U of C graduate shows geeky side on WB show

By Aaron Brown

Meet Joe Block. A 24-year-old U of C graduate currently pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Northwestern University, he has dark, wavy hair and hides his brown eyes beneath black-rimmed glasses. He loves music and plays drums for the rock band Gnome Attic. Oh yeah, and he’s a geek.

Block, A.B. ’02, can be seen on the WB’s Beauty and the Geek 2, a reality show that pairs outgoing, physically attractive women with intelligent but socially awkward men. The couples compete in a series of events, testing both social skills and mental capacity, for a shot at the $250,000 grand prize.

On a whim, Block decided to audition for the show last summer. He attended an open casting call at a Lincoln Park bar, reaching the second round by beating one of the original “geeks” in a game of speed chess. After a few more auditions, including an interview with executive producer Ashton Kutcher, he was selected as one of the eight lucky geeks to join the cast.

Although he prefers the term “nerd” to “geek” (it is more academic in his view), Block was comfortable with that label on national television.

“I don’t think I come across as socially hopeless. I just need to learn certain things about interacting with women,” he said.

For him, the program presented an opportunity to assess his skills with the ladies. Like a true U of C student, he even managed to approach reality television as a sort of intellectual pursuit.

“The show itself was more of a learning experience,” he said. “There were certain gaps in my knowledge base.”

To help fill those gaps, he was teamed up with Brittany, a 21-year-old marketing major at the University of Illinois. Dubbed “The Innocent One” by the show’s producers, Brittany was able to provide Block with the crucial insight he needed. She instilled in him the timeless arts of fashion and pop culture, including tips on choosing outfits and styling hair.

Perhaps most importantly, Brittany gave him some no-nonsense, insider judgment on his interactions with women.

Block’s cerebral clout may not have been the only factor landing him on television. While noting the “many other interests, hobbies and passions” that keep him occupied, Block admitted that his track record with the opposite sex was far from overwhelming. “My lack of success is what got me on the show,” he said.

Aside from living with eight beautiful women, Block said he was also able to befriend his fellow geeks, including Karl, the Dungeons and Dragons master, and Wes, who heads research on artificial intelligence robotic laser technology.

While viewers can judge the results for themselves, Block credits the show with putting him in a better position to meet women. He said he feels more comfortable in social settings.

“It made me more confident to put myself out there,” he said.

Thus far, however, he has managed to restrain his newfound magnetism. Block remains physically distant, willing to focus on friendships over sexual conquests. When the lucky lady does come around, Block said, she will need just the right combination of physical, mental, and emotional attributes.

“It’s less about quantity and more about quality,” he said.

For fellow geeks at his alma mater, Block offered a novel but unusual approach.

“Beautiful women are a lot like alligators,” Block said. “They are probably more scared of you than you are of them.”