Confessions of a Smart Arse – My Brilliant (Game Show) Career: Episode 2 – Wheel of (Mis)Fortune – It’s A Shame About Rae

Late in 1983, as the disappointment of my previous TV appearance was slowly receding, I was ready to give it another crack.

Rather than aiming for the deep end of the game show pool, Sale of The Century, I went for the toddler’s pool option of Wheel of Fortune.

The first part of the process required the filling out of time-honoured stamped, self-addressed envelope and waiting for a response. I was duly summoned to the studios for the audition, along with dozens of other hopefuls.

When asked by the production staff why I wanted to appear, I could only come up with a rather lame ‘I want to prove to the world that accountants aren’t boring’, channeling my best Arthur Pewtey. I filled out the questionnaire, caught the 504 bus home and waited.

The next few months were uneventful, apart from my marriage at the tender age of 23 to Mrs Swish, and a broken nose suffered in a Blacks internal trial game that put a comma, but not a full stop to my Saturday afternoons of wearing number 69 (one of the few jumpers not bearing triple digits in the lower echelons at Park 9).

When the magical envelope arrived in April 1984 at (Video) Village Court, Para Hills, the TV world had just been rocked by the news that the Wheel of Fortune team sheet showed

In – Burgess, Baby J (Perth)
Out – Sigley, E (dental work, indefinite)

Xenides, A had kept her place in the side, as she was still at the peak of her letter rotating game.

Taping was held on a Friday night, commencing around 6-ish. My support team was Mrs Swish and her sister. I took along my best short sleeved powder blue shirt, accessorised with a natty navy woven skinny tie. I’m not sure if my footwear included my faithful bone Ciaks, but the hair and makeup ladies decided that a little bit of Schwarzkopf was needed for my Schwerdtkopf, keeping my almost an Afro in check.

Then the bad news came. I was slated for the final show of the five to be recorded for the night. This meant of course, sitting through four of the most tedious hours of my life. The first episode was won easily by the returning champion, an irritating, falsely modest lady with her mother’s hairstyle and dress sense, whose name was Rae.

Rae won the second show, the third show and the fourth show as well, each time annoying the studio audience further with her ‘golly gosh I’m lucky’ demeanour. They were holding out for a hero, and I was going to be the one to deliver.

As I strode down to the studio floor, I winked knowingly at a young American exchange student in the audience, the name ‘Evan D’ scrawled in texta on his sticky label name tag.

On the application form, I had mentioned that I played footy, which was true at the time, but no longer true in May 1984. So when Burgo introduced me as an amateur footballer, I could hardly contradict him but I felt a bit of a fraud. In fact, I still felt like a fraud when I resumed playing the following year. What I lacked in courage, I made up for in fear. In fact, I led the league in “shirks” three years running.

Contestant 1 was Dora, a fashion designer and prototype Effie. I was in the death seat, Rae in the box seat.

The first round commenced with eight illuminated tiles representing a recent film title. Dora went first, her hopeful ‘Z for zylophone’ went surprisingly unrewarded and I was up. A successful spin was followed by a nod to my ‘G for goat’ and the first letter spun around. In rapid succession my ‘S for Sam, R for rhododendron, L for leather, N for neanderthal’ had racked up the points quicker than Hurricane Higgins on dexys.

But, not for the last time, I grinned myself to death, as my next greedy spin clack-clack-clacked onto ‘Miss A Turn’ and I chucked on a pantomime grimace to go with the “wah-wah-wah” sound effect.

The goal-hanging Rae then fluttered her $1.75 from Venture false-eyelashes, spun up $60 and with nowhere else to go, chose ‘M for Mogwai’, solved the puzzle, winning the round and the right to choose something she could afford from the vast array of prizes, probably a shampoo and set voucher from Feres Trabilsie.

Round two and I was first. Two words of ten and five letters respectively, the clue, ‘an optical instrument’. I nearly peed myself with excitement as my years of crossword solving told me that I was looking at ‘MAGNIFYING GLASS’.

This was confirmed when Adriana was forced to bend down low and reveal the last two letters of the second row. My support crew could be heard yelling pre-Lleyton come-ons, and in a possibly marriage stifling move, I went with ‘M for Mary’, using Mrs Swish’s initial but not her name (how quickly I had forgotten).

No sooner had the M been revealed than my mind turned to the picture of a trip to the Shaky Isles that was posted in the makeup room to remind us of what we were playing for. Mindful of my premature end to the previous round and my paucity of overseas travel experience, I asked Burgo whether I could solve it then and there.

With the opportunity to compile even more points evident, he gave me a startled look that said both ‘don’t be an f-wit’ and ‘we need fourteen more minutes of airtime’, but I quickly spat out the answer, won the round and chose what turned out to be a weekend trip across the Tasman.

I was home and also away to New Zealand.

Round three, two words, six letters and seven letters, the name of a person. Instantly my mind churned through combinations of given name and surname that matched that template.

Rae went first, jagged a correct ‘N’ but followed up with an errant ‘T’. Dora explored her extensive vocabulary, tried ‘K for Kwantas’, a good player out of luck.

While this was unfolding, I felt a mild sense of panic as I still couldn’t come up with the answer, so my speculative ‘D for donuts’ yielded just that.

Back to Rae, who, full credit to the girl, took it one letter at a time. ‘P’, ‘L’ (there were two of them), ‘R’, ‘M’ and ‘W’. But the scoreboard still had me in front by a comfortable $490. Despite no one in the audience exhorting ‘top dollar’ for her, the final spin brought up $500, followed by a ‘C for comeuppance’. The Cloke of collective groans from those in the bleachers meant that I was again Pipposed in the same studio as 1975’s ill fated appearance on It’s Academic.

PRINCE WILLIAM, not a surname in sight.

(The same Prince William is visiting my old home town of Elizabeth next week – cue Rod Serling soundtrack)

My dreams of a weekend in Cooktown or Dunedin or Aotearoa (two days in a leaky boat?) were shattered like a Violet Crumble in Clive Palmer’s back pocket.

Returning to my cheer squad, young Evan D consoled me with a ‘bad luck, Mike’.

He’s never been too good with names.

About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right


  1. Can I buy an E please John?

    Try the veal, tip your waitress… I’m here all day

  2. Swish- brilliant! Ciaks! There’s a shoe for you! They must be due for a comeback. I remember the skinny leather ties of this era too. I recollect thinking that they were so cool that I could not imagine any point in my life when I would not wear one.
    My favourite Wheel of Fortune moment is when the board read

    P_Y P_CKET

    And the contestant said, “Pay Pocket.”

  3. craig dodson says

    I feel your pain.. I was on Millionaire late last year. Was up last in the list of 6 shows taped for the day. My Question:
    Which Roman Emperor fiddled while Rome Burned? My blank stare was not accepted as a correct answer. Answer: Nero. 2 minutes and my quiz career went up in flames as well

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic Swish now the most pressing question how in the he’ll did you get a broken nose in a blacks internal ? ! Folks Swish is being v modest re his ability as a player
    ( dominated against the tarnished spooners 1 day when doubling up , playing 2 games on the same day ) Enjoyed your wheel of fortune story , from all angles re having to sit thru the other episodes to your eventful own show thanks , Swish

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Steve – I’m sorted for E’s (and wizz)

    Mickey – didn’t I see you on the cover of Parallel Lines ?

    Craig – stay tuned

    ‘Book – it was an attempted smother on one of the Stokes brothers. Burger’s first question was who my ENT specialist was, as if our family kept one on retainer.

  6. I always reckoned that the wheel was rigged!!!!

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Aotearoa, rugged individual
    Glisten like a pearl
    At the bottom of the world

    Great read Swish, laughed out loud often reading this.

  8. Anyone been on It’s Academic?

  9. Hi Swish

    L. I K. E

    A great read thanks

  10. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says
  11. It’s a shame Rae was good at names (perhaps she didn’t remember faces)…

  12. Rabid Dog says

    Sniggered the whole way through the article. Ciaks! Loved the N for Neanderthal – did Baby J get the joke? And I recall the almost afro…

  13. Chris Rees says

    I am working my way through these today, hence the 4-years-later comments. Wah-wah-wah.

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