"Oh my god! You have to watch it!" That was pretty much what any fan of Beauty and the Geek had told me over the past few seasons, but I just didn't have room in my cold, dead heart for one more reality competition show. Thanks though to a lazy TV summer and a caring Tivo that anticipated my needs before I even knew they existed, I'm all caught up and now fully on board. I highly recommend this approach: it's pretty fun to get into a series and find that your next season premiere is only a few weeks away.
If you too have yet to get the knack, the gist of BATG is that eight "beauties" (beautiful women who tend to be stupid and shallow) and eight "geeks" (socially inept smart guys) pair up and attempt to win a quarter of a million dollars by winning a series of challenges through teamwork and acquired knowledge. So there is competition and money but as you can tell by the tearful montage presented at the end of the season premiere, it's about learning and loving, too, which is why the show prefers to call itself a "social experiment."
The charm of the program is that it's not very contrived, at least for a reality TV competition. The producers actually seem to take care to make little tweaks from season to season to prevent the show from becoming too repetitive (hello, American Idol) or the cast members from figuring out the formula and playing it to their advantage. Moreover, the show has heart. Of course it's easy to enjoy a series that obviously roots for the underdog, but what's most charming is that the aim of the show is not for the contestants to play or be played, to undergo a dramatic physical transformation, or to fall in love (although none of those things are discouraged.)
Before we could get to the new beauties and geeks meeting each other, though, viewers were treated to an hourlong casting special/filler, which provides a depressing example of how many nerds and idiots fill our planet who are eager to get on TV. You'd have to be a robot of course not to find the auditioning geeks interesting if not funny and smart, while it's cringe-inducing to watch women come on the show to try to prove that they're ditzy and shallow by responding almost angrily to questions like "Who is the Vice President?" "What? Pass."
Our beauties and geeks were then selected and moved into the obligatory TV mansion and we got to know your average LARPer, Hooters girl, robotics specialist and aspiring Playboy centerfold. Changing up the formula of the show a bit, the contestants spent the night together outside in the cabanas before picking teams, delivering the comforting good-natured friendliness of the contestants that makes the show more human than stereotype. The protocol of the show then got switched up once again as Joshua (the biggest geek, sort of like Richard Rubin from Season 1 only minus the charm and good looks) and Shay (allegedly the dumbest beauty, who already seems like she can be a tough cookie if she wants to be), chose the teams, already encountering the first challenge of the experiment: pair the couples per their requests and risk putting together dangerous teams, or use strategy and thus piss off teams that could screw them down the line?
The one thing that irked me about the show in previous seasons is that as any non-"beauty" knows, the world is not only made up of unattainable cold women and misunderstood geeky men. There are nerdy women in this world, and cruel, cocksure good-looking men as well. It could even be argued that male geeks have it better than their female counterparts: we've all seen the grown-up wealthy geek with the trophy wife. Not so much Billie Gates and her gigolo. Well, my concerns were answered this season as we were introduced to our first female geek and male beauty. Will she hang with the geeks? Will he torture the guys? Did she audition as a beauty and get turned down? And what goes on that causes so much hugging and crying and kissing in the "coming this season" montage that I admit gave me goosebumps? I must know! I mean, of course I know, everyone learns from each other and grows and all that stuff. But it's so watchable. Damn you, Beauty and the Geek, you've sucked me in once again.
Grade: B+ Stray observations: -Nate and Jennilee, runners up from last season who also happened to become lovers, helped with the casting. Are they still together? Are they? Because we didn't seem to learn the answer from the show. Sure they seemed kind of flirty, but that could also be flirty friends. -Mike Richards is one of the most tolerable reality TV show hosts out there. He's a wiseacre without being obnoxious, good-looking but not TV-fake, and otherwise unobtrusive. Thus I propose an arranged marriage between him and my favorite female TV reality host, Cat Deeley of "So You Think You Can Dance." -I would really like to hear the rest of the song that one geek sang in his audition tape that began, "David Schwimmer/You are a winner."