BEAUTY and the Beast is a centuries-old fairytale and its story of the redemptive power of love and deceptive nature of appearances has inspired operas, novels, art, plays, musicals, films and Ashton Kutcher. He is the creator of Beauty and the Geek, a reality show that, like Big Brother, takes its name from a literary allusion almost certainly lost on a vast number of its participants. It airs again tonight on Seven.
The premise is merely scaffolding upon which to hang stupidity and awkwardness. A selection of ''beauties'' (defined for the purposes of the show as symmetrically attractive women who don't know what symmetry is) and a group of ''geeks'' (academically inclined emotional and social Luddites) are paired up to compete for $100,000 and a car each. The winning couple is the one that forms a close bond, facilitates personal growth and illuminates to their partner hitherto undervalued dimensions of human existence, before never seeing each other again.
A lot of TV rots the brain, but I have a soft spot for shows about people whose brains are already rotted. The beauties exhibit an almost effortless idiocy and the picture sometimes shakes from the suppressed laughter of the cameraman. According to these girls, ''A world map is just a piece of paper with blobs all over it'', typified by this exchange with a geek:
G: What is the capital of China?
G: … It starts with a B.
G: … They had the Olympics there.
As for the job descriptions, I didn't know there were so many words for ''Beautician''. Among the contestants are also a high-heel collector and a Barbie enthusiast, terms usually used to describe either the unemployed or a serial killer. Mind you, it's hard to be punctual for job interviews when you think ''25 hours is almost two days''.
Beauty and the Geek Australia is basically a canvas to explore the final taboo of modern dating: interfacial couples. Men and women in the street walk into posts and spill drinks at the shock of seeing a stunner in the arms of a bloke with a face like a smashed crab. Romance of this nature can work for a few reasons: either the man is rich and has a great personality, or he's a jerk and she's an idiot. For these geeks, there must be a more apt expression than ''punching above your weight'', given they seem physically incapable of forming a fist.
The beauties are doubtlessly seduced by the exposure and prizes, but the geeks are giddy just to have women held captive in a mansion without having to pay by the hour or be in fear of jocks swinging by to cut their grass. Geeks delight in even the most perfunctory intimacy and can obliterate any sexual tension with their unchecked horniness. One geek violated a basic rule of pick-up lines, which is that they should not require footnotes: ''You're so hot you denature my proteins, which is along the lines of eating, so obviously proteins get denatured.'' Obviously. When you're a geek, everyone is the opposite sex except for other geeks.
The show's format conflates geeks and nerds, which are, in actuality, two distinct species. Nerds are defined by their expertise in, and passion for, a particular field. Some nerds are cool and benefit from the cultural shift away from traditional ideas of masculinity. Geeks, on the other hand, are not necessarily brilliant. They are earnest and socially inept noobs, rejected by the mainstream and left to exist in their own oddball fraternities. They can't properly manage their personality, so a skerrick of new-found confidence can explode into arrogance or unsightly hubris. Often, just when you warm to a geek, he ruins it.
BATG is one of television's most tightly choreographed reality shows and you can almost hear the producers put contestants up to all manner of madcap spontaneity: a beauty is sent into the bathroom to collect her tweezers at the exact moment they are two inches up a geek's nose; a geek's clothes are thrown out the window in full view of the cameraman waiting downstairs; a geek makes a beauty's bed in the hope the gesture helps her like him. Spurious justifications for improbable scenarios are now a stock of the genre. And anyway, badly performed domestic playlets don't stage themselves. The only concern for pop psychologists is that beauties are too naive to exercise their rights and the geeks are too meek to protest degradation.
The girls, who are unselfconsciously vain, must fight temptation to make over the boys before the professionals polish them at the close of the competition. By season's end, the viewer hopes the beauties pick up some knowledge, the beauties hope to pick up some cash, and the geeks just hope to pick up.