When I first heard that TBS was producing a reality show pitting nerds against each other in competition, I was skeptical to say the least. There are a lot of ways that this could have been extremely insulting – especially since the show seems to have sprung out of the success the network has had airing The Big Bang Theory in syndication. And even as a fan of that show, I think it often veers into laughing at rather than laughing with its nerds.
Still, I had to check it out, obviously – and after the first episode I was cautiously optimistic. The pleasant surprise was that these were actually real nerds. We had PhD students, comic book geeks, scientists, roleplayers, and hackers (contrasted to, for example, Beauty and the Geek, who had “geeks” whose only cred was, like, “went to Harvard”). I even recognized Danielle as Panser/TradeChat, a popular World of Warcraft vlogger. Granted, there’s a skew towards the more extroverted nerd for obvious reasons, but I think what was most telling for me was that I felt like I would fit in well with the group. I mean, I’m a computer science graduate student who collects comics, writes speculative fiction, and plays D&D and WoW – these are my people!
Of course, there was still the possibility that the format of the show would be to mock the contestants – and I was pleasantly surprised again. I think that Penny Arcade made a good point after the first episode – that whereas being like us (the nerds, the geeks) can often be a punchline, on this show, being like us was the only way to win. Over the course of the season, “nerd wars” included chess, physics problems, comic book trivia, cosplay, and sudoku. (I found the song-and-dance competition to be a little questionable re: nerdy skill sets, but it was definitely entertaining and they did a great job.)† Early on I found myself rooting for Ivan, who seemed like such a nice guy and wore his nerd cred proudly; Brandon, who just looked so happy to be there; and Danielle, who appeared to be underestimated by the other contestants. But honestly, there wasn’t anyone who I disliked – even those I suspected got edited into playing temporary villain roles when it probably wasn’t deserved (especially Alana, Virgil, Joshua, and Danielle, in that order).
Especially since there were more men than women starting the show (6 to 5), it was surprising to see an all-female final three – though considering the varied skill sets of all of the contestants, I could have seen almost any of them at end game. For this kind of competition it seemed a shame that much of it was based on picking off the strongest early (a legitimate strategy, of course), and especially due to the variety of the challenges, there was a lot of luck involved in when you might end up in a nerd-off (sorry if you happen to be a brilliant mathematician, but you’re going home based on fantasy novel trivia!). For that reason it felt like the overall winner might be a little arbitrary – which is the only reason why I might have liked to see Danielle (who pulled out surprising wins outside of her skill set) or Genevieve (who won more nerd-offs than anyone else) win. (By the way, if you’re wondering how Danielle used My Little Pony to solve a physics problem, she totally did.) But in the end, it was under-the-radar pro gamer Celeste who took the crown based on votes of the other contestants – and her story about personal growth really was touching. I think she’s a great role model for nerds (especially girl nerds) and as worthy of the title as anyone else who competed.
Now that it’s over, want some behind-the-scenes insight or to see where they go from here? A lot of the contestants are hanging around on social media – you can find most of the cast on Twitter, including Ivan, Moo, Joshua, Danielle, Brandon, Alana, Genevieve, and King Celeste. And Virgil, who grew on me throughout the competition until I was seriously bummed to see him go, wrote commentaries on the episodes that you can read at his Tumblr. (Between the hacker/philosophy chatter and his search for fan fiction based on the show, I kind of just want to hang out with him now.)
And what now? Well, apparently the show was successful enough to warrant a second season. So if you saw it and thought “I can do that!” then it’s time to submit an audition tape. The only requirement according to the casting call is that you’re an 18+ nerd. If you’re auditioning, let us know! There are tapes showing up on YouTube already. After all, there’s got to be someone reading this blog who would be worthy of the title King of the Nerds.