The long history of MTV’s ‘Real World’s’ desperate twists

10.21.14 3 years ago


Reality Blurred's Andy Dehnart looks at changes in MTV's Real World over its 30 seasons, discovering that the twists, gimmicks, and changes started early in the show's life, leading up to season 30's The Real World Skeletons.

Monday, MTV announced that it will mark the milestone 30th season of the first modern reality show by calling it “The Real World Skeletons.”  While those of us who grew up with “The Real World” are ancient compared to MTV's 12- to 24-year-old viewers, that is not a reference to its former fans.

Instead, the subtitle refers to the cast members' pasts, which will literally haunt them by moving into the house. With “skeletons” involving bullying, pregnancy, and cast member being surprised by a dad he's never met, it seems like an insane, desperate, and ethically dubious twist.

But as crazy as “The Real World: Skeletons” is, it's just another twist in a long line of changes that have moved the show away from its core format that started in 1993.

The show has a long history of forcing drama, though nothing as dramatic as “Skeletons.” Here's a look at major milestones in the show's format.

1992  The Real World. The concept: have seven strangers from dissimilar backgrounds live in a loft together. As innocuous as that sounds, people freaked out. It was groundbreaking television on multiple levels.

Because the cast members were mostly well-established and had jobs and lives, they did not spend all of their time together drinking and fighting. But it still resulted in must-see drama.

1993 The Real World: Los Angeles. It's easy to forget that the show started a gimmick in season two: having two cast members drive cross-country in an RV to pick up a third (which inspired MTV's “Road Rules”). This season was also the first to evict one of the cast members, David, the stand-up comedian, and the first to send the entire cast on vacation together.

1994 The Real World: San Francisco. This season will always be remembered for two extremes in casting: Pedro and Puck. Casting an HIV-positive activist, Pedro Zamora, acknowledged the show's power to communicate messages to its audience, power that Pedro wanted to use. His presence helped change the conversation in the U.S. about HIV and AIDS. Meanwhile, there was Puck, who started the show getting arrested, and only went downhill from there before the cast finally ejected him after Pedro threatened to leave if Puck wasn't evicted.

1995 The Real World London. Producers took the show outside of the U.S. for the first time, casting a mix of Americans and Europeans, but there wasn't really a culture clash, just a lot of sitting around and talking.

1996 The Real World Miami. It's amazing that, as early as season five, the producers resorted to forcing artificial drama. Perhaps as a reaction to the relatively boring London season, the producers asked the cast to work together, which continued for every season until 21. In Miami, their assignment was to create a business, and though its name lingers fondly, nothing much came of Delicious Deliveries.

Also this season, producers orchestrated the first crossover with “Road Rules”: its cast members broke into “The Real World” house to steal the 8 ball from the pool table. Eventually that kind of crossover would spawn an entire series, the “Challenge,” which would last longer than “Road Rules.”

1998 The Real World Seattle. Two people who already knew each other, David and Nathan, were cast for this season. While it doesn't qualify as a twist, this was the first season that the cast was shown footage of the show while it was still filming.

That was a result of Stephen hitting Irene in the face as she left the show; the cast had to decide whether or not to evict Stephen. Incidentally, Stephen reacted violently when Irene said he was gay; he later came out. Irene has since written a fascinating piece a fascinating piece about the episode's events</a> and her feelings about the show's crew.

2001 The Real World: Back to New York. The first season to return to a city previously used by the show. Also in New York, the cast's job, working at Arista Records, became mandatory; leave or get fired from the job meant leaving the show.

2008 The Real World Hollywood. The first cast member selected by viewers appeared this season. Their first pick, however, didn't make the entire season: Greg left after being fired from the cast's season-long assignment, which required them to take improv classes.

2009 The Real World Brooklyn. While many seasons had more than seven cast members, thanks to people leaving and being replaced, Brooklyn was the first season to start with eight cast members, altering the show's iconic introductory tagline (“This is the true story, of seven strangers…”).

2010 The Real World New Orleans. Yes, there was another season called “The Real World New Orleans,” the first of which aired 10 years earlier. Naming the season the exact same thing as a previous season might have been confusing, but it was mostly evidence that the show's target audience was so young they couldn't remember the previous New Orleans season. Re-visiting previous cities but giving them the same name continued in San Diego and Las Vegas.

In a truly shocking twist, this was also the first season to not feature Ikea furniture in the house.

2013 The Real World Portland. A dog was included in the cast list and opening credits for the first time, and that's not a euphemism for a person. It was an actual canine.

2014 The Real World Ex-Plosion. The biggest shift in the format occurred this season, which had a total of 12 cast members: seven people plus five of their exes, who moved in and surprised them.

2014 The Real World Skeletons. The cast will be surprised by the “skeletons in their closets,” which MTV describes as involving “shattered lives, broken relationships, estranged family members, and dark secrets.”

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