Reality Preview: Beauty and the Geek, Top Chef

Reality Preview: Beauty and the Geek, Top Chef


Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Last updated 8:35 a.m. PT


Two of reality TV's more pleasurable guilty pleasures return this week, one in "top" form and the other going too far in an unfortunate new direction.

First up is the CW's Beauty and the Geek (Tuesday, 8 pm/ET) making yet another ill-advised change to the "social experiment," one even more damaging potentially than the last cycle's gender switch of adding a male beauty and a female geek to the game. This time around, the show pits the beauties against the geeks, turning what was once a disarmingly and unexpectedly sweet show into yet another tiresome battle of the sexes — largely abandoning the winning formula of putting beauties and geeks together, encouraging teamwork, and building confidence that goes beyond the stereotypes of stammering nerds and brainless bimbos.

No one appears overly pleased at this twist. I know I wasn't. But even with the girls pitted against the guys, the contestants can't help but reach out to each other, even though they're no longer officially coaching each other (which was one of the show's original strengths). Several of the girls officially adopt a misfit among the geeks: "gaysian" (as in "gay Asian") Greg, who as the designated "artistic" geek feels out of place among the brainiacs, so he gloms onto the girls like a lonely puppy.

How cute. Which is more than I can say for the catfights between a few of the more volatile beauties — a development that makes the more benign geeks think they may have an emotional (if not social) leg up in the competition.

The show has also made radical changes to the elimination round, to make it speedier and (in keeping with the rest of the changes) more heartless. Gone are the scenes of a beauty or geek watching their partner answer questions, desperately urging them on. Now it's each man (or woman) for themselves, and it's a lot less fun.

Thankfully, Bravo's Top Chef returns Wednesday with no sign of fixing what wasn't broken. The Project Runway of its genre, and miles more entertaining than Fox's ear-splitting Hell's Kitchen (which returns April 1), this most excellent cooking competition is on the move to Chicago this season, with an instantly electrifying cast digging in immediately to the first Quickfire Challenge, involving (naturally) deep-dish pizza.

Deep-dish is what we tune in to these shows for, after all, and it's in ready supply on this fast and furiously paced season-opener, as explosive and ambitious personalities — including a lesbian couple — eagerly display their mad kitchen skills as well as a few regrettable blind spots. (I'm no cook, but even I know how chicken piccata is supposed to look.) My only problem with Top Chef is its time period. It airs awfully late (10 pm/ET) to be making me so hungry.
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