Fire truck. Those are among the favorite words of Jay Mehta, MD, a pediatric rheumatologist and rheumatology fellowship director at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
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When he was in high school, Jay appeared on the TV game show, Wheel of Fortune, during My Favorite Teacher week. As a contestant, he competed against other teams comprising high school students and their favorite teachers.
Sixteen-year-old Jay and his high school English teacher—John Harrington—won the grand prize. They each received approximately $40,000 in cash and prizes—including new cars. The word puzzle they solved to clinch their fortune? Fire truck.
“It was very cool,” Dr. Mehta recalls. “There was a picture of me and my teacher in the newspaper back when being in the newspaper was a big deal” (see the middle photo to the right).
In 1992, the production staff at Wheel of Fortune contacted high schools in specific cities to select students to try out as show contestants. Jay and his four teammates serving on his school’s Quiz Bowl team were chosen.
“During the audition, we had to solve 20 or 30 word puzzles on paper,” he says. “Each puzzle was a word or phrase with some of the letters missing.”
Based on his high score, Jay made the cut and moved on to the next level—a game show simulation. Every student was carefully being observed by the show’s staff, who then selected him and one of his Quiz Bowl teammates as contestants.
“I was very surprised that I was chosen,” Dr. Mehta says. “I was a fairly serious student and wasn’t necessarily the most animated contestant.”
He then had to choose his favorite high school teacher to join him on the show. That decision was easy, Dr. Mehta says. He asked his English teacher John Harrington.
“[Mr. Harrington] was someone who helped you realize the meaning behind novels and stories,” Dr. Mehta says. “He made literature come alive and helped me become a strong writer. In academic medicine, we do a lot of writing. I enjoy writing, in large part because of how much I learned from him.”
When asked, Mr. Harrington not only agreed to be Jay’s teammate, but felt “honored,” says Dr. Mehta.
Dr. Mehta soon learned that five episodes of the show would be taped on one day in October at a TV studio in Philadelphia. Although everyone had to pay their own way, Jay, his father and Mr. Harrington eagerly hopped on a plane and spent the five-hour plane ride strategizing.