In 1992, Mary Ellis Bunim and Jon Murray created The Real World. What they started with in New York City was raw, ground-breaking and exciting. Yet after 13 years and 16 seasons, The Real World has strayed completely from its original principles; what started as a simple yet captivating examination of “seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped” has turned into one long, drunken spring break video.
Take a look at the first episode of The Real World: New York and compare it to the most recent seasons, The Real World: Austin, to see the drastic changes this series has undergone.
In New York City, after the roommates arrive at their new home, (a loft in SoHo that does not resemble a trippy IKEA commercial), they do something uncommon in comparison to the newest Real Worlds -they simply talk.
They get to know each other before they get to “know” each other. Within this dialogue, goals, achievements and life-experiences show through. For instance, Heather B., a rapper, once toured the U.S. and appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show with her band Boogie Down Productions.
Norm, the only gay cast member, was a painter who owned his own art business. Julie from Alabama, was 19 and was training to be a professional dancer. Kevin was a poet, scholar and published writer. The list of their respective accomplishments was long.
The roommates discussed numerous topics ranging from their first kisses to racism. They stayed up late talking. They did not go to a bar or club to get wasted nor did they hit the hot tub – there wasn’t even a hot tub in the Real World house back then.
The next day, they watched roommate Becky, a folk musician, perform at a local venue. The episode ended with Julie and Norm exploring the city together and meeting New Yorkers. Yes, it was TV, but it all felt real.
The same can not be said for the Real Worlds of the past four or five years, although the change has been gradual. What is undeniably replacing events like Oxford-grad Neil from Real World: London almost getting his tongue bitten off during his experimental music performance, are “events” like cast members repeatedly going to bars and clubs, having sex, and sometimes getting arrested (twice in Austin, twice in the same night in San Diego) for public drunkenness or street fights.
What’s more is that infamous and unpredictable cast members like Puck, the bike messenger and soap box derbyist of the San Francisco season, are being replaced by drones and buffoons that can be found in any bar anywhere.
(Do the casting directors really wade through thousands and thousands of applicants and suddenly think, “YOU! You’re the one we’ve been searching for!” when they see Brad from Real World: San Diego doing a few manly motorcycle tricks?)
With the changes in casting also comes a drop in the ages of the cast members as well as an increased number of breast implants. Yes, boob jobs – Tanya (Chicago), Christina (Paris), Robin (San Diego), and Sarah (Philadelphia).
The first episode of the most recent season, The Real World: Austin which ended last week, pushes the formulaic nickel-a-dozen characters on spring break to the extreme. No one is over 21, except the “unique” hairdresser.
Literally, what happens is this: College kids go to a bar and a club, they get wasted, then the blonde-haired skinny girl and the fake-baked Iraq war vet make out in the hot tub to the cheering and high-fiving of the dudes.
Then they talk about how the blond-haired girl has a crush on the brown-haired Abercrombie guy, and the pasty face frat boy with the bad hair likes the Latino girl. But she likes the brown-haired guy, and the “unique” girl doesn’t fit in, and then the brown-haired guy gets his face bone punched in during a drunken testosterone-fueled street brawl.
Beth Huxta can be reached at email@example.com.