Science teacher Nate Cardin wins Wheel of Fortune


Printed with permission of Wheel of Fortune

Science Teacher Cardin smiles as he works on solving a puzzle while competing on “Wheel of Fortune.”

Chloe Park

Upper School Science Teacher Nate Cardin won Wheel of Fortune, a game show on ABC, CBS and NBC, Sept. 17.

Hosted by Pat Sajak and Vanna White, Wheel of Fortune is on its 40th season and is the top-rated syndicated show in America as of 2021. In the game show, contestants spin the wheel to determine a dollar value, then guess a letter in a puzzle. If the contestant calls a letter correctly, the letter is revealed on the board and each spin is awarded in value based on the number of times the letter appears in the puzzle.

Cardin appeared on the Teacher’s Week Edition of Wheel of Fortune, which featured classroom-themed puzzles with titles like “Did you read the instructions?” and “Earth Science.” The contestants included Cardin and two fourth grade teachers, Paula Drutz and Kara Miller.

Cardin said while he was intimidated to compete against other teachers, he found his teaching experiences were helpful.

“When I found out I was going to be on teacher’s week, I was a little worried because, well, teachers are smart,” Cardin said. “They are used to being up in front of people, having to deal with questions and having to think on their feet, but I think being a teacher, and being used to being ready for whatever happens, I wasn’t as nervous because I knew there was nothing they could throw at me that I couldn’t at least try to figure out. In a weird way, being a teacher helped me feel more calm during the experience.”

During the competition, Cardin spun ‘bankrupt’ three times. Landing on the bankrupt wedge eliminates any cash the contestant has accumulated during the round. Before competing on Wheel of Fortune, Cardin said he accepted the reality of potential unfortunate outcomes. However, he said he was still disappointed by his unlucky spins and had to adjust his strategy.

“I knew going into the show that I would be good at the word puzzle part of it and I had no control over my luck,” Cardin said. “I just had to be okay with whatever happened, luck-wise, but when I got two or three bankruptcy spins really early on, I just felt like I couldn’t get any traction, which is why whenever it did come back to my turn, instead of spinning to gain more money and gain more money, I would just spin, get some money and then just solve the puzzles so I could keep the money.”

Cardin poses after the screening in Ahmanson Theatre. (Chloe Park/Chronicle)

During the filming, Cardin said his experience watching other rounds helped him gain insights on how to play to his advantage.

“Since I had to film that day, [I watched the] first show, and one of the guys got five bankruptcies,” Cardin said. “He was easily one of the smartest people there and he got third place in his episode. When I saw that, I knew that I had to be kind of conservative in how I play. I was lucky that I got my big drops out of the way early on so I could do well after.”

Cardin said he was excited to share his achievement with his family and his students.

“The whole thing was surreal,” Cardin said. “I don’t think I really believed it until at least a week later and then not again, really, until I saw it on TV. I think I was super proud because I was excited for my parents to get to see it, for my family to get to see it and for my students to get to see it. I was just super proud that this opportunity turned out as well as it did.”

Cardin said competing on Wheel of Fortune gave him an opportunity to highlight his identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I was very proud that I got to mention my husband in my little intro,” Cardin said. “I think even in 2022, queer representation on TV is not as much as I want it to be, and even in simple things like game shows that are in everyone’s homes, getting to see a random game show contestant thank their same-sex partner and acknowledge them, I think, is still a pretty big deal. I was glad that I got to say that and that they didn’t edit it out.”

When reflecting on the most rewarding aspect of competing, Cardin said he was proud of his courage to apply regardless of the outcome.

“I did apply and I did put myself out there,” Cardin said. “For so much of my life, if I thought about doing something like this, I would say, ‘Oh, no, that’s never going to happen, so why would I even try?’ I told myself, ‘no.’ I wouldn’t even let the universe give me an option of yes or no. One of the things that I learned from this is even if you assume that things aren’t going to work out, put yourself out there because sometimes, the universe says ‘yes.’”

Cardin held a screening in Ahmanson Theater on Sept. 30, the day after the episode aired live, where students and faculty could watch the episode together as a school community. Cardin said his goal with the screening was not to flaunt his achievement but rather to demonstrate that taking risks can lead to unexpectedly positive outcomes.

“The night that the episode aired I didn’t have a super big watch party because my friends and family are not local, so, the screening was kind of my watch party, and seeing the students and teachers was really fun,” Cardin said. “Part of me felt really proud for people to see me. Part of me was worried that showing the episode knowing that I won was bragging, which is not what I was trying to do. I just wanted to show it to people to show that, sometimes, if you put yourself out there, great things happen.”

Elliot Lichtman ’23, a former student of Cardin’s, said he attended the screening and enjoyed seeing Cardin’s victory.

“I had Dr. Cardin sophomore year for Honors Chemistry,” Lichtman said. “I wasn’t at all surprised that he won. He’s always mentioned how much he loves crossword puzzles, but I was still shocked at just how quickly he got some of those puzzles. I was thrilled to see him win because he’s such a fantastic teacher who has had such a positive impact on so many people, myself included, and I’m glad that we all got the chance to loudly cheer and celebrate alongside him.”

Upper School Chemistry Teacher Richard Vo attended the screening and said he saw parallels between Cardin’s impressive gameplay and creative teaching strategies.

“Cardin seemed confident during the competition, even during the unlucky streaks of ‘Bankrupt’ that kept happening at the wheel,” Vo said. “He has this pensive look when he is solving a puzzle that tells me he is in the zone, reaching into the toolkit in his mind for exactly the right thing that will help him solve a puzzle. I’ve seen this during team meetings when we are brainstorming ways to solve problems that come up while teaching.”

Along with competing on Wheel of Fortune, Cardin has a background in word puzzles as the founder of Queer Qrosswords, an organization of LGBTQ+ crossword constructors that raises money for charities and fosters inclusivity. Cardin also creates the crossword for print editions of The Chronicle. He said his experience as a crossword creator and solver prepared him for the game show.

“To have to figure out a word or phrases with letters missing is what I do all day every day when I’m working on crosswords,” Cardin said.

Cardin said he hopes to impart one final message to the school community about being courageous in the face of seemingly daunting opportunities.

“If I learned anything from this experience, and if other people can get anything out of my experience, it’s that even if something seems scary, even if something feels like an unattainable dream, put yourself out there and try for it because maybe it doesn’t happen, but maybe it does. And if it does, how cool is that?”