Chicago bartender, Joliet teacher get their geek on in ABC fantasy series ‘The Quest’

SHARE Chicago bartender, Joliet teacher get their geek on in ABC fantasy series ‘The Quest’

She’s a North Side Sox fan who’s into the trading card game Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons.

He’s a high school math teacher from Joliet who spent a summer tearing through all of George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” fantasy novels. He interrupted his Xbox game of “Lord of the Rings” Wednesday with his 4-year-old daughter to do this interview.

They are among the dozen competitors taking part in what just might be the geekiest, most genre-bending reality TV show yet.

“The Quest,” debuting at 7 p.m. Thursday on WLS-Channel 7, drops 12 real people into a Middle Earth-like fantasy world — actually, Austria — and challenges them to save the besieged kingdom of Everealm, populated with special effects and fictional characters played by actors.

“It’s unique in the sense that there’s a scripted storyline, but our interaction with it is the reality part — nothing we do is scripted,” said Patrick Higgins, 41, who taped the show last summer.

The father of two saw a post for a casting call on Facebook last year and was instantly hooked on the concept.

“It was right in my wheelhouse: a fantasy genre show,” said the math teacher who starts his new gig at Loyola Academy in Wilmette this fall. “The catch for me was, ‘Do you feel like there’s a hero inside of you?’ I’m the oldest [of five] in my family, so I’ve always had the protector role.”

The contestants — called Paladins — plow through a series of challenges aimed at defeating the evil that descends on Everealm every 1,000 years. A would-be warrior gets eliminated each week until the One True Hero remains.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of a fantasy mythology world,” said Katie Smaluk, 26, of Andersonville. “You honestly feel like you’re transported back to the Middle Ages. There was no plumbing. I loved it.”

A good chunk of Smaluk’s childhood in Lake View was spent concocting imaginary worlds with her twin sister, who gave Smaluk a 20-sided die (it’s a D&D thing) to take with her for good luck.

<b><i>Who needs plumbing when you’re living in digs like this? (Photo courtesy ABC)</i></b>

Who needs plumbing when you’re living in digs like this? (Photo courtesy ABC)

“The one thing I struggled with was being away from my family and friends; I talk to my twin sister about 10 times a day and I couldn’t talk to her at all,” said Smaluk, a waitress and bartender at Wild Goose.

The Lincoln Square bar and grill is having a viewing party Thursday night but the guest of honor won’t be there. She’s flying to Los Angeles — with her sister — for the premiere.

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