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Saturday, June 15

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Airbags

Howdy. My name is Dee, and I'll be your Gapers Block tour guide through the shallow waters of pop culture. No life jackets necessary.

Beauty and the Geek, WB, 7pm Wednesdays
(season finale July 6)

Touted as the "ultimate social experiment" from executive producer Ashton Kutcher, this summer reality show teams up seven intellectually challenged women with seven socially inept men to live in a California mansion. Each week they compete in different contests (academic for the ladies, a social grab-bag for the men), with the victors choosing which couple goes to the dreaded Elimination Room. The winning team receives $250,000. And maybe, just maybe, each contestant "become[s] a little bit more" than a beauty or a geek. Ahem.

Almost every guy is a "nerd" along the Patrick Dempsey in Can't Buy Me Love line; that is, all they need to be "hot" is the right haircut (and maybe some highlights), fashionable clothes, and the removal of those pesky glasses. The glaring exception is Richard, one of the two finalists, who obviously studied at the Central Casting Department of the Woody Allen School of Acting. In the inevitable makeover segment, contestants Bill and Shawn cleaned up the best, and Richard... wore a pair of jeans. Which was a huge improvement of his usual favored garb of wide pleated trousers that give him an odd pear-shaped silhouette, don't get me wrong, but the other fellas were more open to the change. I wish that Chicago-based Joe had gotten past the second round, because I thought he had a lot of potential for good TV. And he was a wee cutie.

The beauties are attractive, certainly, but in an approachable way. Most of them genuinely wanted to help all of the men in the house, not just their teammates, learn how to be more confident around women and in general. The ladies also hoped to learn something from the "geeks" as well as from the experience itself. Only one of them, Lauren, seems to not give a damn about self-improvement. Then again, she claims to have "a really high I.Q. I think my I.Q. is probably about 500." Who am I to argue with such obvious smartitude?

The challenges for the women were fairly straightforward: a fifth-grade-level spelling bee/geography contest, checking the oil and changing the tire on a car, building a rocket, and doing math in their heads. Yes, really. The men suffered through dancing in front of an audience, giving all of the beauties massages, buying clothes for their partners, and collecting phone numbers from complete strangers. I'm not quite sure how men learning how to "dress" women is an important social skill. The phone numbers assignment was also odd. The winner was the guy who collected the most numbers in a half hour, which — how is that helpful, exactly? Learning how to approach unknown women is difficult for many fellas. To put a time limit on it doesn't make sense. Also, the geeks were allowed to lie in order to get the numbers, so... how is this "helpful" for the men, exactly?

In true reality show fashion, the finals have come down to the two teams who have been at odds for the past several episodes — in this case, the male half of each duo. Spastic Richard, who before this show had "never kissed a girl," has managed to smooch (albeit platonically) two of his female housemates; however, he has not tamed his annoying personality quirks. Several of the women find Richard's antics "silly" and the geek himself "cute." Not amused, however, is the other male finalist, Chuck. Chuck, a medical student in functional neurology, despises Richard's "full-on histrionic mode," and Richard "want[s] to continue terrorizing Chuck." Chuck and his partner, Caitilin (pronounced phonetically as KITE-ill-in) have won the most challenges. As a result, Richard and his partner, Mindi, have been sent to the Elimination Room for three consecutive weeks. The first time, Richard smeared mud on his nose and wore a dunce cap in an unsuccessful attempt not to be chosen. The second week, Richard deliberately wore a blindfold and a hastily manufactured cigarette to face "the firing squad." Chuck targeted Richard for elimination by lecturing, "I really just hope that at some point, some of the things we've been trying to say to you will sink in. 'Cause it clearly hasn't happened here." Keep in mind that Chuck is the man who won the phone numbers gathering contests by telling the women he chatted with that he was gay. "How many straight men do you know with highlights in their hair?" So yeah, get off your moral high horse there, medicine boy.

Last week, Chuck openly insulted Richard again by calling him "completely [bleep]ing unstable" in front of the remaining contestants, as well as describing "several disorders" that might explain Richard's inability to read social cues (a "kind of perceptual problem"). Richard finally stood up for himself. But he also admitted to Mindi, "I do know when too much is too much. The strange thing is I, I just keep going." He added, "It's a compulsion to perform, I think." His approach to the game is comedic; his partner's is more introspective. Who said Richard wasn't learning anything?

Each week in the Elimination Room, Mindi answered her half of the required questions correctly. Her opponents invariably missed at least one question, so Richard never had to put himself on the line. Caitilin is also a fierce competitor, so much so that she broke an alliance with a friend — self-proclaimed genius Lauren — in order to continue in the game. Caitilin is sweet and seems quite genuine, and I have no problem with her winning the grand prize. But Mindi deserves the money not only for putting up with Richard's antics but for carrying him through each elimination round. Too bad the beauties can't be on the same team!

The WB has already picked up a second season — send in your audition tape now! — and a reunion special airs next week in the show's usual time slot. I, personally, would love to see a gender reversal: male models and and female nerds "helping" each other. And not just for the chance to ogle some pretty boys. Really.

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the WB's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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