Marty Keil ’12 has two life goals. The first, he said, is to break a world record. That has not happened yet.
But the second is to be on television — a dream that came true Monday night when he appeared on “Wheel of Fortune,” finishing in third place and winning $8,500 in cash.
“I tried to accomplish both dreams at the same time,” he said. “Be on TV and break the world record of most money won in a game show. But that didn’t happen.”
Keil, the son of Morse College Master Frank Keil and Associate Master Kristi Lockhart, traveled to Boston in September to tape his appearance on “Wheel of Fortune” College Week. On the popular syndicated game show, players solve word puzzles by guessing letters, spinning a wheel to assign a cash value to each guess. The other two contestants — a Boston University junior and a University of Rhode Island pharmacy student — won $12,200 and $9,550, respectively, in cash and prizes.
As the show aired, Keil, his parents and more than 30 of his friends gathered in the Saybrook College TV Room for a viewing party, with Keil jokingly berating his on-screen self — clad in a Yale sweatshirt — for making mistakes.
After the show began, as Keil guessed the first toss-up puzzle, his friends chanted the correct answer along with him — “incoming freshmen!” — and cheered. Throughout the game, the Saybrook audience leapt up in excitement when Keil got a letter right and booed when his fellow contestants answered correctly.
When Keil missed out on winning $1 million after his spin landed on the ‘Lose a Turn’ space, his friends exclaimed in disappointment. The mortified on-screen Keil slid under the podium, while the real Keil hid behind a couch in the room as his friends poked fun at him.
Keil’s stint on the game show, he said, stems from his “cheesy” desire to appear on television.
“What’s the easiest way for a college student to appear on TV?” he asked himself. The answer: “Wheel of Fortune.”
So, he said, he applied online in August. But the beginning of Keil’s audition in Boston was not as easy as the online application, he said. A biology major, he had spent the entire night before his trip electrofishing — or, stunning fish with electricity — for his summer job as a research assistant at ecology and evolutionary biology professor David Post’s lab, so he got little sleep. After Keil reached Boston, he realized he had forgotten his audition ticket and had to ask his father to rush ship it to him just hours before the auditions began.
In the end, Keil beat out more than 300 applicants in a process that involved spinning a replica of the television wheel, solving a word puzzle test and interviewing with producers one-on-one.
Keil said he had some experience with Wheel of Fortune aside from a few practice sessions with Scrabble and his Wheel of Fortune iPhone application, but he said he was not a fan of the show.
At the taping itself, Keil said, he realized the game is different from what viewers see. He said the wheel is smaller and harder to spin than he expected, and the word puzzles are easier to solve at home than on set.
But he said host Pat Sajak is as funny and quirky as he appears, and co-host Vanna White was beautiful even from across the stage. Keil added that being a contestant in the game show has little to do with intelligence.
“It’s a different kind of smarts, it’s more about enthusiasm,” he said. “Yet it is all really about the fortune.”
At the viewing party, Marty’s friends described him as “genuine,” “lovable” and “goofy.”
Josh Macey ’12, who accompanied Keil to the taping in Boston, said he was not surprised when he found out about Keil’s decision to participate in the show.
“Marty is the most random friend I have,” Macey said. “Plus, he has always wanted to be on TV.”
After the airing, both Keil’s parents said they are proud of their son but that it was nerve-racking to watch the taping.
And despite the fact that Keil finished in last place, Chloe Zale ’12 said she still thinks he did a good job by not giving up.
“I thought he was very charming,” she said. “He remained very much ‘Marty’ throughout the show.”
Keil said the producers told him he would receive his prize money three months after the original taping. But he is still unsure how he will use the cash.
“I’m a big saver,” he joked. “I’ll probably just save it all.”