CHICAGO — Only two people — and one IBM supercomputer — can say they've ever defeated Ken Jennings, the winningest "Jeopardy!" player in the trivia show's history.
But North Center resident Kara Spak might get that chance.
Spak could be voted into the "Jeopardy!" 30th anniversary tournament "Battle of the Decades." Fourteen contestants already have been selected from each of the '80s, '90s and '00s decades — including Jennings — by the show's producers, but popular vote will decide the remaining three players.
Spak is vying for votes against four other "fan favorites" from the '00s.
"Ken Jennings eventually lost, and it was to somebody just like me," Spak said, referring to the woman who defeated Jennings during his initial 74-game streak — and who never won another game.
But Spak has a better record than that, even if she doesn't consider herself a "power player in the world of "Jeopardy!". Spak, a senior media relations associate for Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a former reporter at the Sun-Times, won about $85,000 during a five-game winning streak in 2010 and played two games in the 2011 "Tournament of Champions."
She described filming the show — which goes through five episodes per day — as a long but enjoyable experience.
"It’s a combination of nerves and fun," she said. "You're kind of in the zone, and it goes pretty fast."
Those nerves got the better of Spak when she rang in with her most infamous answer, one that has lived on in many game-show-gaffe YouTube videos.
For a clue seeking the answer "love triangle," Spak responded: "What is a threesome?"
She immediately grimaced, and then slapped herself on the forehead.
"I think part of it was I got in on the buzzer" for the first time that game, Spak said. "A little red light went off like, 'I don’t think this would be the answer,' but I didn’t have another alternative, so I went with it."
It led host Alex Trebek to call her a "saucy wench" during a commercial break, Spak wrote in a column for the Sun-Times.
Spak said she knew it couldn't have been the right answer for "Jeopardy!," a family-friendly show, but she sticks by her original "vaguely inappropriate" interpretation.
"I don’t think the answer is technically incorrect, when you look at that clue," she said. "Almost everybody I talked to said that they thought the same thing at home."
(The clue was: If Andy yearns for Brenda and Brenda cares about Charlene who pines for Andy, the three of them form one of these.)
Spak has been playing along with "Jeopardy!" from home since she watched it as a kid with her brothers, and though some people debate whether you can study for the show, Spak believes you can.
Between her 2010 and 2011 "Jeopardy!" appearances, she studied trivia every day, such as state and nation capitals and a little U.S. history.
"A category I kind of dread is U.S. presidents," she said. "People who are on the show really know their U.S. presidents; I learned there was a president named Chester Arthur."
What Spak lacks in history trivia, however, she makes up for in the arts, dominating in categories like Broadway musicals, literature, food and drink, TV and song lyrics.
Spak felt encouraged while preparing for the "Tournament of Champions" by fellow Chicagoans who wrote to her and recognized and stopped her on the street.
"One of the best things about this was all the support I got from Chicago the first time," she said. "I hope to make Chicago proud again if I get on."
Voting for Spak's decade opened 9 a.m. Monday and goes through 9 a.m. Oct. 21. Fans can vote for her by visiting the "Jeopardy!" website, Facebook page, or by tweeting "Kara" with the hashtag #JeopardyVote. People can cast a vote once per day per platform.
The tournament carries a $1 million grand prize and will be aired in stages over the course of the current "Jeopardy!" season, which began in September.