Beauty And The Geek, dubbed the ‘ultimate social experiment’, is the latest reality show to hit the small screen. Already in its third season in the US and a British version in the bag, the show thrusts together two of the most enduring stereotypes. Are pretty girls really that stupid? And why can’t nerdy boys dance?
The premise of ‘the ultimate social experiment’ is simple. Take seven pretty, albeit self obsessed, seemingly vacuous women (AKA the beauties) and add an equal measure of nerdy, intelligent men with average looks and limited social skills (AKA the geeks). Then pair them off into teams and force them all to live in the same house. Finally, add a variety of challenges, the failure of which will result in the weekly elimination of one of the competing twosomes – until there is one pair left to take home the prize money.
At first glance, particularly because the couples are made to share a bedroom, Beauty And The Geek could be misconstrued as a matchmaking show. You know the drill – pretty, not–so-clever girl meets brainy, not-so-handsome boy, each have an epiphany, opposites attract, and Bob’s your uncle – they’re off honeymooning in Paris. But as this is supposed to be ‘real life’ and we all know that this kind of shenanigans never, and we mean never, happens outside of cheesy holiday movies, the point of the exercise is more or less one of self-development.
You see, both the beauties and the geeks have something that the other needs. Each group, at least superficially, represents one end of the human social spectrum. It’s all so altruistic. In order to become well rounded individuals (and win the prize money), the women are tested on things like basic general knowledge, while the guys have to prove they’ve mastered elementary social skills. In other words, the lasses have to prove that can recite the quadratic formula, and the lads have to learn to stop treating women like they’re from Venus. Genius.
Of course it just reinforces the highschool stereotype that all beautiful girls are ditsy and all geeks, nerds and dweebs have the social skills and sexual allure of an Excel spreadsheet. ‘I’m smart. I’ve got a really high IQ. I think it’s probably about 500,’ says Lauren, one of the ‘beauties’, illustrating her failings rather neatly, while ‘geek’ Bill points out that ‘because I’m so busy with the Dukes Of Hazzard Fan Club, I don’t have time to date anyone’. Bless his thick glasses.
With a set-up like this, it’s highly surprising that the show is almost entirely devoid of belittlement, snide comments and humiliating situations. Not only is it produced by celebrity pranksters Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg, the brainchildren behind the low-brow hit show Punk’d, but just the idea of it conjures painful memories of high school, or the Hollywood version of that there of. In your mind’s eye, it’s easy to dress the beauties up as Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Kristy Swanson or Sarah Michelle Gellar – take your pick), and the geeks as any one of the boys from Revenge Of The Nerds. The poor lads, batted into blubbering, floundering messes by sharp tongues and high hemlines, despite the fact that they know where to find a hypotenuse and will probably make their first million before the girls graduate from community college. The women, cackling in victory among each other, while looking absolutely ridiculous to all and sundry when they misspell BMW in one of the challenges.
But the show has none of this – instead it’s warm, light-hearted and often funny. If you put your cynical hat on, you might think that this is because each team must work together to win the money and score the prestige. It’s also possible that, because it’s not about love, the tension is removed. They have to support each other, not stick the knife in. In fact, it’s intra-group competitiveness that is the most prolific. With geek versus dweeb and bimbo versus poppet – it’s compelling viewing.
Either way, after a while you can’t help but rather like them all and there are some rather touching, John-Hughes-would-be-proud moments in here with Breakfast Club style lessons to be learned. But, in all honesty, for so-called geeks, they’re all fairly good-looking, except for one guy called Richard Rubin – he really would be on the lead float in the Nerd Pride Parade. And the girls, while excellent at playing dumb, aren’t really all that silly. There are very few Jessica Simpson-esque ‘is tuna chicken or fish?’ moments.
Nevertheless, despite the lessons learned, we suspect that in a decade or so the ‘geeks’ will still be rich guys running huge corporations and Dukes Of Hazzard fan clubs while the ‘beauties’ will be gold-digging trophy wives who think a lawsuit is something you wear to court. Nothing short of a match made in heaven for all involved, surely.
High-school stereotypes…what can you do?
For Time Out magazine – for original PDF click here – Beauty and the Geek