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updated: 1/14/2011 1:38 PM

Arlington Heights man claims 'Jeopardy!' crown

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  • Arlington Heights resident Tony Fox, right, met with "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek while competing on the television game show last fall. Fox won his first episode, which appeared Thursday, and will be back to defend his "Jeopardy!" title this afternoon.

    Arlington Heights resident Tony Fox, right, met with "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek while competing on the television game show last fall. Fox won his first episode, which appeared Thursday, and will be back to defend his "Jeopardy!" title this afternoon.
    COURTESY PHOTO

 
By Eileen O. Daday

Tony Fox took some good-natured ribbing from his co-workers Thursday after they watched the Arlington Heights resident compete on "Jeopardy!".

The account executive with Humana ran an entire category on, of all things, spiders. And later, he won a Daily Double question by correctly naming the Norse god, Odin. All of which prompted his colleagues to label him a nerd.

But Fox is laughing all the way to the bank. He won a cool $15,800 on Thursday's episode and he'll be back at it this afternoon, when today's episode airs at 3:30 p.m. on ABC 7.

"It was cool," Fox said of his experience on the television game show. "But even as I was watching the show, I was nervous all over again -- and I knew the outcome."

Through the terms of his contract, Fox cannot talk about how long he stayed on the show, or much money he earned. But his opening national TV gig has prompted plenty of old friends to get reacquainted, and he's fielding lots of lunch invitations.

"I think my 15 minutes of fame has extended to something like 16 minutes," Fox quipped.

Fox grew up in Round Lake Beach, graduating from Round Lake High School in 1988. At the University of Illinois he set out to be a biomedical engineer, but eventually switched to political science and wound up in the insurance industry.

His change in majors gave him a broad background in a lot of subjects, leading to his game show success.

"Yeah, I've always been pretty good at trivia," Fox said.

He and his wife, Kay Jean, watched the game show together, with Fox often answering more questions than the contestants. She finally encouraged him to at least take the show's online test.

"I've always liked the show," he said. "It's really fast-paced, with lots of questions, but I never seriously thought of trying to go on it."

Fox scored well enough on the initial online test to be invited -- nearly two years ago -- to a contestant search held in Chicago. He completed another test, and advanced to a sample show, where on-air personality counted almost as much as his book smarts.

During his introductions, Fox described some of his past work experience, which included working in a knife throwing booth at a renaissance fair. That seemed to draw the attention of host Alex Trebek, and may have led to an invitation.

Last fall, Fox flew out to California for the show tapings. It was so long ago, Fox admits he hardly remembers the questions he faced.

Fox won't receive his prize money for several months, but this much he knows: he plans to buy a banjo and wife wants to install a new patio in their backyard.