By Ruth Johnson
The audience held up sign paddles to indicate their approval or disapproval of the panelists’ arguments for different pressing nerd questions on SYFYWire’s Great Debate panel. Held in the Hammerstein Ballroom, there was either a sea of red or green depending on how well the panelists argued for their point of view. The moderator was Baron Vaughn, who was joined by panelists and noted professional nerds Dan Telfer, Dani Fernandez, Travis McElroy, Josh Gondelman, Amber Ruffin and Adam Savage.
Vaughn kicked things off with an icebreaker segment he liked to call “Hold Me Closer, Tiny Answers,” where he asked each panelist a question. Telfer argued that Spider-Man was likely to force you to take a ride to the airport because he’s a teenager. Fernandez was asked what the weirdest thing was that she would have in her utility belt; she almost instantly replied a capsule of blood. The panelists reacted with equal disgust and interest to this. When asked why, Fernandez said so she could bite into the capsule when men asked her to smile. McElroy argued that pinky swears are legally binding. Gondelman said there are advantages to having a nemesis.
Ruffin may have had the best question and the best answer, however; when asked about what her ideal cosplay would be, she described a rather elaborate outfit. One, there would be a dome that was mirrored on the inside, with a little Michael B. Jordan figurine on the outside…and once you got inside, she’d be Wakanda. The audience loved it.
Then, the debate officially got underway, with a question for Ruffin and Savage: which is more iconic: Indiana Jones’s hat or James Bond’s tux? Ruffin went first, saying that the tux was more iconic, because without it “James Bond is just some old perv”. Savage was quick to respond though, with the retort that Indy’s fedora was more iconic because he’s the only one who can wear it and make it look good. The audience ultimately voted in favor of Ruffin on that one.
Fernandez and Telfer were challenged to argue about which sitcom character should have superpowers. Fernandez argued that Creed from The Office was the best candidate, because his powers would be a mystery—just like him. But Telfer easily won over the audience with outstanding pun: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. He also argued that Tituss Burgess’s character, Titus Andromedon, was some sort of “cosmic sentinel,” which also won applause from the audience.
McElroy and Gondelman were forced to debate against or in favor of the Batsignal, respectively. Gondelman said that unlike some first responders, at the very least the Batsignal doesn’t put forth noise pollution. But McElroy won solidly with the retort that the Batsignal is only good when you’re outside and proceeded to do an impression of Batman looking at his curtain trying to spot the Batsignal.
The next debate was for the whole panel: who is the best ginger character. Telfer had a weak argument for Jean Grey, that being that she can do anything with her mind! Fernandez followed him up with a better answer: Jessica Rabbit, because she sleeps with a rabbit, therefore “she walked so furries could run”. McElroy gave both a heartfelt and an amusing argument for Amy Pond—the main point being that she was more interesting than her Doctor (Matt Smith). She was the first companion, according to McElroy, who asked the question “what if it was about me?!” Gondelman had to argue for Yosemite Sam—he came up with the point that ol’ Sam has the personality of every Trump supporter profiled in the New York Times. He also claimed that because Yosemite Sam never caught the bunny (Bugs), he is a vegan legend. Ruffin was given Ron Weasley. She knows nothing about Harry Potter. She eventually landed on that Ron has a lot of heart, but not before thinking that Ron was either a coward or a genius. Savage gave an extremely thoughtful argument on behalf of Dana Scully and ultimately won.
Savage, Fernandez and Gondelman were told to argue which female badass was the best out of the choices of Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor or Imperator Furiosa. Savage said Ripley because she kept her head, and because she kept winning—McElroy retorted (even though he was not in the debate at hand) that maybe Ripley should’ve left the cat behind. Fernandez argued that because Connor “banged a robot” (at least in her fanfiction) she should win. Gondelman said Furiosa is both one-half Terminator (because of the arm, which drew complaints from the audience on the mathematical component of that answer) and a one-person #metoo movement. Gondelman won with that, but that was a squeaker.
The next debate was, which genre TV show has the highest batting average: McElroy, Ruffin and Telfer were the great debaters. McElroy leapt up and claimed that Supernatural was the best genre show, because he got through 300+ episodes in “about six months” and only found two bad ones. This immediately won the audience over. With Ruffin and Telfer maybe detecting they had a lost cause on their hands, they both gave joke answers. Ruffin answered Grey’s Anatomy because it’s “Science. Period. Fiction.” She went on a tangent about some of the crazy Grey’s storylines, which most of the panelists had never heard about before. Shock was the general response. Telfer replied with a podcast: Critical Role. He immediately drew complaints that a podcast was a TV show. He argued that because no one watches cable anymore, it should count. Needless to say, McElroy won that debate.
With that, the Great Debate was over, and the panel was opened up to debate prompts from the audience. The question and answer that got the most lively response was “Who is the most relatable villain,” which McElroy answered immediately: Darth Vader. McElroy argued that “he’s bad at his job,” that he’s a deadbeat dad and he dies at the end. The panelists received a lot of cheers at the end for an evening of healthy nerd debating.
Vaughn is an actor, who works on various projects such as Grace and Frankie and the reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Telfer hosts The Nerd Poker D&D Podcast and also writes for MAD Magazine. Fernandez is a writer, actress and comedian who hosts the podcast Nerdificent. McElroy is a member of the famed podcasting family the McElroys. Gondelman recently published a book, Nice Try and is also the head writer for Desos and Mero. Amber Ruffin writes for the Late Show with Seth Myers and will have her own show on NBC’s upcoming streaming site, Peacock. Adam Savage is Adam Savage.