Beauty and the Geek

[5 July 2005]

By Beth Gottfried


I’m smart. I’ve got a really high I.Q. I think my I.Q. is probably about 500.
—Lauren (Beauty)

Because I’m so busy with the Dukes of Hazzard Fan Club, I don’t have time to date anyone.
—Bill (Geek)

The good news: Beauty and the Geek is not as shamelessly explicit as most reality TV. The bad news: it’s as contrived as you imagine it will be. The six-week competition features seven gorgeous women and seven dorky guys. Each “beauty” is paired with a “geek,” and the teams compete in various challenges (dance competitions, spelling bees) to test their aptitude (for the women) and their desirability (for the men). At the end of each episode, winners each pick a partner to take to the elimination round, where the women are asked traditionally intellectual questions (“Who’s the Prime Minister of England?”), and the men are tested on their pop culture knowledge (“Who sang ‘Hey Ya’?”).

The show presents relatively refreshing concept for the reality TV genre in that it’s not explicitly about dating or extreme makeovers that resort to plastic surgery. Instead, its focus is on the intrinsic qualities (lack of self esteem, confidence) that are common to beauties and the geeks. It’s these commonalities that ultimately lead both groups to develop more sensitivity and understanding of each other. When Joe sees his partner Erika struggle with her studies, he realizes that her greatest detriment is not believing she’s smart enough. Similarly, Erika sees Joe’s lack of self-confidence as his biggest obstacle. Aspiring fashion expert Caitilin comments that Shawn is “so amazing, if only he had more confidence. He’s such an amazing guy.” And, after being eliminated from the show’s first episode, computer programmer Eric comments, “We’re all just peoples.”

Such self-performances make it hard to assess whether the beauties and geeks are not just another bunch of wannabe actors. The cast is comprised of one-dimensional, quasi-cartoonish types: a life-size Barbie, beer company spokesmodel, lingerie model, assistant boy scout master, and one guy who has never kissed a girl (Richard Rubin makes the entire cast of Revenge of the Nerds look like lotharios). A self-proclaimed virgin, he admits he’s never spooned a woman, and so his partner Mindi, a sorority girl (who is the brightest of the bunch), takes pity on him and spoons him before they go to the elimination round. No one likes Richard; as he’s clearly the dorkiest, most neurotic, and socially challenged of the group. His presence demonstrates just how readily Beauty and the Geek exploits the very stereotypes and prejudices it supposedly tries to break down.

Most glaring is the beauties’ ineptitude when faced with answering the easiest of trivia questions. In the first episode’s geography and spelling competition, the women failed miserably when quizzed on fifth grade level content. One woman misspelled “tattoo,” another misspelled “calendar,” and still another actually answered that South Dakota was South of North Carolina. The toughest question was “Name three states whose names contain the word ‘new.’” Scarlet couldn’t make it past “New Mexico.” This display only further perpetuates the myth that if you’re beautiful, you’re also incredibly stupid.

The geeks look slightly less ridiculous. While they get up on stage and dance or buy clothes for their partners to model, for the most part, they aren’t as humiliated as their female counterparts. When the girls give their partners makeovers, the men transform into less obtuse versions of their former selves. (For so-called geeks, they’re all conventionally good-looking, save for Richard.)

What this show seems to allude to is that while the beauties might never be smart and the geeks, cool, they can intermingle on some “human” level. Enter romance, an angle that only makes the clichés seem more unavoidable. Joe, an aspiring film writer who’s never been on a date, lusts after his partner Erika, a life-size Barbie doll while she pursues hot Geek Mensa member Brad. Another romance brews between beer model Scarlet and med student Chuck, who gets bloody noses when in the presence of “hot” women. One can imagine how this condition will affect his relationship with Scarlet, who accepts a massage from him and then asks, “Have you ever had a Latina girlfriend?”

With such un-banter going on, the show’s opening disclaimer seems misleading: “This is not just another dating show. This is a social experiment.” Not quite. At its core, Beauty and the Geek is about getting a few cheap laughs, courtesy of its cast of Hotties and Notties. Executive producer Ashton Kutcher needs to get the memo: watching people embarrass themselves will only garner laughs for so long. At some point, you just have to let it go.

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