By Kristin Davis
Shana Muhammad ’06 wasn’t a crier or a gambler, but she found herself doing both.
In front of her sat a contract, and in front of that, a TV camera recording each agonizing moment for an NBC game show called The Wall.
It was a game of ability and chance, and Muhammad had plenty of the former. Before the episode ended Jan. 15, host Chris Hardwick called her the smartest contestant the show had ever had.
If she signed the contract, she and her teammate would go home with at least $90,000. If she tore it up, she might lose it all – or win a whole lot more.
It seemed improbable that Muhammad had ended up on a game show at all. She is, by her own account, conservative, the manager of a local grocery store in Washington, D.C. She works hard, pays her bills, and takes care of her family.
Muhammad grew up in Northern Virginia, the daughter of a single mother who insisted she get a college degree.
During her senior year of high school, Muhammad applied to six state colleges and got into all of them. But the moment she stepped foot on the UMW campus, she knew there was no other place for her. The other schools offered bigger scholarships – but she didn’t want to go to another school.
“I didn’t want to be a number. I wanted to be able to participate actively and be a part of the community,” she said.
UMW offered everything Muhammad had hoped for. She joined too many clubs to count and spent all four years as a tour guide. After earning a degree in business administration, the first-generation college graduate stayed at UMW for a year as an admissions counselor. She is still a class agent, compiling 2006 news for Class Notes.
Later, she settled in D.C., where she and her cousin had a dream: Find a way to fix up their grandmother’s home in South Carolina.
Built by the women’s great-grandfather decades ago, the house had never been updated. It had no HVAC system and needed a new roof.
When the cousins learned about a casting call in D.C. for a new game show, they decided it might be their chance. They went to Hollywood, where in the opening minutes of the episode they won $90,000.
In the final minutes, Muhammad had to decide whether to gamble it. The woman who didn’t so much as play the lottery ultimately risked everything. After all, what was life if not a series of gambles?
“We may have come out here with nothing. Even if we may leave here with nothing, it never will be nothing. Our love for each other and our family is worth more than any amount of money,” Muhammad told her cousin.
The bet paid off. They were going home with more than a half-million dollars – $565,423, to be exact.
The woman who didn’t cry nearly collapsed to her knees in tears.