As swiftly as it came to our TV screens, TBS’ reality show King of the Nerds is over, with a second season already in the works. When we saw the trailer we were enraged, watching the pilot felt like a near-180, and now that the first season has concluded with one victor crowned King of the Nerds… we can finally say, “Yeah, it was OK.”
Our final analysis is a tepid one because the finale really drove home where King of the Nerds falls short. Here a reality show took eleven unique—if socially awkward—personalities, got us to root for them, and then knocked them off one by one, ultimately claiming that ten of the eleven weren’t “ideal” nerds. What a rollercoaster of feels, guys.
As far as reality shows go, let’s give them some credit for trying to bring a “genuine” feel to the season, with challenges that engaged the competitors’ varying skillsets. Yet these distractions failed to override the overly developed sense of importance that King of the Nerds seemed to be pushing. In fact, watching shy gamer girl Celeste narrowly beat assertive fantasy writer Genevieve reminds us of the fears that the first trailer prompted in us:
“Here’s why this is a colossal setback. It takes every stereotype of what mainstream thinks nerds are like, and tries to come across as an authority on what it means to be a nerd—therefore cementing these archetypes and stigmas as fact for its audience. The truth is that ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’ come in all varieties, shapes and sizes, from all walks of life.”
Those who tuned in may have found the celebrity judges delightful, most of the contestants endearing (though there were a few who were too self-deprecating or delusional to tolerate), and the hosts unbearably hammy. Overall we were entertained, but there was an overbearing sense that this competition would be a defining moment in nerd history, and that the winner would somehow be rewriting and redefining nerdom FOREVER.
In the tradition of many other reality shows, the losing players all came back for the final episode. But instead of reassigning them to teams led by the final two for yet another arbitrary contest, the producers emulated reality TV pioneer Survivor and left the vote in the hands of those who had been kicked off. Each of the exiled nerds happily returned to Nerdvana for the night with Genevieve and Celeste, reforged bonds, and the next day voted on who would “rule over them” as King of the Nerds. Though there was plenty of “it should have been me” to go around, for the most part the “losers” seemed gracious and thrilled to be back in the house:
Joshua (after getting drunkypants with the other nerds before the vote): “I am home. Amongst my peers. Where I belong.”
Each girl made her case:
Genevieve: “I really hope that you’ll give me the opportunity to prove just how devoted I am to this, and just how much I want to be a good ambassador.”
Celeste: “The moment I came to this house and saw you all here, I compared myself to you; I thought I wasn’t good enough… I stand in front of you as a confident person, someone who is really loving of herself and proud to be a nerd. And I can tell the young nerds out there: You may struggle, but you are who you are and you need to learn to love yourself and accept yourself. I cannot tell you how happy I am today to love being a nerd and being a representative for you guys.”
What makes a truer nerd—someone who has the fortitude to hold her head high through cruel jeering and brutal dismissal? Or someone who starts from a place of insecurity and builds up that necessary courage? Ultimately, Celeste’s underdog story won over her peers, and the crying that accompanied her crowning were tears of joy.
Ivan: “Kings who are born into power normally fail, but it’s the ones that are brought into power by their own people that truly rule.”
But once we actually saw “one nerd to rule them all,” it looked so unnatural. The eleven contestants made up a pretty solid pantheon of the different types of nerds: Gamers, writers, experts, mathematicians, and so forth. So why did the competition have to reduce this group to one inarguable example of “right” nerddom?
Part of the fundamental problem here boils down to how TBS marketed the show, which we found to be far too intense and gimmicky. They forced King of the Nerds into the reality TV formula: Take the demographic in question and create a competition where the prize is the title, as opposed to just the money. Far more effective would have been a competition similar to Family Double Dare or Wild & Crazy Kids (to get all nostalgic on ya) where the point isn’t who is a better team, family, or contestant, but who happens to win the prize money by chance, dexterity, or other challenge outcome. Thus removing the self importance of King of the Nerds and instead maintaining the positive exposure for the nerd community.
During this season, certain twists to the challenges were incredibly charming: The geek debate actually required its participants to craft cohesive arguments; and even in the first episode, getting picked last in the quintessential “dodgeball team” scenario translated into victory. But this structure falls apart when you try to declare one winner. Finding the “alpha nerd” in this group felt like trying to find the best orange in a tropical fruit salad, when we should be celebrating all of the different fruits that make up the whole. Instead we end up with a show about who is the most dramatic orange.
Our criticisms aside, they’re already casting for season 2. Turns out you can have more than one King of the Nerds; hopefully the show will evolve next season. Maybe they’ll take some advice from Ivan….
Ivan: “Being a nerd is about being special; it’s about being different. But most importantly it’s about embracing that and making wonderful things happen for yourself. So go out there and be the best damn nerd you can be.”
Michele Reznik is a marauder and messer who solemnly swears she’s up to no good! Graphic/web designer, Public Relations/Event Production Associate (with Jeff Newelt AKA “JahFurry” for comics, film, tech, lit & music clients), Live Action Role Player, and hobbiest costumer. When she isn’t writing, designing, or LARPing, she’s usually catching up on comics and sci fi—one series at a time. You can find her @DarthReznik on Twitter.
Natalie Zutter is a playwright, foodie, and the co-creator of Leftovers, a webcomic about food trucks in the zombie apocalypse. Her writing has appeared on Ology, BlackBook and Crushable, where she discusses celebrity culture alongside internet memes (or vice versa). Weekly you can find her calling in to the Hunger Games Fireside Chat podcast, reviewing new releases at Movie Mezzanine, and on Twitter.