The Shady Side Of Pat Sajak

Before Pat Sajak became the decades-long host of "Wheel of Fortune," he was a local weatherman in Los Angeles. He told the Archive of American Television that one night, as a joke, he claimed to have nicked himself while shaving and wore a Band-Aid on his face, which he moved around between each cutaway. This apparently caught the eye of legendary game show host and producer Merv Griffin, who offered Sajak the job of host on "Wheel." When he first got involved, Sajak had never seen the show! "I remember my first thought was, 'There's nothing for me to do!'" he said. He wasn't sure he was the right person for the gig, but Griffin insisted he give it a shot, and the rest is television history.

To liven things up, displaying the same personality that got Griffin's attention, Sajak has become known for his sarcasm and dry sense of humor. This occasionally lands him in trouble with viewers, who are surprised when the usually-affable host turns on the contestants. His relationship with co-host Vanna White, too, has become fodder for criticism, though White insisted to Closer Weekly that they have never argued. "We are like brother and sister, and I think that is what makes it work," she said. Ah yes, siblings: famous for never fighting! Fans also bristle at Sajak's offscreen personality; he seems to enjoy courting backlash to what Vice once called his "Crazy Right-Wing Tweets." This, then, is the shady side of Pat Sajak.

A throwback clip caused controversy

In the early days of "Wheel of Fortune," longtime co-host Vanna White's job was to flip letters over, physically turning them around on the board when contestants guessed them correctly. However, in 1997, the show moved into the future and replaced the physical board with the row of televisions they still use today. Rather than making White obsolete, however, her job title merely changed; as the show itself wrote on Twitter, White "went from letter-turner to letter-toucher."

Celebrating a look back at the moment the show took its leap forward, "Wheel" shared a clip on Instagram showing Pat Sajak explaining the change to viewers as well as the presentation of the modernized letterboard. He noted that the video screens were heat-sensitive, meaning they required a touch from White in order to switch their display. He added, "If anyone can heat up a board, you can." White merely laughed politely and said, "Well, thank you."

Fans were surprised the show would share a moment that didn't make Sajak look particularly great. One commented on Instagram, "He thinks he's a Comedian, but he's really an INSULTIST," while another added, "It's called respect and he has no respect for Vanna or contestants. THAT'S what's wrong with this world."

He asked Vanna White an inappropriate question

2022 was a rough year for Pat Sajak's public image. In early April, he tweeted that perhaps yet another controversy was on the horizon, foreshadowing, "You know, it's been over a week since I've stormed off the show, displayed erratic behavior, cheated someone out of their winnings, or insulted a player. I'm due."

Sure enough, an episode that aired the following week brought even more backlash against the game show host. Traditionally, Sajak and his co-star Vanna White close out each "Wheel of Fortune" episode with a bit of pre-credits joking, but sometimes Sajak takes it too far. In the April 13 episode, an opera singer won that day's installment of the game, leading Sajak down an uncomfortable line of questioning. First, he asked White if she was an opera buff. "I'm not a buff, but I like opera," she replied. Then, he struck. "Have you ever watched opera in the buff?" he asked.

Viewers were unhappy with the episode's inappropriately invasive turn. "When did this game show turn into Wheel of Fortune After Dark?" one fan tweeted, while others were more forceful in their condemnation of Sajak. "Dude is trying to keep the thrill alive for this job any way he can. I'm amazed he hasn't resorted to torturing contestants during the show," reasoned one viewer.

He doesn't believe in climate change

The scientific consensus is clear: climate change is real. NASA, for example, puts their conclusion this way: "This is based on the weight of over a century of scientific evidence forming the structural backbone of the science and technology underpinning much of our civilization today." Its effects are already being felt around the world; the United Nations notes that humanity is already experiencing more and more extreme weather, such as hurricanes, wildfires, and drought.

Pat Sajak, though, disagrees. In a since-deleted tweet in 2014, the game show host wrote, "I now believe global warming alarmists are unpatriotic racists knowingly misleading for their own ends. Good night." It's unclear what, exactly, belief in the scientific consensus around climate change has to do with being racist, but Sajak seemed concerned that the government was spending too much money to fix the problem. "Help ... climate changing ... must send money to lots of places ... a lot of money ... hurry ... time is short ... not kidding ..." he had written several days earlier.

His tweets sparked thinkpieces around the internet, including in The Washington Post, and fans on Twitter didn't let it go either. "help, I'm a game show host and I think I'm a scientist," one wrote, while another pointed out some hypocrisy in Sajak of all people being concerned with how money is spent. "Says the guy who charges people for vowels," they joked.

He insulted a contestant's intro story

It's a time-honored tradition of game shows like "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" to have contestants tell a quirky story about themselves on their episode. It's a cute way for the audience to get a glimpse into their personalities, considering they spend the majority of the episode merely answering questions or offering guesses, and it gives game show hosts a chance to riff with the contestants to make the audience laugh.

Pat Sajak, though, seemed somewhat bored of this aspect of his job while filming an episode early in 2022. A contestant named Scott chose as his anecdote a childhood memory of injuring his toe while riding a bike in flip flops. "Why are you telling this?" Sajak interrupted at the beginning; Scott clarified that he wanted to give a shout-out to the two paramedics who helped him. After the contestant finished telling his terrible tale of toe woe, Sajak looked into the camera, seemingly stunned. "That ... that may have been the most pointless story ever told," Sajak marveled.

Fans on social media were quick to point out that Sajak looked increasingly frustrated with his longtime "Wheel of Fortune" hosting gig. "With these more frequent outbursts, it seems obvious that Sajak hates his job," one fan tweeted, attaching a gif of Dwight Schrute from "The Office." Another fan suggested Sajak should say sorry to Scott. "Pat owes the big guy an apology; he was just rude," they wrote. An apology did not seem to be forthcoming.

He came out as straight

In a lot of ways, 2014 was an important year for queer representation. Neon Trees frontman Tyler Glenn came out (per Rolling Stone); so did football player Michael Sam (via OutSports). This was also the year that Elliot Page gave his much-memed "I am here today because I am gay" speech at a Human Rights Campaign event, coming out on Valentine's Day. Later that year, in an interview with Rolling Stone, pop star Sam Smith would reveal that their album was about a man, while Apple CEO Tim Cook would have to come out publicly after being outed on television (per Gawker).

Pat Sajak jumped into the fray that spring. In a since-deleted tweet, he announced his straightness to the world, writing (via The Huffington Post), "Damn the career consequences! I'm hereby proclaiming my heterosexuality!" As Queerty noted, LGBTQ+ public figures come out at great risk to their personal and professional lives, possibly finding themselves rejected by their peers and fans in a world that still doesn't always accept them. Sajak seemed to be playing into the notion that there should be "straight pride," too, which outlets such as USA Today have noted has a problematic history.

Several months after his tweet, Deadspin reported, Sajak asked a contestant on "Wheel of Fortune" about the "woman" who had agreed to marry him. Only issue: the contestant was gay and was engaged to a man. If only Sajak better understood the significance of coming out!

He shaded politics at the Oscars

The 2018 edition of the Academy Awards was the first Oscars ceremony that took place in the early months of the #MeToo movement, and the iconic golden statues were handed out as Hollywood was still reeling from a series of shocking revelations of sexual abuse committed by powerful members of the industry. Host Jimmy Kimmel made reference to it in his opening monologue, joking, "If we can work together to stop sexual harassment in the workplace ... women will only have to deal with harassment all the time at every other place they go." Frances McDormand famously called for an "inclusion writer" in her acceptance speech for Best Actress, and the show even aired a montage of powerful women, introduced by actors like Annabella Sciorra who had accused Harvey Weinstein of abuse (per Vox).

Later that year, for the upcoming 2019 ceremony, planned host Kevin Hart stepped down from the awards show after fans pointed out the comedian's history of homophobic tweets. "I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past," he wrote on Twitter.

Apparently, Pat Sajak wasn't a fan of Hollywood addressing its own complicity in sexual abuse against women, or of the show reckoning with its host's history of homophobia. He tweeted that the show should be two nights long — awards would be given out first, and then, "On the second night, hold your political rally." Needless to say, the Academy did not take his suggestion.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN.org for additional resources.

He mocked a contestant's lisp

All sorts of people play "Wheel of Fortune;" there's a reason why they call it "America's Game!" Unfortunately, Pat Sajak sometimes fails to recognize the diversity among his contestants, and that got him into hot water in early 2021. In a clip from a February episode shared to Twitter, a contestant named Chris can be seen bantering with the host during his introductory anecdote, talking about the technology he sells. As Yahoo! noted, the man appeared to have a lisp. After Chris finished telling his story, Sajak paused and said, "I thee."

"Wheel" viewers were not happy with the mockery, and they hopped on Twitter to express their disappointment. Some of the comments referenced a pattern in Sajak's behavior on the show, such as one who noted simply, "Pat is getting out of hand these days." Others were more forceful in their condemnation; one "Wheel" fan even called for Sajak to be step down from hosting. "Thanks for making fun of people with a lisp on tonight's show you arrogant overpaid jerk — Pat Sajak. Quit now. Maybe if you grew up with a speech impediment you'd understand," they wrote.

All sorts of people watch "Wheel of Fortune," too, and there was predictably a backlash to the backlash. "Is 'Cancel Culture' getting out of control?" asked Hot 97 of the incident, and a fan tweeted to those offended by the joke: "Everyone grow the F up." We can guess what vowel we'd need to buy to complete that word ...

He used to host after drinking

Pat Sajak has been hosting "Wheel of Fortune" for a very long time; his first episode came all the way back in 1981. To put that in perspective, as he noted on Twitter while marking his 40th anniversary as host, that was the first year of Ronald Reagan's presidency, and popular series "The Dukes of Hazzard" was still on TV. It was a different world back then, and Sajak has had to keep things interesting over the years in order to stop himself from getting too bored of the job.

Along those lines, he revealed on ESPN's "Highly Questionable" back in 2012 that he used to engage in some highly questionable behavior himself. In an admission that likely had his network bosses pretty unhappy, Sajak recalled that his breaks between episodes used to be much longer than they are today. He and co-presenter Vanna White would go across the street to a Mexican restaurant that served margaritas. "Van and I would ... have two or three or six, and then come and do the last shows and have trouble recognizing the alphabet," he said.

"I have no idea if the shows were any good," he joked, but he insisted, "No one said anything." Nowadays, surely the droves of fans who watch "Wheel of Fortune" each night and live-tweet their experiences would definitely have something to say about this questionable behavior.