What on earth would compel an intelligent individual to put their hand up and say ‘I’m a geek and I’m happy to go on national television and say so?’
A cash prize? There’s $100,000 on offer for a winning couple.
A first kiss? There are plenty of hot babes awaiting their attention.
All of the above? Maybe.
Seven’s third season of Beauty and the Geek Australia will unite 10 young men who are intellectually gifted but socially dysfunctional with 10 young women who have attributes by the bucketload, but not a lot of smarts. Along the way there will be sexual tension, education, game-play and a whole lot of Reality TV constructs.
Host Bernard Curry explains that while there are plenty of girls applying to be on the show, it’s a whole other ball game finding the boys.
“One of the main questions I get from people is ‘Are they really saying that stuff? Is it genuine?’” he says.
“Just to get some publicity is good for the girls. But the Geeks are less outgoing, more introverted and not the kind of people who will readily say ‘I want to be on national television.’
“I know they advertise in comic book shops, science faculties and universities. So this year we’ve got double degrees, PHds, a couple of guys who play the euphonium, a guy who is a medieval role-player. So they search far and wide.”
The challenge for the casting team is to weed out the performers. Curry concedes that there are some applying to be on the show who are acting the geek rather than being the real McCoy. Or maybe the real Eugene. In both its previous two seasons there have been claims that some geeks were ‘geeked up’ or even one 2009 contestant, Corin Storkey, having a past that suggested he had better social skills than he had let on.
“It came to light that he had a daughter. But does that constitute a geek? A geek is someone who might have lower social skills, or not as many social graces as other people, is highly intelligent and lacks co-ordination. Corin was a Synthetic Organic Chemist, hyper-intelligent and I guess had a few more social graces, but he still fitted the bill of a geek. But I think they’re trying to avoid that at all costs this year.
“This year 100% there are no performers whatsoever.”
As to ‘geeking up’ participants, a stylist augments their wardrobe for the cameras, trying to retain their personality.
“They’ve all got their own wardrobe and there are more options supplied by the stylist to add to that. They’re not intentionally made to be more geeky. It’s in their character,” says Curry.
If the show is guilty of blurring the lines between Reality and heightened-Reality, Curry insists it is to deliver a product that is entertaining, comedic, romantic, occasionally uplifting, and with friendly competition.
“This show clearly sets itself apart from other Reality shows that take themselves quite seriously. Things like MasterChef, The Renovators are serious shows with the competitiveness between their contestants. But this show is about having fun, even though they are competing against each other and are going for the $100,000 I think it’s secondary to the fun they’re having. It’s unlike any other experience either before or after,” he says.
In its second season the show hit an impressive 1.43m for its makeover episode. In a vote of confidence for the show, this year it has increased from 6 to 10 episodes, launching with a 90 minute premiere and featuring a 2-part makeover. There are even episodes with an audience.
“These makeovers are extraordinary. You’ve never seen anything like this. One guy comes out looking like Clive Owen. Like a movie star. And the girls were gobsmacked,” Curry explains.
“The first challenge is called Slippery Geography with an enormous map of the world covered in a slimy substance, and there’s a table with iconic dishes from around the world and the girls have to grab one and slip down a slide and go to the map where, say, Italy has meatballs. It’s funny even though they’re being competitive. There’s spaghetti and tacos just flying around. I think if you’re not laughing at that there’s something wrong with you.”
So if the guys are genuinely that awkward, are the girls really that, well, dumb?
“When people ask me ‘Do they really say that stuff?’ I tell them it’s all genuinely in-the-moment. There’s no script, and nothing is fed to them to say ‘Can you please say this?’ But that having been said they’re not saying those things 24/7. They say them every now and again and the Producers say ‘That’s gold, put it in!’”
This season also includes a ‘female Geek’ and a ‘male Beauty,’ ridiculously named Helen and Troy. Their real names. Whilst the boys felt threatened by the arrival of a personal trainer, Curry says he actually fostered a sense of comraderie.
“I saw him helping out the Geeks with some weights on the bench press. There were moments when they looked up to him because he helped them along and he could talk to chicks really easily. He was really nice to the Geeks.”
Being a Reality show, participants also had access to a psychologist 24/7. Living in close quarters with strangers, there was sometimes tension behind the scenes.
“It wasn’t all happy days in the mansion. Some of the girls didn’t get along with each other. There were a couple of strong personalities,” admits Curry.
“It is a Reality show but the reality Is they’re living is a heightened existence. So they absolutely needed a psychologist on hand just to talk to someone and get things off their chest, and sometimes the psychologist had to mediate conflict between two people.
“There were times when there was discontent within a couple, but I think it’s natural when you don’t know someone and you’re in close quarters living with them as well as going through challenges where they might let you down. So there will always be conflict between the actual partners, but it never got to a point where they said ‘I want to be split from them.’”
Participants were also counselled before leaving the series, to prepare them for public exposure. If last year is anything to go by, they may be needing it. Beauty and the Geek Australia is set to take its heightened Reality to the nation once more, as mathematicians, medieval experts and comic book experts meet dancers, cover girls and meter maids.
“But it’s not just comedy, there’s a heartwarming sense of help and change that these people go through on their journey,” he says.
“I think that’s what’s connecting with the audience as much as laughing at what the Beauties and Geeks say.”
Beauty & the Geek Australia airs 8:30pm Thursdays on Seven.