LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell political science major Mansour Chaya has a seed fund for law school and a trip to Hawaii thanks to his comeback win on last night’s episode of “Wheel of Fortune.”
Honors College student Mansour Chaya, a Methuen resident, was selected earlier this year for the annual “Wheel of Fortune” College Week and came away with $52,179 in cash and prizes against students from Georgia State and UCLA. Taped earlier this year, his episode aired on Thursday, April 5.
It was a dream come true for Chaya. He’s watched the game show featuring host Pat Sajak and hostess Vanna White with his father ever since he can remember.
“I’ve always been ready for this to happen, and I’m just happy it happened when it did,” said Chaya.
Chaya won $44,400 in cash and a trip for two to Oahu, Hawaii, worth another $7,779. Chaya plans to save the cash for law school, which hopes to attend after graduating from UMass Lowell after next semester.
Chaya’s father, George, who appeared on the show in November 2009, watched proudly from the audience as his son staged a comeback.
Chaya said he was nervous, but his nerves never showed. He credits being a member of UMass Lowell’s Mock Trial Team and engaging in lively debates in his political science classes with helping prepare him for his big moment.
He won the game’s second round, called a “toss-up,” for $2,000. But his competitor from Georgia State won a few puzzles in a row to pull ahead by more than $10,000. Then Chaya correctly guessed a phrase ending in the word “luau” to win the trip to Hawaii.
“I knew I needed that prize puzzle to even have a chance of winning,” he said. “When I guessed the U at the end instead of an O, that was God coming down and telling me to pick it. It was crazy.”
Going into the last round, he was down by less than $1,000. Guessing a puzzle about laundry, was enough to put him ahead of the Georgia State student. In the bonus round, he correctly guessed “movie night” as the answer, he said, in part because he and his cousin frequently have movie nights together. That added another $35,000 in cash to his winnings, bringing the total to more than $52,000.
Chaya says he and his dad were both stunned by his win.
“It was a surreal experience. Neither of us were expecting that I’d win the bonus round,” he said. “It was mind-blowing. We didn’t even have words.”
Getting picked as a contestant for his favorite game show took some persistence.
“I’ve been watching ‘Wheel of Fortune’ my whole life, and I was always good at solving the puzzles before the other people did,” he said. “So my dad always said, ‘Mansour, when you get the chance, you’ve got to audition, you’ve got to get on the show.’”
When Chaya turned 18, he registered to vote – and applied online to be a “Wheel of Fortune” contestant.
He never heard back, but when the show held auditions in Boston two years ago, he filled out another form and waited in line in the cold, hoping to be one of the few picked at random to audition. Again, no luck. A few months later, though, based on his story, the show’s producers asked him to audition in Boston.
His third time was lucky. “The family story, that my dad had been on the show, I think that helped,” he said.
Now that his winning episode has aired, Chaya is buckling down to finish up the semester. He’s already started work on his honors thesis, a critique of the U.S. Supreme Court. He will take the LSAT in June and start applying to law schools. And there’s that trip to Hawaii awaiting.
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. www.uml.edu