In 2017, reality shows have become a part of our daily schedule. Whether it's former celebrities gaining back mainstream attention or a regular person on the street telling their story with plot twist set by producers, reality shows give people the fortune, fame, and an opportunity to be a star. In an unexpected turn, many reality stars have turned their 15 minutes of fame into a profitable, sustainable career (i.e. Nene Leakes, Bethenny Frankel, Snooki, Lauren Conrad, Omarosa, the entire Kardashian clan, etc). For the average consumer, seeing these stars blossom from dramatic reality shows are the norm, but it's kind of crazy to sit back and think there was a time when that concept wasn't believable. There was a time when no one took reality tv seriously. There was a time when no one ever considered creating a reality show.
That changed, of course with the help of MTV, a television channel known for pushing the boundaries.
On May 21st, MTV gave us an opportunity to witness the true story, of seven strangers, picked to live in a New York house, work together, and have their lives taped. Finding out what happens, when people stop being polite and start getting real…
The Real World made its debut with a bang. At the time, the show's debut was controversial and received negative reviews. Matt Roush of USA Today even called the show a new low in television, commenting, "Watching The Real World, which fails as a documentary (too phony) and as entertainment (too dull), it's hard to tell who's using who more." Despite what people had to say, the show had hit ratings, was a "must watch" with younger viewer, had celebrity cameos, and touched on taboo topics, including race, which was a central topic for numerous episodes (especially in one episode where a cast mate jokingly asked Heather if she was a drug dealer after her pager went off). By the end of the first season, the show made its mark in television history, most of the cast went to find continuous success, and MTV unknowingly gave birth to a new kind of entertainment and a new platform.
Kevin Powell went on to become a writer for Vibe Magazine, an author, an activist and a politician. Heather Gardner, Andre Comeau, and Rebecca Blasband continued their careers in music, while Eric Niles has appeared on numerous Real World/Road Rules Challenges. Julie Gentry and Norman Korpi settled for life off camera.
Since it's debut, The Real World has set the bar for out-of-control, wild, youth television. Although the show has gotten a reputation for it hyper-sexual and sometimes violent scenes, the show has touched on issues including prejudice, LGBT right, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, religion, drug/alcohol abuse, and AIDS. Many of the cast members have been featured on the Real World/Road Rules Challenges; others have flourished into successful actors, where many see Jamie Chung as the most successful Real World alumnus turned actress. While Trishelle Cannatella had a stint on reality tv after her season of The Real World: Las Vegas, Tami Roman has become a social media fixture since her role on the Basketball Wives franchise.
The cast members on the show have also been role models and advocates for LGBT youth. Stephen Williams (who slapped Irene McGee in season 7 due to homophobic remarks), Karamo Brown from season 15 who came out as gay, and Katelynn Cusanelli from season 21 who was the first transgendered cast mate, have been praised for giving young people courage to embrace their sexuality.
Throughout the years there have been many strides, fights, and alcohol, but some of the most memorable cast mates have left us way too soon. In 2012, Joey Kovar from The Real World: Hollywood passed away from an opiate intoxication. Five years before that, in 2007, Frankie Abernathy of The Real World: San Diego fame died from cystic fibrosis. The most shocking death of a Real World cast member came in 1994. Pedro Zamora, the first openly gay cast member of The Real World and the first openly gay man with AIDS on television, died from complication of AIDS on November 11th, hours after the final episode of The Real World: San Francisco.
Whether we laughed, cried, saw someone throw a fist, or saw someone hit rock bottom, we can all find ourselves in one or many of the cast members of The Real World. Before we had the ratchet activity of Love & Hip Hop and Basketball Wives, and before we Ellen Degeneres, Lady Gaga, Sex & The City, RuPaul's Drag Race, and Noah's Arc giving pride to LGBT youth, it was The Real World who brought the struggle of the youth to the mainstream. It's 32nd season ended January of this year. Are we prepared for 32 more seasons of seven strangers, living together, stop being polite and start getting real...? Well, only time can tell. With Trump in office and Black Lives Matter still making a bold statement, I'm sure someone in that house will make a statement or a move that will stun television viewers around the world.
By the way, MTV if you're reading this, I do suggest you film a Real World season in Atlanta. That would be lit!