Passing out flyers for his Star Wars tribute band while dressed in plaid pants, a shirt from a thrift store, thick-rimmed glasses and donning a full beard, it started as an average day in the life of 21-year-old Harvard senior Nate Dern.
Little did he know, in the next few moments his inventive dress and unique band would change his life forever.
Men recruiting for season three of “Beauty and the Geek” – which recently premiered on the CW – approached the Colorado native and Evergreen High School graduate and asked Dern to try out.
“It took me a second,” Dern said, “but then I realized, ‘Oh, they think I’m a geek.'”
His sister didn’t argue with that assumption.
“Nate is a geek in a non-traditional sense,” sister and best friend Courtney Dern said. “He dances to the beat of his own drum, but he’s not socially inept.”
After an intense interviewing process and several callbacks, Dern, who had gone out for the show on a whim, had what many had practiced and aspired months in advance for: A ticket to California and a spot on the show.
“Beauty and the Geek,” which was filmed entirely over eight weeks last summer, revolves around eight beautiful women paired with eight smart but stereotypically “geeky” men. The show is a sort of social experiment to see if the intellect of the “geeks” rubs off on the not-so-smart but socially skilled “beauties,” and vice versa.
“I never thought I wanted to be on reality TV,” said Dern, who doesn’t even own a TV. “I thought it was dumb. I would roll my eyes and say, ‘What a tool,’ whenever I saw someone crying in a confessional or saying how reality TV changed their lives. But now I am that tool.”
Cara Buckley, a lecturer in the CSU speech communication department, believes that Dern isn’t alone in his newfound acceptance of reality TV.
“Reality TV has become a normal part of TV for this generation, just like sitcoms or soap operas,” said Buckley. “People believe they’re getting insight into real people.”
Courtney, who, like her brother, doesn’t usually watch TV, believes Dern has been represented “pretty accurately” on “Beauty and Geek.”
“I think the show is a little bizarre, and it was weird watching him on TV,” she said, “but I think it is a natural progression for Nate. He made his name in our hometown, and then at Harvard and now the nation. It was kind of the next step.”
Partnered with swimsuit model Cecille, the extreme differences of the two were obvious from the start. With Cecille’s Paris Hilton looks and Beverly Hills lifestyle, the show was probably the only way they would have ever met.
“The idea behind the show is to bring people together who otherwise wouldn’t,” Dern said. “I think this premise was realized with Cecille and me. It was an exercise in patience and understanding.”
The pair’s positive personalities and good attitudes allowed them to get along surprisingly well. How well, however, is still unknown, although commercials allude to a geek and beauty hook-up.
“I’m happy she was my partner,” Dern said. “I learned a lot.”
So far, Dern has had to complete a stand-up comedy act, sketch a nude woman and most recently, enter a bachelor auction after receiving a “pimp my geek” makeover. Cecille and Dern have managed to escape getting kicked off so far, but he will face a new challenge tonight.
Dern doesn’t consider himself a geek per se, but rather thinks of himself as having “geek-like” qualities.
“I really shut down at parties, and I’m not good at the bar scene,” he said. “I spend most of my Friday nights doing homework, but still, geek isn’t the first word I’d use to describe myself.”
And after getting to know him, people may have their doubts as well. Leading his high school’s cross country and track teams to all-state and being able to write and sing for a band while maintaining a 3.8 GPA at Harvard aren’t exactly “geeky,” but rather the qualities one might find in someone rich and famous.
But fame and fortune aren’t what Dern has in mind for his future.
Instead, his aspirations include becoming part of Teach for America, an organization that sends teachers to low-income school districts for two-year periods, and a graduate degree in anthropology.
In fact, Dern has experienced little change in the fame department, except in cyberspace.
“I haven’t really been impacted yet, but I do have a lot more Myspace and Facebook friends,” he said.
Since the show, Dern considers himself more confident and mellowed out, though judging by appearance most would speculate confidence isn’t something he particularly lacked.
“I’ve learned that I can still be alternative and against the status quo without dressing as wildly as I have been,” he said, reflecting on his plans to apply for jobs.
His sister has also noticed a few changes.
“Nate is really down to earth, so it was weird when he came home and seemed to understand the girls,” she said. “He even defended boob jobs. He’s still himself, but he’s definitely more understanding of the other side.”
With a new sense of confidence and success found on the show after a stand-up act challenge for the geeks, Dern is now pursuing comedy, something he has always wanted to do. He has scheduled several shows and plans to do more in the future.
“I’ve done stand-up less than five times in my life. I am still very much at the beginning,” he said.
Although hundreds of hours are filmed for the show, only a part of all that happened actually makes it to the screen. But Dern feels people can trust what they see.
“The emotions are real and the friendships are real, even if the product is very manufactured.”
And when speaking of friendships, he isn’t just referring to the geeks.
“I met 15 amazing people that I hope to be friends with for a long time,” Dern said. “If I could do it again, I might do a few things differently, but I am thankful and honored I was able to do it. It was a life changing experience.”
Check out Nate’s Web site at natedern.com.
Staff writer Margaret Canty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.