King of the Nerds — A Rant

@ 5×5 Media, Electus

Have you seen King of the Nerds? I won’t hold it against you if you haven’t, especially if you don’t have cable, since…uh…it’s on cable. But also the Internet, as is everything. It’s a reality show that, as the title suggests, pits self-proclaimed smarty-pants against one another in a series of challenges that society at-large perceives as geeky and/or nerdy, such as playing science-fiction trivia or LARPing. The show premiered last year, and I watched that first season as eleven people were whittled down to a single winner. It was not the most repulsive of reality shows; yet, it was far from the best. (With the “best” being I don’t even know what.)

As you can probably imagine with it being a “reality” show, the contestants were all presented at their nerdy bests and worsts, with the worsts being consistently highlighted. And I don’t mean that the players were necessarily mean or evil (though obviously some angry competition developed as the series went on), but they were all completely defined by their interests. And only one interest per contestant thank you very much, as god forbid there should be two engineers or three gamers together in one room! So the comic book lover was shown quoting comics; the gamer girl was shown being super awkward and cool and lesser because she was a gamer; the fantasy writer was shown speaking in tongues that only Tolkien would understand. Frankly, the collective’s house, aptly called “Nerdvana,”  seemed to have more personality than the players.

Nerdvana KotN
© Courtesy TBS Newsroom

Look, I get it. Nobody forced said geek/nerds/smart people to participate. It’s a TV show. It’s a competition. Players get booted off each week. There’s no time to delve into personal details beyond geeky/nerdy things, because that’s not what the show is about. The producers — among whom are Revenge of the Nerds alumni Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong — need to categorize individuals so that we recognize who are the “heroes” and who are the “villains.” They need to exaggerate the stereotypes because the viewers need someone to quickly laugh at, to cry with, and to root for because each player’s 15 seconds barely lasts 15 seconds. The problem with the footage that makes it to air is the mockery factor. The sound bytes from the “confessionals” are so awful that the contestants seem to mock themselves as well as one another. It’s all a bit sickening to witness. And after watching the premier of King of the Nerds, Season 2, the jokey-hokey-pokey made me nearly throw up.

For example, after all the players were introduced and allowed to explore the house, the very first conversation witnessed started with, “Okay, let’s get this out of the way, Star Wars or Star Trek?” Talking happened both within the group and in individual snippets (the aforementioned “confessionals”), but holy hell, really? Just…really?? I don’t doubt the validity of such a conversation, but to have that be the very first thing that the viewers hear was simply stomach churning. Now, having been in awkward groups of new people who all kind of like the same nerdy and/or geeky things, maybe I take the mockery a little bit personally, but it’s as if the show does nothing but wring out geeky jargon and catch phrases from the contestants to the point that there’s no way for them to elevate above their respective niches. Is that what we as geeks/nerds/other are? Am I merely the sum of all the pop culture tidbits that have built up my brain over the years. I like Star Wars, and no doubt I’ve let loose with a “may the force be with you” or yodaism every now and again, but I don’t think Star Wars defines me by any means. And I hate to think that, if I were a contestant on King of the Nerds, that one thing would follow me until my surely imminent victory. (Ha freaking ha.)

Though stacking would have been the death of me. @ 5×5 Media, Electus

We, the geeks, the nerds, we L-O-V-E what we love to the fullest, but a show like King of the Nerds, mocks those loves and puts them on display as something abnormal. I can see what Carradine and Armstrong want from the show — and yes again, it’s a competition blah blah blah — but it’s a shame that it carries none of what put them on the map from Revenge of the Nerds. There’s no kindness, no camaraderie, no “us vs. them” mentality because they are the “them.” I completely admire and respect the career paths of both Carradine and Armstrong (and it’s not like I’m the once sitting pretty), but the mocking and exploitation of nerd culture that’s depicted on King of the Nerds doesn’t help the community. And it’s a far cry from the depiction of nerddom that was crafted in Revenge of the Nerds. I’m sure the show will have a decent life, but it won’t get any more viewings from my four eyes.

But…maybe I’m just being too curmudgeonly for my own good. If you’ve seen the show, what do you think of its depiction of nerds and geeks? Is it nothing more than a simple competition show that’s all in good fun? Or is there something more sinister (even if unintentionally so) about it?


Like what you’ve just read? Cary posts to Geek Force Network every Friday; and you can also find more words that she put together in paragraphs at Recollections of Play and United We Game.


9 thoughts on “King of the Nerds — A Rant”

    1. I wish I knew! I think they have good intentions at heart, and that they want to show off people’s talents and unique qualities, but it’s done in a very poor and contrived manner.

  1. I haven’t seen the show, but I’ve been avoiding it because I worried it would be like this! Reality shows can be so contrived, and just because “nerd culture” is thriving doesn’t mean any reality TV program needs to exploit it.

    However, I know it might not be fair of me to judge it for stereotyping geeks, since I haven’t actually seen it. I’m glad you think its heart might be in the right place anyway? I couldn’t tell if that was the case or not based on the previews.

    1. I really do think that they want to show off the fun of nerd culture, as well as how varied it is. Considering that only very small portion of the contestants’ lives end up on the TV, maybe it really is that way. But the stuff that makes it to air is so stereotypical and falls right in line with long-held societal notions (mostly the unpleasant ones) of geeks and nerds. I will say that, at least from the first season, the weekly challenges were pretty creative.

  2. I saw an episode or two of the first season in the breakroom at work and was just disgusted. The stereotypes are so over the top and hokey, I just couldn’t watch it.

    It’s kind of offensive since this show makes being a nerd/geek/gamer something to make fun since people will say “look at how ridiculous these people are! How lame”. So when I mention I’m a nerd, people will connect me to the over the top personalities in the show and you can see where this is going. It’s probably a really over the top, defensive mindset to have but I can’t help but think this whenever that show is brought up.

    1. No, I agree. It’s stuff like this that perpetuates the nerd/geek stereotype — and then people wonder why so many of us are guarded and defensive! We’ve been trying to defeat the stupid “norm” for years and it’s exhausting! If the show focused more on what really makes the nerd community a true community, then maybe it’d be more acceptable. But that’s a big *maybe.*

  3. I have a love/hate relationship with this show. Basically, I watch it, and then hate myself for watching it. I genuinely like a lot of the people on this show, which is why I tune in every week. (I adored Genevieve on the first season, I wanted to be her bff.) But I’m not too happy with how the show portrays them. Very sad, because the idea has a lot of potential.

    1. I have to agree with you about the contestants — they really do seem like genuinely nice people. (I was rooting for Moogega last season.) The show is not without some high points, but the poor execution just kills its spirit.

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