Beauty and the Geek

The thing I hate about reality TV is its tendency to give itself airs. Now in its second season, the WB’s Beauty and the Geek is still pretending to be a “social experiment”. It’s not, of course. Not even in a world where Madonna really is an English country lady, David Boreanaz plays Hamlet in Stratford, and renowned supermodels Eva Pigford and Naima Mora pull down $50K a day each plus their combined weight in cocaine for promoting Jay McCarroll’s Fall Collection. No, here on planet Earth, Beauty and the Geek is blatantly exploitative, cheaply made crap that invites us to celebrate ourselves while marvelling at the social ineptitude of its geeks, mocking the vacuity of its beauties, and, of course, criticising or ogling their always available bodies, according to preference.

Just take a look at the poster for this second season. A decidedly photo-shopped topless beauty (think: Mariah Carey’s legs) sports the show’s logo across her perfectly flat stomach, broadcast details between her hipbones. Her name is Amanda, she’s a hairstylist, and she’s a contestant in Season Two of Beauty and the Geek. Ashton Kutcher’s name is tattooed across her collarbones, while the swell of her breasts morphs into the startled eyes and band-aid-repaired glasses of a stereotypical geek. The poster’s slogan says it all: “May the best pair win.”

Beauty and the Geek is all about tits. Well, tits and asses. This season’s geek squad boasts a Rubik’s Cube world record holder, a Dungeon Master (not in any fun or kinky way), and some poor sap whose job is described as “Tracking Monkeys with Lasers.” Two of the geeks are dead ringers for nerd movie stars. Ankur has three degrees from MIT, which puts him on the same level as Donald Trump’s latest Apprentice, the insufferable Randal Pinkett; but more importantly he’s clearly also a close relation of Ben Jarvhi-Jabituya (Fisher Stevens), creator of Short Circuit‘s Johnny Five, while uber-geek Karl absolutely is David “Jack” Hanson, #16, from Slap Shot. So robot wars and gratuitous sports-based cartoon violence may both be in the cards, if we’re lucky.

Still, Beauty and the Geek is a lot of fun, most of it good-natured. It may be a freak show gene-spliced with a beauty pageant, but it’s several million miles short of the cultural atrocity that was Fox’s The Swan. It’s clearly a second-tier reality show, but gives us people we can love, or hate, or both. We learn more them as the season progresses, and continually revise our expert opinions of their characters accordingly.

I like to pick a favourite pair early and then root for them, while determinedly ignoring every shred of the evidence against them. I immediately selected Karl and Tristin. Unfortunately my two choices neglected to pick each other during the ritualised pairing off that dominates the season premier, so I may find myself forced to choose between the two should they ever come face-to-face in the elimination room.

Season Two of Beauty and the Geek introduces a number of very small changes in format. Last year, the two groups sat in matching sitting rooms on opposite sides of the inevitable reality TV mansion, taking turns to visit their counterparts to be assessed and selected. This year, Mr. Kutcher, in his wisdom, has decided science will be better served if the girls lounge around by the pool in their bikinis, while the nerds present themselves for inspection one at a time.

I imagine the precise benefits of this revision could only be determined by a series of highly complex calculations based on the total number of square inches of female flesh on display, the average bra cup size, and the number of times the editor was able to get dental assistant Sarah’s considerable cleavage on screen. I expect Ashton had to use his fingers, toes, penis, and testicles to work that one out.

This season’s premiere ends with a contest that eliminates no one, but sets up a more substantive format twist (my lips are sealed). In the second episode, the geeks are challenged to perform karaoke, while the beauties are sent to a political debate. After the couples help each other prepare overnight, the eight boys take it in turns to perform Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” to a crowd of O.C. extra wannabes.

While Ankur gives Mick Jones’ extended solo maximum air-guitar exhibitionism, Tracks-Monkeys-with-Lasers’ strong performance receives outstanding support from Sarah, who happily role-plays a naughty school librarian to help her boy out. Though she sheds her sensible cardigan to reveal the full scope of her charms, remarkably, neither Sarah’s chest nor Ankur’s imaginary six-string frenzy beats out the pitch-perfect world-class Rubik geek Tyson, who uses that same guitar solo to display behind-the-back cubism. As so often in the ’80s, the result is a knockout for Tyson in the first.

The beauties’ “political debate” is a little less than a third grade show-and-tell. Some contestants completely forget their homework, one promises to quit farting to help reduce greenhouse gases, and another is damn sure she looks cute on stage despite her lack of answers. A lone bright star in a very dimly lit sky, beer spokesmodel Cher wins a landslide victory after she speaks eloquently about the need to address welfare reform based on her own experiences looking after her aging grandmother. Obviously the many hours she’s spent debating the merits of ice filtration and water purity with her fellow spokesmodels pay off handsomely.

Based on these first two episodes, I’d say that Karl should on no account be allowed anywhere near a hockey stick or an ice rink. Sweet Tristin, however, is so multi-talented that she has two careers: she’s a cocktail waitress and a shot girl, a likeable, good-natured girl who’s been treated incredibly harshly by the twist in the premiere. Trying hard to help the geeks understand that girls are people too, Tristin even confesses that she thinks she’s “chubby”, and that she wishes she had Sarah’s breasts.

She’s not even remotely “chubby”, of course. Not even by Tyra Banks’ standards. She’s lovely, a little like Heather Graham’s younger sister. And I’m quite sure Tristin would hate it if she had Sarah’s breasts, because then she too would have to deal with the camera closing repeatedly on her cleavage. I’m thinking of patenting a new drinking game based around the number of gratuitous breast shots in Beauty and the Geek. Take a drink for every sneaky peek through a gaping blouse, chug a beer for each tee-shirt-punishing nipple, and take a large tequila slammer for each “comic” close up of Sarah.

If there’s any experiment here, it’s Beauty and the Geek‘s insulting attempt to see if any of these girls or geeks will embarrass themselves romantically. Will any of the boys dare to put the moves on a beauty? Or will any of these girls find one of these geeks even remotely attractive? The Kutcher Theorem of Inverse Social Dynamics has it that if you take an air-headed party girl out of her environment, she might become desperate enough for attention to accept a different measure of attraction. There may be some truth in this (it’s how law school students have been getting action for decades), but it’s a pretty shabby basis for a TV show.

Unless the producers of Beauty and the Geek take pity on Tristin, she’s doomed to an early elimination, and I have absolutely no idea who else deserves to win this silly but engaging competition. I do, however, have a prediction for the next season. If Kutcher has any kind of brain in his experimental little penis, he’ll reverse the gender roles for Season Three. The girls will be geeks — hot geeks, of course. The boys will be gorgeous, dead-from-the-neck-up, self-absorbed aspiring actor types. And the ratings will go through the roof.