Anybody remember that reality show on TBS called King of the Nerds? It ran for three seasons and was canceled near the end of last year. Well, I was super close to getting onto season 2. Don’t believe me? I’ve got the proof here. Also, I wanted to tell you guys about my experience so that you, too, can know what it’s like to go through the casting process of a reality TV show. Of course, as you might have expected, it’s definitely not a “real” experience.
King of the Nerds was a reality show hosted by Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong who were both featured in the film Revenge of the Nerds. The show was featured on TBS and absolutely used the stereotype of nerds as shown in that movie to create a standard reality/game show where you throw a bunch of people into a house and then make them play weekly elimination games until only one alpha nerd is left, with a cash prize at the end. I’d watched the first season, and parts of it somewhat made me angry, especially at the way many stereotypes were pushed into the foreground, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel like, if I were to ever do it, just having the experience might be kind of fun.
Well, an opportunity came up in 2013 after the first season aired. TBS held a contest to be the “People’s Nerd” in season 2. Basically, it was a glorified popularity contest. You made a video basically pitching why you’d be a good contestant on the show and also try and make other people on the Internet find you to be likable, then you submitted it to TBS’s official page and let people watch and potentially vote for you. I figured I already had a pretty decent shot because I had somewhat of an audience already. Some people might wonder why I would even bother with a shot at reality TV. Eh, because it’d be an interesting experience, I suppose. Also, because my friend Mickey Paradis a.k.a. 8-bit Mickey had an interesting experience on PlayStation’s The Tester Season 2, and despite the fact that the reward was, “Yay, you get to be a beta tester, one of the least fun jobs in the industry!”, he said he really wanted the experience and was glad he did it. Having known someone who already did a reality show and not seeming to regret it, I figured, “Psh, why not?”
So I make this video pitch, and man, I follow the legal instructions to a freaking T. I made sure I kept my video under five minutes, left out copyrighted audio, and blurred out any copyrighted images that might have shown up on screen. I remember I was really meticulous about it because I didn’t want to give TBS any nitpick reason not to take me. Shoot, I figured that was nerdy in and of itself. But although I seemed to be getting good viewership on my video, I was still pretty nervous, especially when it came to a video from a guy by the name of Josh, though I think the Internet will better know him as Jwittz. He was the only other guy in the contest that had a larger following than I did, and I just figured, “Aww, man… it doesn’t matter what he does, he’s gonna win because his following is bigger.” My only consolation I had was that he actually went way over the allotted time for the video submission.
But time went on, and names got narrowed down. To my shock and surprise, my name went into the top ten. And then before I knew it, I got an E-mail from TBS saying they wanted to move forward with me being in the Top 3, and they wanted to bring me out to L.A. for the interview process. It blew my mind that they’d picked me at all. And before I knew it, I began showing up in their Internet promotional material.
I wasn’t in the least bit surprised that they chose Jwittz as part of the top three. In fact, if this was really supposed to be a people’s choice, they should have just picked him up to begin with. What further confused me was the choice of Jeff, because he had almost no views or votes at all, and I saw TONS of other people with FAR higher video views than he had. It was really clear from his video, however, that TBS had picked him because he had a fantastic TV personality. For that reason, there was nothing “people’s choice” about this. At the end of the day, it still comes down to executive television decisions.
Now, getting chosen is cool and all, but that’s not nearly where this all ends, with me just going out to Hollywood or whatever. You wouldn’t believe the amount of paperwork and running around they have you do to make sure you’re competent enough to be on the show. Not only do you have to get a basic physical and drug test done, but you also have to set up a meeting with a psychiatrist so that they can evaluate whether or not you are mentally capable of being on television. These are all funded by the studio of course, but it certainly takes a lot of time and effort away from you, and at the time I had a full-time job that worked me straight through these typical doctor’s office hours. I remember, too, that at the psychiatrists, I was given a test with something like 250 questions in regards to my behavior and mental health, and sometimes the same question would be asked multiple times, in a strange way to catch you off guard or see if you’d answer the question differently the second time because you couldn’t remember how you answered it the first time. It was a mildly uncomfortable experience, and yet I can understand why they would do it. Yet at the same time, I wondered if this was a standard procedure in all reality shows, because it seems pretty clear that some people on reality TV appear legitimately crazy.
Once all the paperwork and testing was submitted and cleared, then came the really surreal part where I started seeing fans and friends suddenly tell me over social media, “Oh my God, I just saw my friend Kaylyn on TV!” I said, “What!? When and where was this?” What nobody told me was that my submission video was going to be used in commercial advertising on TBS. This was the commercial that aired not long before I was scheduled to go out for the final interview process.
So, despite the fact that TBS was going to be willing to fly me out from San Antonio, Texas to Los Angeles, California, I was already planning on being out in Los Angeles that week for Anime Expo. In fact, my hope was that that fact made me look even more appealing because I was already making a trip out to L.A. for the sake of a nerd convention. But I had to tell three people at TBS that three separate times so that they only paid for my plane ticket back and not the plane ticket there. Anyway, so, I’m out there at my friends’ house for about a week waiting for the day when TBS showed up with a vehicle to take me deeper into Hollywood (I was staying at Psykoneko and Psykotaku’s house, both of which were people we featured in Farewell, FamiKamen Rider).
The day finally came when they were came out to their house to pick me up, and sure enough, they picked me up in a black limo, opened the door, and let me into the backseat. This was a surreal experience because this just went to show how absolutely different I am from Hollywood mentality. The car had fresh bottles of water free for me to take and drink and was filled with rich a-hole magazines that featured articles and advertisements about Bugattis and diamond-encrusted watches, and I just realized that, even if I were to ever become rich and famous, there’s just no way I could ever see myself living this kind of lifestyle at all. Everything around me was so superficial.
The limo drove me deep into the smoggy hills of Hollywood where they dropped me off at a pretty standard hotel where all of the King of the Nerds interviews were taking place. There was supposed to be a hotel room ready for me, but when I showed up they didn’t have any record as to who I was, so I just sat in the lobby and waited for somebody to show up and let me in my room, or for a room to open up after 2 PM or something. Finally, some TBS staff or intern walked up to me and realized who I was and that I was part of the interview process, and they kinda freaked out a bit, because I was supposed to have been gotten to my room right away, because otherwise there was a chance that I might have run into some of the other potential contestants, and they REALLY didn’t want that. But they got me to my room, where I was essentially quarantined. I’d heard that in the interview process of the last season, they took away the interviewees’ Internet and cell phones, but they didn’t take that from me, so I was still talking to my fiance Josh throughout the process. So, I could talk to people, but I couldn’t leave. At least they had a schedule of things over the next two days so that we could have food delivered to us for every meal of the day. It wasn’t great food, but it was food that I didn’t have to pay for, so that was cool.
The next day was very, very busy. They had staff members from the wardrobe section of the show come in and examine my clothes that I’d brought to see what kind of copyrighted images they could have cleared to legally use during the show. Then they took my measurements. After that, they scheduled me for an interview in front of a camera and a green screen. They asked me some decently relevant questions like, “What’s a topic you could go on and on at length about?” But when they first sat me down, the guy behind the camera conducting the interview clearly had it out for me. And by that, I don’t mean I think he had it out for me personally, I mean I think he wanted to test me to see if I could play an on-screen douchebag to start reality TV drama. He asked me my name, and I told him, “Kaylyn.”
“Okay, so, it’s Katelyn?”
“So, that’s spelled Kat-”
“No, there’s no T in my name.”
“No, my name’s Kaylyn.”
“So, does it piss you off when people get your name wrong?”
And this is where I KNOW I lost my shot, because they were fishing for me to be a bitch with a temper that they could market and edit to make me look like I start drama. But rather than giving him anything to work with, I just told him, “No, I’m so used to people getting sort of somewhere near my name that I guess I just respond to anything that sounds like my name now.”
After the on-camera interview came the interview in front of the round table of directors and producers that would actually be conducting the business of the TV show. This was perhaps the most intimidating, because these were legit Hollywood producers that make a TV show come to life. They seemed friendly enough, but I knew they probably did that with everybody that came in the room. They asked me questions like, “Being the People’s Nerd, do you feel like you’re already walking into the show with a target on your back?” And, “I see you’re engaged to the nerd of your dreams. Please tell us you’re doing awesome nerdy things with your wedding!” Really, the conversation was very good. But I know that’s almost not what they wanted. What they wanted was more drama out of me, and I didn’t give it to them.
What was pretty cool after that was them taking me down to a room that also had a camera and a green screen but aside from those two things also had a large electronic turntable where they had me stand and slowly spin me around and do cool, nerdy poses. I really wish I had access to those shots they took back then, or that I’d actually been chosen to be on the show so that I could have seen what they would ultimately do with that footage and what sort of stuff they would put me standing in front of.
Ultimately, that was about it, and at the end of the day, I actually had a better shot than most of the other people who’d traveled there for the interview process. While everybody else was competing against a large number of other people for their spot on the show, I was only competing against Jwittz and Jeff for the slot of the People’s Nerd.
But by the end of the night, they came up to my hotel room to tell me that they’d picked one of the other two contestants and that they’d be sending me away the next morning. I understood, of course, and figured it was probably a combination of not being willing to play a bitch on camera as well as the fact that I was pretty sure they either went with Jwittz because of his following or Jeff because I’m sure he was a much more colorful person than I am, it didn’t mean I wasn’t a bit heartbroken. Yeah, I’m not ashamed to say it, I cried. It kinda sucked to get that close to doing something pretty cool and then right at the end to be turned away from the possibility.
The experience really wasn’t over, though. The next morning they took me out to the limo to take me to the next hotel. Since I was technically still a “contest winner”, they still were going to give me a cool experience. But downstairs at the limo, I saw that Jeff was also waiting to join me at the limo, and then I knew, yep, they picked Jwittz. And it made sense, though I was still a bit sad about it. Jeff talked to me a lot about it. He might have been a different kind of upset than I was, feeling like Jwittz wasn’t necessarily the right person to be on the show, that Jeff was a more well-rounded nerd that could represent the people, and that he had a better personality and presence that Jwittz did. He told me he told the person who came to his hotel room door, “You’re making a big mistake.” I dunno that I ever would have said that to them myself.
The limo took us to another hotel overlooking Sunset Boulevard. I’ve never been in a more classic ritzy stereotypical “Hollywood” hotel in my life, and the room was obscenely way too big for just myself. TBS gifted me with a bottle of wine (that I never drank because I don’t drink) and a bag full of other snacks and goodies, including a TBS notebook that I still use to this day and a TBS messenger bag, plus T-shirts and pins and all kinds of other stuff. The next day we were treated to the Warner Bros. studios backlot tour, and after that we were given the opportunity to watch the recording of an episode of Deon Cole’s Black Box, a TV show that actually only lasted six episodes and was cancelled something like three months after we came to that recording. But Deon himself was cool enough, as he’s also a comedian and writer on TBS’s Conan, and we were lead backstage into the green room to meet him and shake his hand. I told him that I’d last seen him as an opening act for Conan O’Brien after he’d left NBC and took his North American comedy tour. He told me, “I was SO drunk on that tour!” And that was about it. But they had some delicious cheese squares back there in that green room.
I was just sad because they’d taken us on that tour on a Friday, and even took us to Conan’s set, which was all dark and dim and covered in cloth so that it didn’t get covered in dust. But it was a Friday, and Conan only films between Monday and Thursday, and I’d been a huge fan of Conan O’Brien since I was in middle school. I told the TBS representative I was kinda bummed about it and she said, “Oh, that’s too bad! We should’ve brought you yesterday, and you could have even met him!” I was this weird jumble of both disappointed and throat-crushing angry at the same time, but I let it slide, because, like, how was I supposed to know this was gonna be a thing? I didn’t. They totally didn’t make me aware this was a possibility until that day.
We had one last day in the hotel, and I have to admit, I didn’t to much of anything. I just enjoyed this obscenely huge room that had the biggest bed I’d ever seen, two large sofas that could have been their own beds, a balcony, and a bathroom with literally, like, eight different faucets in there because it had two sinks, a bathtub with at least two faucets (and that bathtub was enormous and actually fit my whole body), and an open shower with shower heads on at least three different levels. Not to mention the over abundance of mirrors all over the place, and two ridiculously comfortable hotel bathrobes. Dude, place was friggin’ insane.
But finally, it was time to fly home. They got me in a limo the next morning and drove me off to LAX where they flew me home. I was a bit sad, but I came back to Josh who was still proud of me, and he’d organized a group of friends at home to still come be with me and talk to me about the whole thing, and they all told me I did the best I could, and they were glad I didn’t compromise on who I was. They knew they’d edit me to make me look like a terrible person, and yeah, they’re more that probably right.
Overall, I’m not sorry for the experience. Shoot, if I could get onto another show such as The Amazing Race in the future, I’d gladly try again. I just want the experience of it. Reality TV definitely isn’t real. And you’re doing more than just playing the game presented to you on the show, you’re playing a production game to make sure the producers like you all the time. I’ve heard all kinds of things about how producers of reality shows will try to pull you to the side and bribe you to make you act a certain way for the camera. From the brief amount of time I spent in that interview process, I definitely believe it.
At least another good thing that came out of it was, after season 2 started airing, I was contacted by someone who ultimately did get cast on the show named Kelsey who told me she’d really wished I’d gotten cast because she was really hoping to meet me and be housemates with me. So, we’re somewhat friends now, and that’s kind of a cool thing to take away from the experience.
But overall, I’ll just have to keep working on the next, big, cool thing. It’s been almost three years since then, and I hope I get the opportunity to even almost work on something else equally as interesting or entertaining.