Magnet grad appears on reality TV show
In 1999, Niels Hoven was a senior who'd never been on a date. His life consisted solely of school, swimming, playing the clarinet - and, of course, math team. In retrospect, Hoven admits that he was sort of, well, a dork.
Fast-forward eight years, and Hoven has just starred in the third season of the CW's "Beauty and the Geek." The show, dubbed a "social experiment" by executive producer Ashton Kutcher, pairs eight young women who have relied primarily on their looks to succeed in life with eight young men who have relied primarily on their brains. The two-person teams compete in a series of challenges for a grand prize of $250,000. Although Hoven was eliminated from the show just before the finale, he says that the experience taught him more than just to wear his pants lower and not laugh in such a dorky way - he also gained a new perspective on life.
Back from conducting a teleseminar on dating in Los Angeles, Hoven found time in his busy schedule for a call to Silver Chips from his Arlington hotel room, where he's staying before flying to Europe next month for his new gig - as a dating coach. No longer an awkward high schooler with huge glasses, Hoven has undergone a complete transformation from social ineptitude to total attitude. Working for an international dating company and starring on "Beauty" gave Hoven a new style, new friends and most important, the newfound confidence that he says has allowed him to take control of his life and start living his dreams. But this reality TV star hasn't forgotten his roots - he says he's still the same person he was in high school. "I just carry myself and present myself so much better," he says.
Blair, then Berkeley: Life before "Beauty"
Years before his foray into the world of television and dating, Hoven was a top student in Blair's Magnet program, earning a perfect SAT score and finishing the entire Magnet math curriculum, including multivariable calculus, by the end of his sophomore year. He took advanced math classes with Magnet teacher Eric Walstein and swam under the coaching of social studies teacher David Swaney. "When I think of Niels, I can picture him laughing," Swaney says, chuckling. "He was nerdy, quirky and hilarious. Plus, he was a fast freestyler."
Along with his sense of humor, Hoven had great grades and a bright future. He had it all - except a social life, that is. Although he had a small group of close friends, Hoven admits he wasn't comfortable in social situations.
In college, Hoven's studies continued to detract from his social life. At Rice University and later the University of California at Berkeley, Hoven studied electrical engineering. His experiences in the Magnet and his love for logic- and science-driven disciplines led him naturally to his major, he says. "The Magnet really funnels you either into engineering or burns you out and gets you into something totally different, like underwater basket weaving," Hoven jokes. "I really enjoyed it and got sucked into engineering. It had all the science and math that I liked."
But it wasn't until sloughing through 90-hour workweeks at Berkeley that Hoven realized something was missing. He began to reevaluate his priorities when a friend asked him to name his major life goals, to which Hoven responded, to find "a good job and a good wife." When the friend then asked how much time he was spending on each goal, Hoven replied with "something like 99 percent and one percent [respectively]," he remembers. "In actuality, it was more like 100 percent and zero percent."
Partway through pursuing his Ph.D., Hoven realized that his social circle did not extend beyond the people in the electrical-engineering department. "I realized I had to get my social life under control," Hoven says.
A sudden epiphany
About a year ago, Hoven began working as an unpaid intern for the Art of Attraction/PickUp101, an international dating-advice company active in the San Francisco area. He was allowed to listen in on company conversations and conferences in exchange for taking out the trash and ordering pizza. While at a party hosted by fellow Berkeley electrical engineer and season-two "Beauty" geek Ankhur Mehta, Hoven's exuberance and openness to self-improvement attracted the attention of the show's producers.
In June 2006, he was cast in the third season of "Beauty and the Geek." Working with teammate Jennylee Berns, an Ultimate Fighting Championship Ring Girl who likes pole dancing, yoga and cuddling with her dog, Sancho, Hoven embarked on a series of challenges that would test both the beauties and the geeks - the ultimate goal being, as the show's tagline asks, "Can eight geeks and eight beauties become a whole lot more?"
Hoven's enthusiasm and innocence quickly captured the hearts of thousands of fans. During the infamous makeover episode, Hoven even said, "There's nothing I won't do. I'm going head to toe a new man. I'm tweezing my eyebrows, plucking my nose hair, and jeans are most important, so I just started trying on jeans until I found one that made my butt look good." And he did, winning the makeover challenge by fetching a $32 price in a bachelor auction.
For Hoven, appearing on the show meant much more than a new look. "I wanted to progress socially because I was always that guy who was comfortable and outgoing around his friends but retreated in social situations," he says, but being on "Beauty" has given him the confidence he always wanted. "I learned a lot about dealing with high-drama, high-maintenance women. Now, whoever I meet, I've seen worse, and I'm more confident in social situations," Hoven says.
Besides this newfound confidence, "Beauty" gave him the courage - and the means - to start a new chapter in his life. Living on set without his studies to distract him, Hoven had the chance to reflect on what he'd accomplished thus far. "That month, being removed from my life gave me the opportunity to step back and take a look at my life — and I realized I wasn't happy," Hoven says.
An enduring lesson
Immediately after production wrapped up, Hoven traveled to New York City and interned at Phillips Research, a private technology-research organization. While the people were friendly and the pay was good, Hoven says he realized that "there wasn't anybody I could look at and say I wanted to be in 30 years."
Hoven soon traveled back to California and began working for Art of Attraction as an instructor. He now travels the world, giving workshops and helping other men overcome their social anxieties. In doing so, Hoven says that his social life has undergone a complete turnaround. "I had a lot of emotional walls up. Once I took them down, my emotional roles changed with family and friends," he says. "My social life is just unbelievable. I never thought I would have such strong relationships."
Nor did he ever think he would end up where he is today. "Just a year ago, I never would have imagined I would be on TV, traveling around the world, teaching guys how to flirt with girls. It's been a complete trip," he says. Now, he has decided to take a long leave from grad school and continue down a more entrepreneurial path - Hoven even has plans to start a magazine in the future. For now, however, he's happy to take things one step at a time. "I'm traveling the world and having a blast - not making a ton, but having a ton of fun and making enough to get by," he says.
"Geeky" no more
Even after his stint on "Beauty and the Geek," Hoven remains levelheaded about his newfound fame - he still hangs out with his old high-school classmates, and he has already planned a get-together for Blair alums based in L.A. "Life hasn't changed that much. I realize this is all going to die down. It's good that I'm not getting used to some sort of crazy lifestyle," he says.
Although he has changed, Hoven says he has never forgotten the person he was back in high school or the valuable lessons he learned at Blair. "Make an effort to tune in to what you're feeling. Don't let society or your friends push you into something you don't want to do," he advises. "Figure out what makes you happy and go for it."
Baijia Jiang. Baijia is a Magnet junior who loves watching movies and TV in her little spare time and can spout out arbitrary entertainment facts at the drop of a hat. She counts herself as an expert on all matters relating to "The Lord of the Rings" … More »
Ashley Lau. Born in Boston, Ashley is a huge Red Sox fan and sometimes wishes she could just live at Fenway Park. She loves to run, do tae kwon do, travel, cook, go to concerts and has a new obsession with the TV show 24. Someday Ashley … More »