If there’s anything on TV that’s guaranteed to make me feel old, it’s MTV’s The Real World. I used to watch the show and think to myself, one day I’m gonna grow up, get a piercing and befriend lots of lesbians. Now I just feel like I’m watching a free version of Girls Gone Wild. When the show first aired, it was groundbreaking at the time. A time capsule of each year; the castmates represented the attitudes, ideals, and social issues of America’s youth. There have been a few bones thrown here and there, an Iraq vet, and the series’ first transgender castmate, but other than that, it’s been a lot of wannabe actresses and midwestern meatheads. Now that it’s entering it’s entering its 24th season, it has evolved over time to compete with the hundreds of other trashy reality shows churned out each year, American’s very own MSG. They even sell DVD’s now called Real World Hook-ups, for those who don’t want to waste time fast forwarding through actual dialogue, And I don’t blame you. Having been cable-less for sometime now, when I happened to catch the latest season in Washington, D.C. at a friends house I was both bored and sad. Who needs to go to the gym when you can just watch other people work out. And of course, what social experiment/ voyeuristic scripted series wouldn’t be complete without a hot tub room! So while I’m sure, the Real World will continue to trudge on until it turns into a multi-headed hell mouth monster, I like to reminisce about the older seasons. When they danced to gramophones and necked at the drive-in.
Granted I was a young’n’ when this one came out, but puberty or not, I knew a hot punk when I saw one. A truly unique cast, it was mix of highly educated, creative, worldly, driven people. There was an Oxford grad, a race car driver, playwright, jazz musician, model and fencing Olympian. What was interesting about the old seasons was that the cast mates weren’t all American which made it feel more like an eclectic study abroad experience. Don’t even get me started on Semester at Sea. This season particularly sticks out in my mind, because one of the castmates actually ended up being a successful actress, Jacinda the model. Oh and that nasty tongue-biting incident where Neil, the bleach-haired Brit loses his to a over-zealous rockgoer. This made the Tyson/Holyfield ear incident look tame.
Just re-reading the castmates bios, brings back vivid memories. One of the main aspects that changed on the show, were the kind of jobs the cast was given. The Boston cast worked with inner city children at a youth center and had a heavy focus on volunteering. The Cancun cast was required to entertain and corral drunken college kids on Spring Break. Watching people drink and hook up can be plenty entertaining, but it wasn’t the entire plot of the show. For a group of people who couldn’t listen to music, watch TV or read a book, the jobs they were given helped to shape the sober and intellectual conversations they shared. Some of my favorite cast members were on this season. Naturally I gravitated towards the outspoken ginger New Yorker, Montana and no nonsense Southern lesbian, Genesis. I also liked how they started to include more castmates with blue collar backgrounds, like Sean, the Irish Catholic lumberjack with a face made for television. Did I mention they lived in an old firehouse? You can imagine the pole sliding possibilities. There were drag queens, two-timing, Clinton rallies, and drug addled ex’s. All made for prime, adolescence shaping, television.
Known mostly for the infamous slapping incident, the Seattle cast included a lot of Seattle’s number one export at the time, angst. This high-strung ensemble was very emotional, whether they were breaking down over friend’s suicides, long-distance relationships, Lyme disease and of course, dating one of the MTV casting directors. Their job was to host a live radio show, which suited them perfectly. A quick search of Wikipedia perfectly illustrates what direction some of the cast members were headed. Poor Stephen, slapping Irene was just the beginning. He was later arrested for prostitution and car theft. And now Irene hosts a regular show whose sole purpose is to bash reality shows like the one she was on. MTV must have really fucked with these guys.
Even though the cast got to live in paradise, their housing situation was less than so. There were of course a few standouts. Teck, the Chris Tucker clone, with unfortunate late 90′s dye job, and a propensity to get naked; Ruthie, the bisexual, raging alcoholic and giver of lap dances, and Amaya, the curvy California native with a Ph.D in crying. And who could forget Justin, the Harvard Law student/child prodigy/number one hater of everyone on the show. It’s not a reality show unless someone goes to rehab or leaves for other â€œpersonalâ€ reasons. Their job sucked this season, essentially working a surf shop, but there was enough up-the-skirt moments and drams to keep it going. But unlike other bottle-hugging contestants on shows these days, I actually cared what happened. There’s always got to be a little soul behind the binge drinking.