VIDEO: the trailer for The Real World: Sydney
Moments into the first episode of MTV’s The Real World: Sydney — the 19th season of the little reality show that spawned a revolution (Wednesday at 10 pm) — Dunbar Flinn, a beefy Mississippian, proudly confesses, “I summed everyone up quickly — who’s worth looking at, and who’s not.”
Welcome to The Real World2007, or the world through MTV’s eyes, where those with the hottest physique (and the lowest standards of public propriety) reign, life’s only purpose is partying, and elaborate homes and exotic vacations are the norm for twentysomethings. In this version of reality, hot-tub hook-ups are routine, as are nudity and explosive arguments over petty issues — all of which occur in the first two episodes in Sydney. The average viewer will by now process these events with amusement rather than awe.
But it wasn’t always that way. Including as it does luxurious housing and a free vacation, The Real World has never really been “real,” but there was a time when the co-habiting “seven strangers” seemed more like ordinary people. They worked part-time jobs and discussed religion and politics. They wore clothing (beyond underwear or swimsuits) around the house. They had hobbies. Some of them were over 23. When producers Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray debuted with The Real World: New York in 1992, one angle seemed to be that the target audience — ages 18-25, the same as the cast members — would watch the show because they could relate to it. The other was that a diverse group of roommates with drastically different backgrounds and lifestyles would spark discussion and debate about the American experience that would spill into the audience.
Noble beginnings. The third season of the show, set in San Francisco in 1994, included an HIV-positive Cuban-American. Pedro Zamora, a charismatic AIDS educator, taught MTV viewers across the country about the disease. To this day, there’s an entire generation that learned about AIDS from Pedro.
But humanitarianism doesn’t register on the TV scale of success. When ratings plummeted with the relatively amicable casts of London and Boston, MTV sought out conflict by stereotyping. As Saturday Night Live and Chappelle’s Show pointed out, each season would have a token black person or gay person, or both, always with a racially sheltered or homophobic cast member to match. What’s more, the houses became increasingly lavish, and the cast members increasingly resembled Abercrombie models — the series had found its winning formula. The turning point may have been Season 12, which, filmed in a luxury suite in Las Vegas’s Palms Casino, was notorious for a high concentration of sex scenes. The Real World had become TV candy-coated trash, its lack of substance a hallmark.
The Real World: Sydney is more candy, though it leaves a brackish taste. The setting is a 20,000-square-foot converted former deluxe-sports-bar venue in Darling Habour, a hot spot for Sydney attractions and nightlife. The cast includes two nearly identical heavily made-up blondes from California, a wide-eyed, barely clothed Texan named Kelly Anne who “likes to have all of the attention,” a Georgia logger named Cohutta (who’s never traveled anywhere beyond the southern US), an Eminem wanna-be from Ohio named Issac, and an Iranian-American from New York City named Parisa. I watched the first episode with two of my male roommates, one of whom drooled, “This should be called ‘The Hot World.’ ” As catfights and “Confessional Room” make-outs ensued, I felt a momentary longing for those early days of The Real World. Then two bikini-clad roommates slung insults back and forth over unwashed dishes, and I forgot about it.