Hilderbrand, a third-year student at Chicago-Kent College of Law, won $42,500 and a trip to Bali, Indonesia, in October on the game show. The puzzles she guessed correctly? Red squirrel, rafting through the Grand Canyon, and ghost town.
“I actually have no idea what a red squirrel is because we have grey squirrels in Chicago,” she says. “I don’t know how I got that answer right.”
To prepare for the show Hilderbrand looked at word games and looked up word combinations. “For example, if c-h comes up it could be chicken or chocolate,” she explains. “It wasn’t like studying for hours, but anything that would help me I wanted to have in my database.”
The 24-year-old Hilderbrand began watching Wheel of Fortune when she was four years old. One of her first lessons about life came while watching the show with her grandmother. Then, Hilderbrand thought that each contestant kept what they won during each round, but her grandmother taught her differently.
“I remember saying to my grandma, ‘well, that’s not fair, grandma’ and her saying to me ‘well, life’s not fair, Jack.’ That was my first life lesson,” Hilderbrand recalls with a laugh.
While in law school and living at home, Hilderbrand watched Wheel of Fortune every evening with her mother and a friend as a way to unwind from the day. Having watched the game from a young age, Hilderbrand was so good at it that her mother encouraged her to apply to be a contestant.
“I really didn’t think much of it,” she said of the online application she filled out at her mother’s urging in 2008. About a year and a half later, Wheel of Fortune invited her to attend an invitation-only audition in Chicago.
“After you apply, you get put into a bank and I was just lucky enough to have my application pulled,” says Hilderbrand, who performed well enough at the audition to be chosen for the show, which taped in October 2010 and aired a month later in November.
Wheel of Fortune taped six 30-minute shows that day. Hilderbrand played the first game of the day and had to draw for her position. “I was in the blue spot,” she says.
Her parents, a friend, and an aunt accompanied her to the show. “In the audience they have TVs. I asked my dad if I was shaking,” says Hilderbrand, who was so nervous that her feet were numb. “I missed a puzzle and I attributed that to nerves. But nerves are a part of the game. I wouldn’t have asked for anything to turn out differently.”
There is a delay of about four months in receiving your winnings, so by the time the check arrived in the mail in March, Hilderbrand had thought out how she was going to spend her windfall. She bought a new computer and started a college fund for her nephew. The rest of the money will help ease some of the burden of her law school loans. The trip she’ll take to Bali with her boyfriend immediately after the bar exam this summer will help ease that pain, too.
See Hilderbrand on Wheel of Fortune.
More video of Hilderbrand on Wheel of Fortune.
Jaclyn After Class
Favorite fictional lawyer: Jackie Chiles (Seinfeld)
Aha moment: As a teenager, I realized I could argue as my career AND get paid for it.
Words you live by: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” —Mahatma Gandhi
On your Bucket List: Swim with sharks off the coast of Australia
Most recent technology purchase: 2011 Macbook Pro
Wheel of Fortune and Practicing Law
Hilderbrand believes the skills she used on Wheel of Fortune will go a long way in her future law practice. “In any type of law you want to go into, you are always on. You always have to think on your feet,” she says. “[Similarly] there is not one minute if you want to win the game where you don’t have to think about your strategies.”