Mike Richards, <EM>Beauty and the Geek</EM> Mike Richards, Beauty and the Geek

Another round of pairing the brainy pocket-protector set with the bodacious but intellectually challenged begins tonight (8 pm/ET, CW). And though it still offers up lessons in self-confidence and not judging a book by its cover, Beauty and the Geek's "social experiment" has some added surprises in its fourth season. Host Mike Richards talked to TVGuide.com about this season's twists — including casting assistance from last year's lovebirds Nate and Jennylee, who appear in tonight's two-hour opener — and some of the show's funniest-ever moments.

TVGuide.com: I hear you roam the country with Nate and Jennylee looking for contestants in tonight's episode. Does that mean they're still an item?
Mike Richards: They got along great, but there's no romance there. They're “just friends.”

TVGuide.com: Well, at least they're still talking to each other. So what about this year — are the geeks even geekier? And as for the beauties... are their vocabularies bigger this time around?
Richards: [Laughs] Smaller. We found guys who are even more socially awkward than before and beauties who realize there's somewhat of a... hole in their intellect, and they can improve.

TVGuide.com: That's great to hear, because last season with Ceci being so competitive, it became more about winning the money and less about learning from each other and personal growth.
Richards: Yeah, [Ceci's teammate] Nate was such a great guy that if she was anything but pure evil, they would have won. That's just how bad she was. She single-handedly brought the cast down into that ultracompetitive world where it was all about winning. But in the end, the social experiment saved itself by going, "We're not going to reward this."

TVGuide.com: So there's no Ceci 2.0?
Richards: No, there was no thought of game theory this year. There's a very kind spirit to the show, more of a return to this collective belief that they all can help each other. In fact, one team actually threatens another and says, "You need to start trying harder and improving because you've got the furthest to go and you're not putting enough into it." We were like, "What?" You can't produce that.

TVGuide.com: I know you've done your share of stand-up and TV-show hosting and producing over the years, so you've probably seen it all. But do you still come across situations with the contestants where it's really hard to keep a straight face?
Richards: This year more than any other year, I had a tough time keeping a straight face. I laughed through just about half this [season]. And everyone was laughing — everyone knows that this is tough. They know we're purposely putting them in challenges that go exactly against the strengths they have. The geeks did this Tom-Cruise-in-Cocktail type of bartending challenge and it was the hardest I've ever laughed in my entire life.

TVGuide.com: What can you tell us about this season's biggest twist?
Richards: Well, if you're a fan of the show, you've always wondered: What would it be like if it was switched — with beauties as guys and geeks as girls. Would it still work? When they decided to move forward with one team switched, we didn't know if we'd knock this great show off its axis.

TVGuide.com: How did it affect the dynamic?
Richards: You'll see a little reticence to embrace them at first. But then [this season's] beauties and geeks had the most amazing transformations we've ever had — not just physical but emotional, the whole thing — because there was this mix.

TVGuide.com: What's the "switched" team like?
Richards: The guy [“beauty”] Sam — who uses four or five different types of skin tanner every day and is always working out — you think he's going to be the cold, mean guy. But he was so nice to the guys. He cheered them on, worked with them, helped them style their hair. Then our female geek, Nicole: She's brilliant, and she just blossomed and relaxed and had fun. A lot of geeks ended up with crushes on Nicole, not the beauties.

TVGuide.com: So more geek love in the air this season?
Richards: Yeah, I can't tell you [exactly] what happens, but I will tell you that there is romance again. And [the couple] is a huge surprise. We all shook our heads going, "Really!? I never saw that one coming."

TVGuide.com: You and your wife just had a baby boy in June; were you making any mental notes on parenting during filming?
Richards: It's funny, it does spawn a lot of parenting talks when you're watching them go through this. Because some of the things that the beauties especially — but also the geeks — are missing, they're missing because of a little bit of parenting. They haven't been taught that there's more to life than just how someone looks. And my wife and I have talked — especially while doing the show — about how the perfect child is some combination of these two groups, a very well-rounded person. You're aware of aesthetics, you are aware of the world around you, pop culture, stuff that is fun and important to know about. But it's also incredibly important to be smart, comfortable with yourself, and comfortable to pursue whatever you want, whether it's geeky or not.

TVGuide.com: But if you had to choose…?
Richards: I'd have him be a geek, for sure. If you're a smart guy, you can go a lot of places [with that]. I mean, look at Bill Gates. And someone who's very good-looking but really has no other abilities, that's not that interesting. But of course I hope my son is both incredibly good-looking and becomes the richest man in the world!

Take a stroll down Beauty and the Geek memory lane in our Online Video Guide.

The new Fall Preview: Returning Favorites issue of TV Guide, featuring an exclusive interview with Grey's Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey, is on newsstands now. And get a free downloadable copy of last week's round-up of new shows here!

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