This is the unedited version of my story that ran in today’s (4/3) Daily Targum.

This year’s geek starting lineup. Both bearded men and the one wearing the blue suit have been eliminated.
(Michael Desmond/The CW)

TV critics and audiences look at the onslaught of reality programming that has gobbled up precious airtime with a mix of disdain and guilty pleasure. No one defends the presence of these unscripted ratings giants, but everyone–whether they admit it or not–has enjoyed at least one reality show in their life.

For many critics, the secret program of choice is The CW’s “Beauty and the Geek,” now entering it’s fifth season. Perhaps this is because the show, produced by Ashton Kutcher, tries honestly to show the human side of the contestants. The shift of concentration, from the usual “Real World”-ish bickering and drama to the mental and social growth of those involved, is the show’s redeeming quality.

In the first four seasons, a geeky guy and a hot girl would get paired up. They’d live together and compete against the other pairs in physical and mental challenges. Each week, a different pair would be voted off, until the final team standing won $250,000.

But the fifth season, which started March 11, threw a curve at viewers by spending the first three episodes pitting beauties against geeks. They competed in a series of challenges, and it seemed like the producers were forcing them to get to know each other, to strengthen the bond among cast members.

At the end of the third episode, after a few contestants had been eliminated, they finally announced that they would be splitting up into guy-girl pairs. The cast seemed generally relieved that the show would be returning to its normal format.

This cast is almost identical to every other season’s cast. There is Tommy, the “geek” who will probably end up being a hottie after the makeover episode, which we’ve seen every year. And on the opposite end there is Jim, a video game programmer with a huge beard who seems as if he physically is unable to talk to women. Like the super-geeks of seasons past, his transformation will be enormous and he’ll leave telling everyone how his life is changed forever. (NOTE: Jim was voted off in the time between writing and publishing. He didn’t make it to the makeover, but he did say his life was changed. He also asked if he could kiss his partner and it was simultaneously adorable and cringe-inducing.)

On the female end of it, it seems that each year the beauties have gotten a bit less beautiful. Now, in season five, some of them are downright weird looking. Playboy model Jillian is a nice exception, but it’s hard to imagine what the producers were thinking when they cast squeaky-voiced “aspiring soap star” Cara or trash-talking Randi. Sure, these girls are on the slow side, but they won’t be making any jaws drop with their appearance.

“Greggie,” the gay Asian geek, doing what he does best. (Michael Desmond/The CW)

The cast has some interesting new additions, such as the first-ever gay geek (or “self-proclaimed gaysian”) Greg. He’s not as smart as the other geeks, but he is just as socially inept. The girls swarmed to him the first episode and have shown him an inordinate amount of favor, even nicknaming him “Greggie.”

The characters on Beauty and the Geek are always wonderful, and are presented in a genuine fashion, so that the viewer may actually feel like they’ve gotten to know the people they’re watching. The producers have the formula down – find good people, get them to change their views on beauties/geeks, and make sure they give a tearful goodbye speech.

This season is going to have lots of tears, and lots of changing, and it’s shaping up to be a lot of fun. That is, as long as they don’t go mucking around with the formula anymore.