When the contestants saunter into the ballroom Monday night for the new episode of Dancing With the Stars, the IQ in the room will be markedly lower than last week (no offense, Snooki).
No longer physically able to saunter, Bill Nye the Science Guy was forced to exit the ABC reality competition last week after tearing a ligament in his leg. The injury ended a two-week run on the show that was remarkable for the huge outpouring of support the 57-year-old television personality received both in the ballroom, where he routinely received standing ovations despite earning the lowest scores, and on social media, where his @TheScienceGuy Twitter handle counts more than a million followers.
Now that he’s no longer doing the cha cha, Nye, best known for his ’90s educational TV show, is focusing his energy on his partnership with the subscription-box company Quarterly. The startup drafts celebrities and brands, ranging from Pharrell Williams to Coco to Joshua Foer, to curate a box of gifts, which are sent to subscribers every three months. The Science Guy didn’t want to spoil what it’s in the box he is helping to curate, as each will boast a handwritten letter explaining why he chose it, but he assures me they are all “fabulous” things that “everybody in the world needs.”
As he makes the transition from waltzing partner to expert curator, we chatted with Nye about his Dancing With the Stars experience, his new venture, and why, 20 years after his show about science made its debut, he is geekier—and therefore cooler—than ever.
How are you hanging in there?
Fabulous. I’m a little on the disabled list, though. I have to get around with a cane. I have knee brace.
How bummed are you to be off the show now?
Well, with the injury they just kind of got rid of me. The schedule’s still grind-y, though. Yesterday I was on all of these shows. I’ll miss it when that’s done. I’ll miss Tyne.
Was the show at all what you expected?
It’s just what everybody says. It’s a full-time job. I really like it, every part of it. But it’s was as much work as I expected.
How’d you end up on this cast?
I had talked to them a lot over the years. I wanted to be on it. I think when my Twitter following got big enough, they finally realized it would be a good idea. But I like dancing. When you watch a baseball game you think, “I can do that, man. Put me in, coach.” That’s what I thought watching this.
Is there someone you remember watching in the early seasons that made you think you could do this, too?
Think about back to when the show started, when it was people really out of their element. I watched it a little bit, then. I would watch when it gets near the end. You want to see how they improved. You want to see the people that you don’t expect to do something like this, like Bristol Palin. This year there are so many professional dancers.
There really are a lot of people this season with previous dance training. Did you feel like it was unfair?
Look, those people would get judge’s scores of 8s or 9s and I was getting 5s and 6s. But I had the biggest viewership. I apparently accounted for a 12 percent increase in ratings. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have the training. But I am very disappointed to have gotten the boot.
But on to the next thing, right? Now you’re partnering with Quarterly to curate your own gift packages. Tell me about that.
So it’s a cool idea. I come up with these fabulous things that I think everybody in the world needs. So you can subscribe to it and get some of those things that I picked that everybody in the world really does need.
How are you choosing what to include in your box?
It’s my business to know what’s interesting and useful. That’s what I do. Does it intrigue me? That’s the main criteria.
You have a massive social media presence. Are you getting any sense through your followers about their interest in this project?
Oh, yes. People, they’re interested. We’re getting subscribers. I have a million Twitter followers, you know.
I do. It’s crazy. Your show premiered in 1993. Twenty years later, you’re almost more popular than ever. Who are these fans of yours?
They’re mostly what I guess we would call 20-somethings, who watched the show when they were in school. It’s spreading still. There are a tremendous number of people who are in school now being exposed to me. The teachers show my show in class.
What’s it like to watch your fan base grow up like this?
I really like it. It’s cool. It’s the greatest thing. You get ideas from these people. I just notice what people respond to when I do stuff…When they respond to the red liquid rising and the blue liquid falling, the science, I notice.
That’s the thing. You’ve made stuff like chemistry and physics and things like that cool and fun, which is obviously hard to do. What’s the secret?
You have to understand it first, the person doing the explaining. You have to have discipline in the words you use, in your vocabulary. And you have to be passionate about it. I show up all excited about it. I think that helps engage people. I’m so enthusiastic about it.
We’re producing a documentary film that everybody needs to see, not just for the quality of life from seeing one of my documentaries but for understanding the world around you. I’m also going to be on The Big Bang Theory. The contract just arrived. I will be playing myself, across from Professor Proton, who you’ll remember from his last appearance on the show looked a lot like Bob Newhart. So I don’t know the details yet, but Leonard is going to be talking with Professor Proton, and Raj or somebody is going to be talking to Bill Nye the Science Guy. The question everyone wants to know, though, is who ends up jumping Penny?