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Brandeis's big geek on campus

Brandeis senior Richard Rubin went on the WB network for a crash course in something the Waltham university does not teach: How not to be a geek.

Viewers watched him take his finals on ''Beauty and the Geek," a series that bills itself as a ''social experiment." The idea is for the geek to make the beauty smarter and the beauty to make the geek more suave. Political correctness was not part of the curriculum.

Pitted against six other teams, Rubin and his partner, University of Missouri student Mindi Emanuel, made it to the final round of competition, falling just one question shy of winning $250,000 in Wednesday's finale.

Rubin, 22, jetted out to LA to film the series over the winter. He graduated this spring with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and history.

With his manic, goofy personality, Rubin has become the show's poster boy. He's the geek who has most often been singled out in media reviews and online message boards. As his mother, Susan, says, he has become ''the flavor of the nanosecond."

But has Rubin's fame been good for Brandeis?

Spokesman Dennis Nealon said that while the university may have a reputation for lacking much of a social life, it has presented a ''longstanding impression that it is a school focused largely on learning and working hard."

In 2002, a Princeton Review survey of 345 universities ranked Brandeis 10th in the ''nobody-plays-intramural-sports" category, and 13th in the ''scotch-and-soda-hold-the-scotch" category.

Nealon said, if nothing else, the WB show has beamed the university's name into millions of homes.

''I think it's harmless fun," he said. ''Getting the name out there even in this vein is still a very good thing. No one is getting upset about it."

Govind Sreenivasan, a history professor who had Rubin as a student in several classes, has been glued to the show since it first aired six weeks ago.

''I don't think the university has to worry about what the show will do to its image," Sreenivasan said, adding that the episodes have become a popular water cooler topic among the faculty and staff.

Sreenivasan and others raved about Rubin's intellectual abilities, saying he has an uncanny ability to absorb complex concepts.

But while Rubin can become so caught up in a subject that he forgets what's going on around him, he never loses his sense of humor. Sreenivasan said Rubin turned what could have been a turgid essay on ancient education practices into a playful series of dialogues.

Many in the blogosphere community have vilified Rubin for his often outlandish behavior on the show, and have questioned whether the Flemington, N.J., native is not just putting on an act to get attention to help launch a career in show business.

But Sreenivasan and others say that they can attest to Rubin's eccentricities being an important part of who he is off-screen as well. As for the portrayal of Rubin on the show, ''That's completely genuine -- that's Richard," he said.

His mother said the family used to threaten to send him to military school. ''He has always been an entertainer, and always had a great sense of humor -- and the annoying part, too," she said.

Reviewers have compared Rubin to Woody Allen, Steve Urkel (''Family Matters"), and Jerry Seinfeld. One described Rubin as ''clearly the dorkiest, most neurotic and socially challenged of the group."

In the course of the show, Emanuel taught him how to dance, how to give a stellar massage, and about fashion (''I don't know what a [size] zero is -- I mean a zero means you don't exist," he says during one of the six episodes).

In the final round of elimination, the team members had to answer basic questions about each other. After an initial tie, it was one question that cost Rubin his $125,000 share in prize money: What is Emanuel's middle name? He guessed Jackie; it's Nicole.

A final wrap-up, filmed in late June, will air Wednesday at 8 p.m. on WLVI-TV (Channel 56).

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