Beauty and the Geek

There’s a lie at the heart of “reality” TV. It’s the idea that everyone we’re watching is an amateur, and that if only we’d applied, then you and I could be there with the best of them — and Amber and Rob. The new season of Beauty and the Geek is a prime example.

Two seasons ago, I suggested that if the Punk’d team of Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldburg had any brains in their little penises (peni? penes?), then they’d reverse the genders, cast 10 hot nerdy girls and an equal number (that’s 10, Mr. Kutcher) of self-absorbed, aspiring actor-type boys, and watch their ratings go through the roof. Well, K and G are starting to see things my way. This season’s dramatic twist? The introduction, at the end of Episode One, of graduate student Nicole Morgan and “club promoter” Sam Horrigan.

The immediate reaction of the other teams was unanimous resentment that this odd couple should challenge the status quo, and a determination to nominate them for elimination. Stat. This was unduly hard on likable Nicole, who is not nearly as unkempt or socially inept as her male peers. And despite expressing worries about “being the ugliest girl in the room,” she continues Hollywood’s glossy fiction that “ugly” equals good-to-average looks “spoiled” by bad clothes, unblonde hair, and spectacles. If she lasts long enough to find her place between the geeks and beauties, it’s odds on that Nicole will enjoy her very own “Why, Miss Jones, You Were Beautiful All Along” moment, and make more than one geek’s day.

Sam, however, is no “club promoter.” He’s an actor with more than 25 convictions on his IMDB rap sheet, including continuing roles in Grace Under Pressure, 8 Simple Rules, and Grounded For Life. (You may also remember him from his performance as Brian “Pop” Popovich in Veronica Mars.) Taking smug satisfaction to exciting new extremes, Sam’s a martyr to excessive grooming and, allegedly, 1000 crunches a day. He’s also a playa’s playa. After proclaiming he’d be “doing the girls a favor” by “hooking up with them because it will boost their confidence,” he wasted no time macking on Episode Three’s double challenge-winner Rebecca, in order, it appeared, to avoid being nominated for elimination.

While Sam got his education at the Sacto Ab-Lounger School of Beauty and Ego, Nicole completed degrees at Cal Tech and USC, and is now studying Musicology at Tufts. She must have ditched class the day they did rap, though, because her first challenge performance was decidedly underwhelming. Nicole’s male geek peers include a software engineer who “lives with his parents,” a LARPer (Live Action Role Player), a robotics engineer, and an astrophysicist. They were all inept MCs. Only the fiercely competitive Will (another software engineer, who doesn’t live with his parents) and John (an analog circuit designer from MIT) showed anything approaching skillz and in the end, it was Will who took the gold.

In the first “beauty” challenge, Sam debated politics and current affairs with Hooters’ girls, beauty queens, and wannabe-actresses. Although he started out nervously, Sam’s experience in front of an audience and with learning at least a handful of lines led to his triumph over bartender and aspiring model Shalandra. When medical student Tony Tran and model Amanda Hanshaw were eliminated, it was a merciful release for him, television road-kill throughout, but a shame for her, plainly nicer and brighter than she appeared. Repeatedly described as an “aspiring Playboy model,” she’s a full-time model who’s already appeared in Maxim, FHM, and yes, Playboy. She is still aspiring, however, to become a Playmate or centrefold.

Similarly, Hollie Winnard, eliminated at the end of Episode Three, was portrayed as a Professional Betty Boop. Another likeable and intelligent Beauty, Hollie hasn’t given of her Betty in years, but she does still play a number of other characters at Universal Studios in Orlando, including Princess Fiona. She’s appeared in a number of indie slasher flicks and has a new movie coming out later this year. I’d say she has much more going for her than just her Boop-Oop-A-Doop.

Why then, is the Olde Fyrme of Kutcher and Goldburg so keen to hide Amanda and Hollie’s headlights under a bushel? It can’t be a moral concern. This is a show that persuades a doctoral student to shake her booty on stage, gives its young cast a truckload of champagne, and encourages them to play truth or dare, make out with each other, and give each other lap dances. Presumably, then, the producers are attempting to protect their voyeuristic viewers from discovering that girls like Amanda, Hollie, and Sam are not amateurs.

Excitingly, you can still pick up, courtesy of CafePress, Hollie Winnard’s 2005 Mouse Pleaser mouse mat. Says Hollie, “Your mouse, and not to mention your hand, will be happy to surf the web on top of me! Please be gentle.” Says CafePress, “A great gift for geeks.”

RATING 5 / 10