Jan 24 2014, 6:00am CST | by Forbes
When the second season of TBS’s reality TV competition King of the Nerds begins tonight, viewers can expect the program to reach nerdier heights than ever. Just ask two of the most iconic nerds in film history.
King of the Nerds is a reality game show: Eleven contestants live in a house (“Nerdvana”) and compete in challenges that test their intellect, ingenuity, and pop culture knowledge, all in pursuit of a $100,000 prize. The show is hosted by Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong , actors best known for playing Lewis Skolnick and Dudley ‘Booger’ Dawson in the 1984 film Revenge of the Nerds . They’re also executive producers and co-creators of the program.
If you’ve never seen King of the Nerds, it’s worth checking out. A year ago, when I heard that a TV network was launching a game show about nerds, I cringed: I expected exploitation, wannabe actors pretending to be geeky, and the usual brainless reality show nonsense. But when I watched the first episode, I was pleasantly surprised. The show features genuinely smart, geeky contestants, and the weekly challenges reward intelligence and knowledge. One episode concluded with a chess match, another a debate, and one with a physics puzzle that required contestants to calculate the velocity of falling objects.
Robert Carradine: You know, some of our guests –especially George Takei– were very concerned that we were going to be making fun of nerds. We said, “No, no. This is a celebration.” That was always our mandate from the get-go.
Curtis Armstrong: Yeah, we felt pretty serious about it. When Robert and I were coming up with the idea for the show, we had two particular mandates: one was that it be co-ed, and the other was that it not be mean spirited, and not make the contestants look stupid. And we take a lot of pride in the fact that we’ve stuck by that.
When you were growing up, did you see yourself as nerds?
Curtis Armstrong: Bobby and I both predate the term ‘nerd,’ and when I was young, I didn’t consider myself really a nerd, per se. But when I think back on it, I was very bookish… I went through a comic book stage, but my big thing was books, so I was sort of a literary nerd. One of our nerds in the second season, Brian, is a complete book nerd, so I had an affinity for him from the beginning.
People seemed to really enjoy the first season of King of the Nerds, but didn’t care for the way it ended –that Celeste Anderson , the winner, was chosen via popular vote, and Genevieve Pearson , who dominated in the challenges, came in second place. Are you going to handle the championship differently this year?
Robert Carradine: That was coming at us from all fronts –people were disappointed with the popularity contest component of last year’s finale. So we actually brought in Genevieve, our runner-up, and everybody put their heads together, and we came up with the nerdiest solution to decide who is worthy of being crowned King of the Nerds. It is definitely not a popularity contest this time.
Curtis Armstrong: It’s nothing against Celeste, who really played the game and deserved her crown. It was just that there was something about the idea of a popularity contest that was antithetical to the idea of nerds, because it’s just not in our skill set to win popularity contests. So people were disappointed, we were disappointed, and we fixed it.
What else is different this season?
Robert Carradine: Well, the challenges are bigger and better. We’ve got some intrigue in the house that we didn’t have last year, which always makes for good reality. And we’ve got some great judges.
Curtis Armstrong: We have a new Nerdvana, which was sort of forced upon us when we were unable to secure last year’s location. And the new Nerdvana is spectacular. It’s a far bigger, easier place to shoot in, and completely beautiful. As Bobby says, a lot of the challenges have been upped from last year. And this current group of nerds… I won’t say they’re nerdier than the first season, but boy, are they nerdy.
Robert Carradine: One thing that we introduce this year is the people’s nerd.
Curtis Armstrong: Oh, that’s right. One of the things that happened after the first season is we would get these email messages from people saying, “Well, these aren’t real nerds, this is a real nerd, and they’d recommend other people. We thought, ‘Well, why don’t we make one person the people’s nerd, and that person can be nominated by fans of the show on the Internet? Josh Wittenkeller won that competition, so he became one of our nerds.
What are some of your favorite moments from the new season?
Robert Carradine: Well, we have one challenge that involves a gigantic robot. That’s all I can tell you about it at this time, but it is absolutely spectacular, otherworldly, and we owe it to the guys who built this incredible, double life sized robot to compete with our nerds who build their own robots. It’s a robot challenge unlike any other. It’s a real high point.
Curtis Armstrong: That is a pretty spectacular one. There is also a Harry Potter-themed challenge, which involves a game called Nerditch. The contestants have to fly on brooms, and it’s pretty amazing… visually arresting, to say the least. We kept a few of the challenges from last year –we kept the debate, and we have cosplay– But basically they’re all new challenges.
Learn about the most influential game of our time in my new book, Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It . Follow me on Twitter , Facebook or Google + .
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