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Reality Check: "Geek" is Still Chic

I'll admit that I was more than skeptical at first when I heard the premise of the WB's reality show, Beauty & the Geek. Perhaps it was the fact that the promos kept billing the show as "Ashton Kutcher's social experiment," a dubious endorsement to say the least. (His marriage to Demi more than fits the bill as "social experiment," but that's not for here.) The concept is pretty basic: six geeks (intellectually advanced yet socially awkward guys) and six beauties (gorgeous yet, er, intellectually challenged girls) are picked to live in a mansion.

Sounds rather like MTV's Real World at first, no? But here's the twist: the girls and guys will be paired into teams of two and will compete each week for the priviledge of staying and continuing the experiment... and for the opportunity to win $250,000 at the end. Each week, the geeks and the beauties are forced to compete in various challenges; the winners of which get to decide which teams to send to the dreaded elimination room (where they must separately answer questions on the subjects of their individual challenges). The challenges vary in intricacy and difficulty: the girls must deliver a speech, assemble a computer, beat a Vegas dealer at blackjack, or, using a map, navigate the streets of Los Angeles; the guys must chat up female strangers at speed dating, throw a party, decorate a bedroom, or stage a fashion shoot with their partner. And of course, with any lifestyle makeover show, there's the requisite transformation, where the girls makeover the guys, usually with stunning (and surprising) results.

(It should be noted that, during both of the show's two season, one of the beauties hooks up with one of the geeks following the guys' make-over transformations. This season was no exception with tracking-monkeys-with-lasers scientist Wes and beer spokesmodel Cher locking lips in Las Vegas and then returning to the mansion as a full-fledged couple. Apparently, the two are reportedly still an item even after the B&G cameras stopped rolling.)

But then something unusual happens: both the geeks and the beauties not only end up learning important life lessons during their stay, but also change considerably, both on the outside and the inside. For the guys, they learn how to dress better, how to groom themselves, how to approach and talk to girls, and--most importantly--how to have more confidence in who they are. For the girls, they are usually used to getting what they want by using their looks and relying too heavily on those looks to get through life; they end up learning that learning isn't all that bad, that they do have intelligence and skills, and, maybe, that guys that look like their geeks might have more to offer than their outsides might imply.

This season has pushed both the geeks and the beauties to adapt and change in new and different ways. Probably the most real and touching moment came two weeks ago when the beauties were forced out of bed without being able to do their hair or makeup or select an outfit and taken to a bar where they were forced to ask guys to buy them drinks. Stripped of their "armor," the girls looked completely average and that was the point; no longer the focal point of every guy in the room, the girls were avoided and ignored at every turn, much as if they were the geeks. For the girls, it was a traumatic and revealing experience and all of them were reduced to tears by the end of the challenge.

At times, I almost wish that Beauty & the Geek wasn't an elimination-style competition--that the geeks and beauties could stay in the house the entire time and continue to evolve together. Most of those who fail to make it out of the elimination room are usually saddened, not because of the money they failed to win, but because the experience had drawn to and end. And it's not just the geeks who are sad to go; for the beauties it serves as an opportunity to be taken seriously and seen as more than just a pretty face. I was traumatized this season when Rubik's Cube Champion Tyson and Thais were forced to leave the house so early on; Tyson really wanted to be there and to change his personality and his life and was only starting to loosen up and relax. (Then there are others, like last season's winner Richard, who outstayed their welcomes very early on.)

Over the course of the past few weeks, the teams have been whittled down to two: Joe and Brittany (above), who seems oblivious to the fact that poor, doomed Joe is nursing a serious crush on her; and the truly Woody Allen-esque Josh--who carries around a purse like a security blanket--and Cher, whose motives for being in the game were questioned early on. But after falling for Wes (who cleaned up quite nicely), even Cher blossomed into a better person.

Tomorrow night will pit the final two Beauty and the Geek teams in the elimination room to see who gets crowned the ultimate beauty and the geek and who gets to walk out of the mansion $250,000 richer.

And though it seems more than a little cheesy to say, I think both teams are already far richer for their experiences.

What’s On Tonight

8 pm: Still Standing/Still Standing (CBS); The Biggest Loser (NBC); One Tree Hill (WB); George Lopez/Freddie (ABC); American Idol (FOX); America's Next Top Model (UPN; 8-10 pm)

9 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); Beauty & the Geek (WB); Lost (ABC); Bones (FOX)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); Invasion (ABC)

What I’ll Be Watching

None of the above, but for two good reasons.

With Lost a repeat and Veronica Mars a no-show once again (Veronica fortunately returns next week with all new episodes and a better lead-in with America's Next Top Model), I'll be (gasp!) skipping television tonight.

I'll be in Aspen, Colorado, for the start of the HBO US Comedy Arts festival. Which means more than likely I'll probably be away from the television but instead will be taking in quite a lot of live comedy acts, panels, and feature film premieres over the next few days.


Anonymous said…
"At times, I almost wish that Beauty & the Geek wasn't an elimination-style competition--that the geeks and beauties could stay in the house the entire time and continue to evolve together."

Yeah, me too. I get sad for the first people out, especially.

I really love this show. Like you, I scoffed when I heard the concept and the Ashton factor. But I started hearing good things so I gave it a chance.

I am really happy that Brittany & Joe made it to the finals. She has really emerged as my favorite this season. And I like Joe. Transformation or not, Cher still bugs me. And woody allen started to grate on me a bit. I can't look at the purse!

Didn't Chuck and his partner win last year?

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