If you’ve never seen TBS’ King of the Nerds, you’re in for some addictive, spastic, and totally charming reality TV. Like most reality competitions, it concerns a group of contestants surviving elimination every week. Unlike most reality competitions, it features an utterly diverse group of candidates united by only one commonality: They are unapologetically, powerfully nerdy.
Hosted by Revenge of the Nerds alums Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong, King of the Nerds is a well-paced, endearing series that does a great job of finding ways for people with hugely differing interests to compete against each other. The nerdy interests this season range from foreign languages to biochemistry, and one contestant — a self-professed “gaymer” — is already our favorite to win. Xander Jeanneret is a drama nerd, a vlogger, a graphic designer, a Live Action Roleplayer, a budding wizard, and a seemingly all-around nice 27-year-old guy. Starting January 23 at 10 p.m. EST, we’ll get to see whether this gay gamer has the chops to outdo foes with some serious skills (and spells).
Ahead of King of the Nerds’ second season premiere, Jeanneret talked with us about being a gay gamer, the kinds of gay guys who usually make it onto reality TV shows, and — oh yeah — that time he lost over 100 pounds by obsessively playing Dance Dance Revolution.
TheBacklot: You’re a Live Action Roleplay (LARP) nerd, a drama nerd, and you speak Japanese. How did you feel you stacked up against your competition upon first meeting them?
Xander Jeanneret: It’s kind of a funny thing because we came into this having seen season one. We saw what people are capable of. So we had this meta-knowledge going into season two on what to look for and kind of how we’re going to play the game. I think everybody went into the first room sizing up who’d be on their team, who represents things they don’t have and could be beneficial in a partnership. I think everyone was in the same situation of sizing each other up and figuring out what their nerd credit is. It was interesting because everyone had the mentality of, “Do I share everything I can do to everyone? Or do I play my cards close to my chest?” It was an interesting dynamic right off the bat.
TBL: Were the other nerds intimidating?
XJ: It’s intimidating. It’s an intimidating environment from the get-go since you’re competing for $100,000. For me, I come from a background of playing tabletop RPGs, things that involve a lot of strategy from the get-go. I’m constantly thinking about that kind of stuff anyway. When it boils down to it, it’s a game. We’re all there playing a game. It’s just about who’s best at playing this game.
TBL: What’s it like being gay in a nerd world and, conversely, gay in a nerd world?
XJ: I almost have to come out to my gay friends as a nerd! Sometimes it backfires! Especially if I’m out on a date and it comes out that I love to dress up and hit other people with foam swords. This is as opposed to coming out to my nerd friends as gay; that’s always been just another chill factor. It’s always, “Can we get back to the game now?” or “That’s cool.” I think that just being a nerd puts you with the outcasts of society anyway. Adding one more label to that is kind of no big deal.
TBL: I hate saying “nerd community” because there are so many different types of nerdy interests, but would you say the “nerd community” is an underrated haven for gay people?
XJ: Yeah. I think it’s definitely underrepresented in media. A lot of the time on reality competitions a gay competitor has to have the qualifications of something that’s stereotypically gay. Something like design or fashion or style. Those things are celebrated, I think, in today’s media, but you don’t often see gay people in an intellectual competition, or something of this variety. I feel like if it comes down to it, I’d like to be that role model of someone who can bring the intellectual side of the gay community out. It does exist. We are out there. Being gay is just an aspect of our personalities, like our SAT scores or liking Dungeons and Dragons.
TBL: Who are your favorite gays in popular culture?
XJ: For me specifically, George Takei is a huge one. He took his role from Star Trek and created this kind of gay empire! He’s definitely in the ruling class of nerdy gays. I think Neil Patrick Harris is a huge one. When he came out, that was a big deal. He had done it at the height of his popularity. It wasn’t after he was on Doogie Howser and then disappeared for awhile, then came out. It was after he rose back into the spotlight, then he decided to do it. I think that’s really admirable. Even people like Ian McKellen who have such a huge presence in nerdy media, things like X-Men and Lord of the Rings. For him to be out at his age definitely represents the gay nerd community in another aspect. It shows that gay people have always been around. It’s not this new fad. It’s now a new thing.
TBL: You’re also a drama nerd, like many of us. How big a part of your life is that?
XJ: I was a theater/dance major in college. I’ve always been interested in acting. There’s the theater nerd, which is an underrated thing on this show specifically, because that’s a real category of kids. You’ve got the drama kids that stay after school and have rehearsal together and are outcasts a little bit. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, and there’s nothing for these community members to do but see a show that’s put on by the high school or community theater. I was heavily involved with that. I think I enjoyed being a part of that community from an early age. When it came time to choose a major, it was just a natural fit for me. After graduating college and moving out to Hollywood and trying to pursue that as well has been almost a dream come true because I’m finally in an inclusive community, the weather is amazing, and everything is happening out here. To be a part of something like drama where I can see this come to fruition has been a really special part of my life.
TBL: Will we be surprised by you on the show? Are you craftier than we know?
XJ: I’m very, very proud of the game that I played. I feel like a lot of times people go onto a reality competition and they’re shocked by what’s been put together about them, or they didn’t see themselves in what [makes it to air]. I can confidently say that I didn’t do anything that I would regret or anything out of character. It’s [part] of the understanding that we’re playing a game and being strategic, but I was open about everything. I think the deviousness that comes out of people on reality shows can sometimes be enhanced, but it’s there in their personality anyway. I say in my bio that I want to play the nice guy and prove that nice guy can triumph, and I feel I played that to its full potential.
TBL: Is your ideal man a nerd or not?
XJ: I think so. I think because it’s such a big part of my life, in order to share those interests, I definitely look for that in a partner. That kind of sucks because I’m already in a limited pool of gay guys, then I limit it even more by saying “nerdy gay guys.” It’s hard to be that picky, I guess, but it’s easier than converting someone to nerd-dom.
TBL: Lastly, you apparently lost over 100 pounds from playing the dance video game Dance Dance Revolution. Why isn’t 20/20 doing a special on you?
XJ: I keep saying Konami should contact me and make me a living sponsor for that. But yeah, it happened almost on accident. I was so obsessed with video games, and I was the fat kid in high school all the way up to my junior year. All I was doing was playing video games, reading books, and surfing the internet. When I went to a local arcade and saw this DDR game, I became obsessed with it. I thought it was the coolest thing, and I wanted to get good at it. I bought the home version and started practicing it. Really, I was just trying to get good at the game and the weight loss kind of came with it. Once you get up there, it’s definitely a workout stomping around and playing until my legs lock up. I played almost every day just to get good at it. Once I did notice that I was losing weight, I felt better. It’s kind of cliche, but when you exercise, you do feel better. I supplemented that with what I ate and kind of changed my diet and went full-force into this. I think for anyone trying to get into fitness, it’s about tying it into something you’re already interested in. For me, that was video games.