Thursday, February 15, 2007

Guilty Pleasures

I confess, I love "Beauty and the Geek," most likely because I was considered to be a geek during my four years of high school hell. I don't think we used the word "geek" back then. "Bookworm" was commonly used, along with a lot of terms I've thankfully forgotten.

Fortunately, I was lucky to meet others of my type through a special program I was in called "The Catskill Area Study Program for Able and Ambitious Students" which we referred to as Saturday or Summer Seminars. High school students from four counties got to travel by bus to the State University of New York College at Oneonta for classes taught by college professors. Two of the boys I met then, Peter Zicari and Gary Catella remain my dear friends. By a bizarre set of circumstances, we all wound up living in Cleveland at the same time for a few years. I was there only for law school but Peter and Gary are still there. Peter is an editor at The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Gary is a scientist at Cleveland Crystals. There is no doubt that they would both qualify as "geeks" under the rules of the TV show.

My impression is that the first rule of getting on the Geek side of the show is having a high I.Q. Then it appears to require any or a combination of the following: a love of science fiction, Star Wars, Star Trek, or comic books; perfect SATs; attendance at Harvard; an inability to dress casually chic; and awkwardness with the opposite sex. An optional plus is virginity.

A great many of my friends (and certainly my son) are geeks under these definitions. Most are wonderful people who are quite comfortable in their geek-hood. They are super-intelligent with great senses of humor and timing. Most of them grow out of awkwardness and slob-hood (although I do worry about my son.)

As Robert Heinlein said "Intelligence is not a crime, but most people treat it as at least a misdemeanor." Over the years, I've seen incredible bias against smart people, the worst of which was by the principal, several teachers, and a school board member who took out their resentment against the students in the highly gifted magnet program which was housed at their San Fernando Valley high school. Suffice it to say that highly gifted children often have highly gifted parents who are successful, articulate, connected and can be mobilized when their children's educations are at stake. Geeks value education. This is not a bad thing.

Back to the TV show: last night the final two teams came down to three people who had made a great transformation and one who, by her own admission, had not changed one iota. She and her partner, a great guy named Nate, had won many of the challenges throughout the season, but she was so self-centered that she totally missed the point of the game. The producers threw a big curve ball at her and she missed by a mile: all of the previously eliminated teams got to choose the team that won based on whom the eliminated team members each individually felt had changed the most due to the experience.

What is fascinating is that most of the geeks--the guys--are great at heart but have social awkwardness and lousy taste in clothing--learn the social skills and how to dress and remain the really nice guys they already were. The change in the beauties is mostly internal and in attitude--they learn to see past the superficial, which is great. Physical beauty is, after all, only skin deep and what really matters is emotional beauty. Most of the contestants realize that the money is not nearly as important as this experience is to them. Cece didn't get this at all--she was in it strictly for the money and thought she had it coming to her because she and Nate had won so many of the challenges. Her unpleasantness to both the guys and other women (she particularly had it in for the non-blonds) was her undoing. Somewhere there is a painting which shows what CeCe is really like.

Many of the judging contestants rightly wanted Nate to win. In the end, Nate (who could have won with any of the other women who were on the show) went to each of the others and said that he had gotten far more than $250,000 of value from the experience and that it would be wrong for CeCe to win the money if she didn't realize how much more valuable the experience was. I'm pretty sure that sealed the votes for the individuals who might have voted for Nate despite the loathsome CeCe. Nate was a class act all the way. In the end, Nate and CeCe got two votes, one from the woman with whom Nate has, apparently, kept up a relationship and one from a guy who felt that CeCe had been responsible for his great change, before Scooter and Megan got the seven votes they needed to win.

I couldn't help but notice that the producers had the teams vote in reverse order of their eliminations, which meant that the blond women voted before the dark-haired women got a chance and the last dark-haired beauty (and she really was) who got eliminated was the first to vote and put Scooter and Megan over the top. It was a very satisfying ending to the contest. I'm looking forward to the wrap-up they do next week to see how far Nate's relationship with the other girl has gone and to see if CeCe as learned a damned thing.

After much cajoling, I agreed to go to the 15th reunion of my high school graduating class. After that many years, I had come to the conclusion that pretty much everybody is miserable in high school, everybody feels alienated, and most people turn into decent adults. It was nevertheless extremely gratifying to be able to respond to the question I got afterwards from friends "Was there anyone people didn't recognize?" by answering "Yes. Me." I looked great, I had a great life (which has only gotten better,) and I was incredibly glad I went. In the end, Geeks Rule! Just look at Bill Gates.

So, Ashton Kutcher, creator of the show: when are you going to have girl geeks and male actors? Turnabout is fair play, you know.

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