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Le Geek, So Chic

June 2nd, 2005

Last night saw the premiere of a new, so-called reality series entitled Beauty and the Geek. I’d heard good things about it, and as a card-carrying nerd, I was compelled to watch. The reviewers were right: my wife and I were thoroughly entertained.

Geek is produced by Ashton Kutcher, but thankfully he remains off-camera. Furthermore, the end product is much sweeter than the show for which he’s better known, Punk’d.

It’s yet another competition/elimination with a big-dollar prize, but the premise is unusual: each team is composed of one gorgeous woman and one male nerd. They coach each other to participate in challenges involving mental and social skills. (And if you can’t guess who’s coaching whom on what, you’re not the intended audience.)

Obviously, there’s some stereotyping going on here. They managed to field some remarkably dopey women. (During a history lesson, a nerd remarks that D-Day occurred in 1942, to which his partner replies, “No, that’s when Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”) And while a couple of the geeks could pass for normal–in fact, one beauty is immediately infatuated with a geek–there’s also Richard, the prototype moderl for mouth-breathers. He’s reminiscent of Warren P. Cheswick, the uber-dork played by Justin Long on the late, lamented dramedy Ed. Both characters literally make me cringe, but that’s probably because they hit too close to home.

One of my complaints about reality dating shows is that they typically feature hot, studly men competing for the favors of a supermodel (or vice versa). I can’t see the point; surely any of them could exit a bar with someone equally gorgeous. I always thought that if one was to turn a beautiful person into a prize, the contestants should be people for whom such a prize would be normally unobtainable.

Beauty and the Geek is not a dating show, but it does put these poor, gawky men into close proximity with lingerie models, beer spokesmodels, and “aspiring fashion experts.” There’s some wish-fulfillment going on here.

It puts its contestants into awkward situations, but it does spread the shame around. In the premiere, the women competed in a 5th-grade level general knowledge test, while the men had a dance contest. Both occurred in front of an audience.

Still, unlike a lot of reality shows, it doesn’t seem to be about humiliation as much as demonstrating that everyone has insecurities, and that anyone could use a bit of coaching. Beauties and geeks alike quickly find that their counterparts have hidden qualities.

That said, it’s still uproariously funny when they screw up. The aforementioned history-deprived gal is later quizzed, “Who was President during the Civil War?” She squeaks, “Hoover?” When told that it was Abraham Lincoln, her disappointed reply is, “Ohhhh…D-Day.”

Beauty and the Geek repeats tonight at 9:00 pm (8:00 pm Central) on the WB.

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