TBS’ reality competition “King of the Nerds” isn’t anything television hasn’t seen before. It’s one of those “Survivor”-meets-“The Real World” shows that tosses a bunch of people into a house, gives them some prize money to fight for, then sits back and watches as they bump one another off in their quest to become the last man or woman standing. The show gets major bonus points, however, for going all the way with its concept.
“King of the Nerds” isn’t the first nerd-based competition on TV. Comedy Central’s “Beat the Geeks” (2001-2002) more or less paved the way. But “KotN” doesn’t stop at a mere nerd-culture quiz show. Oh, no. First of all, our hosts are Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong, stars of the 1984 comedy classic Revenge of the Nerds. Who better to guide 20 major dweeboids through an intense subcultural boot camp? Our nerds are chosen for both personality and area of expertise. We’ve got gamer nerds, math geeks, comic book collectors, computer hackers: It’s like the lobby of the San Diego Convention Center during Comic-Con up in here.
In the first episode, contestants are divided into two teams and ensconced inside “Nerdvana,” a Los Angeles-area mansion stuffed with video games, a wide selection of polyhedral dice and even a crafting lab full of Radio Shack supplies. Each week, teams are faced with a challenge. It could be a chess match or a pop culture quiz or some kind of retro video game-off. In the end, somebody gets crowned “the one nerd to rule them all.”
The only thing nerds like less than being labeled nerds is admitting that someone else is a bigger nerd than they are. Turning nerdity into a competition isn’t going to sit well with a lot of socially awkward, subculturally obsessed Americans. Is watching “Doctor Who” nerdy? Kinda. Is LARPing nerdy? I’m gonna have to say yes. So who would win in a fight to the death, a Whovian or a LARPer? Who’s to say? “King of the Nerds,” apparently. Though I suspect the show will spark many a nerdtacular debate on the Internet, it’s actually a surprisingly evenhanded portrait of us nerds. (To be perfectly honest with you folks, I actually auditioned for “Beat the Geeks.” But the show got canceled before I could get on. Loser.)
Refreshingly, the producers of “King of the Nerds” have thought their concept through quite thoroughly. The show’s first competition, for example—a deceptively simple, pick-your-teammates round—ends with an unexpectedly appropriate twist. For a show stocked with nerds, there’s a lot of social interaction—in fact, it’s kind of the key to winning. So far, at least, the players are an entertaining lot—in an Orcish-speaking, Game of Thrones-quoting way. The only major flaw in the show is the grand prize of $100,000 cash. Cash is nice and all, but it doesn’t seem particularly geekish. A trip to outer space, the bones of Steve Jobs, Stan Lee as your butler for a month: Now those are some nerd-worthy prizes. Oh well, maybe in season two.