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Davis, California

Thursday, July 18, 2024

UC Davis student wins $10,000 on Wheel of Fortune

The student, Chandra Pham, represented UC Davis during the game show’s themed “College Week” 


By RACHEL GAUER — campus@theaggie.org




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On Thursday, April 6, the popular game show Wheel of Fortune aired an episode of their “College Week”’ series that was of particular interest to the Aggie community: UC Davis student Chandra Pham was one of the contestants on the show. Wheel of Fortune, which first premiered in 1975, is a word puzzle game show that relies on real-world contestants to compete in a series of contests for prize money. 

Pham, a fourth-year genetics and genomics major, was selected to be a contestant representing UC Davis and described the unexpected application process that ultimately led to her participation in the show.

“It was a totally random application — I literally got an Instagram ad that was [seeking] college students to be on Wheel of Fortune,” Pham said. “To be 100% honest, I applied for it thinking, ‘There is a 50/50 chance that the application was a scam’ and that I probably gave my email to a scammer.”

Pham submitted her application during finals week of fall quarter 2022. To her surprise, she was then asked to participate in a series of auditions. Over the course of a few weeks, Pham said that she participated in two Zoom interviews during which she completed Wheel-of-Fortune-esque puzzles with other potential contestants and spoke with the show’s producers. Pham said that when the interviews were over, she believed her television journey was over as well. 

“I didn’t hear from them for a couple weeks, so I thought that probably nothing would come from it,” Pham said. “I thought, ‘At least it had been a fun experience to audition.’” 

But in January, Pham received a call asking if she would be able to fly to Los Angeles, where the Wheel of Fortune studio is located, to film an episode. With only a week’s notice, she had to plan her trip, alert her friends and family and navigate a short absence from school. Pham described an amusing conversation with one of her professors regarding her absence. 

“For one of my classes I had mandatory attendance, so I talked to the professor and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to be on Wheel of Fortune. Is it okay if I miss class?’” Pham said. “And he was like, ‘Yeah, of course!! Whatever!’” 

Pham received the news on her birthday, which she noted was particularly fun because she had planned to celebrate with friends.

“[I found out] around two hours before dinner with all of my close friends at Davis, so I had to keep it to myself until then,” Pham said. “As soon as everybody got there, we were sitting in Red 88, and I said, ‘Hey everybody, kind of random…’ and told them. It was really fun to tell all of my friends at once in the same place. They were all really excited, and I even had a friend who thought I was joking.” 

Pham reflected on the experience of being involved in a television production. 

“It was super fun to see how TV is made,” Pham said. “Being a genetics [and genomics] major, I have never been involved in TV production or anything like that. It was really cool to [experience] ‘hair and makeup’ and see a soundstage and all of the other logistics that go into the production.”  

While at the studio, Pham briefly interacted with Pat Sajak and Vanna White, the co-hosts and “faces” of Wheel of Fortune. The pair has hosted the show together since 1982. Pham recounted her unexpected encounter with White prior to taping. 

“In the morning, they were having us contestants sign some contracts and they played a recording of a lawyer talking to us,” Pham said. “During the video, they paused it in the middle, and they told us someone wanted to say hi to us. So, this lady came in wearing sweatpants and a mask, and we were like, ‘Who is this lady?’ And then she took her mask off, and we [realized] it was Vanna White.”

The series that Pham was selected for is the College Week series, which means that Pham, as a representative of UC Davis, competed against two other students representing other universities. Although Wheel of Fortune airs only one episode per day, they recorded the entirety of the College Week episodes in one day. Pham described the experience of meeting other students and going through the filming process with others her age. 

“I got to spend the whole day with other college-student contestants from all across the country,” Pham said. “Going to college during COVID[-19], I haven’t been able to meet a lot of other college students outside of UC Davis. It was really fun meeting [people] from all different places that I didn’t even consider for college.” 

During her episode, Pham won $10,000 through the puzzles. She explained that she was able to obtain the prize money without technically winning during the standard Wheel of Fortune rounds. 

“I feel like every episode, there is a contestant who has a little bit of bad luck, and for my episode, I was that person,” Pham said. “I was spinning a lot of ‘Bankrupts’ on the wheel, so I didn’t make any money on the actual puzzles, but I did on the speed round.”

After the whirlwind experience, Pham returned to Davis and to classes, homework and midterms. She said that the day after she competed, she felt a similar feeling to what is often described as “post-concert depression,” or the sadness that comes after an event you’ve been looking forward to is over. 

“Honestly, it was such a blur,” Pham said. “The day after, […] I thought, ‘Aw man, that was definitely the coolest thing I’m going to do, maybe ever.’” 

Written by: Rachel Gauer — campus@theaggie.org