LINCOLN SQUARE — Katie Smaluk was born minutes after her twin sister, and that was the last time she took second place without a fight.
“I grew up with two older brothers and a twin sister. I was competitive from the womb. I lost that one when she came out first, and I’ve never wanted to lose again,” she said. “That carried over into every bit of the rest of my life.”
The 26-year-old bartender who grew up in Roscoe Village long before the baby stroller-pushing moms ruled the sidewalks there takes every contest, every argument and every feat of strength seriously.
“Basically, don’t mess with me, because I will fight back,” she told me.
Don’t be fooled by Smaluk’s size — she’s just 5 feet tall barefoot.
I’d bet five bucks the North Side Sox fan is louder, gutsier and more likely to to make a lasting impression than you — and that’s just on a wild Wing Night at Wild Goose in Lincoln Square.
Smaluk’s aggressive, take-no-mess attitude was the thing that catapulted her over 10,000 other hopefuls to win a spot on the cast of ABC’s new fantasy-themed reality show, “The Quest” that’s set to make it’s prime-time premiere this month.
And, frankly, she has DNAinfo.com (and her mother) to thank for that.
“True story: My mom saw the story on DNAinfo about a casting call at an arcade bar and said, ‘You should do it. You like that kind of stuff.’ Because I like fantasy … 'Game of Thrones,' 'Lord of the Rings,' anything like that, a lot,” Smaluk said. “I had the day off so I said, “All right, I’ll go check it out.”
She showed up looking a little out of place at the Emporium Arcade Bar casting call wearing a “smoking hot black dress, leather jacket and lace-up black combat boots” to stand in line with hard-core fantasy fans wearing elf ears, Ewok feet and superhero T-shirts.
“I’m an unassuming fan of the fantasy world, and you wouldn’t know that about me right off the bat. The people there were superfans of the fantasy culture wearing elf ears, a lot of Trekkies and a lot of Han Solos and guys in Captain America T-shirts,” she said.
Smaluk sidled up to the bar, pounded a couple craft beers and pledged to herself that she would best all of them.
“I ended up auditioning with someone random. They gave us five minutes with the casting dude. I didn’t let that poor guy talk at all, not a word,” she said. “I took over that interview and made myself known.”
And that she did. Smaluk scored one of a dozen spots on “The Quest,” which is billed as a groundbreaking reality competition coupled with narrative storytelling in a world created with cutting-edge special effects by the producers of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Amazing Race."
She packed a bag, headed to the airport and didn’t know where she was headed until she arrived somewhere in Austria to live in “a castle in Middle Earth” and compete to earn the title “One True Hero.”
“The world ‘The Quest’ created was so real,” Smaluk said. “One of my favorite parts is the armor we got to wear. … It makes you want to be part of a world with knights and castles and queens. The show is going to be so addicting. It really is a quest. You’re on a journey into the fantasy world, and you are going to be in it. … I actually expected to see dragons.”
While she isn’t allowed to comment on dragon sightings, the challenges she faced or if she conquered "The Quest," Wing Night regulars should be warned — Smaluk did get trained in sword-fighting.
“Let’s just say when my instructor told me if the sword was too heavy I could use two hands — that was the last time I touched a sword with two hands again,” she said. “And when I had a sword in my hand, I didn’t want to put it down.”
Now that Smaluk’s journey to Middle Earth has ended, she’s back at the bar serving drinks, serving up hot wings and feeling more powerful than ever.
“I’m a little stronger, a little braver,” she said. “If I can overcome being part of a quest to be the one true hero, I can overcome getting through all the nonsense we go through slinging wings on Mondays. But I do miss living in a castle in Middle Earth. ”
You’ll be able to see what Smaluk — dressed like a warrior princess and swinging heavy steel — is missing when she battles for Middle Earth domination like only a Sox fan living on the North Side knows when “The Quest” debuts July 31.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: