Why it Doesn’t Pay to be King of the Nerds

On Thursday, a new reality show premieres on TBS, and it fills me with worry.

I am worried about the consequences for the nerd-adjacent geek subcultures, which are, as you might have gathered, near and dear to my heart.

While the distinctions between “nerd” and “geek” can be blurry from the outside, there are important distinctions. These are not important for understanding my concerns, in fact, the tendency for people to confuse the two is at the root of my anxiety.

Back to the show. It’s called “The King of the Nerds,” and sets a group of self-identified nerd types against each other to compete for this title, which, I’m not certain is an honor.

The contestants seem to fit the worst notions of nerd-kind. They are socially awkward and interested in obscure and easily ridiculed hobbies.

Like the not-so-real housewives, or the unfortunate Boo Boo, this show’s entire premise is built around the audience feeling superior to the collection of oddities parading in front of them, like caged creatures at the zoo. This attitude sustains the images of the geek (or nerd) as circus sideshow act, biting heads off of live chickens or displaying atypical anatomical characteristics. It’s time to bury those connotations.

Sure, I like to gawk at car crashes as much as the next person, but, I am far too committed to the cause of geek-rights to see this contest as a positive step for geek/non-geek relations.

There have been great strides over the last few years. Superhero movies have become decidedly mainstream, as have vampires and hobbits. This thawing of cold-war hostilities between the once constantly ridiculed fans of board games, or comic books, or fantasy and science fiction has made me feel hope that one day, all the geek flavors will be able to live in harmony not just with each other, but, with the people whose pastimes and affinities don’t earn them so much as a raised eyebrow when mentioned in public places.

This new show looks to be a one-way ticket back to the bad old days when the geeks and the nerds suffered for their unorthodox affinities. With each promo, the nerds of the competition are profiled, and my heart hurts for these people who seem unaware of how awkward they appear, or how the show is playing that for laughs.

In addition to the title, there is a cash prize of $100,000.  Is that worth trading your dignity and the rising acceptance of nerd-kind in the wider world?  Shouldn’t we demand more from those with whom we share a common bond of odd hobbies and public humiliation? Shouldn’t we expect each other to have our collective backs, and not try and compete amongst ourselves?

Is this a bad time for me to point out that winning a contest with such a small nerd sampling hardly qualifies the winner as King (or possibly Queen) of anything? For the title to mean anything, it should be much more rigorous than that. Will the non-contestant nerds acknowledge the title as valid?  Does pointing out these flaws move me from the ranks of geek to the crowds of nerds?

It’s probably a bad sign that I’m really starting to be tempted by that $100,000 prize.  And with only 11 contestants, the odds are pretty good.

I really need to stop thinking about this.