STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Standing on stage in front of several thousand of people at Radio City Music Hall, John Rubino Jr. of Grant City didn’t look the least bit nervous. After nearly a 12-hour wait, it was finally Rubino’s time to shine in the spotlight.
The only people standing in his way, however, were Danene Sabol of Larchmont, N.Y., and Rasaun Gourdet of Brooklyn.
“Can I get a T?” Rubino asked. And sure enough, it’s there.
“Wheel of Fortune” came to the Big Apple in late September to celebrate its 25th anniversary. It taped over three days in Manhattan with five shows per day. Several current and former Staten Islanders got up close and personal with hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White as contestants on the show.
The three weeks worth of taping will begin airing tomorrow night at 7:30 on ABC. To find out how local residents did, you’ll have to tune in.
“It’s amazing. There are few shows that have ever lasted this long,” said “Wheel of Fortune” Executive Producer Harry Friedman, while taping Sept. 30 in Manhattan. He continued, “I think people have come to know we’re a welcome break from the news of the day.”
Friedman, who has been the executive producer of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” since 1999, added that New York audiences never hold back how they feel. “We like that,” he said.
Rubino will be appearing on Wheel’s “Heroes Week,” which will air from Nov. 19 to 23. The Grant City resident was picked out of thousands who tried out, and many tri-state area heroes — doctors, nurses, policemen, teachers and others — with brave stories to tell.
“I met some fantastic people who had fantastic stories and we’re all involved in heroic deeds,” said Rubino, a retired firefighter from Engine Co. 164 in Huguenot. “It was so great to be a part of that.”
Rubino’s story of courage happened in 2004, after he retired from the fire department. He was at the Great Kills Little League watching his son, Frank, play ball. All of a sudden, he heard people yelling and saw a house on fire. He ran over to see what he could do and a little girl told him her brother was trapped inside. He calmed her down, ran inside and found the toddler unconscious. Once outside, Rubino began performing CPR. The little boy survived.
According to Gary O’Brien, the show’s contestant executive, Rubino zest for life is equally seen as a contestant.
“John is very enthusiastic, a good player and has a great story,” he said.
O’Brien explained that when it came to choosing players for the game show, they were looking for people who were focused, had a good presence, carried themselves well and could solve puzzles under pressure.
“New Yorkers are really enthusiastic about the show,” he said. “A lot of them grew up watching it.”
Like Paul Miano of Woodbridge, N.J., a former Richmond resident who will also be playing during “Heroes Week.”
“When I was growing up, it was on every night at dinner time,” said Miano, a Fire Department paramedic based in EMS Station 23/Engine 168, Rossville.
Miano found out about the auditions from one of his lieutenants who was supposed to try out but couldn’t make it. He wasn’t sure if he had a shot, compared to some of the others’ stories. “I had no idea I was going to get picked,” he said.
But he was and soon his wife — an avid Wheel watcher — made him start practicing for the game on the Internet.
“I always said, ‘If I could get a chance, I would go on Wheel,'” said Chris Edwards of Sunnyside. “I’ve been a fan of the show for years.”
Edwards will be playing one night this coming week during “Best Friends Week,” along with his pal Cihan Kurt of Annadale. He said during his roughly 23 minutes of fame — not including commercials — the friends felt like rock stars.
During the day, the contestants were segregated from the outside world and hung out together in a room at Radio City. A camaraderie of sorts formed between them throughout the day, which began at around 7:30 a.m. and lasted about 12 hours.
“Everybody got along really nice,” Edwards said. “The whole experience was really nice, very professional and very friendly.”
Although not a huge Wheel watcher, Kurt decided to go along with his friend for the tryouts. While on the show, he said it was a bit different than one might think.
“After a while, they had us doing 10 things at once, you tune everything out — you’re focused on doing puzzles, spinning a wheel,” Kurt said. “When you’re sitting at home on your couch, you yell at these folks, ‘Come on, you can do better than that!’ It was a lot of hard work. I won’t make fun of game show contestants anymore.”
Tara Carroll of Great Kills and James Thompson of Westerleigh are two Islanders who played against each other on the same show. The two will be shown during “PEOPLE Celebrity Week,” a star-studded week sponsored by People Magazine airing from Nov. 12 to 16.
Thompson was paired with Steve Schirripa from “The Sopranos,” while Ms. Carroll was with Paula Deen from the Food Network. The third celebrity on their show was Sherri Shepherd from “The View.”
“Our personalities clicked,” Ms. Carroll said of her and Ms. Deen. “We laughed. What a sweetheart.”
She noted that the experience was surreal — looking in the audience and seeing 4,000 people staring back at her and being on one of her favorite shows.
“It was unbelievable to be on stage at Radio City Music Hall,” Ms. Carroll added. “It was crazy.”
Thompson has applied for the show several times and this was the first time he got something back. When Wheel called him and asked him about shows he watched — talk shows, soap operas, reality shows — he said no to all of them. When they asked about “The Sopranos,” it was a definite yes.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Thompson said. “Being on celebrity week and being with someone you know and follow made it cool.”Andrea Boyarsky is a features reporter for the Advance. She may be reached at [email protected]