by Richy Craven
The world is a harsh, unforgiving place. We exist in a hostile universe that will occasionally hurl a meteor at our largest landmass just to remind us that it could destroy us at any moment. We live on a planet that spontaneously tries to wipe us off its surface with tidal waves, earthquakes and bears and yet still the greatest evils that humanity suffers through are the ones that we inflict upon ourselves: war, greed, pollution and reality TV
I have hated reality television, in all its forms, since it first crawled onto our screens in the late ‘90s. The first time I saw Simon Cowell’s smug snake-face on the television a deep chill ran through me, as if I subconsciously knew that he was going to be responsible for unleashing a terrible darkness upon the world.
As a result of this I’ve managed to successfully avoid most of the big reality hits of the past decade and a half by figuratively burying my head in the sand. I couldn’t name a single X-Factor contestant, Dancing with the Stars D-lister or Real Housewife of [Insert Trashy City Here] and I cherish my ignorance. I’ve lived my life on the understanding that reality TV would leave me alone as long as I left it alone. But now they’ve crossed a line.
Some soulless TBS exec realized that The Avengers made about as much money as one day in an oil-rich middle eastern country and discovered that there was still one dead horse out there that hadn’t been beaten into a fine paste: nerd culture. With that, he rolled off his cocaine pile and commissioned King of the Nerds a reality game-show supposedly made by nerds for nerds.
For the first time in my life, I sat down specifically to watch a reality show. 3 hours later, I stood up and went to phone all my high-school bullies to tell them I forgave them. This wasn’t a show that celebrated nerd culture. It was Jersey Shore with pastier attention-whores. It couldn’t have hated nerds more if it had been produced by Biff Tannen.
This travesty of television is presented by Curtis Armstrong and Robert Caradine…and that should tell you enough about how plugged into modern “nerd culture” this show actually is. When your poster boys for celebrating how cool and mainstream geekiness has become are Booger and Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds then something has gone drastically wrong.
Now I can’t say for sure that Armstrong and Caradine aren’t genuinely nerdy but I’m just saying that they come across less as enthusiastic and knowledgeable hosts and more as actors at the tail end of their careers thankful for the steady paycheck. Armstrong especially looks a bit bummed out but I’m guessing he’s just trying to figure out how he went from the Academy Award winning Ray to this.
I won’t harp on too much about it because they’re probably the least objectionable part of the show but all I’m saying is that Chris Hardwick and Felicia Day could’ve hosted the hell out of this show.
The one thing I can say about King of the Nerds is that it has some of the most intelligent and accomplished contestants that I’ve ever seen…and that just makes thing s even sadder.
All of these reality shows are demeaning but at least when two high school dropouts screw in a hot tub on Jersey Shore for the entire world to see I can understand why they’d do it. It’s not like they have a whole lot of other options in life and they probably don’t know any better anyway.
The contestants of King of the Nerds have no such excuse and there was something about watching a mathematician pour orange paint over a computer programmer that made me die a little inside. The contenders for the $100,000 prize include a former NASA employee, an MIT geophysics student, a mathematician/physicist and a goddamn neuroscientist!
When literal brain-surgeons and rocket scientists are competing on TV. to win a prize that they could probably make reasonably easily by working in their respective fields then something has gone drastically wrong with our culture.
It turns out that the sort of person that willingly signs up to be exploited on a reality TV is pretty much the same whether their favourite book is 50 Shades of Grey or A Song of Ice and Fire. They can dress it up with all the lightsabers and whiteboards they like but they’re still the same guys you get on any other show except with PhDs instead of double Ds. You can see it in their eyes, they know that they’re pretty much participating in A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila: Cosplay Edition.
Each episode is structured around an initial “nerd-war” between the two house teams where they compete against one another in a test of geekiness such as a cosplay competition or a super-hero debate. The losing team must contribute two members to the “nerd-off” where the loser is booted off the show, back into the cold uncaring world where, and I can’t stress this enough, they are qualified for numerous high-paying jobs and don’t have to cry on camera! These challenges also reveal why traditional nerdy pursuits aren’t generally televised.
The first nerd-off was a giant chess match. They dressed it up by having a scantily clad cosplayer move the pieces, which exploded when taken, but even that didn’t distract from the fact that I was still basically just watching two socially awkward men play chess, something that I swore I wouldn’t let happen again once I left high school.
The second nerd-off was a nerdy trivia quiz. This was also boring as hell to watch and doubly annoying because I got 2 of the questions wrong. The third nerd-off was a remote control golf-cart competition and would probably have been awesome to watch if watching nearly 3 hours of this stupid show hadn’t killed my capacity to feel happiness.
For show aimed at nerds it’s slightly ironic that watching it removes about 20 IQ points. Wait? Is that irony? I’m pretty sure I knew what irony was before I spent an afternoon watching 10 nearsighted asthmatics cry about losing a super-hero debate.
Watching this show was essentially an experiment to see if the things I love most about pop culture could offset the things I hated most about it. I’m sorry to report that even the addition of Batman references, an attractive lady in a Chun Li costume and George motherf***ing Takei weren’t enough to make up for some chinless wonder saying “I’m not here to make friends” without a trace of irony (although at least in this show the guy looked like he genuinely had a lot of practice at not making friends).
Richy Craven is a sophisticated machine for turning whiskey into regrettable life-choices. You can check out more of his stuff over at Cracked, A Series of Terrible Decisions or, if you like mediocre jokes about Batman and Game of Thrones, follow him on Twitter.
Richy struck a balance between ridiculousness and nerdy reality with Bat-Villains Too Lame to Be in a Dark Knight Movie and The 5 Nuttiest Real Life Superheroes.