At age 24, Alyssa Tillmon happily admits she’s a bit of an “old soul,” because, Tillmon says, “I do what a lot of older people do.”

She reads the paper, loves to do puzzles, and since childhood, has been fascinated with the word-puzzle-solving TV game show, “Wheel of Fortune.”

“I grew up watching the show with my grandmother every night,” explains Tillmon, a master’s degree student at Northern Illinois University. She is currently an intern in the Evanston city manager’s office, pursuing a career in public administration.

“The more I watched Wheel” as a child, Tillmon says, “the more I learned to solve puzzles.”

For those who have not watched “Wheel,” it’s based on the old “hangman” game where contestants try to guess a phrase before other competitors answer as letters are revealed. The show first aired in 1975. Current stars Pat Sajak and Vanna White have hosted since 1983.

And in mid-October of this year, Alyssa Tillmon got to meet Pat and Vanna in person. Alyssa had used her puzzle-skills (“I’m great at solving puzzles”) to successfully make it through a Zoom audition to become a letter-purchasing (“I’ll buy a vowel”), “Wheel of Fortune” contestant.

The show was taped in Los Angeles on Oct. 15, and airs Thursday, Dec. 23, at 6:30 p.m. on ABC7 Chicago.

Tillmon not only knows puzzles, but she also knows what it takes to get on TV. During the audition, “I kept good eye contact, smiled a lot, had fun.”

“The person who is more energetic is likely to be chosen,” she explains. It’s kind of part English major, part drum major.

As for the actual show itself Tillmon says, “I took a deep breath and focused on the letters, looked at the context.”

Of course, being on TV with money and prizes at stake is a lot different than guessing the phrases at home.

“There’s no pressure on the couch,” Tillmon says.

But, says the lifelong “Wheel” fan, “I just had a great time. It was a once in a lifetime experience.”

And how did the once in a lifetime experience turn out?

“I was super excited, anxious,” Tillmon says.

“I had the mentality of ‘I got this, I got this. I’m going to win this game.'”

But Evanston Now cannot tell you how Tillmon did, because contestants are sworn to secrecy before the show airs. We don’t know.

So until Thursday evening, finding out what Alyssa Tillmon won is a puzzle that we can’t solve.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.