A Baptist worship pastor was a big winner on a national TV game show last week — not just monetarily but by having a platform to speak about the importance of adoption and foster care.
Steven Bell, pastor of worship and family ministry at Hindman First Baptist Church of Hindman, Kentucky, won more than $61,000 on Wheel of Fortune on Sept. 20, winning the bonus round on Pat Sajak’s sendoff season.
“It was a great experience, and I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for it. It really opens up a lot of doors to talk to people about adoption and foster care, and ultimately the gospel.”
Bell had the opportunity to talk about his wife and their six children — including one adopted from the Congo and two adopted from the foster care system. On the show he told their names and added how “foster care and adoption” are a big part of their lives. “My wife and I are just huge proponents to make sure we do everything we can to make adoption more affordable for families,” he said. The crowd applauded as Sajak said it was good to have him on the show.
Bell was victorious against two other contestants to win $21,450 to advance to the bonus round, where he chose “event” as the category and HGPOF as his additional letters, which included him having an extra letter by virtue of a wild card. When the letters were revealed, it showed “O_T_OOR FEST___L” — and he instantly solved it by saying “Outdoor Festival.” That won him an extra $40,000, and he walked away with a trip to the Bahamas and $52,000 in cash.
‘We’ve got to help the orphans’
“There are some needs we have as a family — our girls are getting ready to start driving, so we’ll look for a dependable vehicle they’ll be safe on the roads with, and we have some who need braces that insurance doesn’t want to pay for,” Bell said. “We are constantly involved in raising money to make adoption more affordable for families. Anything that we can do to help we believe we should do it. That is where God’s heart is — we’ve got to help the orphans and widows. We get to be a part of that.
“When I was interviewed about how this was going to change our lives, it was a great opportunity to talk to their social media department and say the money is fine, but it gives a great opportunity to teach our kids … to use it for the glory of God, to put it toward helping families who are adopting to pay off legal fees.”
Bell, who also is director of adult and family ministry at Camp Nathanael, about 10 minutes from Hindman, described the sequence of events that led to his national TV appearance.
“We were sitting around watching Wheel of Fortune as a family one night, and I was answering (puzzles) before everyone else.” That prompted his wife to tell him he wasn’t allowed to play any more until he sent in an audition video. “I went to our bathroom with my phone and shot a video. With six children, that was the quietest room in my house.”
He sent the video in February 2021, and with no response for two years he assumed the network had no interest. But this past April, he received an email from Sony Pictures Studio, saying he had been selected to advance to the next round. A Zoom meeting that involved a three-minute conversation followed, and he was told he was moving on. Next was a mock game online, and he won 10 of the 16 puzzles. Sony told him that if he wasn’t notified in the next two months that he should consider it a “no.”
“During the summer, we were bombarded at camp,” Bell recalled. “We got to our last week and I just happened to check my email. I noticed on the prior Friday that I received an email from Sony congratulating me, and they needed to know something from me in 24 hours.” Bell emailed Sony on Monday and said if the offer was still on the table, he’d like to be on the show.
‘Lord, don’t let me end up on YouTube …’
The reply was for him to be in Los Angeles by Thursday. He flew there on Wednesday, taped the show on Thursday and flew home on Friday — then had to remain quiet about it contractually for two months.
“It was a cool experience … my only prayer was, ‘Lord, don’t let me end up on YouTube as one of the worst contestants ever.’
“They brought us in about 6 a.m. and filmed six episodes in one day — I was on episode five. I met Pat (Sajak) and Vanna (White) — I feel they would have talked to me the same way as if I had just met them on the street. They were very genuine — class acts. I didn’t have a lot of nerves, got to cut up and enjoyed the overall experience. The producers said the back-and-forth with me and Pat was awesome.”
After the program shooting was over, Bell was standing outside the Sony lot waiting for an Uber when a car pulled up and stopped. “It was Pat — he looked at me and said, ‘You really did a good job today.’ We shook hands and he drove off.”
On X (formerly Twitter), one fan wrote, “Congratulations Steven, well played, this win will help you with your family. You and wife have a generous heart in adopting three children.”