June 25th, 2024

Pat Sajak says goodbye to ‘Wheel of Fortune’: ‘An incredible privilege.’ Seacrest pays tribute

By Kaitlyn Huamani, The Associated Press on June 8, 2024.

FILE - Pat Sajak, left, and Vanna White, from "Wheel of Fortune," attend a ceremony honoring Harry Friedman with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles on Nov. 1, 2019. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – After 41 years and over 8,000 episodes, Pat Sajak made his final turn as the renowned host of “Wheel of Fortune” on Friday.

The season 41 finale, dubbed the “Thanks for the memories” show, opened with a clip from Sajak’s first episode as the host of “Wheel of Fortune” in 1981 and closed with Sajak’s warm message of gratitude.

In his farewell message, Sajak thanked the viewers of the beloved game show for granting him the “incredible privilege to be invited into millions of homes, night after night, year after year, decade after decade.”

Sajak, 77, also gave a heartfelt thanks to his “professional other half,” Vanna White, who has co-hosted with him for over 40 years and delivered her emotional tribute to Sajak a day earlier.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes in each other’s lives over the years, but we’ve always been there for each other,” he said. “I will miss our nightly closes and her laughter and her good nature. She’s a very special woman.”

Among the many thanks and shoutouts Sajak offered during the final episode before his retirement, he said the crew and staff, some of whom have been working on the show as long as he has, were a “joy” to work with. “Your skills and dedication and good humor made this a place I always wanted to be,” he added.

Sajak thanked one staff member by name: his daughter Maggie. She began working as the show’s social correspondent in 2021 and he said their collaboration has been the “best part of the last couple of years.” Sajak also mentioned his son, Patrick, and his wife, Lesly, and said that he is “blessed” to have his family.

The famed host also said that the “real stars of the show” have been the contestants who competed for cash and luxury prizes throughout the decades of the show’s run. He called them “kind and considerate,” noting that they always “took great pride in talking about their family, their hometown, their friends, their schools, their jobs, even their pets.”

Reflecting on the show’s massive reach, Sajak noted that he always found it important to keep the daily half-hour show a “safe place for family fun,” excluding any social issues or political topics from the banter he shared with contestants and White. He said he wanted to keep the show “just a game,” before noting that to many, it became a part of their daily lives.

“Gradually, it became more than that,” Sajak continued. “A place where kids learned their letters, where people from other countries honed their English skills, where families came together along with friends and neighbors and entire generations. What an honor to have played even a small part in all that.”

Sajak’s closed out his message with a crack about how viewers could still see more of him through reruns of the show during its summer break. “The jokes will be the same, but I’d appreciate it if you’d laugh anyway,” he quipped before saying a final goodbye.

To make time for his closing message, Sajak truncated the game by cutting out a round. He said he wanted to ensure the competition was still fair for contestants Tammi, Adrienne and Nino, so Sajak spun the wheel himself and added to their totals. While he initially said he’d add $1,000 to the prize money the wheel landed on, he bumped the bonus up to $5,000 for each person after noting that it wasn’t his money he was allocating. “Little Jimmy’s surgery can wait,” he joked.

During her tribute on Thursday, White called Sajak “like a brother” and a “true lifelong friend.” In the pre-recorded video that featured clips and photos of their decades as co-workers, she added that their personal friendship has meant even more than their professional collaboration.

Sajak announced in June 2023 that he would retire from his hosting duties at the end of the show’s 41st season, with Ryan Seacrest set to succeed him. White will stay on as Seacrest’s co-host through the 2025-2026 season, based on a contract extension she signed in September.

Seacrest paid tribute to Sajak – and White – in an Instagram post on Saturday.

“Your dedication, charm, and wit have made the show a beloved part of American television for decades. Your partnership with Vanna has been nothing short of iconic, and together, you’ve created countless wonderful memories for viewers,” said Seacrest’s post, which included a photo and a video of him, Sajak and White at the game show’s familiar set. “You’ve set the standard for hosts everywhere, and this marks the end of an era.”

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