John U. Gardner G is MIT’s latest “geek” contestant on the CW reality show “Beauty and the Geek.” Gardner, a member of the MIT Class of 2007, is currently working toward master’s degrees in Course VI (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) and Course VIII (Physics). He talked to The Tech about his experience and what it was like to be the “token MIT guy” on the show. Now in its fourth season, “Beauty and the Geek” airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.
The Tech: What made you decide to try out for the show?
John Gardner: I was close friends with [Matthew A. Herman ’06] from last season, and he thought that I would be good for the show, [that] I would be someone they would be looking for. So he encouraged me to audition. I went to the auditions and it was a lot of fun and it seemed like a fantastic experience so I went through all the rounds of auditions.
TT: Was the experience of the show what you expected it to be?
JG: It was very different than I expected actually. You know, I felt that I got a lot closer to the people, the other cast members. I thought everyone was really great. I think that one of the things we all had in common was [that] people really were able to laugh at themselves, because we knew we’d be doing very embarrassing things on TV. Everyone had a good outlook on the experience, were able to roll with the bad times. That kind of made it a fun group.
TT: Did the show ever feel scripted at any point?
JG: I guess there are two ways to answer that. The show felt pretty natural. I think that you react a little different being in front of the camera. I think that changes how you feel a little bit. I also think it’s interesting because normally, at least for the guys, you’re trying to focus on your cooler aspects, but in the show, they focus on your geekier aspects. …
TT: Were there any particular skills or lessons that you learned at MIT that were useful on the show?
JG: Yeah, I think so. We had study materials every week that we had to use for preparing for the challenges and preparing for the eliminations. And I think in terms of cranking through the material and absorbing it as quickly as possible — trying to cram it — I was certainly used to studying hard at MIT. I think that helped in terms of just getting through the material.
TT: Do you think MIT is destined to always have a student play a geek on the show?
JG: It was funny because I think that they try to get a spectrum of what they consider to be geeky. You know, they have the comic book guy, the sci fi guy, and then there’s the token MIT guy. It was kind of how I joked to the cast — everyone was trying to come up with the reasons why they were there, and I was like “Hey, I’m the token MIT guy.” So I think that they will continue to have MIT people on the show.
TT: In your opinion, what is the most important thing you pulled from this experience?
JG: … I think that it’s really interesting to consider how you portray yourself to the world, what your first impressions are, how you put yourself out there. … Everyone goes on the show trying to work on confidence, and one of the things that you have to deal with is realizing that you’re going to do embarrassing things. People in all over the United States are going to watch you do embarrassing things, and [you have to] be okay with that.
Part of that is not being too concerned about what other people think of you, because there are going to be people that will like you and people that won’t. I think that’s something that I’ve learned. Even just being home after the experience and watching it air on TV — it’s kind of dealing with people’s reactions to it. I think that you learn to just be confident in how you present yourself and not care as much how people think.”
TT: Have you noticed any changes in your interactions with people?
JG: I think I look different after the show. … I think it will affect how I interact with people … but it’s going to be slow to see it trickle down into your every day actions. You have to process what happened on the show and what that means, and even now after the show is over, I’m still learning from the experience as it’s being aired and as I’m with my friends and people that I’m close to and [seeing] how the general public reacts to it.
TT: Do you have any words of advice for future hopefuls?
JG: I think that in the audition process, they look for people who are genuine; you need to go in there and be yourself. But I think what they consider geeky is different than what MIT students would consider geeky. They would probably think all of us are geeky. … I just went in and showed them some of the things I’m interested in. I showed them some of my circuit projects, I talked about trips I’ve gone on, those kinds of things. They kind of love it. I remember I busted out my 6.302 project and actually demoed that, and they really liked that.
I think they’re looking for something that’s very stereotypically geeky but all engineering and science could be considered that. I think most MIT students are able to talk about what they’re doing, their research in a very technical way and they really love that. … They love all the buzz words, the technical terms. So most MIT students can hit them with some of that.
TT: Looking back now, do you think you’d do the show again? Would you encourage others to be a part of the show?
JG: I would absolutely do the show again. It was an amazing experience. I think that everyone has something they can get from it, just in terms of meeting the people. I will remain close with many of the cast members, and that alone is great. You get to do things you never would have done before, see a whole new side of yourself. That’s something everyone would like and I personally loved, so I’d totally do it again. I would encourage anyone to audition. I think that the majority of MIT students could make it to the show if they wanted to. I’d definitely encourage anyone to do it who has an interest.