Woman who grew up in Valley earns title on ‘King of Nerds’

It’s a show that celebrates the nerd in everyone.

The second season of “King of the Nerds,” hosted by Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong, wrapped up last month on TBS after eight weeks of competitions that relied on the nerd powers of its 11 contestants. They lived in a house called “Nerdvana,” that included video games, play swords and a room filled with computers and other technology. Each week there were new competitions, such as a LARP (live action role playing) contest, broomstick flying, life-size Angry Birds, and go-karts in a room made to look like the video game in “Tron.”

When the dust settled, Kayla LaFrance, 29, of Greenacres, was crowned “King of the Nerds” and took her seat in the Throne of Games.

“Before the win, I already joked that I was king of the nerds,” she said this week. “Now I just kind of have a legitimate title behind that to joke around with more.”

LaFrance grew up in the area. She graduated from Central Valley High School in 2003 and went on to study engineering physics at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. She has a master’s in space studies from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

“I was a ‘Star Trek’ girl growing up,” she said. “I really got captivated by the idea of ‘Star Trek’ and space. By the seventh grade at Greenacres Junior High, I had a teacher (Thomas Herrmann) kind of tell me to stop looking at ‘Star Trek’ and look at what was really up there. He kind of sparked all this that became the journey of my life for the last 16 years or so.”

Right now, she’s looking for either a job or a Ph.D program.

“My ultimate goal and dream is actually to work mission control at NASA or other, even private space industry. I really want to work in space operations, mission control, work as a flight director. It would be awesome if I could be working with the first manned missions to Mars.”

While she believes we could technologically be ready for those missions in 20 years, politically and financially it will take much longer.

It was her love of comic books and cars that helped her during the game.

During the “Nerdio Kart” episode, LaFrance out-drove four guys, one of whom had never driven before, in go-karts to win immunity for the week. The room was dark and the contestants wore black jumpsuits with neon piping, to evoke the imagery in “Tron.”

She dedicated that win to her grandfather, the man who taught her how to work on cars.

The next episode, it was LaFrance and three men left to compete for the crown.

“Well, statistically, I had a one in four chance,” she joked.

The last four nerds participated in a trivia contest to eliminate two of them and move the other two to the final challenge.

“You had your fantasy, you had the sci-fi round, you had the comic-book round, which out of the final four, I was the only comic-book reader of the group. I definitely was able to use that to my advantage.”

She and contestant Jack Hou moved on to the final challenge, eight brain-teasing puzzles. LaFrance got five puzzles correct, Hou only four.

“The only person that from day one …that I was worried going head to head was actually Jack, and I ended up going against him in the very end,” she said. “He also was the one that had the most science along with me.”

She and the 10 other nerds lived in Nerdvana during the three and a half weeks of filming last July and August in Los Angeles. LaFrance said she heard about the show a couple of years ago and was called down for final casting for the first season.

“But then I also got offered an internship at NASA,” she said. She chose NASA, working on a research project that studied Mars soils through a process called chronopotentiometry.

When the second season rolled around, LaFrance was ready. She loved every minute of living in the house with the other nerds.

“They call it Nerdvana for a reason,” she said. “You are in Nerdvana, you are in heaven. You’re surrounded by cool people, you’re surrounded by everything geek and nerd you can imagine. You have full access to computer games and video games and every form of table-top game. It was great, great fun.”

Along with the title, LaFrance took home $100,000, which will help her pay back some of her student loans.

“I have nine years of college under my belt that I have to start paying back, and this will make a nice dent in them to help me out,” she said. “There won’t be a lot of playing.”

A self-proclaimed nerd before the show, she is proud of her nerd status even more.

“Why not be proud of who I am,” she said in a voice over as she received her crown, “show the people it’s OK to be who you are.”

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