Back in 2004, Jeopardy! gave us Ken Jennings, and last Friday, a new master game show contestant made himself known. His name is Robert Santoli, and his impressive sweep on Wheel of Fortune had viewers and host Pat Sajak himself awestruck.
Santoli’s unbelievable prowess at the word game was apparent from the very beginning of the episode. The 23-year-old immediately solved the first puzzle. With nothing more than a “D” on the board and the category “Places,” he correctly guessed “Port & Starboard.” Santoli continued his streak of solving long puzzles with only a few letters, guessing “Oh What a Night” with only three letters, and “Don’t Let the Cat Out of the Bag” with only “T”s, “H”s, and “E”s on the board.
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Before coming on the show, Santoli diligently studied past Wheel of Fortune puzzles, paying particular attention to nautical phrases since the theme of that week’s show was sailing, he revealed in an interview with local news site TapInto.net. That’s how he was able to guess “Port & Starboard” right off the bat, he says.
“I spent the days before our trip compiling a list of possible puzzles and key words themed toward sailing, cruising, water, and even fishing,” Santoli said. “The show does sometimes repeat puzzles, especially themed ones. ‘Port & Starboard’ had been used at least twice before my show, both times as a Toss-Up puzzle.”
At the end of the evening, Santoli took home a total of $76,000 in cash and prizes, which is considerably shy of the $147,000 record for non-special, million-dollar episode winnings.