Okay, I’m a little bit late getting to this, but I just caught up on the first two episodes of a new game show/reality show called King of the Nerds. For anyone who identifies as a nerd or is even semi-nerdish, this show is really a hoot.
Imagine rounding up eleven people from a science fiction convention and putting them in a house called “Nerd-Vana,” stuffed with video games, comic book paraphernalia, electronic gadgets and who knows what else. Have them compete in totally nerdy challenges and get eliminated one by one in a “geek-off” at the end of each episode. It’s like “Big Bang Theory” meets reality TV.
Best of all, guess what the producers chose for the first geek-off? A chess game! The rationale was that chess is the ultimate game for nerds. This turned out to be a somewhat debatable proposition, given that none of the participants actually seemed to be a very proficient chess player. Still, it’s nice to think that chess is still viewed as a prototypical cerebral activity by the public.
I liked two things about the show and the presentation of chess within the episode. First is that it really does not mock the nerds, at least in the two episodes I’ve seen. It celebrates their culture. To the extent that it reinforces some stereotypes, it’s because the contestants enjoy and buy into the stereotypes themselves. By the standards of reality TV, which usually deals with humiliation in some shape or form, “King of the Nerds” is (so far) remarkably inoffensive.
The second thing I liked was that the geek-off really was a straight-up game of chess. They didn’t trick it up in any way, say with mock battles or dice rolls where if you try to capture a piece you may or may not succeed. To win the challenge, you really had to outplay the other guy at chess.
Okay, well, they did “trick it up” a little bit to make it visually more appealing. First, they edited out most of the game, showing only the first three moves, the first piece trade, and then the final mating sequence. Second, the pieces were two or three feet tall, which is completely understandable so that everyone could see the action. Finally, there were two assistants: a sexy woman to move the pieces (who made sure to bend over a lot so you could see her cleavage) and a muscular guy in a toga who decapitated each captured piece with a hammer. I didn’t mind this because it was consistent with the campy theme of the show as a whole, and it did not in any way affect the outcome of the game.
I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that reality-TV karma held true big time in this episode. People who are too cocky in reality TV usually pay for it.
My last comment is a non-chess one. The show has two hosts, Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong from the original “Revenge of the Nerds” movie. (I didn’t know this; Kay pointed it out for me.) I’m afraid that two hosts are one too many, as the first season of American Idol proved. Carradine mostly just stands there while Armstrong steals the show. If it weren’t for the fact that Carradine is a co-producer, I would expect him to be gone by season two.
Next episode, for anyone interested, is Thursday night on TBS. You can also watch it online, but only if you subscribe to one of the major cable companies, which sort of defeats the purpose of having it online.