Will success on the TV game show "Jeopardy!" propel Larissa Kelly to the national fame of past champion Ken Jennings? Would Kelly, a 28-year-old El Cerrito resident, make it through Tuesday night's telecast after previously winning five straight games and compiling more money than any woman in the show's history?
"We can't reveal any of the outcomes," Susie Eun, a publicity coordinator for the long-running game show, said Tuesday afternoon. "She does well, but that's all that I can say."
Senior publicist Jeff Ritter declined to offer more details, except that it was "safe to say to tune in" today.
Kelly, of course, knows the answer because she taped her appearances in February. But even if she weren't legally bound by confidentiality, she's currently out of the country and unavailable for comment.
After four games through Friday, Kelly's winnings stood at $146,197, a new record for women on the show.
That prompted a news release from Sony Entertainment advising: "Keep track of her next week too ... she will make history."
Kelly, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, won again on Monday's telecast, with her $33,600 prize bringing her five-day total to $179,797.
That's still a long way from the record plateau reached by Jennings, who gained national celebrity by winning 74 straight games and more than $2.5 million in 2004.
But there are similarities and even an indirect connection between the two. Jennings was on the Quiz Bowl team at Brigham Young University, while Kelly was on the Cal Quiz Bowl team in 2002-03.
And Kelly's husband, Jeff Hoppes, went from the Cal Quiz Bowl team to "Jeopardy!" as one of the contestants challenging Jennings in 2004.
"He did very well, but unfortunately it was hard to compete against someone with Jennings' level of skill and experience on the buzzer," Kelly wrote in an e-mail to Betty Buginas, editor of elcerritowire.com and former reporter and editor with the Contra Costa Times, who shared her correspondence with Kelly over the weekend.
Kelly, who is originally from the Boston area, had even more "Jeopardy!" experience to call on because her sister appeared on the show earlier this season.
Asked by Buginas if they offered her any advice, Kelly wrote: "My sister and my husband both told me that they wished that they had bet bigger on Daily Doubles during their games, so I tried to wager aggressively when I had the chance."
She advised future contestants to hone their skills by playing along with episodes of the show archived online and "to not look too much at the scores while playing, unless you need to make a wager. The questions come so fast that looking up and keeping track of how you're doing can be very distracting."
Another key is a quick finger on the buzzer.
"It really comes down to fractions of a second in buzzer timing, on who has the luck to stumble across the Daily Doubles and on the various odd pieces of information that you or your opponents may have happened to pick up over the years," she said.
Kelly is in her fourth year as a graduate student in the history department at Cal, where her focus is 19th century Mexico. She and her husband moved to El Cerrito in 2002.
"We really love the area, and it's been a great place to live," she said. "Unfortunately, the academic job-search process involves applying to schools all over the country, so we'll probably have to move once we graduate from Berkeley."
As for her plans for her winnings, Kelly said, "We're going to be giving some money to charity, and then saving the rest until we're ready to buy a house."
Reach Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.