Searching for the socially stunted at IC
By Andy Swift
When I logged into my Webmail account in late October, I expected to find the usual list of garbage: Facebook notifications, possibly a spicy Intercom Alert and, of course, angry e-mails from my professors asking about late assignments. I was surprised, however, when the page loaded and I saw an e-mail “seeking Ithaca College students to intern for a reality show on The CW.”
As it turned out, the casting directors of “Beauty and the Geek” decided to add Ithaca to their list of casting sites and needed seven student interns to assist with the process. I excitedly followed the e-mail’s instructions, whipped up a tight 350-word description of myself (which I always love doing because I’m completely self-centered) and provided all of my contact information. For good measure, I also attached a photo taken this past summer of me awkwardly holding hands with Taz and Wile E. Coyote at Six Flags. It’s a photo that, more or less, sums up my existence.
I received a call from one of the show’s casting directors later that week and, after a brief but in-depth interview, she told me I was hired. However, my excitement soon turned to confusion, and then to some light chin scratching as I was struck by an interesting thought: Why IC? The show isn’t called “Beauty and the Hippie,” or even “Beauty and the Hipster.” I had never considered Ithaca to be a haven for geek-types, but I wasn’t going to let that impede my search. If there really were geeks out there, I was determined to find them.
My hunt began simply enough; I printed fliers and posted them around campus and a few locations in town. I also started approaching people that seemed to visually fit the part, which made me feel like an asshole. I made a mental list of geek criteria — glasses, suspenders, pocket protectors, etc. — and realized how many stereotypes had been instilled in me from a young age. At one point, I was two steps away from giving wedgies and shaking people down for milk money.
Approaching people on the spot turned out to be a lot more awkward than I ever could have anticipated. After all, how do you say to someone, “Hey, we’ve never met, but I get the feeling you’re socially inept and your palms sweat whenever you merely think about touching a girl?” Obviously my word choice was different, but no amount of careful phrasing could have made those conversations any less uncomfortable.
While on the lookout for potential candidates, I encountered an all-too-common phenomenon I later classified as ‘geek denial.’ No matter how geeky a guy appears to be — he could walk, talk and dress like Steve Urkel — there’s no guarantee that he identifies himself as a geek. Rather than accepting his place on the social spectrum, a guy suffering from geek denial refuses to openly admit to having geeky qualities, hoping this will keep other people from labeling him. Much to his dismay, this never works. It actually makes him seem even geekier.
My biggest challenge was presented to me when I double-checked the original e-mail and looked at the casting date: Nov. 10! Many of you probably don’t remember much about Nov. 10, and for good reason. It was Cortaca, and there’s a good chance you had already blacked out by noon.
Realizing that it would be difficult to convince a lot of Ithaca students to skip Cortaca to audition for a reality show — geeks have school spirit too — I made sure to include the Cornell University campus in my search.
Finding potential “beauties” proved to be a surprising challenge, as well. I had no doubt that I’d be able to find good looking girls — Playboy ranked Ithaca as the #3 school for hot girls a few years back — but that wouldn’t be enough. Yes, female contestants on “Beauty and the Geek” need to be bubbly and attractive, but they also have to be borderline comatose. For a girl to have spent four years at either Ithaca or Cornell and still be as dumb as some past contestants would be an insult to both institutions. Our girls are smarter than that.
When all was said and done, I feel as though as I rounded up a pretty good mix of geeks and beauties to send to the audition. And not to be all Mr. Rogers about it, but I feel like there’s a good lesson to be learned from the experience. As I patrolled IC and Cornell, looking for geeks with the judgmental eye of a young Regina George, I realized something: Geeks are way better off than the rest of us. While we frantically struggle to keep up with fashion trends, surround ourselves with ‘cool’ friends and listen to music we don’t even like just so we can talk about it with people we don’t even know, geeks are busy doing their own thing.
Life’s too short to worry about what other people think, and true geeks know that better than anyone. So go ahead: play “Halo 3” until your eyes bleed. Click through Wikipedia until you know too much about everything. Immerse yourself in World of Warcraft until you forget how to communicate with real humans. It’s like my arch-nemesis Sheryl Crow once sang: “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.”
Andy Swift is a junior journalism major who can be found on campus, shaking down unsuspecting freshmen for their bonus bucks. Email him at aswift1[at]ithaca.edu.