• Zin Htut

'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' Interview with Mainga Bhima

Who is Mainga Bhima? A bubbly and ever-effervescent second year Bristol medical student, a good friend of mine from my CBL tutorial group, and now, the winner of £64,000 after appearing on the TV show Who Wants to be A Millionaire?

‘The whole experience was just so surreal, like a fever dream,’ Mainga sighed, reflecting on a process that began with an application form in August and ended with the recent airing of the episode at the start of February.

Brainstorming a get-rich-quick scheme, born out of necessity from the all too familiar burden of university tuition fees, was what inspired Mainga to submit an application form for the world-famous game show last August.

‘I’d watched the show a lot before, and I’d always sit there at home with my family, answering the questions myself and thinking I could get to at least the £32,000 question. And you know me, (Zin), I’m a smart aleck and like to give everything a go. So, over the summer, when my sister and I were planning how to get rich quick and I really needed the money, I just thought: why not?’

In a curious twist of fate, the question that won Mainga £64,000 was about the publishing company she worked for in her career prior to joining Bristol University in 2019. She flashed a gleaming smile as she recounted hearing the pivotal question and talked animatedly.

In 2013, Penguin merged with which other company to form the world's largest book publisher?

A) Simon & Schuster

B) Random House

C) Pan Macmillan

D) Harper Collins

‘When I heard it, I couldn’t believe it. I really thought that it was like Slumdog Millionaire and I was gonna go on to win the million,’ she said. ‘But when I was preparing for the show, I did notice that people getting questions like that are more common than you think.’ She then referred to a previous episode about a contestant who was asked a question about Loch Less, where he had lost his leg in a car accident.

‘To be honest, there was a lot of good luck involved in me getting how far I got,’ she said with great humility. ‘The 50/50 went my way and then there was the Penguin (publisher) question. But to be honest, you need the good luck - they definitely try to make the studios as stressful as possible!’

The pressure of making it onto the hot seat was real, and palpable.

‘Watching from home, it might look easy, especially with the earlier questions. But the actual thing is so nerve-wracking, you end up second-guessing yourself quite a lot. They don’t even play any music for the early questions, it’s completely silent in the studio at first!’

Mainga was also not allowed to inform anyone of her winnings for two months until the episode aired in early February.

‘It was really hard, especially because I actually lost my phone on the train home,’ Mainga exclaimed with a gracious chuckle. ‘So I had to tell people that I lost my phone in the middle of a lockdown, but obviously I couldn’t say that it was on the train back from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire!’

Finally watching the episode in which she participated was also a surreal experience for Mainga. ‘It’s amazing how much they edit out actually, as I was in the hot seat for over 40 minutes. I’m quite glad they gave me a nice edit and cut out some of the more silly things I said!’

Mainga was pragmatic about what to do with her winnings. Her reflections on what the money meant to her was emblematic of the stresses money can either relieve or exacerbate in the modern age, especially for a medical student in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘It's nice that the money can take so much pressure off me as it covers my tuition fees, especially in such a challenging year to be a student and there aren’t the usual avenues of making money through part-time jobs and so on. There is also some leftover, and I’m going to invest it and hopefully use it towards buying a house.’

We also entertained the thought of other members of our tutorial group who would do well on the show and any pieces of wisdom or advice she has for future contestants. ‘Just be yourself, and remember you’ve got this far into the selection process for a reason.’ After a contemplative pause, she quickly added: ‘And pick your Phone a Friend really wisely!’

When asked to summarise her experience, ‘Why not?’ was the resounding lesson Mainga had to offer. She gleefully implored me, and as many people as possible to embark on experiences like hers: ‘You never know what could happen.’ It was fitting that Mainga’s message to embrace such opportunities was one all of us can apply to just about any aspect of our own lives. It was also one of great optimism as we welcome the coming of spring and hopefully, the gradual waning of the pandemic as vaccination progresses.

Her final words? ‘Everyone should go for it, I’d love for the whole of the med school to get stinking rich.’

With her eternal generosity and exuberance, it is difficult to find anyone who deserves £64,000 more than Mainga Bhima.

Written by Zin Htut