MARIETTA • A Marietta Elementary School teacher has won more than $68,000 in cash and prizes on "Wheel of Fortune."
Ashlee Martin, 37, was a featured contestant on an episode of the long-running game show, which aired Monday night. The episode was taped in August .
Martin is a lifelong fan of the show. She fondly remembers "'Wheel' watching" alongside her father, John Caviness, growing up.
"I've always tried to beat him," Martin said. "I've never solved a puzzle quicker than him."
Martin joined the staff at Marietta Elementary this year as a gifted teacher and reading tutor. She previously spent 15 years as a librarian and reading specialist at Anderson Elementary School in Booneville.
As a teacher, Martin's biggest obstacle is often motivating struggling readers. Turning reading into a game can help, she said, and she has previously used a classroom "Wheel of Fortune" game to help her students learn vowels and consonants.
She included this as part of her audition tape to the game show, which she submitted in December 2021.
"I'm trying to convince a bunch of little kids that reading is cool, and I need your help," Martin said in the tape.
In March, she found out that she'd been selected as a contestant. Toward the end of July, she was told her episode would be taped on Aug. 11.
Martin traveled to Culver City, California, for the taping. The show just entered its 40th season, and Martin's episode was the first time a studio audience was allowed back into the studio since the COVID-19 pandemic began, so she was allowed to bring her husband and two friends along.
And of course, she met Vanna White and host Pat Sajak.
"It was surreal, honestly," Martin said. "Several of the people that were on were nervous, but I don't really get nervous. I try to soak in the moment. I just thought about my students here."
Martin and Sajak even gave a shoutout to a special student, Holden Taylor, a seventh grader at the school who shares a passion for "Wheel of Fortune."
She doesn't teach Holden but knew she had to meet him when she heard about his love for the game. Now, they talk about the show often.
Holden watches the game every night with his grandparents and gave Martin some pointers beforehand, suggesting she call the letters R, S, T, L, N and E.
"We practiced," Martin said. "And he helped me not be nervous. Because I thought, 'If I can just mention Holden on here, that's my main goal.'"
Winning was secondary, but win she did.
Martin walked away with an 8-day trip for two to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, along with about $60,000 in cash, for a total of $68,775 in prizes.
Not that she could tell anyone. The results of the episode were under embargo until Monday night's airing.
Martin said keeping the results under wraps in the month following filming was a far greater challenge than competing on the show.
"Everywhere I go, everybody's like 'Did you win?'" Martin said.
Now that the news is out, the next question will surely be, "What do you plan to do with the money?"
She started a business called heARTbeat in 2019 to provide opportunities for children in Northeast Mississippi to experience the arts through classes. It also includes a retail store largely featuring products created locally. After leasing a space for three years, she took out a loan earlier this year to purchase and renovate a building in downtown Booneville, where heARTbeat is now located.
Martin intends to pay off the loan with the newly-won cash.
All 275 students at Marietta Elementary will watch the show between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. in their classrooms on Tuesday morning, after which Martin has hired a snow cone truck to come to the school and provide treats for all students, faculty and staff to celebrate.
Of course, Martin intends to be a "'Wheel' watcher" for as long as the game show remains on the air. The show has always had a multigenerational appeal, Martin said, and she now watches it with her daughter.
"What it was to me and my dad, it still is to me and my daughter," Martin said. "Even over the span of 40 years, it's as exciting for her and I to watch as it was for me and him."