UI well represented in 'King of the Nerds'

UI well represented in 'King of the Nerds'

Here's an odd statistic: Three out of 11 nerds are former or current University of Illinois students. That small sample is taken from the composition of "King of the Nerds," a TBS reality show that returns for a second season on Thursday night.

The three Urbana nerds: MD/PhD student Jack Pu Hou; Brian Davidson, a graduate student in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science; and alumnus Josh Wittenkeller of Grayslake, who earned a degree in media and cinema studies in December 2012. They talked with The News-Gazette's Paul Wood about what life is like on the nerd side.

Brian Davidson

Willy Wonka meets Hogwarts. That's how one "King of the Nerds" contestant describes the elaborate set for the reality show.

Davidson, 27, is not a tech nerd. He considers himself more of literary nerd. He loves books as a medium and as a source of information.

"I'm very much into absorbing all kinds of information," he says. "I love books themselves, trivia, card catalogs ... ."

Given that he is working on a master's in information science, that makes a lot of sense.

But he's also a fan of nerdiness in its essence.

"The show is just fantastic," he said. "There are 11 nerds in Nerdvana, a set that's full of toys and food and games."

Off the set, he says, he has a somewhat nerdy girlfriend of three years.

"She thinks she's a nerd. She's not as nerdy as I am," Davidson said. "She's very into the environment, which is not nerdy."

Fun facts from his bio at tbs.com:

Asteroids or Ms. PacMan: Ms. PacMan

What character would you be in Mario Kart? Toad! I have a small body, but a big head!

Which family would you belong to in "Game of Thrones?" Stark, Lannister or Targaryen? Sadly, I have yet to read/watch/otherwise absorb Game of Thrones.

Do you have a pet? Two cats, Leo and Topaz.

The one celebrity/icon (past/present) you would have wanted on your team on the show? Sir Francis Bacon: the ultimate polymath, a revolutionary scientist and philosopher who caught pneumonia and died while studying the effects of freezing meat. He's Bacon!


Jack Pu Hou

Hou, 24, is a third-year student at the UI; his PhD program is in bioengineering. He had an elevator to the top floor of the nerd building.

"I got a casting email from the UI College of Engineering. I sent in a blurb about myself not really expecting much out of it, but 10 minutes later, I got a call asking for the detailed application and the audition tape," he says.

Though busy, he managed to do his audition tape in one take. In the final interview in Los Angeles, "I showcased my nerdy talents such as Rapping the Periodic Table. The rest is history."

He did not immediately recognize the hosts.

"I don't go out of my way to see stars, and honestly, I didn't even know who half of them were until after the fact (which might play a role in the show)," he said. "I'm really not much of a moviegoer, but I guess it's fun to meet famous people."

He said game-playing is his super-power.

"The key to winning is not to be flashy or skilled, but to quietly endure the grind day by day, not draw attention to yourself and get your hands dirty when needed," he said. "Some people want to go home a hero. Some people want to go home beloved. I want to go home last."

Jack facts from his online bio:

Edison or Tesla? Edison. Both contributed greatly to science and engineering, but at the end of the day, one guy died admired, rich and loved, and the other died alone, broke and paranoid of a Martian takeover,

Vine or Instagram video? I am an old geezer inside. I have no clue what either of those do.

Mac or PC? LINUX!

Droid, iPhone or Blackberry? Android. It's Linux!


Josh Wittenkeller

Pokemon enthusiast Wittenkeller, 23, is making a living from his game website — you can learn about him at youtube.com/user/TheJWittz — as well as starring on the show, where he was voted the Peoples' Nerd.

As a media guy, he was thrilled to meet hosts Curtis Armstrong and Robert Carradine, stars of "Revenge of the Nerds."

"They play out just like their TV roles, very engaging and very enthusiastically nerd," Wittenkeller says. "In person, though, they are very reserved and surprisingly quiet."

Does he consider himself a nerd?

"Oh, yeah, both on and off the show," he says. "But with a difference. People think you can't be nerd if you are not socially inept. I don't believe that."

In other regards, he fits the bill perfectly, playing six to eight hours of video games a day and becoming an expert on obscure Pokemon trivia.

His girlfriend has a Spider-Man comic book collection, and they play Pokemon together, so nerdiness hasn't come between them.

Fun facts from his online bio:

Math or science? Science

Edison or Tesla? Tesla

Sharpies or Bics? Sharpies

Comic-Con or Dragon Con? Comic-Con

"Lord of the Rings" or "The Hobbit?" "Lord of The Rings"

FAST FACTS: Some things you ought to know about 'King of the Nerds'

Lewis and Booger

The original stars of the "Revenge of the Nerds" movies are the hosts of the reality show. Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong look unexpectedly young for guys in a movie from 30 years ago.

Corrective lenses

To wear glasses or not wear glasses? That is the question. Seven of the Season 2 "King of the Nerds" contestants wear spectacles. Of course, there's no word on whether they're held together with adhesive tape.

Omega Mu

Can girls be nerds? Just ask Gilbert's girlfriend Judy. "King of the Nerds" has five female contestants. No explanation why four have K in their first names: Kelsey, Katie, Mary Kate and Kayla. Nicole, get with the program!