Brian Davidson ’08, a library science scholar, always thought his nerdy skills as a bookworm would bear fruit academically and professionally. But it never entered his mind that a propensity for trivia, book collecting and the history of information would lead to a stint on one of the hottest game shows on television.
Davidson is currently a contestant on the TBS competition series/game show King of the Nerds, currently in its eight-episode second season on the network. Hosted by Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong (stars of the popular “Revenge of the Nerds” film franchise), it follows 11 contestants as they complete various tasks in order to win the grand prize of $100,000 and be crowned “greatest nerd of them all,” worthy to sit atop the “Throne of Games” (a play on the TV series Game of Thrones revered by fantasy-loving nerds everywhere).
In a rule change from last year, this season’s winner will be determined by “pure nerd skill” via a series of tough challenges.
We caught up with Davidson and discovered how being a nerd at CMC was the first step on the road to, potentially, fabulous riches and TV superstardom.
How did your participation in the show come about exactly?
Brian: It's actually a long story with a CMC connection! Back in 2008, after I graduated from CMC and was working there as the study abroad advisor, I was approached while eating lunch at Pitzer by a scout looking for cast members for a different geeky-themed reality show. I submitted application materials and went pretty far along in the process until the show was canceled. Fast-forward to 2013. I apparently made an impression on some Hollywood types and stayed in their rolodexes, because they called me and asked me to audition for the show.
What characteristics would you say you possess that makes you a potential “King of the Nerds?”
Brian: I have a passion for academics of all sorts, book collecting, and the history of information in general. I'm a huge trivia buff, and I find it difficult to find subjects I don't like. I am also quite interested in details of all sorts. I'm the kind of person who could be endlessly fascinated by the nuances of the Chicago Manual of Style. Moreover, I have many "traditionally" nerdy interests: Star Trek, obscure German-style board games, role playing video games, and cult movies. What really propels me to the top, however, is that I'm extremely adept at research, so that if I encounter a challenge concerning something I'm unfamiliar with, I'll be able to learn it front and back very quickly.
When did you first begin to realize – in life – that you might lean toward dweeb status?
Brian: I was quite young when I realized that I was a nerd. My social group in grade school consisted of other small, unathletic, brainy types, and I fully embraced it. I dressed up as Einstein for Halloween in third grade, and I played Isaac Asimov in an “interview” for a school project as well.
In your opinion, what is the upside of being a nerd?
Brian: Being a nerd is, for the most part, all upside. While nerds have a reputation for social ineptitude or bad hygiene, this needn't be true. The core aspect of a nerd is the courage to embrace your own interests, no matter how obscure, ridiculed, or outside the mainstream they are.
What was your major at CMC, and did you pursue a graduate degree?
Brian: I majored in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). I later received a master's in European & Russian Studies from Yale, and I'm currently pursuing a master's of information/library science at the University of Illinois. As you can see, I just love collecting degrees! While nerds are often thought of as scientists or engineers, there are just as many nerds at CMC as there are at Harvey Mudd––we're just of a different sort. I think of myself as a humanities nerd: I am captivated by the vagaries of the human condition and the different ways to research it. I don't neglect math or science, but I think that it's just as easy to "nerd out" about a book of poetry or a dusty old archive as it is to obsess over a differential equation or mechanical model.
Were there any classes you took at CMC that helped to solidify your nerd status in your (or anyone else’s) mind?
Brian: All of my CMC classes were superb, and my professors always encouraged me in my “nerdiness.” That said, Professors Lisa Cody (history), Nicholas Warner (literature), and John Roth (philosophy), were my real inspirations. They are the ones who showed me how it was possible to be a humanist and a nerd at the same time!
What’s the most challenging aspect of the game?
Brian: The challenges are just as difficult as they look on TV, if not more-so. We often had only 24 hours (or less!) to design and build an entire project or presentation from scratch. It was like finals week on steroids! Furthermore, nerds don't always work well together; we're not used to group projects, and many of us have large egos. Learning to work with different people of all types of backgrounds was a challenge, but it was also well worth it.
Do you have any message of encouragement to impart to the legions of nerds out there?
Brian: Being a nerd is a fantastic thing. Embrace it! I learned at CMC that it is possible to be a nerd in all kinds of different ways, and there are plenty of nerds at CMC who might not identify as such. Even if you're not into science fiction or role playing, you can still learn a lot from the intense intellectual curiosity that comes from your inner nerd. Nurture that, and don't worry about what others think.
For more fun facts about how Brian stacks up “nerdwise” to other contestants, check out the following TBS link to Brian’s official “King of the Nerds” page on the show’s Website.
“King of the Nerds” airs on TBS on Thursdays at 10 p.m. EST.