A Virginia Tech College of Engineering doctoral alumna is one of 12 competitors appearing on the third season of TBS reality competition television show “King of the Nerds,” where science and pop culture trivia can help the winner compete for a $100,000 grand prize.
Kaitlin Spak of Redwood City, California, graduated from the Virginia Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering in July 2014 and now works as an engineering consultant for a variety of projects including pipelines, wind turbine and oil drilling projects, and electronic consumer goods.
She filmed the reality competition show – which debuted its third season Jan. 23 (check local listings for airtime) – during July and August 2014, having been selected by producers who saw an audition tape of Spak’s for another reality competition show, the engineering-heavy “Big Brain Theory” on the Discovery Channel.
“It seemed like a fun thing and I thought I’d give it a try,” Spak said via phone from California. She attended a public screening of the first episode of “King” in Los Angeles, and she plans to watch the remaining episodes at a series of private parties hosted by friends in the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento.
(Spak is friends with Amy Elliott, a fellow Hokie mechanical engineering doctoral alumna who did appear on the first season of Discovery’s “Big Brain Theory,” finishing as the runner-up. The two recently bumped into each other in Los Angeles, Spak said. Similar to Elliott during the run of “Brain,” Spak is bared from discussing show details until the series concludes in March.)
As part of the eight-episode show, Spak will – according to show producers – join her castmates and “take to the field of nerd battle [vying] for the ultimate nerd title” and the $100,000 prize. “Competitors face challenges that test their intellect, ingenuity, skills and pop-culture prowess,” according to the show’s website, naming such competitions as Cosplay (that’s short for costume play), Nerd Anthem, and Nerdy Game Night. One upcoming show, running late in the season, is titled, “Invasion of the Nerd Snatchers.”
Spak’s competition includes several college-aged students, a history teacher who was a “Jeopardy!” champion, a professional mathematician, a neuroscientist, and other players who describe themselves as avid comic book collectors, video “gamers,” fantasy live-action role players, and a self-proclaimed “Brony,” that is, a male fan of the children’s toy line and animated television show, “My Little Pony.”
“King” is hosted by actors Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong, both best known for appearing in the 1980s film series “Revenge of the Nerds.” They also serve as executive producers of the show. Producers tout a lineup of Season 3 celebrity “guest stars” including former “Wonder Years” actress Danica McKellar, “Lord of the Rings” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” actor Billy Boyd, and magician Penn Jillette, the talkative partner from the Las Vegas illusionist stage show duo Penn & Teller.
A California native, Spak completed her bachelor’s degree at California Polytechnic State University and then directly entered Virginia Tech’s doctoral program, working with Professor Dan Inman, now on faculty at University of Michigan. During her time at Virginia Tech, Spak joined the Center for Intelligent Material Systems and Structures, focusing her dissertation on cable harnesses used on spacecraft.
She also worked while a student under a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, focusing her efforts on deployable structures on spacecraft. “You really can’t beat the facilities at a NASA center,” said Spak, who left NASA after her fellowship ended for her current job as an engineering consultant.
“King of the Nerds” originally premiered in 2013 and averages 1.5 million viewers per episode.