We’re two weeks into TBS’ new reality competition show, King of the Nerds, and so far it’s left me feeling a bit confused. As a self-proclaimed nerd extraordinaire, I appreciate the show’s attempts to display the diversity in nerdom, but find the moments that it slips into stereotype to be tedious at best.
While King of the Nerds makes an effort to depict what it means to be a nerd in a way that is comprehensive to all audiences, it falls short of its goal. At times too stereotypical to appeal to the geek audience and other times too niche to be accessible to a general audience, the show varies on the extremes without finding a true happy medium.
The premiere episode of the competition was the standard fluff of all reality television. We’re introduced to the contestants, told their particular areas of expertise, then watch them scramble around to find potential alliances. The group of eleven is to be split into two teams, leaving one odd (wo)man out. We’re told that the last person chosen for a team will be the first person to go home. It comes as no surprise when Alana is the last nerd standing as she was clearly the least confident competitor there. However, then comes the first twist: Alana is given the power to choose the winning team because “there’s nothing nerdier than not getting picked.”
I found this first twist to be rather annoying. While it would have been terrible to see someone get sent home so easily, I feel this concept of nerds always getting picked last plays too much on stereotypes. Being a nerd has nothing to do with popularity. Are all nerds unpopular? No. Are only self-proclaimed nerds excluded in school? No. The image that the nerdy people are the ones left out is constantly rehashed by the media; its an image that nerd society needs to move past.
After Alana decides that the Orange team is stronger than the Blue team, each team must then nominate a member of the losing Blue team to go into the Nerd Off… which happens to be a giant game of chess. Nerd stereotyping much? As it turns out, neither competitor in the Nerd Off has much experience with chess, leaving Jon and the self-nominated Hendrik to scramble to refresh their game play in a few hours’ time.
Again, the show plays to nerd stereotypes in the media: all nerds are good at chess. This is clearly untrue as Alana is the only competitor in the house who has played the game competitively. Even so, under her guidance Hendrik loses and is the first to leave Nerdvana.
The biggest problem with the premiere was its reliance on stereotypes. After reading several reviews online by self-proclaimed non-nerds, it is obvious to me that the general viewership just didn’t get it. One reviewer incredulously wonders why anyone would vie for the title of the nerdiest nerd. Who would want such a title? Um… nearly every nerd ever, actually. Nerds are taking over the world, after all (especially us geek girls). Another common comment was that, for being nerds, the players weren’t very good at chess. Because all nerds must play competitive chess, just like all nerds were straight A students in the Academic Decathlon and all nerds are good at maths and sciences…
In spite of a lackluster start, the second episode of King of the Nerds shows the first major nerd niche. Cosplay. We can all get into that. Nerds and non-nerds alike can appreciate the ability to dress up as a favorite character and run around being ridiculous for a few hours, right? Right?! I mean, we even have a holiday devoted to cosplay–Halloween.
Though the character and world creation challenge was fun and featured a nerd favorite as one of the judges, Mr. George Takei, the competition was perhaps more niche than one would think. I watched the episode with a couple of non-nerds who at several points rolled their eyes and wondered aloud if people really do things like that. Yes, yes we do. Again, people who place themselves firmly outside of the nerd world didn’t really get it.
While the show does have its downs, there are also some definite pros:
- It acknowledges that there are different kinds of nerds.
- It attempts to showcase a variety of aspects of nerd culture.
- Even though it’s called “King of the Nerds”, there are several female contestants. Yay!
- The editing doesn’t attempt to hide the competitive and sometimes mean sides of the contestants. Danielle is manipulative and we love every moment of it.
- Not going to lie: the Nerdvana house is pretty sick. I totally want my own nerd portrait done. Plus the Throne of Games is a clever reference to a popular nerd series and all kinds of nerdy games.
- This quote: “Pro tip for life: don’t ever pigeonhole a nerd.” – Joshua
YES, YES, YES, YES. THAT QUOTE. Finally. That should be what the show is all about, right? Let’s educate nerds and non-nerds alike about what it means to be a nerd and how we don’t have to give into stereotyping.
Only time will tell if the show will fall victim to stereotypes in order to appeal to a wider audience or if it will accomplish its goal to end them. Though I want to be hopeful that the competition will be a success, I still have some reservations. Either way, perhaps this is just one more piece of the puzzle that is nerd world domination.