The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 28, 2013

Joe Hadsall: 'King of the Nerds' finale usurps reign

JOPLIN, Mo. — I usually don't like reality TV shows that aren't named "Monday Night Football," so I was surprised how much I enjoyed "King of the Nerds" on TBS.

Hosted by legendary nerd actors Curtis Armstrong and Robert Carradine, the show pitted 11 geeky types against each other in competitions of video games, comic book debates, nerdcore rap writing and larger-than-life puzzles, including:

  • A game of Memory, where competitors had to struggle past a sumo wrestler to examine life-sized objects, two at a time.
  • A huge Rubik's Cube that provided starters for a Sudoku puzzle.
  • An obstacle course for a miniature hovercraft where opponents were armed with Nerf guns.

Awesome stuff. I was hooked into the show, even though it had everything I detest about reality TV shows, including the bad edits, fishy circumstances to create fake drama, cheesy alliances and made-up betrayals.

All that stuff was made tolerable by interesting people who did things not so typically. And all of the characters got moments to shine by showing off some of the admirable quirks and qualities that make them nerds.

Many of the competitors faltered in things they thought were a skill. Moogega, an astrophysicist, lost in a tower-building contest and faltered in the Sudoku competition (the game is one of her habits). Irving, who had a special skill for "Kinect Dance Central," lost when pitted against someone who thought she was inferior.

But for the most part, those were my people, the ones who I'd hang out with at sci-fi conventions. I was hooked. I screamed at the TV when Danielle was being overly dramatic, or when Ivan, one of the stronger competitors, just couldn't understand why an opposing team would choose him for elimination. (It's a compliment! They fear him! Why is he ticked off about this?)

And instead of getting overly invested in the competition, the nerds seemed to have a genuinely fun time. Their laughing and joking during tasks was infectious.

The show was just about perfect for a reality TV show. Until the final episode.

Starting with four nerds remaining, Ivan was eliminated in a simplistic Segway race. The maze was just a bunch of small bumpers on a parking lot, with none of the awesome decorations of the chess game or memory game from earlier episodes. Kind of a lazy letdown, truth be told.

Then Danielle was eliminated in a trivia game thanks to a question about video games, her supposed area of expertise. She did not take it well.

That left Genevieve and Celeste. Genevieve had survived three elimination-round "nerd-offs," and Celeste hadn't had to endure one. Looks like a pushover battle, right?

Not quite. The final competition was based entirely on the votes of the other nine eliminated competitors. They campaigned and hoped for the best. In other words, a show dedicated to people on the outskirts of popularity was decided by a popularity contest.

It's how the meek, nimble Celeste, who talked about how much she'd grown and come out of her shell, would be a perfect ambassador of nerd-dom over the clearly superior Genevieve, who won all her competitors' sympathy. Never mind that Genevieve actually proved it by taking out some of the game's strongest competitors in nerd-offs.

It was a jarring reminder that this show -- which started out as something special -- was still disappointing, unsatisfying reality TV filled with the genre's worst qualities.

That being said, when does season two start?

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