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Final Final Jeopardy for Sun-Times reporter

Sun-Times writer Kara Spak with Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek, on the set of Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.

All good things must come to an end, and so it went Thursday with my game-show career.

I knew it would take a minor miracle for me to advance into the “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions two-day final. I thought that minor miracle might occur during Final Jeopardy, with the “Hollywood History” category.

It did not. I was within striking distance, but in the end, victory eluded me, along with the names of the first two sisters who had been nominated for Oscars in the same category, the Final Jeopardy question.

Joan Fontaine? I had never heard of her until Alex Trebek said her name. The sister of Olivia de Havilland? Also news to me.

At the start of the game, I was fairly certain this would be my last time playing “Jeopardy!”

I wanted to try my best and enjoy myself regardless of the outcome. Unlike the previous games, I wasn’t nervous at all.

I should have been. I was having such a great time buzzing in, even if I didn’t have a good guess, I had negative money going into the second round. I dug myself out of the hole and ended up finishing second with $12. Not bad for someone who had been projected to finish dead last by some “Jeopardy!” fanatics.

I had a great time in the tournament outside of my two rounds. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the other competitors. On television, they looked so intense.

As a group, though, they were hilarious, bright and unexpectedly easygoing. On the podium during my final game, I was cheering for my competition, oncologist Jay Rhee and engineer Buddy Wright.

If I wasn’t going to win, I couldn’t think of two people who I would be more pleased to see move on. They were outstanding opponents and even better people. Buddy was an underdog coming into the tournament, and when he moved into the finals, Jay and I both hugged him. Buddy’s charming cheering section, who wore matching shirts, added to the moment.

My “Jeopardy!” days are over, but I have no complaints. I got to travel to Los Angeles three times, won more games than I ever thought possible, took home $95,401 (before taxes) – and a goofy answer I gave got about 1.5 million views on YouTube. I got to meet Alex Trebek and learned the one slightly foreign-sounding word he cannot pronounce correctly. (The name’s Spak, like spackle, not Spock, like the Vulcan. Brush up on your Americanized Slovak, Trebek!)

It all started with the online contestant search test that anyone can take. Why not give it a try? Registration is open now at