By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Updated September 19, 2007 at 11:11 PM EDT

Does anyone really need two full hours of Beauty and the Geek in their life? Ashton Kutcher’s lasting gift to the reality-competition genre is probably my favorite show of its kind — unlike, say, The Bachelor or The Apprentice, Beauty at least tries from time to time to subvert the stereotypes it’s flinging around. Still, even I wasn’t sure I could make it through last night’s feature-length premiere without getting bored. It was in the spirit of Beauty‘s sorta-noble-minded social experiment approach, then, that I sat through the whole thing in order to bring you all the following important lessons.

1. Beauty and the Geek should definitely rip off American Idol more often. The show spent 45 minutes on a very funny, Idol-style nationwide casting call, which introduced us to a Raleigh, N.C., dude who “founded a pseudo-fraternity named PsiPhi,” a serious Smurfs obsessive from L.A., several beauties whocouldn’t name the composer of Beethoven’s Fifth, and all sorts of other absurd characters we’ll never see again. Definite bonus points for bringing back season 3 standouts Nate and Jennylee (pictured) to help run the auditions, though the shots of them walking together arm-in-arm were edited to leave it maddeningly unclear whether their surprise romance from last season is still going strong.

2. Back to basics works. Last season, Nate quickly turned out to be nothing worse than a witty, outgoing charmer with a very slightly dorky demeanor — hence his aforementioned love connection with Jennylee. I’ll be shocked if there are any similar ringers lurking in this bunch. The geeks range from a LARPer (Live-Action Role Playing) who likes to think of himself as “the demon lord Malgosh” to a devoted filk singer, while the beauties seemed even more vapid and superficial than usual. The result: hilariously awkward non-chemistry between the two sides, even if the getting-to-know-you portion of the premiere lasted way, way too long.

addCredit(“Beauty and the Geek: Michael Desmond”)

3. But that big format switch just might work, too. The premiere waited until 10 minutes before the end to reveal what attentive readers have knownfor two months: This season features a female geek and a male beautycompeting against all the traditionally-organized pairs. We didn’t getmore than a quick, dialogue-free glimpse of them (plus a few comingattractions clips), but it was all worth it to see the rest of thecast’s shock when they realized that the show would finally be gettinga much-needed dose of gender equity. Plus, who needs to be introducedto those last two contestants when one of them’s already done an in-depth Q&A?

Anyway, the premiere definitely got me hooked despite that totallyunnecessary hour of airtime; I’m just hoping this season won’t startstrong and get boring two-thirds of the way through, like last season.(Watch for our critic’s official review of season 4 in a forthcomingissue of EW.) Any of you with me?