UC Berkeley News


Physical Plant’s ‘Mustang Debra’ claims her free dream machine
Staffer, vying for quiz-show prize, finds the price is right

| 03 June 2004


Budget analyst Debra Starks is in the driver’s seat, while her boss at Physical Plant–Campus Services, Ken Schmitz, is only along for the ride — in the 2004 Mustang convertible she won on a TV game show.
Dorothy Robinson photo

It was a sunny day in Berkeley, and Cal staffers turned out in force to watch a car come down the block. They cheered from the sidewalk as a factory-fresh red Mustang convertible pulled up in front of the Carleton St. headquarters of Physical Plant–Campus Services and a beaming, screaming Debra Starks stepped out to claim the keys.

The campus budget analyst won the auto on the grandmother of TV game shows, “The Price Is Right.” The episode taped in Burbank on Saturday, April 17, and aired a few weeks later, as Physical Plant staffers crowded around an office television to watch it. They saw their colleague, clad in Cal sweats and jacket, use up four of her 10 chances attempting to guess the price of a foot spa, and a fifth on a his-and-hers snowboarding set. “I realized that if you mess up, 15 million people see you mess up,” Starks says of her brief and nerve-wracking moment of TV fame. Then, on her eighth chance, she arranged five numbers to correctly guess the price of the Mustang — $25,310. Bingo. She’d hit it on the head. “I like jumped!” she recalls. “I leapt all across the stage to hug the car!”

At noon on May 19, Starks slipped into the driver’s seat of her shiny, smooth-running machine. Owning a Mustang is a dream long in the making for the Berkeley staffer, who first set her sights on the sporty Ford as a teenager in the ’70s. “Mustangs are like racehorses — sleek and shiny and fast!” she says. “I said that when I turned 45, I would get me one. And then, at 47, it just fell in my lap! It was worth the wait.”

After taking possession of her dream machine, Starks spent several hours chauffeuring co-workers around the block. Then she eased with pleasure into a parking place normally reserved for Physical Plant managers — using a temporary pass bestowed on her by her boss. It felt sweet. “To see people so genuinely happy for something nice that happened to you — I think I enjoyed that more than winning the car. It’s like it belongs to Physical Plant....It’s the big thing around here right now.”