The 27th, yes you read that right, 27th season of The Real World premiered last week, and MTV decided to re-air three “retro” seasons to gear up for the kids moving into a house in Portland, Oregon. While I was watching the old episodes of New York, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, it reminded me how reality TV used to be exactly that – reality. The first few seasons of RW featured honest, natural people who just agreed to live in a house with strangers. The show is credited to being one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the genre, and there’s no question once you see these ‘retro’ episodes.
However the problem is that 21 years later, reality TV, and RW in particular, has just become a parody of itself. The kids on the series these days are simply filling in the stereotypes they’ve seen on TV, and it takes away the exact element that made the series so special in the first place.
Now I can go on about this, but we’ll save that for another day. The point is that The first decade of RW seasons were the best, primarily because they were the ones that cleared the path, showed no air of insincerity, and just shared their lives on tape. I started watching RW in 1995, during season 4 in London (and if you’re doing the math, yes I was only nine years old. This says a lot about me as an adult). I watched religiously, up until about season 18 in Denver. So here’s my list of the 10 best Real World seasons – from season 1 to 18. I’m assuming all the ones after that weren’t worth watching anyways.
To some, the London cast was the most “boring,” which I can understand. However, like I said, this was the very first season I watched, so mainly for sentimental value, this ranks at number 10. As a 9 year old, I had no idea what to expect, who these people were, and why they weren’t acting with a laugh track behind them like all the other shows I was used to. I mean these were American kids living in an apartment in London with some British folk, one of whom got his tongue bit by a fan at one of his rock shows, an Aussie, and a German man named Lars. ‘What kind of world is this??’, asked 9-year-old Traci. ‘The real world,’ answered future Traci.
9) Los Angeles
I feel like Los Angeles was lost in the mix since it was right after the inaugural New York season, and right before the iconic San Francisco season. While I still have no idea who that blonde kid is, and I can’t believe Beth is the same Beth from the 10 million Challenges she’s done, the thing I won’t forget is “bad ass” David dragging a half naked Tami through their hallways and it being a big deal. Also, Tami getting an abortion was also a big deal, but I didn’t really understand what that was about as a tot.
8) New York
When I was re-watching this a couple weekends ago, I just couldn’t get over how old everything looked. The clothes, the background music, just the way it was shot – everything looked so 1993. I mean in this picture alone, Eric has a huge cell phone in his hand and Julie thinks she’s super hot wearing all denim (which is actually back in style now). And why do they have that big ass dog? Anyways, New York paved the way for the subsequent 26 seasons and reality TV in general. The fact that a gay man, a black politician, and a small town southern girl all lived in a house for one month with no idea what they were getting in to was the biggest risk MTV could ever take – with the greatest reward.
7) Las Vegas
Ok so Las Vegas. This was the season I clearly remember thinking: ‘Oh my GOD this is a SHIT SHOW.’ By this point, the previous seasons had already seen debaucherous moments (see: Miami threesome in the shower), but this was just a whole new level. Seven 20-somethings thrown into SIN CITY? The producers knew what they were doing. I mean Trishelle? In a hot tub? Are you kidding me?
Did you watch that clip of Flora, Sarah and Dan creepin on the Mike/Melissa/random chick threesome? Because that is one of the highlights from this season. The other one – and maybe one of the best moments in all of RW history, is when Melissa opens an envelope that belongs to Dan, and all hell breaks loose. When he confronts her, it’s a line I will never forget, when he says, “Was it fucking yours to open up, you stupid bitch??!” And Melissa, a strong Latina, does not take lightly to the ‘bitch’ name calling, and she starts to go off and calls him a ‘fucking flamer.’ Now obviously this entire fight is ridiculous, but the way they go off on each other is a fight made in Real World heaven.
Hey, remember when Sean was like, totally the cutest log roller ever? But then you grew up and found out he’s an uber-conservative Republican, married to Rachel Campos from San Francisco, have six kids together and the dream of ever marrying him was shattered? No just me? Ok, well besides Sean, every single one of these cast members was memorable. I believe this was the first season a lesbian (Genesis) was a featured cast member, and one of the most touching scenes in the season was when she and Kameelah were talking to two young girls at the school they worked at about homophobia. I would love if MTV decided to play this season again, especially since as I was watching it in 1997, I had no idea I would go to college in that very city and attend a capella concerts at their fire house (true story). Also, the stereotypes of weird names on reality TV must have reached its peak with this season – Genesis, Montana, Elka, Syrus, and Kameelah?
Speaking of Boston, does “KIIIRRAA!!! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH IT KILLS ME!!!” ring a bell? David, beloved Charlestown resident, caused a scandal when it was discovered that he had been dating Kira, a casting associate for Bunim-Murray. Their relationship led to her eventual firing, but viewers got to see, well hear, David profess his love for her in a car. And then there was Irene who had Lyme disease, and her problem with Stephen. Just before she left the house (early), she called Stephen a ‘homosexual,‘ and since he was extremely offended by the remark, he proceeded to throw the beloved stuffed animal (which he stole from her) into the Seattle waters, then chase after her in her car to slap her in the face. The good news is that years later, he came out and announced he was engaged to his partner. So I mean, at least he has that going for him.
As soon as Ruthie and Teck got to the house, they took off all their clothes and skinny-dipped in their beautiful Hawaiian home. That’s when I knew it was going to be a good season. Besides the ‘are they or aren’t they’ with Amaya and Colin, Ruthie really stole the entire season with her constant drinking and alcohol problem that she failed to admit was ruining her life. Also on the first night, she drank so much that she became unconscious and her roommates had to call an ambulance. Geesh. She was constantly making a fool of herself, and the roommates did the best they could to convince her she needed help. Luckily, she has since become sober for real, and gives lectures about alcohol addiction. And apparently she hangs out with my boy Paul Pierce from the Celtics. WHAT. Also, I love this season because everything about it was so 1999, a year of my childhood/adolescence that I will never forget.
2) San Francisco
If there was one season to accurately sum up the Real World and what it symbolized in American pop culture, it would be this one. A mix of truly different people from all walks of life, the dynamic in the house was something that has never been recreated since. It goes without saying that the heart of this season was Pedro Zamora. Like many people who watched the series, he was the first real person I had seen in the mainstream media who was currently living with HIV/AIDS. Not only that, but it was the first time I had seen two men commit to each other in a ceremony that resembled a wedding. His story, his passion for AIDS education, his willingness to show his illness on TV, and the love that was shown by (most of) his roommates was unparalleled to anything that had ever been shown on TV before. And when he passed away, we felt like one of our friends had died. It’s amazing to see the impact and legacy one man has made over the years, just by being brave enough to share his life on camera. Pedro’s story is one of the most positive, influential things to ever come out of reality TV, and it’s sad that we don’t get to see that kind of pure human drama anymore. I mean Puck alone is the craziest wackadoo to date. Mix in Rachel’s conservative Republican views with Judd’s liberal stance, politics served as constant talking point that is severely lacking in reality TV today. This season was exactly what the Real World should have been about in the following seasons, not just about stupid arguments, getting drunk, and having sex in hot tubs.
1) New Orleans
New Orleans – by far the best season (if you say San Francisco, that’s acceptable too) with a memorable cast in one of the greatest cities in the U.S. You have Matt, a white Christian guy who’s really into hip hop (hence his grey puffy jacket vest?), Julie, the innocent, Mormon girl from Utah who’s into Matt and has never really known a world outside of Brigham Young University, David, a muscular guy with a penchant for singing and a hot temper, Kelley, a sorority girl who later became the wife of Scott Wolf, Danny, the hot southern guy who is gay and has a partner in the military, but can’t be shown on TV because of their Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy (spoiler: HE’S REALLY HOT), Jamie a typical, good looking white male who had the ‘hot’ haircut all the boys had in 2000, and finally Melissa, my favorite RW cast member of all time. She was half black, half Filipino (what what), and 100% sassy. Before Melissa, I don’t think I had ever seen anyone who was quite like me on TV, and it was more exciting than you could ever imagine. She was/is literally everything I want to be in this world. And this recent article just proves she’s as awesome as ever, just married to a rock star and has two kids. (Excerpt: “Justin is my soul mate so much so that my little girl is named Maja for “Melissa and Justin Always.” But sometimes Justin does stupid shit and I’m like, “Dude, we’ll legally change her name to Majat: Melissa and Justin Ain’t Together.”)
Here are some of my favorite moments from RW: New Orleans, that made it the best season ever. Woo woo.
Melissa talks about the insane bed switcheroo and her “sex” life in the confessional
Melissa’s Parents – Shorty & Mercy
Driving with On Star (Remember On Star!?)
David vs. Melissa (and a chair)
Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the original video, but by far the most memorable New Orleans moment was when David composed a song called “Come On Be My Baby Tonight”. Pure lyrical genius, this song will stay with you – even 13 years later.