Bentley: Bullard High grad Laura Birek bests Beast in battle of brains

The Fresno BeeFebruary 11, 2014 

Few have faced "The Beast" and tamed him as thoroughly as Fresno native and Bullard High School graduate Laura Birek.

During her recent appearance on the GSN's "The Chase," Birek, who now lives in Southern California, accepted a staggering personal challenge from the show's resident smarty, Mark Labbett, and won — sort of.

"I tell people I did as well as you can without winning any money," Birek says after her episode aired.

The game show — hosted by Brooke Burns — pits three contestants in one-on-one battles against Labbett — who is affectionately known as The Beast — to build up potential winnings. The survivors move on to a lightning round where they can win big bucks.

Birek faced Labbett in her first test with $25,000 on the line. All contestants start with a three space lead over Labbett in the one-on-one showdown. He tries to bait the contestants into reducing the advantage they have over him by offering them a chance to go for a larger prize. He offered Birek $125,000. Even with such a huge financial lure, the majority of contestants opt to play for their original amount to keep their advantage as large as possible.

Birek shocked everyone by accepting the challenge.

"I was amazed because how I acted on the show was contrary to my personality," Birek says. "I had the advantage of watching my partners go before me and I realized I would have won their two matches. I know I am better at multiple choice than in a lightning round, so I went for it."

She wasn't nervous. Birek had spent two days waiting to see whether she was even going to be on the show. When her name was called, she had 20 minutes to have her hair and makeup done before going in front of the studio audience. At that point, the nerves were gone.

Birek confidently tamed The Beast. Birek won the showdown and put $125,000 in the team bank, bringing the potential total winnings to $150,000. Labbett went through the final lightning round without missing a question to beat Birek and her teammate, sending them home with no money.

Taking home the money would have been nice, but Birek is proud she faced The Beast and won. She at least has some major bragging rights.

"I had a great time and did really, really well. Sure, it might have been more fun to win. But the weird thing is I didn't go there to win a lot of money. I wanted to have fun and not make a fool of myself," Birek says.

Her only other game show experience came in 2006 when she appeared on "Lingo," taking home $11,000. Unlike many who try out for game shows like "The Chase" or "Jeopardy," Birek is not a hard-core trivia buff. She was part of Bullard's Academic Decathlon team, entered a few pub quizzes and even visits online trivia leagues. It's better, Birek says, to look at her as just "an insufferable know-it-all."

Most of her time is spent working as a writer, Web page designer and knitter. She has taken knitting to a new level, using PVC pipes to make some creations. You can watch a video on YouTube, V033GJXY.

More to see

Some of you may have noticed a new over-the-air channel in Fresno. The new digital television network from Sony Pictures Television Networks — getTV — just launched and can be found on channel 21.2. While this is a digital offering connected to channel 21.1 by local Univision affiliate KFTV, the new service is in English. The channel airs films from the 1930s through the 1960s.

Special interest

Celebrities often are asked to lend their notoriety to special causes. In the case of Roosevelt High School graduate Christopher Gorham, and his wife, Anel, the cause they've selected to support is the Caliber Collection.

Items in the jewelry collection are made with the serial numbers from illegal guns and the metal from bullet casings taken off city streets from Newark and the San Francisco Bay Area. A portion of the net proceeds go to gun buyback and amnesty programs to take more illegal weapons out of circulation.

For more information, go to

More work

Clovis High's Aaron Hill keeps adding to his acting résumé. The former cast regular on the ABC Family series "Greek" has a recurring role on the ABC Family drama "Twisted." If you saw last week's episode of the CBS series "NCIS," the top-rated scripted network show, Hill played a Navy SEAL sent on a special mission to stop a terrorist.

When his father, Joseph Hill, emailed me about the "NCIS" appearance, he said he was confident his son will get a breakout role soon. I agree.

No cold shoulder

If your idea of having fun is hiking upwards of 30 miles a day, paddling through white water rapids, crossing turbulent rivers on foot and rappelling down icy cliffs while carrying on your back every bit of gear you need to survive, then National Geographic Channel's "Ultimate Survival Alaska" wants you.

Applications for the next season are available at Applications will be reviewed by the production team for an opportunity to join the extreme expedition through the rugged Alaskan wilderness later this year.

If you want an idea of what to expect, the current season of "Ultimate Survival Alaska" airs at 10 p.m. Sundays.


TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at

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