MTV’s The Real World has been making waves with its modern reunion shows and recent spinoffs that have tried to play on the original charm of the brand. How they compare to the early series is up for debate, but no one can question the fact that reality shows sometimes have to rely on scripted elements and input from the production team.
These members of the cast and crew from The Real World on MTV have reflected on their experiences with the show and revealed areas that they deemed to be less-than-realistic.
Producers are always looking for certain personalities to fill out their narratives. As a result, the casting process is always going to be very controlled. However, there is an additional layer of fakeness in that producers essentially assign character roles to those taking part.
The Real World: Cancun cast member Patspoke to Cracked about this issue, revealing that he was cast as the designated “bad boy.” He said, “There were a bunch of casting directors sitting people down in groups of ten, asking questions like ‘Describe yourself in one word.’ People clearly knew what the producers were looking for.” This highlights how closely controlled any and all casting for the show is.
It’s a pretty standard part of the reality format to see contestants interviewed again and again while living in The Real World house, to get their immediate reaction to something happening in the narrative. These are supposedly natural responses, without anything about the process feeling too forced.
In truth, Pat went into further details about this saying, “What they do is, every single week, they have an interview, and the interviews would last, honest to God, four hours,” thus wearing down the contestants and leading them in specific directions with their answers. They aren’t the open spaces the interviews appear to be.
Another familiar element of The Real World that appears in both the best seasons and the worst, is the “natural introduction,” where cast members meet one another for the first time. Their initial crossover is supposed to be unscripted and a way to gauge how they will react to one another.
However, it was revealed in the interview with Pat that these introductions are staged. The former cast member explained to Cracked that his arrival at the airport happened the next day, and he was made to reenact walking through the airport as if he’d just stepped off a plane. Every aspect of the introduction was staged, showing just how inauthentic “reality” TV can be.
Dressing The Sets To Form Narratives
Just because there is no script necessarily, that doesn’t mean the producers don’t micromanage every aspect to get the narratives they want in the final edit. That extends to the house the cast members are placed in, with the reunion shows housing them in specifically-designed locations to forge conflicts and conversations.
It’s a fake approach that targets specific emotions. Producer Julie Pizzi touched on this in an interview with Awards Daily, stating that, after being unable to secure the same house for the New Orleans Homecoming reunion, production “used the original house as inspiration for decor in the house they were in to illicit those emotions and keep it familiar for them.” Pizzi’s admission helps to show how orchestrated and considered every production decision is.
Feeling Comfortable In The Living Environment
There are reality shows that continue to copy from The Real World and the housing situation is one such example. However, the contestants are always portrayed as feeling comfortable in the space, as if they are at a home-from-home. It’s the conflicts that cause the drama.
However, that’s quite a fake portrayal, as the regular anxieties of everyday life continue to manifest. Tami Roman spoke to LA Times about her return to The Real World, humorously noting that she “couldn’t poop for two weeks,” because of the other people around. It’s a lack of glamour that’s removed to paint a fake filter over life in the final edit.
In recent years, fights among Real World cast members have seemed a lot more real, with violence being shown on The Real World in a way that it hadn’t previously. However, that previous lack of physical conflict was thanks to welcome intervention from producers who stopped altercations taking place.
The production company that makes the show explained to Variety, “the roommates are told that any physical aggression can result in their removal from the house.” However, there’s no hard-and-fast policy against violence, with each incident handled on a case-by-case basis and producers becoming less willing to intervene in physical altercations in later seasons. For a change, that kind of intervention in the narrative is welcome to ensure the safety of those taking part in the show.
Treatment Of Harassment
There was a very specific incident of harassment that took place in Season 2 of The Real World: Los Angeles. It’s a moment that deeply impacted those involved, and one that saw David Edwards kicked off of the show for his abhorrent behavior towards the women in the house.
What’s really fake here is how The Real World dealt with that incident. In an interview with Page Six, Beth Stolarczyk said that “We all still have trauma,” from the moment, while Tami Roman felt that her feelings at the time were breezed over. The show never properly addressed what had happened, instead choosing to move on from it. It wasn’t truly talked through until the reunion show which was far more authentic and right in its approach to speak honestly.
The Real World was celebrated for its diversity, but one fake element of the series saw Black contestants essentially stereotyped or misrepresented in their characterizations in the edit. There was no nuance to be shown in their personalities, with a clear edict of what the producers wanted.
Kevin Powell, an author and activist, was portrayed in a negative and prejudiced manner. Kevin spoke to Buzzfeed about his experience saying “Through the years, I was hurt, I was depressed, I was sad about it. Coming back has actually been healing because I got to say a lot of the things that I didn’t get to say back then.” Homecoming allowed him to speak his truth and get rid of that fake portrayal.
It’s natural for people to want to change up their look, perhaps their hairstyle, clothing choices, or general appearance. However, at times, The Real World was so fake that producers even had control over what the housemates looked like every time they appeared on camera through the conflicts, romances, and of course those Real World bromances.
Pat told Cracked, “They would control our haircuts, we weren’t allowed to get new haircuts or tattoos. I tried to grow a mustache as a joke and they said ‘You have to shave it.'” That level of management definitely takes away the natural choices contestants should be able to make for themselves.
Strangely, even the professions that some of the cast mates are seen in are actually fake. Producers choose their jobs for them and the contestants must fulfill specific hours in these roles; if they lose their job then they may be kicked out of The Real World.
This was revealed through the documents from the crew about everything that cast mates sign up for. The jobs themselves are real, but what’s fake is that these are not the roles that these personalities would have been traditionally in and have essentially been forced into them.