Melissa Joan Hart is magical first $1 million winner on 'Celebrity Wheel of Fortune'
"Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" star Melissa Joan Hart knew something magical had happened during her appearance on ABC's "Celebrity Wheel of Fortune" by the wild-eyed look on the show's famed longtime hostess.
"Vanna White's face turned white," says Hart. "Vanna looked at me and was like, 'You got it! You got it!' I hit the roof. She hit the roof."
Cue the confetti. As Sunday's episode revealed, Hart, 45, was the first "Celebrity Wheel of Fortune" $1 million winner (for charity)when squaring off against Tituss Burgess and Lacey Chabert.
"It was super exciting and pretty nerve-wracking; I rarely win game shows," says Hart, who lost an epic 1998 "Celebrity Jeopardy" match to Fred Savage.
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The "Celebrity" win puts Hart in rarefied company. There have only been three "Million Dollar Wedge" winners on the syndicated "Wheel of Fortune" since its introduction in 2008.
Was it a coincidence the triumph came as Hart was celebrating the 25th anniversary of her 1996 breakout appearance on ABC's "Sabrina"?
"I would like to say witchcraft was involved," says Hart. "But to be honest, I prayed a lot more than any kind of sorcery. I literally prayed every round, especially that winning round. I'd close my eyes and say, 'God, give me focus and calm and let me just read these letters.' "
Divine intervention was needed to aid her puzzle-solving skills. Hart had to spin the wheel, land on Million Dollar Wedges twice and solve both puzzles, all while facing savvy competitors like long-time friend Chabert, who had solved the show's first puzzle without any clues.
"Lacey is a 'Wheel of Fortune' shark," says Hart. "In the first round, she was killing it. I just couldn't see the words as fast as she could."
But hardcore fan Hart – "my mom used to watch the show every night before dinner" – had sharpened her skills playing the "Wheel of Fortune" app for weeks while putting youngest son Tucker 9, to bed each night. "I wasn't going to go in there blind; I'm a prepared person," she says.
This homework was key to solving the winning bonus round puzzle: "Bran Muffin." Hart screamed and held her shaking hands to her head when host Pat Sajak confirmed the win.
Hart, who was paid a nominal fee to appear on the game show, took in a total of $1.039,800 for Youth Villages, a charity that helps emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families.
The thrilled Hart asked show producers if she could take the $1 million winner card as a souvenir. "They had to ask the prop people, 'Can we make more of these?' " says Hart. "So not only did I win the million, I stole the million-dollar card."
The gifted card, signed by Sajak and White, hangs in Hart's Nashville, Tennessee, home office along with her show nametag and a sprinkling of winning confetti. Now that the episode has aired, Hart can finally show off the room's new additions and revel publicly in her victory.
She even had to keep the win secret from the Youth Villages charity, whose organizers will be excitedly accepting the proceeds.
"I didn't leak it," says Hart. "I was like, 'Guys, you'll have to watch me on 'Wheel of Fortune.' It's going to be epic.'"