Derek Vinkes graduated from NVHS in 2002

  Editor’s Note: This Jan. 17 story by Craig Sailor of the Tacoma News-Tribune is printed by permission. Derek Vinkes is a 2002 graduate of Nooksack Valley High School. 

   A Tacoma man who grew up watching “Wheel of Fortune” will appear on the show Friday [Jan. 17] as a contestant.

  Derek Vinkes, 35, is a special-education teacher at Curtis High School, where he’s also an assistant girls bowling team coach.

  Vinkes has lived in Tacoma for 11 years. He grew up in Whatcom County where he watched “Wheel” with his grandmother. Now the mega-fan watches with his partner, Whitney.

  The show was taped Dec. 6, but Vinkes’ run with the show began in July when he answered a casting call when the “Wheel of Fortune” Wheel Mobile visited the Emerald Queen Casino. In October he was called to a final interview in Seattle.

  Seeing hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White on TV for decades and then suddenly talking to them in person was “surreal,” Vinkes said.

  “Vanna comes in and greets all the contestants as we get there in the morning without her makeup and says hello and wishes us good luck,” he said. “When Pat comes strolling up with the entry music, it’s like wow.”

  Vinkes figures his years of watching the show and his natural enthusiasm helped get him the spot.

  “They are definitely looking for enthusiasm,” Vinkes said of the auditions. “People who can play the game and follow the rules.

  “They want you to show your personality a bit … being excited when you land on a $5,000 wheel space,” Vinkes said.

  Vinkes, like other contestants on the show, can’t reveal how he did until after it airs Friday night on KOMO at 7 p.m.

  Those who watched the show know that Derek won $11,450, second behind Trish, who won $15,490 but not the bonus round.