(From f00dave, among many others. A little late, but I actually took it almost a week ago.)
OK, I take back what I wrote last week about The Scholar.
The Scholar (airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC) is a television reality show, which seems to have been filmed in the winter or spring, about 10 high school students who can't afford private university, but are scholastically excellent. The students live in a house and compete on academic and applied challenges, until the single winner receives a full-ride scholarship. Add a panel of judges and "specialty host judges" for each challenge area, and the show resembles The Apprentice as well as "Big Brother for HS drama nerds".
The episode began as usual with talk of boyfriends and girlfriends, and I thought, eh, here we go again. I set my internal stopwatch to surf on in five minutes.
This time, though, the challenges were geography, film (screenwriting, technical film production, and dramatic acting), and American History. The whole thing came off as a reality show based upon a cross between an episode of Kids' Baffle (or Beat The Geeks for all you young whippersnappers) and one of those lazy afternoon games that we'd rustle up at CTY. I was rather impressed.
As usual, everyone has a grade point average of 4.0 or higher. Liz (the charismatic nerd) even filked a little ditty about it, and being an NHS officer and National Merit finalist, to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas". I have nothing against extra credit, but why can't we admit that we have a GPA that's based on a 4.6 scale? I say, extra credit may be extra, but opportunities are opportunities and we should not omit mention of them just to keep people from having hurt feelings. So you didn't have an AP Calculus BC course or Honors French V at your high school. I only took through Honors French III; I got my general chemistry, composition and literature (Honors English 11 and 12), and U.S. History (in lieu of AP American History and "Occidental" Civilization) at Anne Arundel Community College! I even took FORTRAN there when I was 13. Then I went home to Hopkins. You make do with what you have, people.
Now, as I said, the focus was on the good-looking humanities geeks, Liz (Buhl, ID) and Davis (Memphis, TN). These were a very creative pair, and admittedly there was some general audience draw in the unrequited affections that Davis seemed to harbor for Liz.
I was much more more intrigued, however, by the lightning-round geography exercise. Why, you ask? Well, the challenge was to put 48 states on a map of the continental U.S. Bo-ring, you say? Well, perhaps, and it took them about 2.5 minutes at a minimum; but guess what? No one but Liz and Davis finished it...and everyone made careless errors - Davis left out South Carolina for several minutes, and Liz left out Utah. Both of them would have finished in a minute and a half if they hadn't slipped up! I tell you truly, absent minded-mistakes are what make us human. While they aren't a badge of genius per se, I would fain challenge the true intelligence of any person who can't cope with them, and rise far above them by bringing something more to the table.
The primary challenge of the episode took the kids to the University of Southern California (USC) film school, where Lucas and Zemeckis got their formal training. The students were given 10 hours to write, shoot, and edit a 2-minute film based upon their choice among the following three quotations:
"To be or not to be, that is the question." -Shakespeare
"Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly." -JFK
"You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." -Plato
The gold team (captained by Davis) chose the Plato quote because the first two seemed too "road not taken".1 They produced a film that was still a little cliche, voiceover-driven, more external, and ambitiously filmed and edited. I have to give props to the editors, really. The red team (captained by Liz) chose the Hamlet quotation, and made a film that was quirky, clever, comedic, and dialogue-driven. I normally love crossing of the footlights, but this one was too introspective even for me. Suffice it to say that the gold team won by a close call on the judge's part. (Does anyone know whether he was a director or a USC professor? I didn't recognize him.)
A bonus round closed out the episode. At stake was an intermediate prize of $50000 in scholarship money, to go to the student who correctly answered the most questions on American revolutionary history. About a quarter of an hour was spent discussing the bonus round and the choice of three contestants who would compete, their dreams and conditional plans, and their preparation strategy. (This is typical of competitive "reality" shows, which are at their heart an examination of social aspects of competition.)
Liz, Amari, Davis were chosen by the blatantly Trump-evocative scholarship committee. All seemed to be rather good, though in typical reality show fashion, they did not display the actual score. Amari, an African-American girl, was eliminated upon missing a question about John Paul Jones, but she guaranteed a berth among the five finalists. The questions ranged from easy ones such as Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin, to Cornwallis at Yorktown, to Lexington and Concord for the Shot Heard Round the World. (This is probably old hat to you history buffs and high school and university students, but it's impressive to those of us in engineering and science who haven't cracked a history textbook in 15 years and tend to skip the American history shows on the History Channel.) The final round had answers such as "Benedict Arnold", "the Treaty of Ghent", and "the Whiskey Rebellion", on which Liz won. And so the American revolutionary history geek lost because he taught the brilliant girl he had a crush on as much as he could, and he missed one and she didn't. Predictable but not stale, I say. The show has more substance than I imagined.
jereeza remarked that it must be terribly stressful, in that high schoolers are perhaps too young for the competition, the ruthlessness, and the public humiliation. Now, if you're like Jesse Reichler and zengeneral, I'm sure your hammering your fists on your thighs in sheer glee at any semblance of an intellectual shark tank. But seriously: I think sharp competitiveness is the basis of a drive to excellence. As long as otherwise competent and brilliant people get what they deserve, namely, a chance at some recognition and other rewards, there is nothing wrong with having them go head-to-head in tournament mode. There's no shame in losing! We seem to have lost some of that in American society, where "everyone's a winner" is a keener syndrome than ever.
We don't have to win. We only have to fight.
-Mace Windu, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (novelization by Matthew Stover)
1 For those who aren't or didn't apply to university in the USA, one of the most common application requirements is an original essay on one's aspirations and outlook on life. This is phrased in many different ways, but it is the closest thing an undergraduate admissions committee can have to a statement of purpose for young people who may not have yet discovered their purpose. (Yes, zengeneral, I know: their purpose is to feed your insatiable hungers both refined and gross. Moving on...) Often times, the high school students will base their essay around Frost's "The Road Less Traveled". It's become synonymous with "college application essay angst", so if you're a high school student, consider trying something a little less trite, unless you want to be different by taking something that has become hackneyed through overuse and doing something fantastic and new with it. Be warned, though, admissions officers are not always diligent enough to spot such things.
As for Beauty and the Geek (airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on the WB): it was predictable, and yet I still suspected that Richard Rubin the Incorrigible Geek was going to get eliminated along with his long-suffering partner Mindy. I almost made a bet about it, but I stayed true to my nature ("hope springs eternal"), and lo, Mindy saved the day again: she hasn't missed a single question (out of nine) in three trips to the elimination round! Although Richard provides most of the drama, and hence the entertainment value, on the show, I think the audience is meant to be horrendously annoyed at him and polarize along lines of sympathetic former (or present-day outcasts and losers) versus cooler people, who just don't grok the utter dork. (NB: Richard is an actor, and so even though he may be a genuine dork, not everything he does should be read as "the way he really is".)
In any case, I still rooted for Richard even though I cringed at his antics. You want to know why? First, I thought that Chris the Functional Neurology Student's off-the-cuff diagnosis of Richard as an ADD-sufferer was uncalled for - it was unprofessional, but it was also just mean-spirited. Second, I gave props to Richard for standing up to him, as this show is about "breaking out of the mold and becoming something more". This fellow has yet to show his potential and shine, I warrant; witness his frequent self-deprecation and prnouncements that he can't help it. Third, and most important, though: I pegged Chris for a false dork from the first glimpse I got of him three episodes ago. "He reinforces the negative stereotypes that many people have about dorks," he sniped in a critique of Richard at the beginning of this episode. Now wait a minute: Richard is a (nontechnical) geek and a dork, but despite his moderate intelligence, I don't think any serious nerd could call him one. Anyone who uses "geek" and "nerd" synonymously needs to be viewed with suspicion at best, even though the terms, like all such labels, are a bit nebulous.
And might I add: it's blatantly obvious that Chris has long since outgrown his "scrawny" younger identity and is no longer an outcast. It matters a lot when this happened for him. I will venture a guess that this fellow did not endure the years of derision, ridicule, the inner regret and lasting pain of awkwardness, that plagued all of us True GeeksTM growing up. You Calvins of the world, who really have been beaten up for being a smart aleck by the Moes of the world! You know of what I speak.
And so I was glad in my heart when the otherwise admirable Shawn and otherwise tawdry Scarlett were sent packing, and the beatifically geeky and beautifully nerdy pair (for Mindy is actually quite bookish, if you pay attention) went up to once again disapppoint the pretender to dorkdom.
ETA, 11:15 CST - apropos of the above, my case in point. As you can see, when it comes to being a dork, I am the real deal. Vanity, thy name is banazir. ;-)