Calling all Nerds and Geeks: Reality TV, and the Mensa “Thing”.

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Last night was a rough night here, and for many of my friends. Having a friend on a reality show isn’t an easy thing to deal with – watching her be attacked, having no way to really HELP her, etc. Last night, it turned out that she had the lowest votes on The Glass House, and is in very real jeopardy of going home.

It’s hard not to be down on ourselves and feel like failures – is there SOMETHING more we could have done, to have kept her votes up? There’s been a lot of introspection and theorizing in the past 14 hours or so. After many hours of watching reality tv forums, & twitter, research, observation, and strategizing… I guess it’s time to acknowledge a hard truth.

For as awesome as Stephanie is – She really is the sweetest, most positive person alive, the most likeable person I’ve ever even *heard* of, etc – what she is putting out there is a hard sell to the vast majority of people. What we love about her is… well, not the most compatible with reality TV.

She’s not an actress. She’s not going to skank it up, she doesn’t cause drama, and what you see is what you get. She’s not going to have a fake romance, she’s not going to lie about her fellow competitors. Her tweets are straightforward and honest, and she doesn’t have to “keep it real” (a phrase I am SO sick of, after the past few weeks!).. She just IS.

Knowing how she is, well, it makes it hard to watch the flood of commentary on why she “deserves” to be kicked out. So much of it is based on ignorance, assumptions, and outright lies from the other team… it’s disheartening. I wish I could say “I want her to drop her honor and just play dirty!”, but… I don’t. I know she wouldn’t feel right about winning at THAT cost.

That said, it’s really disheartening that the vast majority of comments against Stephanie are intelligence related. It’s always made me uncomfortable that intelligence is discouraged – almost demonized – in today’s society… but reading such vicious manifestations of that? Wow. I’ve got to say, the comments – and the bullying she’s endured on the show – really bring back some ugly memories from elementary and Jr High.

Fun fact: “Stephanie is, like, a scientist…and Joy is a playboy model. They are not real like us!” – actual quote from one of the other competitors. You know. Because science isn’t real, or something. (She’s a chemist)

The thing is, Stephanie hasn’t been at all obnoxious about her status as an intellectual outlier – this has all been based on the fact that she’s mentioned Mensa a few times. People – both on the show and viewers – seem to be taking issue with that. Seeing a bit of a disconnect between assumptions/stereotypes and reality, I’d like to address some misconceptions.

First off, please know that 1 in every 50 people, statistically, qualify for Mensa. We’re not talking one-in-a-million rarity here. In the grand scheme of things, qualifying for Mensa is neither super special, nor unique.

To an individual Mensan, however.. it *is* special and unique – just not in the way that people seem to assume.

You see, many of us grew up as outsiders – loners in school, not really relating to our peers, etc. It’s a pretty common feeling for kids, growing up – and many find clubs or sports to get involved in along the way, which bring them fellowship, community, etc. Where they fit in, and feel comfortable. It may be band, a football team, chess club – whatever.

For many Mensans, we didn’t really get that feeling of belonging until we joined Mensa. We joined, and suddenly we met people who get our jokes, share some of our quirks, and basically “run on the same operating system”. After a lifetime of being odd… it’s really great to find a bunch of others that we can be comfortably odd WITH. (Well, or uncomfortably… but that’s another story!). My point is, THIS is why – for many of us – Mensa IS special and unique. We love our friends, we look forward to meeting up with friends from across the country once, maybe a few times a year… it’s great! It’s very easy for us to get excited about it.

However, it seems that there are some old stereotypes of Mensa, and they color perception of that excitement. Without knowing all the culture / backstory / etc, it could be really easy to see things like Stephanie’s mention of her Mensan friends as some sort of elitist statement.

I remember back to one of the first live feeds from the house, when Stephanie got really excited about Mensa friends twice. For one question (re: Naming the computer voice “Host” of the show), “Marie” came up as a possibility. It was so random and nonsensical compared to the other possibilities, Stephanie thought that maybe somehow those of us on Team Steph had managed to get my name up as an option. The thought had never actually crossed our minds before this, and we really had nothing to do with it… but, I have a reputation – in Mensa – for pulling off some pretty wild stuff. I get why she thought it might be the case, and got excited at the possibility.

That same episode, our friend Shawn Bakken had one of his questions picked to ask the players. When Stephanie heard his name, she *flipped*. It was so cute, and yes – she did mention the Mensa thing again. Thing is, Shawn’s a great guy – local to me, and a good friend – but she only gets to see him maybe once a year. I think that the last time they saw each other was probably two years ago.

You see, there is one big national convention – and many smaller regional gatherings – every year. Most people will pick a couple to go to, and they are a BLAST – basically, summer camp for nerds. We go, see people that we see only once or twice a year – sometimes even less than that – hang out, drink, play board games, drink, eat cheesy poufs, get into whatever trouble seems to sound like a good idea at the time, drink some more, hang out, drink and… drink. We have the most ridiculous, STUPID conversations that you could ever imagine, we kill off as many brain cells as we can, and just let loose for a weekend / week. It’s *great* – and for most of us, it takes the place of / is the first time we experience a lot of things that others may take for granted – fitting in, having friends that understand us, going to prom, etc. There’s a lot to be excited about, we make a LOT of really great memories, in a very small amount of time!

When you hear of someone – in this case Stephanie – excitedly talking about their Mensa friends, think of it more of “my friends from summer camp!”, than “I am SO smart”.

1 in 50… really isn’t all THAT smart, and we get this. The average Mensan isn’t all caught up in their own brains (though, Mensa DOES have its share of douchebags* – much like ANY organization!). Many of us have come to see intelligence as more of a hindrance than not – and don’t base our self worth on our membership. It’s just… friends. Lots of really funny, usually wildly eccentric friends.

Given how *we* experience Mensa, it’s sometimes easy to forget that people who aren’t involved with the organization have a very different view of things – some based on assumptions, others based on longstanding stereotypes. We don’t think that when we talk about Mensa (Crazy friends! Lots of fun!), that we are in any way saying “I am smarter than you are, neener!”… however, that seems to be how some people take it.

I ramble so.

Bottom Line #1: Mensa, toastmasters, sports teams, sci fi & fandom conventions, interest based social groups … It’s just nice to find your “tribe”, you know?

Bottom Line #2: We need to rock the nerd/geek vote. If you are curious, smart, weird, nerdy, or just proud to be a geek… we need your help to support one of our own. Help us show the viewers that scientists are real, that intelligence is not something to be afraid of / look down on, and that financing a Ph.D is a VERY good way to spend that $250,000 prize money. Remember getting picked on for being the smart kid? Now’s a chance to fight back against those people, if only vicariously!

For more information on Stephanie, read this blog entry that I wrote about her: Triumph After Tragedy… and Helping a Friend.

To join our “cause”, please like/follow/subscribe to any or all of the following:

Team Steph on Facebook:

Team Steph on Twitter:

Stephanie on Twitter (Show account):

Team Steph Website / Blog:

… and when the time comes, and we put the word out through those venues… please vote for her! To make it easy for you, I’ve even started a Facebook Event for it. Feel free to join it, and invite your friends!

*Mensa also has many jerks, awesome people, musically gifted people, actors, lawyers, jocks, dweebs, geeks, cooks, Christians, Athiests, Democrats, Republicans, Anarchists, fascinating people, boring people, gays, straights, and pretty much any other “type” you can think of… even stupid people! (Oh boy, Mensans can take stupid to WHOLE other levels…) 1 in 50 people!

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