‘King of the Nerds’ exclusive: Colby Burnett on fan reaction, bond with Kaitlin, show experience

Colby -We made it no secret that we were a big fan of Colby Burnett on “King of the Nerds” this season. We have a natural proclivity to root for the underdog, and the moment that the Secret Six was born, he stood as one of the biggest threats to them dominating the game. As a “Jeopardy!” champion many times over, he was incredibly smart. Not only that, but he had the ability to process information very quickly. That is probably why he fared so well against Amanda in the Nerd-Off before being sent home, though he could not quite compete against someone who had been watching horror films for most of her life.

We had quite a few questions for Colby, given that he was at times edited as the outcast of the house. How much did he experience that, and what did he think about the other players’ perception of him? These are just some subjects that Colby discusses in a lengthy email interview.

CarterMatt – First of all, thanks for being great entertainment all season and one of our favorites to watch! What has the reaction been like for you? Has it been a very different sort of experience to the reaction you received from ‘Jeopardy!’?

Colby Burnett – Yes, I had a polarizing effect upon Jeopardy watchers. Some supported me, and some thought I was absolutely full of myself mostly because my eyebrows move when I speak. I distinctly remember one interview that I did saying that something to the effect that “I wish to keep being an exceptional teacher” and there were replies basically stating “..an exceptional teacher? Man, this guy is full of himself”. In contrast, I’ve gotten almost entirely positive feedback for my demeanor and actions while on the show. Generally, I feel that many nerds identified with me and my plight. Also, being on Jeopardy is relatively easy. All one really needs to do is be confident and know many things; your performance is entirely your own, you have only two competitors in an air-conditioned studio, and you’re done in 31-33 minutes. It doesn’t matter how you come across and what you say as long as you have the answers.

There was so much talk in this past episode about you being labeled an “outsider” from the group, but that only started to become apparent on the show the past couple of weeks. Did it feel that way to you from the very beginning?

Part of being an outsider was self-driven, and part of it was the mob’s reaction. I don’t drink, and was more self-conscious about how I would appear on the show. So, when things weren’t progressing in a social situation, I’d leave. Generally, when I’m in a social situation involving an activity I don’t like, I don’t go. I don’t care what particular Hogwarts House into which I’d be sorted I was older than nearly everyone was, and I was the low-grade celebrity on the reality show. I’m cut off from the world while at Nerdvana so it’s not like I could watch or read any of the series that piqued the interest of the other competitors. Too many conversations started “Oh, did you hear of this (insert film, anime, comic here)?” “No?” “Well, it’s really cool. You should experience it.” It did nothing for me, for the most part. I also really enjoyed board games, but could rarely find the people and time to play them. The main problem I felt with being targeted is that there was nothing that I could have done about it. Being targeted was the basic social strategy for multiple episodes. People were willing to fall on their own sword to come at me, and that dominated the strategy for multiple episodes. Smash was the clearly inferior team, so that meant that we either won, or I would have my feet to the fire. That’s actually very stressful.

What was your relationship with Kaitlin like on the show? Being on the outside of the Secret Six you two became established as the underdogs, and therefore some of the easiest to root for.

I saw a lot of my general nature reflected in Kaitlin, so we always got along well. When she was seen as cocky and self-assured, the only came across that way because she put that team on her back. It reminded me much of my public appearance on Jeopardy. She’s all-business and shared the same views on pop culture that I did. It’s okay for people to enjoy what they enjoy, but I don’t think that any particular fandom defined us. I believe that we were both relatively cynical, blunt, and forthright people who enjoyed the competitive nature of the game more than the social nature therein.

Are you surprised that the other contestants managed to deduce what the Nerd-Off theme was going to be, and they were able to send Amanda in against you?

Generally, there’s nothing to figure out in terms of Nerd Wars vs. Nerd-Offs. We lost a music challenge that ended up with Indiana Jones, and a Rube Goldberg machine led to anime and Kaiju. They lucked out, and I still fought to the bitter end. It was encouraging to see Lily contribute to actual strategy, though it did spell my demise. I’ll still admit that I never completely understood Heather and Amanda’s decisions in the last two nerd-offs I faced. Both times, they could have easily exempted themselves and sent in Jonathan, but both managed to put themselves in harm’s way on purpose.

Whether it was your rapping, your domination in several challenges, or your soundbytes in the confessionals, you had some great moments. What stood out to you the most from your time on the show?

What stood out was my general ability to keep focused and run a series of one-liners and humorous observations. I value my brand of humor, and I think it showed throughout the season. I think that I was portrayed fairly and true to life, and believe that those who know me also think the same.

I want ask about something that rubbed me the wrong way a little from last week’s show. After your elimination, Raychelle commented that nobody was “super-happy” that someone who had won Jeopardy a number of times was a part of the competition. Do you think she was speaking more from the standpoint that everyone was afraid to compete with you because of your resume, or from more of a “you already had your moment in the sun” vantage point?

Raychelle’s statement was one from both perspectives. I was already a low-grade celebrity; you could tell that they were absolutely terrified to face me in any challenge, and feared that I would dominate an individual game. Also, I did explicitly state that winning $100K wouldn’t change my life. Should there be a trivia challenge as in the previous seasons, I would have destroyed the field; they planned accordingly.

So what’s next for you? I probably don’t even have to ask if you’d go back on Jeopardy if asked, but are you back to teaching and preparing for any trivia competitions in your spare time?

I’d gladly offer my services for television. I joked that if I did a game show in 2012 and a reality show in 2015, the sitcom should drop around 2018. But I really do love my teaching career, and couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. I enjoy teaching, coaching a slightly above-average high school quiz bowl team, and trolling trivia nights around Chicago. While the attention is nice, I don’t think that I’ve changed in any meaningful way. As far as preparing for trivia, I do what I’ve always done, which is basically drift about Reddit and Wikipedia.

We like to close with something fun, and this seems to be a good question for you: If there was a single Jeopardy category that you would want as a subject for a Nerd-Off (kinda like we saw Friday with horror films), what would it be?

Even though I didn’t have as much experience, I enjoy watching and playing more of the word and number-play categories, emphasizing lateral thinking. If the challenge team is clever enough, I think it would make for good television.

Thanks to Colby for his candor and his time in this interview! Like with Heather last week, you can really tell that he put a good bit of time into explaining his thought process and his outlook on the show.

If you want to see more of our own insight on this past episode, you can listen to our recent podcast at this link. Also, sign up today if you’re interested in getting some other TV updates on all we cover via our CarterMatt Newsletter. (Photo: TBS.)

Love TV? Be sure to like Matt & Jess on Facebook for more updates!