‘Wheel of Fortune’ champion donates entire winnings of $145,000 to charity

A “Wheel of Fortune” contestant who recently took home $145,000 from the popular game show says he will donate his entire winnings to charity.

Scott Kolbrenner, a top executive at a Los Angeles investment firm, took home a $100,000 grand prize and $45,000 during last week’s airing of the long-running program taped in Culver City, California.

Scott Kolbrenner in Wheel of Fortune
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The 50-year-old told Good Morning America that he made the decision in light of the economic hardships faced by many individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a dark time, and when I went on the show, I was doing it for the fun of it,” he said. “As I went on [the show], I said to my wife, ‘If I do okay here, anything that I get, let’s give it to charity. We’re very fortunate. Let’s see if we can support some others who aren’t as fortunate as we are.’”

Scott also revealed that—except for his wife—his kids, parents, friends, and family didn’t know what happened after the taping concluded. So it came as a complete shock to them when they learned of his plans. Nevertheless, they were all excited for him.

Scott Kolbrenner in Wheel of Fortune
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Scott, a managing director at Houlihan Lokey, said one of the charities that will receive a portion of his winnings is the Uplift Family Services, which he has sat on the board of for 20 years. The Hollywood-based organization provides behavioral health services to families in need.

He commended the group, saying that they “do such great work.”

“People think of Hollywood as glitz and glamour, but there’s plenty of people you don’t see in the bright lights every day,” Scott said. “What I was hoping to do is shine a light on them.”

The other organization that Scott plans to help is the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. He understands that their needs have grown lately during the pandemic, and he hopes that the money he donates will help them with their mission.

Scott currently lives in Los Angeles, but he is originally from Hewlett, a small hamlet on the south shore of Long Island.

He graduated from George W. Hewlett High School in 1988 and went on to earn his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado Boulder. Scott then went on to study at Harvard Law School.

Scott Kolbrenner in Wheel of Fortune
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His wife, Caryn, is an elementary school nurse. The couple shares two children—20-year-old Abby and a teenage son named Owen.

Scott said he auditioned for “Wheel of Fortune” after he began relying on the show to distract him from the grim news about the pandemic.

“What’s more comfort-food than turning on Wheel of Fortune and seeing Pat [Sajak] and Vanna [White], whom I’d grown up watching,” he told Newsday.

“As we got into the summer, I was watching it every night and I would yell out the answers like everybody does when they watch.”

Caryn encouraged him to audition, and Scott got to the task. He sent in a quick video and a one-page application, and he got a call back right away for a Zoom interview.

He also participated in a mock show with other potential contestants, which he says was “really fun to do.”

Scott Kolbrenner in Wheel of Fortune
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Scott thought he wouldn’t be chosen because he didn’t win a lot of the puzzles. But a couple of days later, he received an email saying that his taping day would be on November 5, 2020.

Aside from recognizing a need, Scott was inspired to donate all his winnings because his family, especially his late maternal grandfather, Paul Safro, has always taught him to help others whenever he can.

“He was very civic-minded, and said to me from an early age, ‘You know, I’d love for you to be a success in business and with your family, but you’re really incomplete if you’re not also contributing to your community.’ And it stuck with me,” Scott explained.

Now that’s a mark of a true champion. Kudos to you, Scott!

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