(This story has been updated with quotes from the contestant.)
It appears that a curious pronunciation of the phrase "Corner Curio Cabinet" is at the center of the controversy.
That's because recent contestant Paul Atkinson landed on the tiny million-dollar slice of the wheel, correctly guessed there were a some Cs in the puzzle, and then decided to solve it. The only problem? He pronounced it "Corno curo cabinet."
The Wheel of Fortune rules clearly state that proper pronunciation of the word or phrase is required to win each puzzle. So host Pat Sajak had to break the bad news to Paul.
"Well, it's one of those-- it just didn't come out the way you intended it to," Sajak told a flummoxed Atkinson after the next contestant immediately solved the puzzle. "Paul, you've proved what several players have proven and I prove almost on a nightly basis: Sometimes your mouth says what your brain doesn't intend for it to," Sajak later said.
ABC reports that the unlucky Atkinson claimed he had never seen the word before and that may have contributed to his mispronunciation, “I was nervous! I’ve got Pat freaking Sajak to my immediate right … I’ve got lights and cameras in my face …” Calling it his "biggest nightmare," Atkinson continued, “I knew I messed up,” he said. “I knew something awesome could’ve happened, but I totally goofed it.”
The clip from the episode is popping up online and people are weighing in on both sides of the argument:
It should be pointed out that this was not a million dollar puzzle, however. If the judges had accepted Paul's pronunciation, he would not have instantly won a million dollars. Solving that one puzzle and beating the other two contestants would have moved him to the bonus round where the $100,000 marker on the wheel is replaced by a one million dollar card. To win the big bucks, Paul would have still needed to spin the wheel, land on the million, and correctly solve the final puzzle.
And this is not the first time something like this has happened. Perhaps you recall a similar story from December of last year. A contestant named "Renee" believed that she had correctly solved puzzle seen below:
However, instead of saying "Seven Swans A-Swimming" - the contestant dropped the "g" in Swimming saying, "Seven Swans A-Swimmin.'" Host Pat Sajak had to break the bad news to Renee and basically handed the win to the next contestant. A few minutes later, Sajak explained that Renee had used "the vernacular" pronunciation in her answer, and that's a no-no on Wheel of Fortune.
Watch that clip:
Do you think this was fair?