Nerds Gone Mild

1-18-2013 10-11-57 AM

I couldn’t seem to go anywhere on the internet this week without seeing banner ads for TBS’s King of the Nerds. It’s some new reality show on the channel I haven’t watched since I finished all the Friends reruns there. In it, they pull together a dozen nerds and make them compete in acts of nerd-dom for our amusement.

I may not be a Nerd King, but given this is what I do for a  living, I’m at least a Duke, so I figured I’d better tune in to see just how badly this is going to go.

I just finished watching the first episode, and you can read my thoughts about TBS’s effort below. Is it offensive, or just dumb? Could it possibly be neither? Seems like a long shot.

1-18-2013 10-10-12 AM

The show starts off with an introduction to “Nerdvana,” a house that TBS has jammed pack with whatever they could find that resembles “nerd.” Lifesize Batman statue? Check. Every video game console ever? Check. 20-sided dice as big as a beach ball? Why not.

Then we meet the nerds themselves, which is of course the most curious part of the show. How nerdy are we talking here? What are these people going to look and act like?

It’s interesting, as TBS seems like it’s tried to strike a balance between “true nerds” and “people we still want to look at on TV.” No one is morbidly obese, which has been a nerd stereotype for years (and in America, can be true a lot of the time), but no one is a super model either. Yes, they have girls, but it’s easy to see they shied away from picking anyone that would be yelled at for being a “fake nerd girl,” as the internet likes to say. While it’s true that model-hot girls can in fact be into nerdy stuff, they didn’t want to kick that  hornet’s nest, and would be content with  just “cute.” And the guys are pretty goofy, but the word  “neckbeard” doesn’t exactly apply here on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Each nerd comes with their own set of skills, skills they have to sell to their fellow nerds when it comes time to pick teams. It’s kind of hilarious to see the full range nerd-ity they’ve cast here. It’s about split half and half between nerds who are uber smart, Neuroscientists, Engineers, Geologists, and nerds who just know a lot of pop culture shit about video games and Batman. Off the bat the “strongest” players seem to be a cute black girl who is an engineer at NASA and an Asian pro gamer girl who is really good at solving Rubix Cubes. Since you don’t know if the show’s going to have you solving physics problems or playing a Halo tournament, it can be tough to know who is actually valuable, and I think they may have been better off shrinking their scope a bit.


What’s interesting about the show is that right away, it’s easy to see that in general, these nerdy contestants are quite a bit more likable than the usual ab and boob models that populate most reality shows. Most seem very down to earth and feel like real people, as opposed to cardboard cutouts of human beings spouting nonsense. Perhaps it’s the nerd in me, but it’s comforting to see similarly normal people on TV. That said, I’m still not quite sure whether to goal of this TV show is to mock nerds, or celebrate them. TBS has really never been a “geek” channel, so it would stand to reason it’s usual audience might be just tuning in to laugh at the awkward nerds. I guess that’s fair, considering many watch Honey Boo Boo or Jersey Shore for the same reason, to say “well, at least I’m better than them!”

That said, there’s a reason those other shows succeed. They’re entertaining, and so far, that can’t really be said for King of the Nerds. Populating a show with midi music and constant pop culture reference doesn’t mean you’ll satisfy your target demo. I thought it was rather hilarious, however, when the first challenge forced them to pick two teams of five out of 11 contestants, meaning someone would be left to live out their worst elementary school nightmare. And of course, when it came down to the skinny cute girl with pink hair, and the chubby one with weird tattoos, guess which one got left out in the cold?

Funnily enough, the show realized that being left out is every nerds worst fear, and ended up giving the last girl more power than any other contestant, making her safe from banishment, and having her pick which team was safe as well. Clever, clever.


The problem with this show would seem to be that the challenges are going to have to be so wide-reaching because of the array of skills, that they won’t be fair for half the group every time. How are you going to pit a mathematician against a pro gamer and quiz them about LOTR trivia? There’s too much “nerd stuff” that can be covered, so really, nearly everything should be done as a team, which eventually, will prove impossible as more and more people go home.

In the end, King of the Nerds doesn’t seem like it’s making fun of nerds enough to be mean, but it’s not really exciting or dramatic enough to be interesting. And at least in episode one, only five minutes or so were devoted to anything resembling nerd competition, with the rest mostly reality show time-wasting BS. And the big finale? A chess match. Granted, a life-size chess match where a cosplaying anime girl moved the pieces around, but still. They should have played dodgeball.

I don’t know, I liked the cast members, but the show itself is too dull to be worthwhile and not bad enough to openly mock. Enjoy your moment in the sun nerds, but I probably won’t be watching.

  • Grant

    I liked watching the show, but I had my complaints. Like you mentioned, with all the various arrays of nerd topics and skills I think this show would have been a lot better if they didn’t eliminate contestants each show, but rather just award points. I mean, the guy eliminated in the first episode may have been the best in brightest in physics or comics or games or whatever else, but just because he wasn’t quite as good as the other guy in chess he’s done and gone. I would like to watch a whole season and get to know each person on the show and build a “relationship” with them and root for them until the end. Also, as with most “nerds” I’m sure these people are used to being picked on and bullied which is exactly what will be going on in this show with the contestants trying to get each other eliminated.

    • Yeah that chess match was like uhhhh…this is rather arbitrary. I imagine most elimination challenges will be like that.

  • gafpromise

    I haven’t heard about this one yet. One reality show I did like was Beauty and the Geek. It only lasted a couple of seasons and really went off the rails by the end, but it was one of the kinder gentler reality shows out there. It seemed like people genuinely formed friendships and were able to learn something new about people who are different. Of course it’s all reality TV “magic” but it’s a heck of a lot better than people starting screaming matches and throwing drinks at each other.

  • I liked it, but in the proverbial ‘so bad it’s good’ sort of way. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes, it could end up awful or it could end up surprisingly good.

  • johnc

    I don’t often see eye-to-eye with you Mr. Tassi, but when I do, damn do you nail every point that I take issue with when that happens.

    Being harmless and inoffensive is one of the worst things a TV (and art in general) can be.
    I find more offensive when shows of this caliber decide to be so non-committal about the concept. It reeks of laziness. I was actually bothered by how indecisive the premiere was, so I pretty much just zoned out.

  • Keith

    I was expecting it to be horribly exploitative and stupid, and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. Not great either, but definitely will be watching a few more episodes.

    As per the fake nerd girl issue – I’m a little worried right now that the cute one with pink hair may be revealed to be one. Her credentials are video game blogger, and in the prove why you’re a worthwhile nerd segment, she didn’t seem to offer anything.

  • Buddy Lee

    I was thinking the same, the pink haired girl screams more hipster to me than ‘nerd’

  • bakakyo

    Guys, the cute pink haired has a channel called tradechat and she covers WoW for like more than year. And now that LoL is so popular she’s covering it too. Also, she speaks about other nerdy things sometimes on her channel. For me, it’s kinda harsh to say she’s not a real nerd. My wife too had pink hair for a time, she’s cute and she plays (Skyrim, LoL, Dota 2, PoE) A LOT.
    It really bothers me that the nerd guys are so skeptical to cute girls being nerds. THEY EXIST. Of course, they’re a bunch of cute nerdy girls, but they’re real and their number is growing, since the line dividing the “nerd world” and the “non-nerd world” is thining.

  • Keith

    Well then I am glad to be proven wrong. All I knew about her was what was shown, and nothing jumped out as exceptionally nerdy.

  • @ bakakyo, I blame facebook games for the thinning line 🙂 eg. Angry Birds… along time ago people would have laughed at you for playing such a ridiculous game and now everybody is pop cultured about it…

    To the rest I am very disappointed in this show for the instant eliminations starting a show off with 11 people for teams was good, leaving one in fear of leaving, however this show will not last long if everybody is being pecked off, It needs a score, it needs some redemption quality, it needs more edge. I want to see the “hardcore gamer” do something more than teach a self exploited hacker how to fly an object through an obstacle course… the cos play had an obvious winner i would have boo’ed the other team when they first walked out looking like that especially with the “hacker” stealing all the supplies, and not using any of them.. Its not the characters its the game in general, the show is put together very sloppy for what they would call a nerdvana. *imo*