In the autumn of 1996, Danielle Outlaw was a long way from where she is today: the first woman of color atop the Portland Police Bureau. In late November of that year, not so far from Thanksgiving, Outlaw (then Bowman, actually) was a junior at the University of San Francisco. And she was raking it in on America's Game.
Context for what you are about to see: It is November 22, 1996, and Outlaw is a finalist on Wheel of Fortune's College Week in San Fran. She's been killing it, in fact. As Outlaw approaches the Wheel on this day, she's already won more than $40k in a previous appearance—$20,000 of that in the form of a grand prize MasterCard. ("Can you handle that?" condescends Pat Sajak. "Yes I can!" Outlaw responds.)
Her route to this point has been somewhat charmed. After a day spent corresponding with Sony Pictures Television, the Mercury obtained two clips of Outlaw's initial appearance on the show. The first comprises the worst part of any episode of Wheel: The intensely awkward introduction segments, in which people blather about their families and cats. This being College Week, the introductions are a streamlined affair, with contestants running down their schools, majors, and ambitions. And as Outlaw lays out her field of study (sociology major, psychology minor) and her intent to go into law enforcement, it must be said that she is the most collected of the bunch.
(A brief digression: Note Sajak's squeaking voice in that intro, and his allusion to vocal troubles having hounded him all of College Week heretofore. As it happens, Outlaw is appearing on Wheel very close to a moment of some note: The night before she appears in the College Week finals, Sajak's voice is so compromised that he leaves hosting duties to Vanna White during the final round, and mans the board himself. It is as pandering and groan-inducing a tool as the host has in his belt, but for those who know the show [which I must stress I do not] it is something of a singular moment.)
If the first clip is tepid Wheel at its worst, the second portrays the absolute height of the form. Outlaw has advanced to the final round with more than $20,000 in winnings, which is a hefty sum. I don't know how the game was played in the nineties, but a contestant who wins with that much cash today would almost certainly have had to win the all-important "prize puzzle" round, in which players vie for a trip to Bermuda or Montreal or some such. These have outsize value, and the person who takes the prize puzzle is an immense favorite to be the game's ultimate champion.
So let's imagine that Outlaw has claimed the prize puzzle, and is feeling good about herself as she prepares for the lonely crucible that is Wheel of Fortune's final round. She's also lucky! The "title" she's looking for is reasonably brief, and she guesses some fateful letters, and well....
This is, it seems, a formative moment in now-Chief Outlaw's life. In an interview with OPB earlier this week, she explained her appearances on Wheel led her to get a tattoo: "a Taoist symbol of eternal life and divine blessings."
But in the College Week finals she has a run of bad luck. Two "BANKRUPT" spins in a row?!
We're still waiting to learn more about this new police chief, and the philosophy she'll bring to the Portland Police Bureau. As she was right to point out to reporters on Tuesday, it was only day two of her tenure.
So let's look back, to an evening when Danielle Outlaw, now-chief of police of the City of Portland, lost to a terrible Emory University student named Thayer.
H/T to Casey for helping us unearth the video.