At the time of this writing, Pat Sajak's Twitter account only has a dozen tweets, and they're all the kind of empty aphorisms that boring people paint on signs to hang in their equally boring kitchens. "The real test of manners is facing bad ones with good ones," one tweet reads. "Nothing is more exhausting than anger. Nothing is more relaxing than love," another sighs.
He hasn't typed anything in over a week, and his most recent post is a 26-word fist-shake in the direction of...schadenfreude. "How nice for those who have lived such exemplary lives that they can express glee when others have their lives ruined by a mistake, real or perceived," he harrumphed. He doesn't specify who or what he's talking about, but given Sajak's ultra-conservative politics, it's probably Ted Cruz, Gina Carano, or somebody else who sucks.
That tweet also feels strangely prescient, since the longtime 'Wheel of Fortune' host is facing criticism this week, after he seemed to imitate a contestant who had a speech impediment. During Monday's episode of the show, Sajak introduced Chris Brimble, who appeared to speak with a slight lisp. When responding to Brimble, Sajak said "I thee," instead of "I see," which is the kind of dick move you'd expect from an 8-year-old playground bully, not a 74-year-old who makes a reported $15 million a year to pretend he's excited every time somebody asks for an H.
Sajak has been roundly dragged on social media since the episode aired. "As someone with a lisp- don't do this. Ever," one woman tweeted. "We might ignore you or laugh it off at the time but HOLY CRAP how about some tact?" Others called him an "arrogant overpaid jerk," or wondered whether he was "purposely trying to get fired."
This isn't the first time that some of Sajak's onscreen comments have been scrutinized (more on that in a sec), but this seems different. Literally imitating a contestant to his face is personal and gross, and it seems harder to shrug off than other recent examples of his saltiness.
During a strange 10-day stretch last fall, Sajak chastised a contestant for "interrupting" while he read a promo from Dicks Sporting Goods, and told another to stop "making sound effects" after they let out a celebratory yelp. He also called another "ungrateful" for suggesting that the use of the term "kitchen oven" in a puzzle seemed redundant. "Don't! You won! Don't argue," Sajak shouted. "You got the puzzle. Ungrateful players! I've had it!”
Everyone's interpretation of those incidents might differ based on how they feel about Sajak himself. Longtime 'Wheel'-watchers might think it's all funny, or that it's just part of the "beleaguered game show host" character that he's been playing since the early 1980s. But if you can't separate the 'Wheel' Sajak from the outspoken conservative and occasional Twitter troll that he becomes when the cameras switch off, then it might seem slightly less good-natured. (There's also a third possibility: that he was having a shit afternoon when they filmed that run of games. Wheel of Fortune films as many as six episodes in a single day. At the end of each show, Sajak walks backstage, maybe tops up his self-tanner, and changes clothes before heading back out to the set to introduce another three contestants.)
Unlike Sajak, late Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek was rarely chided for anything other than his gloriously elaborate pronunciation of the word 'genre,' but he could slice a contestant to ribbons if he chose to. When Susan Cole appeared on the show, she described her fellow nerdcore enthusiasts as "people who identify as nerdy, rapping about the things they love, video games, science fiction, having a hard time meeting romantic partners." Trebek paused for a beat before responding "Losers, in other words."
But Trebek was largely spared the criticism that attaches itself to Sajak, possibly because he was smart enough to swerve social media, and he rarely discussed his politics in public (although a 2014 New Republic profile noted that he watched FOX News in his dressing room). Meanwhile, Sajak seems content to reinforce his reputation as a two-legged salt lick. There's probably a reason why he routinely deletes his old Twitter takes, because if he has a few minutes with his phone, he'll peck out anti-liberal, anti-science one-liners that appeal to people who use the term "face diaper" while they're screaming at the supermarket worker who asked them to wear a mask.
Some of his greatest now-deleted hits include questioning the coronavirus stay-at-home orders last spring, tweeting that "global warming apologists are unpatriotic racists," mocking coming out announcements by "proclaiming [his] heterosexuality," and bringing the big grandpa energy with his observation that "those who oppose charter schools are racists," and that it "felt good" to use that word. (After backlash to the "unpatriotic racists" tweet, he wrote that it was "fun to poke a stick in a hornets' nest just to hear the buzzing.")
Sajak's frequently culled Twitter feed is just a short-form version of the schtick that he's typed for more than a decade. Between 2004 and 2013, he wrote for conservative website Human Events. (The site's current front page features the headlines "Why the Left Can't Meme" and "America Mourns the Loss of Legendary Radio Host and Patriot Rush Limbaugh.") Sajak's politically minded paragraphs covered his continued skepticism about climate change; complaints about the liberal press and "unhinged" Democrats; and how he can't have "serious discussions" with liberals. (If he was upset about his Lefty pals "accusing members of the Right of sowing the seeds of hatred" way back in 2006, then hoooo boy, this January was probably a ride in Pat's house.)
Sajak seems to have realized that he'll face zero professional repercussions for his snide comments on screen and his Huckabee Sanders-level hot takes online. He's also locked down one of the rare entertainment gigs where his conservative opinions may be shared by a large swath of the audience. According to one demographic report, Wheel's viewers are the oldest of any television program, with an average age of "over 65." The average age of the studio audience is also 60-plus, which is why Wheel! (and Jeopardy!, which is equally appealing to the olds) were among the first shows to respond to the coronavirus pandemic by announcing that they would film in empty studios.
So until Sajak decides that he's going to walk off the Wheel set forever, this week's controversy probably won't be the last. (VICE has reached out to Wheel of Fortune for comment.) To put it in bland terms that Pat might eventually tweet, "when somebody shows who they are, believe them." And for the contestants who might be on the other end of his dumb snark, WE'RE S_RRY PAT'S A D_CK.