Mar 15 2013 4:00pm

King of the Nerds Tells Us There’s Only One Way To Be the Best Nerd

King of the Nerds season 1 finale review Celeste winner reality TV TBS

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.

King of the Nerds season 1 finale review Celeste winner reality TV TBS

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.

King of the Nerds season 1 finale review Celeste winner reality TV TBS

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.”

Photos: TBS

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.

Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
Changing the shows marketing would be a big step in the right direction.
Dave West
2. Jhirrad
I came into the show very skeptical, as my comment on the original thread demonstrated. I was pleasantly surprised by the pilot and followed along throughout the season.

Having watched the entire show, I find myself in complete agreement with you regarding its shortcomings. It was entertaining (which is what TBS really cares about - ratings) and that was good. I liked the contestants and felt something of a kinship with them. However, it felt really weird to be crowning a "King" at the end as someone who theoretically embodied and represented all of nerdom. Especially considering the way Celeste was chosen. In a direct about face from the first episode, the ultimate winner was in fact chosen by a popularity contest of sorts, rather than through the merits which they displayed on the show (you can argue this point to a degree, but I point you to Danielle, who blindingly voted for Celeste simply because she couldn't stand Genevieve). It would have been much better to simply make it clear from the start that this is really a game show, not a reality show, and some degree of luck will most definitely determine who is crowned winner and walks away with the money.

On the positive side of things, I'm very glad that my fears turned out to be unfounded in the end. They let the contestants be who they are proudly, and embraced the culture through many of their guest judges (Takei, Garfunkel & Oates, Kevin Smith). There was little mocking of nerdom on the show and that was a relief.

Maybe for Season 2 they can realize that this is just a game show. Because as nerds, we are all King of our Kingdom.
Pritpaul Bains
3. Kickpuncher
I found it rather anti-climactic and more than a little ironic that the final event to determine the King (or in this case, Queen) of the Nerds essentially came down to a popularity contest, which pretty much embodies everything nerdiness *isn't* about.
Pritpaul Bains
4. Kickpuncher
Oops. Beaten to it by @2.

"Hoom. Don't be hasty."
Beth Kee
5. Beaker719
So much for watching my Tivo'd episode this weekend. I saw the picture on Tor's front page before I could even realize it was a spoiler.
Michael Grosberg
6. Michael_GR
I think you're being too harsh on the whole "best nerd" aspect. Look. This is a reality show. A reality show is a contest dressed to look like a story with characters and conflicts, and "they are there to win money" just isn't a good enough motivation to make us connect with these characters.
We all know the contestants are not there to represent nerddom just like we know the contestants on "The Bachelor" are not there to find true love. You're just critisizing KotN because they follow the rules all other reality shows follow. Should we hold KotN to a higher standard just because it deals with our own subclture? I don't see a reason.

As for the contestants themselves, they remind me of many people I know (there's this girl I know who's so much like Genevieve it's scary). I don't think they represent the mainstream's idea of what nerrdom is. Jon the metalhead with the pink hair is definitely very far from any kind of mainstream perception of geek. Just having a 50-50 gender split shows they're trying to represent geekdom well. And the contestants are probably not as socially akward as you'd think. Most of them seem very confident and none of them seem like the virgin recluse type. I even believe Celeste exaggerated her own shyness in order to win.

My own problem with the show was that some of the challenges were a bit lame and not very exciting. I hope they come up with better ones in season 2.
Andrew G.
7. Andrew G.
I found the show to be rather enjoyable, though all of the criticisms noted above are valid. Hopefully they will address some of that in the second season, and give some more variety and less cheesiness to the challenges. I think the best part of the show were the contestants themselves. Even if I found one or two annoying, they all seemed genuine - unlike contestants on a lot of reality shows I've seen. Honestly, I could have just sat there and watched them talk to eachother and goof around for an hour... I'd love to see what was cut.
David Lev
8. davidlev
I agree with #6. I sincerely doubt anyone is going to come away from watching this show and think that nerd equates solely to "shy Asian-Canadian gamer girl" just because a shy Asian-Canadian gamer girl won a nerdiness contest. At least not anyone who wouldn't already think that to be a nerd you have to like video games, be into math/science/engineering, be socially awkward, or be physically unattractive (and I know that there are people out there who do hold that one of those factors is the determining factor for nerdiness).

I really liked this show, and I liked (almost) all of the contestants. I was legitimately surprised to find that I was growing attached to Virgil, who I initially thought was a tool, and was slightly less surprised when I discovered I was seriously beginning to dislike Danielle (ohmigod what a sore loser).

Although this show demonstrated that nerds can be terrible people too (I'm looking at you Danielle and to a lesser extent Joshua), I was legitimately impressed how little backstabbing and drama was in this show, compared to other reality TV I've watched. When forced to compete with one another, the nerds seemed fairly good sports (besides Danielle in the last episode) when they lost and seemed to enjoy hanging out with each other when they weren't competing.

And I too was spoiled--I watched the show online on TBS's website, which has a graphic showing who had been eliminated, meaning there were several times I knew how the show was going to turn out before I even watched it. For the last episode, the main page had a huge banner saying "CELESTE WINS!" which really ticked me off. I usually don't mind being spoiled, but not when there's a competition going on!
Andrew G.
9. jere7my
The winner of King of the Nerds isn't claiming to be the "best nerd" any more than the winner of Top Chef claims to be the best chef in the world. (None of the contestants ever think they're better than Colicchio.) Somebody has to win; the title just means "contest winner".
Andrew G.
10. DougL
Danielle should have won.
Andrew G.
11. Joe Chin
The most interesting thing about this show wasn't the show itself -- which was the sort of insipid, formulaic garbage I'd expect from the people who brought us "Car Lot Rescue", especially in the last three episodes. It was what the contestants did off the show. Getting contestants to talk about their time on reality TV on the Internet or elsewhere isn't anything new. But I can't remember the last time a cast had so much to say about a reality TV show that was actually insightful, even if it made the production crew look like the amateurs they were.

Hopefully, the producers are taking notice because they can't do the same lazy job in season 2 that they did in season 1 and expect the cast to carry them to success again. At some point, the producers need to prove their contestants are worth watching on TV and not just worth following on Twitter. I'll believe that when I see it.

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