Bodnar Can Buy ALL the Vowels Thanks to Big Win on 'Wheel of Fortune'

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30-year-old Robert Matthew Bodnar, known to most as Rob, grew up in Clifton and lived here until just two years ago when he moved to Florida with his boyfriend Steven. In October, Rob had the experience of a lifetime as a contestant on the popular game show Wheel of Fortune, where his puzzle-solving skills made him a big winner.

Bodnar was raised by his two game-loving parents and his younger brother, Matt. He attended School 2, Woodrow Wilson Middle School, and Clifton High School and is a proud member of the CHS Class of 2012. “I had the absolute best experience with the Clifton Public School system,” he said, adding that he was “always a Mustang!”

Rob and his parents at his game day watch party.

A lover of song and member of the WWMS chorus, Bodnar explained that he was not very active in extracurricular activities while at CHS because he was putting in as many hours as he could at his job at Stop and Shop. Many in Clifton know him from this place, where Bodnar served his community with a smile for more than 11 years. He worked at the store all through high school, college (Montclair State University, class of 2017), and beyond. The former employee spoke with great warmth about his years at the local supermarket, saying, "I was able to create really good bonds with people…I’m a people person. I like to make people feel valued.”

Bodnar loves theme parks and has been known to travel around the country, chasing the newest and biggest coasters. He’s also a big fan of musicals and said, “In another world, I’d be on Broadway!” This New Year’s Eve, Bodnar will be checking a theme park first off his list at Disneyland Paris as he heads to the City of Light for the holiday.

The exuberant Bodnar has “been a fan of Wheel of Fortune for as long as I’ve known how to spell.” He grew up watching game shows with his grandma and always wanted to be a contestant, even playing the game on his computer, the Wii, and Nintendo Switch. His first shot as a real-life game show contestant came about ten years ago when he landed a spot on Family Feud. That show didn’t result in a win but the experience had him chasing the next opportunity. When Bodnar saw advertisements for the Disney Secret Santa Week on Wheel of Fortune, he knew that his love of Disney and the holidays made him a perfect fit.

Image/Carol Kaelson/Wheel of Fortune®/© 2023 Califon Productions, Inc. ARR.

The process to get on the show was a long one, starting in January of 2023 with an initial audition video. The next step was a Zoom audition with other potential contestants, where Bodnar’s puzzle-solving skills were tested. The producers look for contestants who are genuine, dynamic, and have bright personalities…as well as an ability to play the game. Bodnar had a six-month wait before he found out that he’d be appearing on a mid-October show. Only 600 contestants are chosen to play each year, from a pool of over one million applications, making this a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Bodnar had nothing but praise for the game-day logistics. They tape a whole week of shows at once, so it’s a long day with plenty of waiting around…and plenty of time to get to know some of the other contestants. “We’ve all been in touch daily since then,” Bodnar said of the friends he made in the studio. Heather Matthews, who played against him, has become a very close friend and the two have plans to go back to Los Angeles together for a special milestone show.

The studio is much smaller than it appears on screen, he said, and the wheel is really heavy. Pieces of the stage adjust up and down, allowing each contestant to be positioned at the right height for spinning the giant, colorful wheel. Vanna White and Pay Sajak, who have hosted the nighttime show since 1983, were wonderful, Bodnar reported. “Vanna is incredible,” he said, calling her the cheerleader of the group. She went out of her way to get the contestants excited and put everyone at ease.

Bodnar called Sajak “wonderful and witty” and said that off-camera, Sajak shared that he loves having competitive contestants and was surprised by some of the solves during the gameplay. Sajak is retiring at the end of the season and is being replaced by Ryan Seacrest. “I got the true, full package,” Bodnar said of his appearance with the iconic White and Sajak.

So, how did Bodnar’s big game work out for him? At the end of a whirlwind 25 minutes, winning the bonus round turned out to be “A Walk in the Park” for the Clifton native, who solved the final puzzle just a breath after Sajak wished him good luck. Bodnar came away from the game with a thrilling seven-night Disney cruise and $62,000 in cash for total winnings of $75,860 in cash and prizes. You can watch his final triumph HERE.

Bodnar said that he plans to put some of his winnings aside to pay for a future wedding and a dream trip to Australia with boyfriend Steve, who has always wanted to visit the Land Down Under. Steve is a critical care nurse practitioner and will be starting a doctorate program in nursing in January. “He’s so passionate about it,” Bodnar said admiringly.

Aside from the terrific prizes, one of Bodnar’s favorite takeaways from the show was the way it brought so many people together from all walks of life and from all over the country. “It was an absolute dream come true,” Bodnar said of the experience.

Family and friends celebrate with Rob at the watch party in Clifton.


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