Once the new Wheel of Fortune episodes hit the airwaves this fall, fans may notice that the show is missing something during the popular “Teacher’s Week” episodes – Vanna White.
White and host Pat Sajak have worked together on the game show since its syndication debut in 1983, accounting for nearly 8,000 episodes over the span of 40 years. And while both of them rarely miss a taping, it was reported by USA Today and others that — White was recently forced to miss a day of filming due to illness, which in the game show world is equivalent to a week’s worth of shows. In this case, it was the annual series of episodes featuring teachers from across the country competing for big prizes.
Of course rescheduling when you’re filming with teachers can be hard, for obvious reasons, but the show had to go on. And who better to step in for White during Teachers Week than an actual teacher? So Bridgette Donald-Blue, who was recently named a 2023 California Teacher of the Year, went from teaching letters to turning them in White’s one-day absence. Subsequent tapings were rescheduled until White could return. Puck News reported that the hosting switch-up didn't sit well with Sajak, whose preferred White replacement is his daughter, Maggie, and he declined to tape the show's usual send-off segment with Donald-Blue alone.
But the unscheduled absence did come at an interesting time considering White’s ongoing contract negotiations, which have become highly publicized since Sajak announced in June that the show’s upcoming 41st season will be his last. Ryan Seacrest was selected as Sajak’s replacement, while the show itself was renewed for five more years through the 2027-2028 season.
White, meanwhile, has reportedly negotiated a deal to continue working on the primetime Celebrity Wheel of Fortune, but is still working to secure a new long-term deal for the regular syndicated version of the show, for which she is under contract for another year. Those negotiations have been paused due to the writers strike, while production of Wheel of Fortune, however, has not be halted due to the strike.
But it's been reported that the two sides — White and Sony — are far apart. That could be due to the fact that, according to reports, White has made remarkably less than Sajak for a long time — roughly $3 million compared to his $15 million — and she hasn’t received a raise in 18 years. Which is why she hired a notoriously aggressive lawyer, Bryan Freedman, to do her negotiations. TMZ reported that she was looking for half of what Sajak makes for Celebrity Wheel of Fortune but “settled for $100k an episode," while Sajak apparently makes more than $400k per episode.
And in the wake of White’s recent illness, which Puck News reported to be COVID-19, it’s been perceived by some that swiftly and easily replacing White for a week’s worth of shows was the network’s way of sending a message to White’s lawyers.
Making things even more complicated is the fact that many thought — and hoped— that White would be the one stepping into hosting duties when Sajak left, given her enduring popularity not only with fans of the show, but in pop culture in general.
So that’s why it’s not surprising that TMZ reported a source close to White as saying, “It's gonna get ugly if they [Sony] don't get more serious.”