If you’ve ever purchased something for — or needed a reimbursement from — the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS), you know Accounts Payable Manager Zaw Maung. Even if you’re not involved in ICS finances, you might have seen his friendly face on the sixth floor of Donald Bren Hall or passed him while walking on Ring Road at lunchtime (pre-pandemic, he consistently took first place in the weekly ICS Fitbit challenge!). But more recently, you might have seen him on “The Price Is Right.” If you watched the April 26, 2021 episode, you saw Maung win $13,734 during the Time Is Money segment!
Learn here about Maung’s journey to UCI and the School of ICS, how his path to TV’s longest-running game show started in his grandma’s living room at age 15, and where you might see him next!
How did you end up at UCI?
It was an interesting switch, because I went from healthcare management to finance and purchasing. I studied healthcare management at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and in my final year, I did an internship at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, where I was hired after graduation. I worked there for three years as a contracts and grants specialist, IACUC [Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee] assistant, and buyer, but then I decided I wanted to work in the education sector, so I applied for a position at UCI in the School of Biological Sciences as a finance analyst. After two years, my passion became learning more about the purchasing side of the business, and I wanted to help make sure UCI was following policies and procedures, so I applied for the accounts payable manager position in ICS. That’s how I ended up where I am today.
I love what I do, overseeing what’s happening in the whole school. I’m in charge of reviewing and approving reimbursements, including entertainment and travel; reconciling all the purchases made on credit cards; and issuing purchase orders and service agreements. So I’m very busy!
What do you like best about working at UCI?
I like working at UCI because it’s a very family-oriented environment. Everybody is really nice and supportive and always willing to help with anything. I have good relationships with all my co-workers. We’re all really lucky on the [Bren Hall] sixth floor to have each other!
So what made you decide to try out for the show?
I decided to try out for the show because when I came to the U.S. from Burma when I was 15, we lived at my grandma’s house for a couple of years. I didn’t have any friends at that time, so I just started watching “The Price is Right” with my grandmother every morning, which was her all-time favorite show. She told me that I would have to make it onto the show one day, and I said ok! Sadly, she passed away 10 years ago, but when I finally tried out and got picked, it was for my grandma. I’m sure she was happy, watching from somewhere!
Was that difficult, moving to the U.S. as a teen?
I was really nervous about going to high school here, but then surprisingly, it ended up being an easy transition for me. I have an outgoing personality, so my first week I made friends!
Your outgoing personality was evident from your show-stopping outfit on “The Price Is Right!”
I bought the gold material from Amazon and “Show me the money, Drew” stickers from Etsy [for host Drew Carey], and I ironed them on. And it worked — I got the money! I also watched the show for a few weeks straight, literally taking note of all the prices to prepare. To be honest, I was so nervous and numb playing the Time Is Money game, but luckily another contestant was yelling from the audience, helping me out. I got it right because of her! There’s no actual audience, but the other contestants were so full of energy that it was loud and a lot of fun.
What was your favorite part of the experience?
My favorite part was that I got to meet Drew. He was really nice. Off camera, he was talking to all the contestants, getting to know us, asking me what I do, where I’m from, and actually trying to get to know people.
Everybody who works there was very friendly, and they just made us all feel very comfortable. I totally recommend applying. I’m so happy to check this off my bucket list! It was such a fun game.
What are you doing with the money?
I’m going to use my money to pay off my student loans, and I will put some aside to travel when everything gets back to normal. I was supposed to go to Japan last April, but then COVID happened in March and I had to cancel everything. So I’m hoping to still go to Japan and maybe also Brazil at some point.
Aside from appearing on “The Price Is Right,” what else do you like to do in your free time?
I like to hike; spend time with my family, friends, my dog and my partner; go jogging; and travel — I really miss travelling. But since I’ve been working from home, my cooking skills have gotten a lot better. I just recently learned how to bake chocolate-chip banana bread, and I’ve been making lots of international dishes, such as pho, tacos, chicken pasta, hot pot and Korean BBQ.
Are you going try out for another show?
My dream is to apply for “Survivor.” I know it’s hard to get on. I’m sure millions of people apply, so there’s only a very small chance, but I would love to be a “survivor” one day!
— Shani Murray