Pat Sajak as himself – Rugrats
Episode: “Chuckie is Rich”

In my elementary school days, there was no show I saw more of than Rugrats. It was on constantly, and there weren’t a whole bunch of episodes – put those two together and you start to gain pretty good knowledge of the episodes that do exist. Of these, some clearly stand out from the rest. One such episode is “Angelica Breaks a Leg,” where a particularly devious Angelica fakes a broken leg to get attention from – and take advantage of – her aunt and uncle, who are watching her while her parents are away. The highlights of the episode invariably involve her making her uncle Stu perform every task imaginable for her, causing Stu’s descent into near-insanity. Perhaps the episode to stand out most, though, was “Chuckie is Rich,” bolstered by a guest appearance by (and constant references to) longtime Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak. It can be viewed here.

The episode’s premise was pretty good to start with: Chuckie’s dad, Chaz, wins $10 million in a contest sponsored by Sajak and proceeds to become an incredibly obnoxious rich prick, and Chuckie has to deal with the newfound wealth. However, it is pushed over the top and into classic status by Sajak’s appearance. I’m treating all things related to Sajak in the episode as parts of his guest appearance, even if they were not lines said by Sajak himself, as without his actual appearance none of the other things would have happened. Without further ado, the main reasons his appearance was so sensational:

1) The idea of making Pat Sajak the spokesperson for a ripoff of the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes – This was extremely inspired stuff. Sajak is the perfect person to endorse a competition like this. Similar to Ed McMahon, he’s pretty well-known to the point of being a household name, yet at the same time nowhere near a superstar. He’s just the right mid-level celebrity to make it sound absurdly hilarious, yet strangely plausible, when Chaz vigorously defends the validity of the contest (called “The American Dunderhead Sweepstakes”) by saying, “This is the only sweepstakes with Pat Sajak’s picture on it!” – one of the best lines of an episode that had several series classics.

2) Pat Sajak’s actual appearance – First, look at that above picture. That’s the cartoon version of Pat Sajak from the episode. For some reason, giving him those ridiculously huge eyes was another work of genius; making him into a caricature like that just clicked. Then, of course, there was his introductory line, another possible choice for best of the episode: “I’m TV personality Pat Sajak.” I just love the idea of people being introduced with a little title like that preceding their name), and when they do it themselves, that adds perfectly to the ridiculousness of it all. Throw in Sajak screaming, “Because you’ve just won ten MILLION dollars!” in Chaz’s face while holding the gigantic novelty check and you’ve got one excellent case of a celebrity good-naturedly lampooning himself.

3) The day care center – One way Chaz employs his newfound fortune is by sending his son to a fancy, snobby day care center. He mentions that many famous people send their children there – “like Pat Sajak.” This episode absolutely wins bonus points for milking Sajak’s appearance for all it was worth, and giving Chaz almost a sick fascination with him, to the point where they just mentioned him whenever they damn well felt like it. Another highlight of the scene is the animated Sajak kid, who was given the same hilariously exaggerated bug eyes as his cartoon dad.

4) Chaz’s breakdown – Of course, the wealth could not last, and indeed, Chaz loses almost all his money on a bad investment suggested by a friend. Unsurprisingly, Chaz has a full-on meltdown upon learning his small fortune is essentially gone, becoming completely frazzled, pulling his shirt off, saying, “This isn’t happening. Why can’t I wake up?” in addition to clutching his prized glass elephant for dear life and yelling out another contender for best line of the episode: “I’ll call Pat Sajak! He’ll know what to do!” Another example of the show just having fun with the fact that Pat Sajak was a part of the episode and seemingly deciding they were going to squeeze every last bit out of it that they could – and it worked fantastically as a part of the insane ramblings of a man obviously not thinking clearly. (And if you lost $10 million, would you be thinking clearly?)

Pat Sajak is a guy who seems to have fun with his status as the frontman of a show people watch to kick back and have a light-hearted good time for a while. In fact, this episode is pretty much proof positive of that. He does not take himself too seriously, resulting in him willingly spoofing his “TV personality” status, and allowing himself to be spoofed at various other points throughout the episode. For being so willing to mock his moderate celebrity (and more importantly, being very, very funny…none of what I said does justice to how good any of it was), Pat Sajak is just about the best little-known guest star there could possibly be.