UC Berkeley alumna Melody Akhtari wins 'Wheel of Fortune'

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MARCH 02, 2014

Kevin Shen isn’t the only Golden Bear who buzzed his way onto a game show. Alumna Melody Akhtari appeared on “Wheel of Fortune” on Thursday night — and went home the victor.

Akhtari, a former student in the Haas School of Business, graduated from UC Berkeley in 2011. And though her journey to the wheel spanned two years, her fate was determined within a 20-minute game.

unnamed-4“I loved and highly valued my time at Berkeley,” Akhtari said. “It really contributed to my career and everything that came afterwards — but outside of that, ‘Wheel of Fortune’ is something I’ve always had. I’ve always loved spelling and playing with words.”

In the “Before & After” round, she solved “University Marching Band-Aid” for $4,500 and picked up the Wild Card and 1/2 Car tag. At the end of round four, under the Category “People,” Melody solved “Doubles Partners” — which left her with the end total of $38,733. Her competitors, Jeremy Howard and Kelly Hartzler, were left with $7,900 and $1,000, respectively.

“I essentially made it so puzzle-solving was second nature, so when I got there I wasn’t nervous,” Akhtari said.

She sealed the deal during the bonus round when she solved the phrase “Company Policy.” This rounded out her total victory earnings to $68,733 and a trip to Hawaii.

“It was really helpful for me to have the Wild Card because I got one extra letter, which really cinched it for me,” Akhtari said.

Getting to the wheel was not easy — contestants had to go through multiple rounds of auditioning.

unnamed-1According to Akhtari, one round of the auditions includes a game of “Popcorn.” The contestant coordinators spin a wheel and pick a contestant from a pool of 60 to 100 people. They look for people who are loud and decisive about the letters they choose to play. Another round consisted of a written test composed of 30 puzzles.

After multiple rounds of testing, the wait begins. If you don’t receive a letter in two weeks, you didn’t make the cut. Akhtari waited anxiously, and as the two-week mark passed her by, she began to lose hope.

But then she received a phone call.

“They said, ‘It looks like we got this letter back … is there something wrong with your address?’ ” reports Akhtari. They’d forgotten to include the unit number to her apartment. “It was so relieving,” she continues.

Akhtari has big plans for her winnings — she’s preparing for a wedding with her fiance and saving up to fulfill her dream of traveling to France.

“I’m not planning on going too crazy with the wedding,” she said. “I want to keep it simple, because I’m set on going to France … I’m going to take all of my vacation days, go to France, drink all of their wine and eat all of their bread.”

Contact Sujin Shin at 


MARCH 04, 2014

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