Winner of Squid Games: The Challenge on Netflix and philanthropic advocate.

Conducted by Guillaume Jean Lefebvre

1. What motivated you to participate in Netflix's Squid Games: The Challenge, and how would you describe your overall experience in this intense competition?
I am a very competitive person by nature. My husband introduced me to the original Squid Game show on Netflix, and I fell in love with it. I binge-watched to complete the whole season in just two days. When the application for the reality series came out, I wanted to try it, but I knew my chances of being selected to appear on the show were slim.
My overall experience on the show can be described as the "best time I never want to have again." The camaraderie that developed among the players - I have many special friends that were made during the show. The overall experience was very stressful, from not knowing the next game or elimination round to navigating your friendships and allies. I barely slept the whole time I was on the show and prayed each night to nourish my spirit to start the next day.

2. You've mentioned your commitment to various philanthropic causes. Could you tell us more about the organizations you're devoted to and how you plan to use your cash prize to support these causes?
I have always been philanthropic; I wouldn't say I like seeing people or wildlife (flora and fauna) suffer. When I was 16 and had my first job as a grocery store clerk, I donated my first paycheck to "Save the Children" after seeing an ad on TV showing starving children in Ethiopia. For years, I have supported Unbound.org and sponsored up to six children to pay for their schooling in countries where elementary school is not free. To break the cycle of poverty, we need to educate the children in families that cannot afford to send their children to school. In addition, through the organization, I have supported an elderly woman so that she could have means for food and medical care. I am also an active supporter of Paws of War, which brings home abandoned and abused animals from overseas and reunites them with the servicemen who developed a bond with them while overseas serving in the military.

Discover Mai Whelan, our featured personality this month in our renowned "Portrait Du Mois" section. Mai recently won the television show "Squid Games: The Challenge," earning an impressive prize of $4.56 million. Her experience on the show was both intense and rewarding, marked by moments of camaraderie with fellow participants.

Furthermore, Mai is deeply involved in philanthropic causes, supporting organizations such as "Save the Children," Unbound.org, and Paws of War. She also plans to launch her own project, "Operation Hope," aimed at assisting abandoned animals and promoting emotional healing.

Her diverse journey, from serving in the Navy to working in immigration services and as a public speaker, has shaped her outlook on life and future goals.

In this edition, we had the privilege of conducting an exclusive interview with Mai Whelan. Stay tuned to discover her insights on her journey, tips for success, and inspirational message for her fans.

Portrait Of The Month

( May 2024)


3. Your professional journey is impressive, from your service in the Navy to your work in immigration services and now as a public speaker. How have these diverse experiences shaped your outlook on life and your future goals?

I lived in a strict Asian Catholic family, so I was more of a "yes" person to appease my family. At the same time, I wanted to explore my new home in America, going against the "by the book" of how life should be instead of how I wanted my life to be, so I enlisted in the Navy when I was 18. Even though I caused friction within my family, I know I made the right move.

I took chances, one path after another, whether good or bad choices, and learned from them, becoming wiser with my decisions as I grew older. The saying goes, "older and wiser," and it's true to its words. These diverse experiences gave me an edge in becoming a voice for the voiceless, supporting those who are vulnerable, and advocating for change. There is no right time but now.

4. As a Vietnamese refugee, you've overcome significant challenges from a young age. How have these experiences influenced your determination to succeed and inspire others?

I grew up poor in Vietnam. My world was through a Sears catalog. I knew nothing about other races other than my own. After fleeing during the fall of Vietnam, I entered a new world of different races and felt afraid. The support and reaffirmation from sponsors and teachers helped me overcome my fear of not belonging in my new world. The kindness people showed toward me was the path I wanted to take to give back to society. My determination to succeed derived from not delving into self-pity but to act on working to educate and learn life's lessons and prayers. I take multiple falls but stand back up because I won't let life defeat me.

5. What advice would you give those looking to pursue their passions and overcome obstacles, whether personal, professional, or otherwise?
I always think advice belongs to those who are experts in their field. I am not an expert, but I can tell you I went through life to find a purpose and take leaps of faith in challenging myself to do things that I am afraid of so that I don't have to say, "Would have, could have, or should have." In overcoming my obstacles, I follow my voice of reason with no regrets. Tuning out the noise of negativity and concentrating on what is important to me can make a difference in myself and the people around me. I learn from my mistakes and not to repeat them.

6. Tell us about your project to launch a non-profit organization dedicated to animal rescue and emotional healing. What are your aspirations for this organization, and how do you plan to make it thrive?

Operation Hope is a non-profit organization that has been a dream of mine for some time. The organization's goal is to bring animals and people together with the end goal of establishing emotional healing on both sides. This is a slow-moving project for me as we want to make sure we get everything right for those we want to support.

Over the last few months, while researching ways to establish my non-profit, I noted how many other organizations are out there fighting the good cause, yet many people still don't know about them. Seeing as to how many are aligned with my causes: people, animals, and the environment, I am now happy to announce we are working towards a supportive project, "Mother Mai." The show's mission is to spotlight deserving charities and their commitment to serving others. I will travel to their location and interview the people who share my passion and work tirelessly to address the issues in our world.

Instead of seeking a piece of paradise, my roadshow is seeking peace of mind to learn about charitable organizations that can help everyone gain that piece of paradise. One day, Operation Hope will be a non-profit many can count on, but for now, it would go against my nature not to shine a light on the countless organizations that are already fighting the good cause.

Talent: Mai Whelan -Iammai287
Production/ Creative Director: Eclair Magazine
Photographer: Guillaume Jean Lefebvre - @Guy_james_Jl / @Picby_gjl
Location: Sofitel At Los Angeles Beverly Hills
Makeup artist: Lori Young - @loriyoungmakeup
PR Agency: @heliotypecreative

7. You've lived in different regions of the United States and had varied experiences throughout your life. How have these changes in location and environment influenced your identity and values?

I am blessed to have had the opportunity to travel and interact with people from all walks of life while I was in the Navy. This experience built my character on listening effectively, learning, and respecting everyone's differences in values and cultures. From these experiences, I am humbled to relate to topics or issues with the people I meet.

8. What are your favorite hobbies or activities outside of your busy schedule?

I love gardening and landscaping to make my home a haven for wildlife, making sure to give my dogs a lot of hugs and kisses because I don't see them enough, and writing poems and thoughts on philosophy.

How do you balance your professional life, philanthropic commitments, and personal life?
I find my balance when I look at my dogs sleeping and take a deep breath of how life is supposed to be, relaxing with no worries on their mind.

9. Fans are eagerly awaiting your upcoming book and other media projects. Can you give us a glimpse of what we can expect from these future endeavors?

My book should come out this year. From what reviewers have read, you might need a tissue. I am about to go on a 30-day road trip across the U.S., filming charitable organizations, which are resources for people to utilize and support a good cause and unique iconic towns.

10. In conclusion, what message or idea would you like to convey to your fans, especially those who see you as a source of inspiration and motivation to achieve their own goals in life?

In Squid Game: The Challenge, I finished last in the first game but first in the last game. One of the fans drew the picture below to depict my take on life: Be not afraid to change. Take one step at a time to fall, learn, and reach for the stars.

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