Local student hangs with ‘geeks’ on WB series

Allison Corneau

Maine native Tristin Clow was pursuing a psychology degree at the University of New Haven, when she was given the opportunity to experience the ultimate ‘social experiment’ outside of the classroom. The 22-year-old was cast as part of the Ashton Kutcher-produced reality series “Beauty and the Geek,” now in its second season on the WB.

“Beauty and the Geek,” which airs new episodes each Thursday at 8 p.m., teams eight ‘geeks’-a Rubik’s cube champ and Dungeons and Dragons master made this season’s cut-with eight ‘beauties,’ including Clow, who work together to share their respective academic prowess and social skills with their partners. Competing in weekly challenges, including a debate for the ladies and a round of speed dating for the guys, Clow and her partner Chris Saroki were the third couple eliminated from the show, which will award a $250,000 prize to the winning pair.

Auditioning last August, Clow thought a round of three initial regional casting interviews would be enough to secure her spot on the show, but explains that the process continued even after she arrived in Hollywood.

“(After) making a 20-40 minute video tape about my life, I had a private investigator interview me over the phone, I had a blood and drug tests done. Even when I got there, I had psychological tests and took the MMPI. It was a long process,” Clow said.

Unlike the show’s first season, Clow and fellow contestants had full disclosure on what they were signing on for, and were told that rather than participating in a dating show, “Beauty and the Geek” was being marketed as a unique ‘social experiment.’

“I was a little concerned, because I didn’t want to do a dating show, but they reassured me that it was a ‘social experiment.’ I had heard that through the grapevine-mostly from people who had seen the first season-and they said it was more about living in this house, competing with a partner for $250,000,” she said, adding that rather than taking an entire semester off from her studies, producers advised her to play it by ear, since the duration of her competition could last two days or two weeks. Clow said the entire competition was filmed during the month of October, three weeks of which she and Saroki were active participants.

During the show’s first episode, the eight beauties handpicked their partners after a brief meeting, but Clow says production staff alerted the women to who they were about to meet. “They tell you right away that these guys are going to be the geekiest guys you’ve ever met. We knew we were going to be paired with these guys who have no social skills. We’re picturing the worst of the worst.”

Clow, who the show advertised as a ‘shot girl’-a past employment stint Clow says lasted for four days, but caught the eye of producers-initially selected Brandon Blankenship, but became partnered with Saroki when series rules allowed a pairs to be reshuffled. Blankenship, an assistant neurobiologist, qualified as a geek for the show’s purposes, but Clow admits that in his case, the moniker could be debated.

“If I had just met Brandon, I might have said he dresses a little mature for his age and I wish I could help him with his hair, but I would probably never stereotype him as a geek,” she says in earnest, adding that in retrospect, she appreciated competing with her new partner Saroki more, since he had the ability to learn more from the experience.

“Being with Chris I learned how to be patient, I learned how to work with someone,” Clow says. “Brandon totally respected me, and at times I feel like Chris didn’t, so just being with Chris helped to make the situation totally different. He needed to be in that house more than Brandon did. I don’t feel Brandon had that much changing to do, and I’m glad my partner was Chris.”

As with all reality shows, editing is often a concern for contestants once the realization sets in that their exploits will be televised for all of America to see. For Clow, however, she is confident about her portrayal on this season’s episodes, admitting that what viewers saw, raw emotions and all, was her true character.

“There’s really not much editing that’s been done that makes things look too different than how they were. You’re talking about 48 hours put into a one hour show, and they definitely couldn’t have showed me more real. People might perceive me differently, but I was totally myself. I joke now that I wish I had cried a little less, but you can’t be fake about your emotions,” Clow says, with a chuckle.

Returning to her college classes having to make up the material she missed was certainly tough, but Clow says added pressure came from her peers, many of whom chose to come out of the woodwork once her name became attached to the program. While she says her family and close friends were nothing but supportive, Clow says she misses the anonymity she once had prior to her time on the small screen.

“I was really nervous about coming back, because I knew a lot of people knew about the show, and I was afraid I’d be treated differently. I made the mistake originally before I even came back (to school) of reading the WB message boards,” she remembers. “(Certain messages read) ‘I hate Tristin. She goes to my school and she’s fake.’ I used to be the type of person who could sit in the back of class and (not be noticed), but now I actually see people pointing. It’s a weird experience when you’re living three months away from society and all of a sudden you’re thrown back in.”

All in all, though, Clow says she values her reality stint, and while she’s no stranger to the television scene-she was also seen singing for Simon Cowell on the first season of “American Idol” in the Hollywood rounds-music is what she’s now focused on. Currently exploring options to compile a CD, the reality vet has a production team assembled in Torrington and hopes to perform the National Anthem at her graduation in May.

As for how the show ends, Clow explains that she is unaware of which team will take the title and the cash prize, but regardless of the outcome, appreciates how the show has changed her outlook on people steroetypically referred to as geeks.

“Once we got to know (the ‘geeks’), we realized that none of us are really that different from one another at all. I don’t even like to use the word ‘geek’ anymore. Just because they may have an amazing skill or they may have a great GPA, doesn’t make them not an awesome person,” Clow said.