(Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this blog misstated the length of production for King of the Nerds season 2, but it has since been corrected.)
Rob Cesternino recently tweeted the following about Zack Storch, the 21-year-old fantasy writer on the new season of the TBS reality competition King of the Nerds:
And he’s right: it’s not an exaggeration to say that Zack is the greatest villain on reality television since big, bad Russell Hantz arrived on the Survivor scene in 2009. It remains to be seen whether Zack has what it takes to win King of the Nerds and assume the “Throne of Games” (I strongly suspect he doesn’t). However, I have no doubt there’s a throne waiting for him alongside Russell, Jonny Fairplay, Evel Dick, and Omarosa in the hallowed halls of “Greatest All-Time Reality TV Villains.” Here are five reasons why:Zack makes a great villain.[/caption]
1) Zack truly does not believe he is the villain — in fact, he sees himself as the victim.
What makes Zack such a great villain first and foremost is his complete lack of self-awareness. It’s not just that he doesn’t understand he’s the villain – it’s that he actually considers himself the unlikely hero. In Zack’s mind, his genius has gone unappreciated and now he’s left with no other choice but to fight back against those who have wronged him.
And you can tell in pretty much every scene that all Zack can think about is how much we at home are going to love him for it. He is certain that when Team Midas Touch Attack loses the LARPing Nerd War, we’re all going to be tossing our remotes at the TV, ranting about how Hercules and Napoleon Dynamite foolishly rejected the brilliant scene he wrote. Yes, in his own mind, Zack is just a poor little nerd who has been backed into a corner and now all of us watching at home are going to root for him as the plucky underdog. It bears repeating: he genuinely believes that. I loved watching the big “Mary Kate vs. Zack and gravity” fight from Thursday’s episode because every time Zack babbled something about how his head was a forsaken cosmos in four dimensions (one more than us mere mortals can handle), I imagined the thought bubble above his head saying, “Oh yeah, I’m killing this”.
2) Zack is the master of BS.
One of the greatest traits a villain can have is the ability to bullshit to further his/her own motives, and Zack is well on his way to earning a PhD in hypocrisy. The catalyst for his big gravity meltdown last week was Mary Kate reminding him that he promised to vote himself into the Nerd Off every week. Not wanting to put himself in danger, he of course immediately tried to back off that threat with a little revisionist history. By that point, he had alienated all of his fellow competitors to the extent that even his rival nerds on Team Titans of Rigel, who are completely invested in Zack staying to keep the other team in disarray, don’t want to help him prepare for the upcoming game of “Battlehammer.”
Cut to what I argue is a top contender for “Greatest Scene in the History of Television,” called “Zack’s Apology”:
In a disingenuous, manipulative speech, Zack attempts to tug at the heartstrings of his fellow castmates and the viewers by bringing up how they can all relate to the feeling of not being wanted, a feeling he describes as being “even nerdier than being picked last.” He finishes…and Jack starts clapping… followed by applause from everyone else? What madness is this?! Zack somehow managed to say, “Hey guys, I know I’ve treated you all with the respect normally reserved for a napkin on which Little Caesars pizza crumbs are wiped, but now it’s time for you to feel guilty for excluding me” and…did that just work a little bit? At least on a couple of them?
Chris even admits later during the Nerd Off that he agreed to be Zack’s advisor because he felt bad for him. This was in a confessional (where he’s presumably speaking openly and honestly), so I have to assume that’s how Chris actually felt. And it’s for that same reason I’m convinced none of this is all just Zack doing some LARPing of his own: post-speech, we didn’t see a confessional from Zack where he turned to the camera, Ferris Bueller style, exclaiming “They bought it!”. The person who’s most buying into Zack’s fantasy world is Zack.
3) Zack’s meltdown took, at most, about four days to happen.
All great villains have their reasons for eventually choosing a path of evil. Usually it takes longer than an episode and a half, though, which is when Zack decided he wanted to lock his teammates in the Radio Shack Lab and burn Nerdvana to the ground. In this instance, Zack laps past even the Hantzes on the crazy meltdown timeline. The 13 days it took for Brandon to pee in the rice, or the full two weeks it took for Willie to head-butt Chef Joe?! CHILD’S PLAY compared to how quickly Zack won the mayoral election in Crazytown.
4) Zack’s teammates are legitimately afraid of him.
During the fight with Mary Kate, Jack asked Zack why he insisted on behaving like a five-year-old. But part of me wonders if it isn’t because Team Midas Touch Attack has resorted to treating him like one. In rewatching Thursday’s episode, I was really fascinated by a scene in which Zack’s team is preparing for the Nerd War and Nicole leans down, much like any mom trying to talk her kindergartner off the ledge, to reassure Zack that he is, and this is a direct quote, “God’s gift to writing.” She also tries to sedate him with hard candies of various colors, though unfortunately I don’t think we get confirmation on which one is his favorite.
Nicole then clarifies in a confessional that she has to do whatever she can to calm Zack down and get his head back in the challenge. But while Nicole probably wouldn’t appreciate me claiming that she and her teammates are afraid of Zack (it only makes the beast angrier and more powerful), there’s no way I can describe the way she exits that scene with Zack other than “fearful.” She backs out very slowly, with her hands where he can see them, as if she’s trying to escape un-mauled from a bear. I was half expecting Dr. Grant from “Jurassic Park” to run up behind her, cover her mouth, and tell her “It can’t see us if we don’t move!”
5) Zack keeps winning, and thus eliminating teammates — making him the scorn of many viewers and lining himself up for a spectacular downfall
If you subscribe to the theory that a villain isn’t truly a villain without an embarrassing downfall, I think you’re in luck with Zack. Obviously I want him to stay on the show for as long as possible to create maximum entertainment, chaos, and nerdrage from the fans who absolutely hate him, but I would bet strongly on him stumbling before the end. Team Midas Touch Attack is just too hapless with him on the team to win any Nerd War, and there’s no way he won’t keep getting voted into the Nerd Off, where eventually the odds will not fall in his favor.
I think the others understand how fragile he is now and probably won’t be too hard on him if he goes out, but you can bet that Zack will take losing with the same amount of grace he’s displayed thus far. Personally, I’m hoping he loses either the “Concentration”-type challenge that eliminated Josh last season, or the tower stacking one that Moogega lost, because those will give Zack the maximum amount of things to throw at people. Tell me you wouldn’t want to see him leave the game in any way other than being led out by Nerd Security (which for all I know is just Curtis and Bobby in another costume). After all, it’d be yet another way to follow in the footsteps of a Hantz.
But tell me what you think: does Zack belong among the Hantzes and Omarosas? Are you loving Zack and King of the Nerds as much as I am? Sound off below!