Got to Be Real?

MTV’s latest Real World installment, set in Vegas, is not exactly a Situation

When The Real World: New York premiered in 1992, it ushered in, for better or (probably) worse, the current model of reality television. Back before anyone had ever bared their emaciated naked body for chocolate and peanut butter on Survivor, declared themselves the next American Idol while yodeling and wearing a tutu, or coined the term “guidette,” seven strangers living together in close quarters was actually kind of real. It was a riveting televised sociology experiment that tapped into 20-something angst and touched on issues of sexuality, substance abuse and prejudice. Now in its 25th season and returning to Las Vegas, The Real World is about as real as The Situation’s tan. In fact, MTV’s cash cow Jersey Shore seems to have rubbed off on the latest installment of the seminal series; TRW has regressed into a series of drunken club scenes followed by drunken hot-tub dalliances, occasionally interspersed with inane arguments or violent fights. The cast is comely, the hormones run high … but when hot-tub hookups start to feel like old hat, it’s time to rethink the formula.

The seven camera-ready roommates sharing a penthouse at the Hard Rock Hotel this season represent, by and large, the lowest common denominator of reality-show characters—unremarkable exhibitionists lusting after their 15 minutes of cut-rate fame. Take Adam, 22, from Falmouth, Maine, a skinny, mildly attractive boy-band type who appears in his casting tape naked from the waist up save for a gold chain, self-idenitifies as a “good-looking stud,” and is studying criminology despite recently spending three years in juvenile detention. Or Dustin, 24, a walking Ken doll from Louisiana whose big secret is that he appeared on a soft-core porn Web series called Fratpad (Google at your own risk). Dustin claims to be vehemently opposed to hooking up with his roommates, but that doesn’t stop him from mounting Heather, a blond pixie from New Jersey, by the end of the premiere episode. But what will Heather say when she finds out her new live-in love has been frolicking naked with other men on the Internet? This is The Real World: Las Vegas’ idea of a major story arc.

Rounding out the cast are Michael, a recently deflowered 23-year-old Catholic who seems to have wandered over from Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar’s compound; Nany, a criminal justice student from western New York with Miss America looks and—much to the chagrin of the men in the house, particularly Adam—a committed six-year relationship; Leroy, who goes by the dyslexic “Roy Lee,” a trash collector from Dallas; and Naomi, a diminutive Latina from the Bronx with a natural scowl that promises only to grow as the season progresses. Aside from criminal records and public masturbation, this group has little in the way of defining characteristics. Tune in if you want to see how long it takes Adam to get arrested, or watch Nany wrestle with what is sure to be the inevitable cuckolding of her long-distance boyfriend, or debate whether Michael will ultimately succumb to the Satanic temptations of the city’s many gentlemen’s clubs (which, he says, will result in a sound beating from his grandma). Otherwise, skip it. This installment is as troubled as the Hard Rock itself—another once-genuine brand that’s fallen onto hard times.

The Real World ★☆☆☆☆