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UML Honors Student Wins Big on "Wheel of Fortune"

Mansour Chaya’s $52,000 Payday Will Help with Law School

UML honors political science student Mansour Chaya won money for law school on "Wheel of Fortune" Photo by Carol Kaelson
Honors political science student Monsour Chaya came from behind to win "Wheel of Fortune."

By Katharine Webster

Fortune smiles on the brave – and the prepared.

Honors student Mansour Chaya played “Wheel of Fortune” and came from behind to win $52,179 in cash and prizes against students from Georgia State and UCLA.

It was a dream come true for Chaya. He’s watched the game show, which features 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,” Chaya says.

Chaya won $44,400 in cash and a trip for two to Oahu, Hawaii, worth another $7,779. A political science major from Methuen, Chaya plans to save the cash for law school, which he plans to attend after graduating from UML next year.

Chaya’s father George, who appeared on the show in November 2009, watched proudly from the audience as his son staged a comeback. 

The program was taped at a television studio in Los Angeles in February and aired April 5 as part of the “Wheel of Fortune" College Week Spring Break. Check out videos of Chaya's winning ways.

Chaya says he was nervous, but his nerves never showed.

He credits being a member of the Mock Trial Team as well as engaging in lively debates in his political science classes and as a member of the UML College Republicans with helping prepare him for his big moment. 

“Being at UMass, getting in arguments with people in class, speaking out – all of that’s made me more comfortable in my skin,” he says.

UML honors student Mansour Chaya in a promo photo for "Wheel of Fortune" College Week Spring Break 2018 Photo by Carol Kaelson
Mansour Chaya (third from left) in a promo photo for "Wheel of Fortune" College Week Spring Break.
He won the game’s second toss-up for $2,000. But the student from Georgia State won a couple of 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 says. “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.”

He won the third toss-up to pull ahead of the Georgia State student with $17,179 – and then won another $35,000 in the bonus round, an event question, by guessing “movie night.”

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 says. “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 says. “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 freezing cold, hoping to be one of the few picked at random to audition.

Again, no dice. A few months later, though, based on his story, the show’s producers asked him to audition in Boston.

Third time lucky. 

“The family story, that my dad had been on the show, I think that helped,” he says.

Now Chaya is buckling down to finish the semester. He’s already started work on his honors thesis, a critique of the U.S. Supreme Court. And he will take the LSAT in June and start applying to law schools.

In his spare time, he’s planning his trip to Oahu.

“I’ll probably take my brother,” he says. “And then my cousins will end up getting their own tickets.” 

Let spring break begin!