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Ordeal of Fortune

By Miles Bryan '13 on May 17, 2012 02:30 PM

Grand, Band, Sand, Land, Gland: all words that contain the right letters but the wrong sound, as Zach Barron '12 discovered to his dismay on last Monday's Wheel of Fortune.

The agonizing video of Zach's bonus round gaffe—in which he reached the right answer a second after the buzzer—has gone viral in the last few days:

Zach was well prepared for his appearance on the show; in addition to drinking copious amounts of coffee that morning, he had studied (a typical Reedie) the book Winning the Wheel for weeks beforehand.

His studiousness payed off: he knew that answers in the category "what are you doing?" almost always end in "-ing," and he was able to guess the vowels early in the bonus round because he had memorized letter frequency charts.

Zach handily won the first three rounds against Kindra Mowbray from the University of Oregon, and Ashley Cranston from the University of Washington, entering the final, "bonus round" as the assured winner.

But in those heart-wrenching 10 seconds that have been circulating around the web, Zach lost his cool, and was stricken with the anxiety familiar to any Reedie who has suffered through a challenging conference:

"It was a bit like that moment in conference when you get called on and you've done the reading, but you can't remember that bit of text that you took notes on, and you say some drivel about Chaucer continuing the pedagogical legacy of Plato and Jesus. Except it's on TV. And youtube, Gawker, the Huffington Post, and even the UK Daily Mail. Reed's publicity rarely reflects the caliber of its students but we needn't hide from the press. Even I have to admit, the clip is painful enough to be funny, it's okay to laugh."

Lost in the digital circus has been the fact that Zach gave a very strong performance overall, leaving the game with almost $20,000 (four times as much as his competitors) and a vacation for two to a resort in Curacao.

And Zach does have quite a lexicon, even if it escaped him on Monday—his thesis is titled "Retrospective Technological Futurism: Changing Visions of the American Future and its Technology, 1895-1969."

With work like that under his belt, who needs a magic wand?