The new 'Price is Right' legend -- who set a new Plinko winnings record -- had years of studying under his belt ... thanks to his day job.

Ryan Belz is the 23-year-old Penn State grad who won $31,500 on Thursday's episode, and he told us he's been a huge 'PIR' fan since he was a kid. That was kinda obvious from the show. He even scheduled college classes around it.

The Plinko King revealed how he scored the opportunity to play, how he wowed the producers ... and most importantly why he kicked Plinko's ass!

Ryan plans to use his winnings to pay off college loans, and says he's already prepping for his next shot at 'Price' ... even though it's a looong way off.