Back to Reality: MTV’s The Real World

Reality TV is really just based for sensationalism. So, it’s extreme versions and extreme caricatures of personalities’ – Essence Atkins


Reality TV takes up most of the viewing schedule these days (at least in my house it does anyway) but back in 1992 when MTV premiered The Real World, it wasn’t the case. Remember this was back in the day when MTV actually played music videos and The Real World was. 30 minute respite and offered some social commentary to its target ‘generation X’ audience.

The premise was simple; inspired by the 1973 documentary series An American Family, the cast would consist of 7 (sometimes 8 in later seasons) strangers, from all walks of life, from across America, living together in a new city and filmed nonstop. 2015 marked its 30th season, making it MTVs longest running program in its broadcasting history and is credited as pioneering the reality TV genre.

The first season I ever saw was season 3 (San Francisco) but thanks to the wonders of modern technology and the Internet I’ve since been able to gather pretty much every season by various means. Over time the seasons and formats have changed slightly (I’m not a fan of the last 2 seasons at all, but I’ll get on to that later). It started off very simply, seasons 1-5 were the rawest and most honest in my eyes, each last member was chosen because they had a particular interest or something they excelled in, and they were filmed perusing that hobby or career choice. Obviously the cast were made up of people who were polar opposites but they fact they all had some kind of drive, belief or aspiration made them more interesting and two dimensional.

From season 6 the concept of a group job came into the mix, not only did the housemates all have to live together, but they now had to work together too. Seemingly the thinking behind this being that the cast now had to spend more time with each other, they couln’t just go off to their own job for a break, thus creating more tension, and we all know more tension means better TV.

Across the 30 seasons, the format has loosely stayed the same. As I say there were group jobs introduced from season 5 onwards, and rules introduced from season 10 that if a cast member got fired from their job, they would lose their place in the house. This format changed again in season 28 where the group were allocated people determined places of employment around the city and the cast could choose themselves which jobs they applied for. It was always known that any form of violence whatever would not be tolerated and the perpetrator would be removed from the house immediately following any acts of aggression. The exceptions to this rule where in season 7 (Seattle)where season slapped Irene as Ashe left the show due to illness,  in season 19 (Sydney), where Trisha aggressively shoved Parisa over and season 28 (Portland) where Averey and Nia got into a huge physical fight (I would say the worse I’ve ever seen in real world history) I would have assumed that both girls behaviour to be so extreme that they would both be asked to leave, however in all 3 cases it was up to the rest of the house as to whether to offending member left the show or not. The episodes have also gone from 30 minutes and 1 hour long, but that’s neither here nor there really.

The biggest change however has been the last two seasons; The Real World: Explosion and The Real World: Skeletons whereby 7 strangers have moved into a decked out pad as normal then over the coming weeks people from their past have showed u and moved in with them (in the form of either their exes or ‘skeletons’ from their past) I absolutely hate this concept and I think it’s really taking the heart of out the show. I understand that produces are trying new concepts to try and keep the show fresh but it just doesn’t work for me, it’s too reality TV, too desperate and is creating too much drama (if that’s at all possible). The fact that they have all these people from their past around means that’s all the story lines focus on, rather than the dynamics people 7 people who’ve never met before. In my opinion they should go back to its roots and getting 7 over achievers and film them trying to make their dreams come true rather than orchestrating the drama themselves. But hey, maybe I’m just old school and clinging on to the past too much – no one likes change after all!

For nostalgia reasons here are my top 10 favourite seasons and what it was about them that made them so good.

Season 3 (San Francisco)


The first season I ever saw and although I really liked it, it wasn’t until the next series i really became obsessed. Notorious for having Puck in the house, who was a dirty, smelly nutcase, and clashed with neat freak Pedro. Probably more famous though for the fact it portrayed Pedro’s very real struggle with AIDS, which at the time wasn’t something that wasn’t widely spoken about. Pedro sadly passed away shortly after the last episode aired but transported the Real World from a cute little TV show about 20 somethings living in a loft to a really important look popular youth culture.

Season 4 (London)


Often cited as one of the most boring seasons, I disagree. I may be bias because it was filmed in England but this was the season that got be hooked on the show in the first place. I think it’s deemed as so boring because the cast members got on pretty well for the most part, so the wasn’t much drama, but I liked that, and the bond between the, all (particularly the girls) in the end seemed really genuine.

Season 8 (Hawaii)


I always found Colin hilarious in this season, so it’s ironic that he was almost never cast at all. He and Matt were a great double act and his relationship with Amaya was cute (shame everyone turned against her in the end). Justin ended up the perfect villain and what’s more satisfying than seeing the bad guy get their comeuppance?! Not to mention Ruthie’s dunk driving escapes, a great season.

Season 10 (Back to New York)


My all time favourite season ever. One word: Coral. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that she was going to become real world royalty. She pretty much dominated the season with her relationship with Mike but as with London, I liked this season because despite the arguing, everyone seemed to be genuinely fond of each other in the end. The boys were particularly hilarious together.

Season 12 (Las Vegas)


Dubbed the steamiest season at the time (mainly because there was a threesome in the hot tub in the first episode) filming in Vegas was always going to be a wild one. This was also the longest season so far, not sure whether that’s because they filmed for longer or they just had more footage, either way it was a great season, with everything you’d want from hook ups to fights to pregnancy scares and not to mention flying cutlery!

Season 19 (Sydney)


There’s something about the seasons that aren’t filmed in the US that I seem to warm to. The girls (apart from Parisa) were vile in this season, which of course made it great viewing but I find bullying and victimisation hard to watch sometimes. I’m pleased I stuck  this season out though because seeing Shauvon go home crying like a 50s housewife with no backbone because her boyfriend told her to and Trisha being sent home for being the girl everyone hated in high school means this season absolutely deserves place in my top 10. As an aside I believe Ashli and Kellyanne should have been sent home for spitting at Parisa but hey ho.

Season 20 (Hollywood)

Real World Hollywood Season 20 cast - Greg,David,Sarah,Brianna,Joey,Kimberly,Will Art Streiber/MTV

This was the first season to jump from 30 minutes to hour long episodes which I wasn’t keen on at first but it doesn’t make a load of difference in the end. I liked the mix of cast members in Hollywood, Breanna and Joeys relationship was super sweet and their job as stand up comedians was different to the jobs in previous seasons, which made it interesting. It was also the first time I’d ever seen someone from a previous season appear in a later season (Janelle from Key West). It’s not often they break down the fourth wall and talk about being filmed so I thought that was cool. 

Season 21 (Brooklyn)


This is one of the later seasons that felt like they were starting to go back to the old real world style and allowing the cast mates to peruse their own hobbies and interests. I guess being filmed in New York lends its self to that format a lot better (I don’t imagine there are many career opportunities in St Thomas after all). There seemed to be the right mix of housemates, people you knew would clash (and clash they did) and people you know would be really good together. The Ryan and Baya relationship was also, really sweet as was the focus on Ryan’s military career.

Season 25 (Las Vegas)

Like the New York seasons there something about the Vegas seasons that just creates the perfect recipe for a real world run. All the drama with Heather/Dustin/Dustin’s gay porn past was must see TV. I loved that Mike was also in the cast this year; someone a little different from the usual beefcakes and skinny girls they tend to always cast. He was clever and incredibly fun stood up forgo self and formed a great (albeit unlikely friendship with Leroy) this was the season the geek inherited the real world! 

Season 28 (Portland)


This was the last of the normal seasons before it all started going pair shaped with the stupid twists. I think the cast was perfect, creating the perfect balance between romance and confrontation. Thank god that Joi got homesick and left otherwise we would never have been exposed to Hurricane Nia! She was straight up psycho but great viewing (apart form the last few episodes and her and Averey started fighting and it all got a little uncomfortable!) The reunion (hosted by non other than Coral) was also one of the most awkward reunions I’ve seen – just brilliant!

Spin Offs

A couple of spin offs have spawned from the success of the Real World. Most notably Road Rules, which followed a similar premise other than the cast travel around the world in an RV completing challenges for money. And The Challenge which is part Real World, part Ninja Warrior, part I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. In the beginning it was called the Real World/Road Rules Challenge where by cast members from each show would compete against each other but over the 27 seasons the format has changed and instead of both shows competing against each other teams have been split up in different ways (Battle of the Exes, Rivals, Battle of the Seasons etc).

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