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COM Student Wins Cash, Cruise on Wheel of Fortune

Annual College Week draws BU crowd to see Pat and Vanna

| From BU Today | By Vicky Waltz

In the slide show above, Kaelin Merrihew competes with two other college students on Wheel of Fortune, supported by Rhett, the BU Pep Band, and the Terrier cheerleading and dance teams. Photos by Kalman Zabarsky

It won’t cover tuition, but the winnings will allow for a bit of fun.

Two months ago, Kaelin Merrihew competed on Wheel of Fortune, her “childhood guilty pleasure,” and luck was with her — she beat the other contestants to win $7,200 in cash and a Mexican cruise worth $5,000. The episode was taped on September 4, but contestants and audience members were sworn to secrecy until the show aired on November 9.

“It’s a bit surreal,” Merrihew (COM’11) said. “I’ve been watching Wheel of Fortune since before I could read. My sister and I used to pretend we were Vanna White.”

When the Chicago native learned that her favorite childhood TV game show would be taping 15 episodes at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, she registered online for a chance to appear. A contestant coordinator invited her to an audition several months later, and producers selected her to compete in the show’s annual College Week.

Wheel of Fortune contestants spin an eight-foot wheel and solve word puzzles to win cash and vacations.

During the September taping, producers sought to inject some local color into the set. Replicas of Beacon Hill brownstones and the Old North Church flanked the colorful wheel, and images of the Boston skyline, the Boston Common, and the Charles River appeared on a large screen behind contestants. The BU Pep Band, the cheerleading and dance teams, and mascot Rhett pumped up the audience during commercial breaks.

After several technical malfunctions, the taping kicked off with a bang. Rhett danced, the Pep Band played the BU Fight Song, and members of the cheerleading and dance teams introduced hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White.

Marty Keil, a sophomore from Yale, solved the first puzzle (Incoming Freshmen) for $1,000, but Merrihew quickly caught up by deciphering the $2,000 toss-up (On Second Thought).

The second puzzle appeared (clue: husband and wife). Merrihew took a deep breath and spun the colorful wheel, choosing her first letter: N.

A bell chimed, drawing a grin from Merrihew and applause from the audience. “Yes, there are four Ns,” Sajak said.

White, wearing a gold sequined gown, turned 4 of the 24 panels, and Merrihew spun the wheel again.

“T?” she guessed.

With the disappointing sound of the buzzer, Keil took a turn at the wheel, but had no luck. Kevin McMurray, a senior from the University of Rhode Island, eventually solved the puzzle (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner) and won a trip to Europe, worth $7,000.

After a short break, Keil spun the wheel to come up with the answer to the second puzzle (clue: places), but eventually lost a turn.

He was followed by McMurray, who went bankrupt. His misfortune was Merrihew’s big break. She chose two Cs, solved the puzzle (Exotic Ports of Call), and won the Mexican cruise. Rhett and the Pep Band led the crowd in a rousing rendition of “Build Me Up, Buttercup.”

Keil figured out the next puzzle, but Merrihew quickly solved the third toss-up (Moving Off Campus), which put her in the lead with $12,200. And while Keil came up on top in the last puzzle (Exceeding Expectations), his winnings bumped him up only to $8,500. Merrihew entered the bonus round in first place, with $12,200.

She correctly chose an L and an A, but stumbled over the final puzzle (Fruits of Your Labor).

Backstage after the taping, though, Merrihew was positively giddy. “I can’t wait to tell my parents that I won!” she said. “And I’m definitely taking all of my girlfriends out tonight!”

And what will she do with her winnings? “If it were a little more,” she said, “I’d probably put it toward tuition. But I think I’m just going to have fun with it.”

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