If you hadn’t heard by now, there’s a new TV show out there looking to capitalize on the mainstream popularity of “geek chic” and shows like The Big Bang Theory. The twist? This new program is one of those reality game shows with a big cash prize–in this case, $100K–and two celebrity hosts. (More “nerd celebrities” than anything, as Curtis Armstrong and Bobby Carradine are arguably most well-known for their roles as “Booger” and “Lewis Skolnick” in the Revenge of the Nerds movies.)
King of the Nerds has the standard set up for a reality game show: every week there’s a main challenge (in this case called “Nerd War”). The losing team in said Nerd War ends up having to put two of its members into an elimination challenge called the “Nerd Off,” where the losing competitor goes home. It’s a tried-and-true reality show formula that’s been used for years now; only here all of the challenges are nerd-related. Three episodes in, there really hasn’t been anything too surprising; cosplay has been featured, gaming has had a spotlight (kind of), and we’ve seen a massive 20-sided die used to knock out fantasy characters. That’s kind of what you’d assume you’d see in something like this, right?
I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw the promo trailers. “Oh no,” I thought. “Another show that will make a thinly-veiled attempt to be pro-nerd when they’re actually the butt of the joke all along.” I went into the first episode fully expecting to hate it, and to not want to watch any more. I already have a pretty strong dislike for reality TV, especially since the last time nerds were featured in something like this (Beauty and the Geek four or five years ago), it seemed to come from more of a “nerdism can be fixed”-type of angle.
I was right and wrong simultaneously. I’m still kind of undecided, though I’m leaning more towards the “can’t stand it” side of things.
Trying to scrutinize every minute as closely as I could, I couldn’t find too much wrong with the cast (at first). They all seemed fairly genuine, and there were some casting choices that were a pleasant surprise. Instead of being mostly comprised of the stereotypical gaming/comic/tabletop/TV/movie fans, there were people with some actual nerd cred: my favorites being Moogega (NASA engineer), Brandon (aspiring neuroscientist) and Jon (wannabe mathematician/theoretical physicist/metalhead).
The crew’s mansion (“Nerdvana”) is appropriately decked out with all kinds of neat stuff, and the “Throne of Games” (think of the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones) is made out of Nerf swords and console peripherals. Admittedly, the house is a place in which I wouldn’t mind spending a large amount of time myself. I will give the producers credit for creating an environment that seems to cover all the geek bases and still doesn’t get too gimmicky.
So the cast seems alright, the setting is interesting and legitimate, but where does the problem come in? Let’s not forget that this is a reality show. With challenges, voting, and money at stake, there comes that inevitable driving force behind all reality shows: drama.
I’m not a fan of deception, manipulation, and general assholishness. I’m not a fan of seeing people yell at each other, friends becoming enemies or contestants crying over petty bullshit. King of the Nerds gets this started right from the jump by making the first “challenge” one where captains are randomly selected and they pick teams, dodgeball-style. (The twist being that the last person picked was declared “the nerdiest” and thus declared the winner.) There’s nothing like a good old popularity contest to spark tensions and rivalries before the formal “game” of it all even gets started.
One could argue that it would be impossible to have a TV show of this format become popular without the drama, but maybe I’m just naive; I think it could be done. Regardless, the downward drama spiral only continues in the next couple of episodes. I won’t go into detail for anyone who hasn’t caught up, but the first few eliminations effectively get rid of three of the least dramatic people on the cast—this breaks my heart. I’ve been watching crappy TV long enough to know that in some circumstances, producers can and will pull strings to make sure that certain contestants go away early, leaving us with the most volatile combination of people possible.
So to bring things full circle, I came into the experience worried about nerds being the focus of ridicule, the victims in it all. In reality, that doesn’t seem to happen. Instead, we get a show that displays how nerds are just like “real people”—real people that turn into backstabbing, argumentative douchebags when money is involved—just like everyone else. (To be fair, I have to reiterate that this isn’t the entire cast, just enough of it to be annoying.)
Maybe something will happen in the latter half of the season to change my mind. The show is at least a small success for now though, seeing as how I do plan to watch the rest of the season to find out how things evolve and escalate.
Have you had a chance to check the show out yet? What are your thoughts? Do you have a favorite (or someone you wish would just go away)? Let us know!