “pop up there and basically make a fool of yourself.”

“What are the odds that out of thousands of people that both of us got picked to go up on stage,” Socha added.

Arteza-Acosta had watched the Wheel of Fortune “since I was a baby,” while Socha couldn’t “remember a time when I wasn’t watching.” The game show premiered in 1975.

This was big.

Soon thereafter, they were invited as finalists for Denver Week before also becoming candidates for the show’s special Friends Week. Sadly, they didn’t make the cut for Friends Week and thought all was lost.

It took nearly three years for them to, finally, receive an invitation – through an email that each said came out of nowhere. “We forgot about it, a little bit,” Socha commented, with Arteza-Acosta adding, “Life just goes on.”

Socha was on vacation in Australia when the email came. After hyperventilating, Socha recounted, he immediately reached out to Arteza-Acosta, who was at home. “I guess the moral of the story is don’t give up. Good things will happen if you wait long enough,” Arteza-Acosta said.

There were given two weeks – after nearly three years of waiting – to get to L.A. for the taping. They made it.

“Vanna is probably the sweetest human on earth,” said Socha. “She just made everybody feel like they were home. She was very warm.” Sajak, by contrast, was more businesslike and focused before the show but found time to crack a few jokes, Socha added.

During the taping, both Hatters were “so nervous,” each repeated.

So, how did they do? Lips were sealed with only a tease: “You’ll have to watch on Tuesday!” Socha offered.

-Michael Candelaria