Opinion: They stopped getting real

Matt Yurkanin

Matt Yurkanin

By Cassie Cleary

They stopped being polite. They started getting real. So goes the storyline of MTV’s original recipe for high-quality reality TV entertainment, The Real World. Unfortunately, the pioneer of reality TV has been dwindling in substance lately. What began as an experiment to document the lives and interactions of real people has turned into a circus of dumb, drunk individuals hooking up and getting arrested.

Who knew throwing seven attractive, diverse strangers together in one sweet crib would start the reality TV revolution? Of course, the producers ensured success by forcing very different, semi-unstable people into a living relationship. In the past, this usually meant a homosexual and a homophobe, a black person and some sort of ignorant white person (usually from the South), an innocent virgin and maybe a nympho or two.

The formula worked out pretty well. It produced some great fights over the years.

Plus, potential for conflict also meant potential for growth. The strangers learned from the different perspectives of their roommates – they grew a little less ignorant and a little less intolerant. As a result, so did viewers.

Perhaps MTV producers felt they needed to compete for ratings with the scandal-filled reality shows of the past few years, such as Temptation Island or Forever Eden. Maybe they felt the show just needed a new spin. For whatever reason, the producers decided to change the formula a few seasons ago. Instead of casting roommates with conflicting backgrounds and beliefs, they began to cast those who shared a few common interests. These common interests included alcohol, partying, hot-tubbing, hooking up and being naked.

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Of course, sex, alcohol and drunken fights about sex have taken up significant camera time since day one. But at least before, there was some substance behind all the scandals. For example, in episode one of the first New York season, the roommates had discussions about racism and sexuality. In contrast, in episode one of the current Philadelphia season, the camera focused on a close-up of one of the roommate’s fake breasts as she insisted all the men in the house touch them.

The Real World claims to be unscripted, but the directors actually have a lot of control over the direction of the season. After all, they decide which scenes to include in the episodes out of the thousands filmed. They decide what to cut out. They also have a pretty good idea of how the people they cast are going to act for the next five months. In the beginning, those chosen for the show were unique, interesting, intelligent, had a few issues and had something to say. The roommates of the last four seasons, on the other hand, have been lacking a certain moral and intellectual capacity.

The directors could not have cast people like Las Vegas’ Trishelle or San Diego’s Brad because of their insightful thoughts or meaningful conversations. They probably could guess that Trishelle would end up sleeping around with the other roommates, and that Brad, the typical frat boy, would start bar fights. The producers apparently believe these kinds of individuals will make the youth of America continue to chant, “I want my MTV!”

They might be right. At the moment, the show still is as popular as ever. Viewers love drama – and alcohol, sex and stupidity tend to create drama. However, the audience likely will begin to shrink if the show continues on its current track.

Unlike most reality shows, The Real World never needed to create drama with competition or prizes. The drama of combining seven real, interesting people in one house unfolded all on its own. Because of the poor quality of people now allowed on the show, that originality is lost. If the producers want to continue to be successful, they need to stop seeing what happens when people get drunk and start seeing what happens when people get real again.

Cassie Cleary is a sophomore in LAS. This is her final column. She can be reached at [email protected].