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.
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.