May 24, 2005

U of C 'geek' will star in WB show

The WB Television Network unveiled a spring lineup last week that could bring one University of Chicago student into the national spotlight.

Joe Hanson, a fourth-year in the College, is one of the 14 men and women starring in Beauty and the Geek, a new reality show co-produced by actor Ashton Kutcher of Punk'd fame. "It all starts with seven women who are academically impaired," explained an advertisement for the show. "Next, add seven men who are brilliant but socially challenged." The show pairs up these couples for a chance to win $250,000, as each beauty and geek couple takes on challenges that test intellect, fashion sense, and even dance moves, according to the show's press release. Beauty and the Geek will premiere on June 1, at 7 P.M. on the WB Network.

"It's not what people think," Hanson said, addressing the common misconception associated with the show's premise. "It's not about ‘hooking up' at all, but if something does end up happening [aside from the team challenges], of course that's not bad either."

The producers, which include Kutcher and executives of programs such as The Sopranos and The Biggest Loser, created a unique set of activities to entertain both the show's contestants and its viewers. "The girls have a spelling bee and the guys get massage lessons," Hanson said, adding that the beauties even compete to build a working rocket. According to the WB website, each competition enables the geek to push his intellect into the beauty, while she tries to "pull the game" out of her partner.

"It's pretty innovative," Hanson said. "The girls are hot, but also very sweet, and the guys are academic, but not losers." Some of Hanson's fellow geeks include a Mensa member, a computer programmer, an assistant Boy Scout Master, a medical student, and the vice president of a Dukes of Hazzard fan club. Among the beauties are a sorority girl, lingerie model, NBA dancer, fashion designer, and cocktail waitress.

Hanson said that the show's structure is based both on merit and contestant popularity among the contestants, adding that the group dynamic was generally positive. "All of us got to be friends," he said.

An aspiring TV and film writer, Hanson saw the show as a prime opportunity to experience the entertainment industry's job market. He first heard of the show last December, when the production team advertised auditions for "smart single guys" on campus. Both Hanson and his roommate auditioned for producers, and Hanson was called back several times before finally being selected shortly after winter break. "It was a decision between taking classes in winter quarter or living in a mansion with hot girls in L.A.," said Hanson, who spent an undisclosed amount of time away from Chicago. "Let's just say I didn't take the quarter off," he said, obeying the strict confidentiality agreement surrounding the facts of his involvement in the show.

"When I asked my professors if I could do the show, they all kind of said ‘yes' and then laughed," said Hanson, who was permitted to make up coursework upon returning from Los Angeles. "[My professors] were like, ‘How many chances do you get like this?'"

As part of the WB's "social experiment," Hanson and the cast lived together in a Los Angeles mansion, the details of which could not be disclosed. "I can't really talk about what happened in the house," said Hanson, whose lips were sealed about any "hooking up" or the $250,000 grand prize to be split by the winning couple. "People ask me now if I had a good time, and I can't even say that," he said.

Reflecting on the show's upcoming premiere, Hanson has been satisfied with the overall experience. "I think it's going to be a good quality show," he said. "One of the points of the show was to help raise self-esteem, both intellectually and in relationships," he added. "When I got back, I felt a lot more confident about approaching girls and developing relationships."