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‘Geek’ is a kinder, gentler ‘Bachelor’

Nerds and beauties connect, without benefit of roses
/ Source: contributor

When The WB last year announced that it would air a series featuring geeky men and hot women pairing off, it seemed dead on arrival, a clone of a clone of “The Bachelor.”That was especially true because, despite the appearance of its ninth season on Monday night, , as are its spin-offs. No longer is there drama in watching a man hand roses to women and send others off in tears, nor is it entertaining to be promised excitement (“the most dramatic rose ceremony since the last dramatic rose ceremony!”) when there is none.The groundbreaking ABC dating series wasn’t helped by the fact that most of the relationships crumbled soon after the show, with their demise sometimes being blamed on the network’s insistence that the new couple not see each other for months, until the show finally aired. But what really killed “The Bachelor” was an endless parade of copycats, shows that took its formula and twisted it, while still mostly failing to ignite any significant romance.First there was ABC’s own spin-off “The Bachelorette,” which reversed the formula so that a woman was sending the men away in tears. Later came FOX’s “Joe Millionaire,” faking out a bunch of women who thought their bachelor was a millionaire.

Some shows introduced new locations, like the Australia-set “Outback Jack” and “Bachelorettes in Alaska.” Others challenged the value of physical appearance in a relationship, such as the Monica Lewinsky-hosted dating series where the men wore masks (“Mr. Personality”) and an NBC series that had women select from not-traditionally-handsome men (“Average Joe”). Some versions offered temptation, such as “For Love or Money,” where participants were given the opportunity to trade in their newfound relationship for cash. Later, the shows diversified. There was Bravo’s gay bachelor series, where a man selected a partner from a group of men, some of whom were only pretending to be gay (“Boy Meets Boy”); FOX’s ”The Littlest Groom,” which gave a little person the choice of  both women of similar stature and average-sized women; and UPN’s ”The Player,” where self-described “players” were given a chance to test their skills with a real woman and her two friends.When is a dating show not a dating show?But although “Beauty and the Geek” can trace some of its formula back to ABC’s series, The WB’s show was remarkably different. For starters, it wasn’t really a dating show, but a competition. Most significantly, unlike “The Bachelor” and nearly every other dating reality series, the cast of “Beauty and the Geek” cast formed genuine bonds and showed affection — unlike the hollow relationships seen on some of the other reality dating shows.The premise of “Beauty and the Geek” is simple: Eight men and eight women pair off and move together into a room in a mansion.They’re not there to fall in love, but instead to compete in challenges. The irony is, they tend to grow more attached than cast members on “The Bachelor.” The cast is comprised of beautiful, socially skilled women who aren’t known for their intelligence, and intelligent men who aren’t known for their social skills or their beauty.

At the end of each episode, two teams are tested on their newfound knowledge; the team that performs poorly is eliminated. Because the women are unbelievably stupid and the men are unbelievably socially inept, and because they’re all unbelievably naïve about certain subjects, the challenges and the tests are often fun.

On “Beauty and the Geek 2”’s first episode, a woman can’t recognize a photograph of John Kerry, and a geek can’t recognize Kelly Clarkson. One of the men sleeps in the closet because he literally can’t deal with having a hot woman sleeping in the same room.

Another introduces himself to us and starts a sentence with, “Because I’ve been so busy with Dungeons and Dragons....” Do you really need to know the last part of the sentence is “I haven’t had time to pick up girls”? The cast is so incredibly dumb and sheltered that some of them seem like crafted characters portrayed by gifted actors.But what quickly becomes apparent is that they’re all, at their cores, very similar and very real, and that’s when “Beauty and the Geek” lives up to its tagline of being “the ultimate social experiment.”

Suddenly, two misunderstood and stereotyped groups suddenly recognize the humanity in themselves and in each other. It’s particularly interesting to watch as they realize how they’ve stereotyped the other group, and that realization quickly turns to admiration.The pairs that don’t get along provide plenty of reality TV moments, but those who work well together are clearly thrilled to be able to teach the other about what they know. The women give the men lessons on popular culture and grooming, while the men teach the women about politics or math.

In the challenges last season, the women had to inflate a car’s tire and build a bottle rocket; the men were tested on their ability to give massages or buy clothing for their partners. Along the way, the geeks were positively giddy that the women are even speaking to them, while the women seem genuinely impressed with theirpartners’ intelligence.In place of the “Bachelor” rose ceremony is a 12-question quiz given to two of the teams. While the men answer three questions each, the women watch from another room, and vice-versa. The questions are easy enough to make most viewers feel superior asthey laugh at the utter cluelessness of the contestants.

Since this is a reality show, there are also villains who we want to see fail. But watching them watch each other provides the most drama. They jump up and down with excitement when their partner gets a question right, thrilled that their studying has paid off. The new cast is a bit more self-aware and self-conscious than the first season, which makes their growth seem slightly less organic, but it’s still compelling to watch as they learn about each other’s insecurities and realize that they all share the same fears despite their outward appearances.Because they aren’t pretending to forge a lifelong partnership while being prodded by producers and hounded by camera operators, the beauties and the geeks show genuine affection for one another, proving that reality TV can connect two people without the help of roses.

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.