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''The Real World'' is scoring with another hateful cast

Josh Wolk says the series only works when the housemates reach new levels of annoyance

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”The Real World” is scoring with another hateful cast

My editor and I have had our differences in the past: Is a particular story newsworthy? Should this source be trusted? Should we use ”The Great De-Beatty” or ”Warren Commissioned” as the headline for a story about Warren Beatty’s potential run? But one of our biggest disagreements to date had nothing at all to do with journalistic issues. The controversial topic? ”The Real World.”

We are both ardent fans of the MTV series, and we usually convene every Wednesday morning for an analysis of the previous night’s episode. In the middle of last year’s Seattle series, we were discussing some minor brouhaha that had erupted in the house, and I noticed that my editor was not as enthusiastic as I was in deconstructing that week’s senseless outburst. Finally he came out with it: ”I don’t care that much about this season,” he said. ”I don’t like anybody in the cast.” Don’t like anyone? But that’s exactly why I find the show so utterly irresistible. If I don’t want to put my fist through my television at least twice an episode, I consider it a flat-out failure on MTV’s part.

Take this season, for instance. Pure hatred heaven. Usually with ”The Real World” you’re lucky if four out of seven of the cast mates are consistently irritating. But in Hawaii, we’re virtually at 100 percent egregiousness! I knew it was going to be a wonderful ride right away when in the season premiere, Teck launched into a Puck wannabe act, Amaya unpacked her insecurities before her luggage, Ruthie proved a very nasty drunk, and Kaia whipped her top off in the middle of a requisite ”deep” discussion, making her point that she would bare anything — soul or chest — to make sure that camera stayed on her.

That would have been plenty, but as the season progressed, dark-horse annoyers began springing up without warning: There was Matt, whom I initially disregarded as innocuous, but who suddenly leapfrogged everyone’s faults by using Ruthie’s intervention as an excuse to spout dialogue about her tortured soul that sounded like he was trying to remember an Afterschool Special script. And just two weeks ago, the previously invisible Justin unveiled an evil streak by deviously pitting the Most Grating Couple Ever, Amaya and Colin, against each other. Of course, as a viewer, there was no pity to be found: Picking a side in that feud was like deciding whether to put your tongue in a staple gun or slam it in a car door — and that is ”Real World” at its best.

It took only two seasons to realize that as a social experiment, ”The Real World” is a sham. It’s not about getting real, it’s about getting reel. Every loudmouth with dreams of being the next Eric Nies (and what grand, ab-filled dreams those are) auditions, convinced that nabbing a bed in an MTV house can be a shortcut to national notoriety. But getting on the show isn’t enough: As soon as they dump their clothes in IKEA-donated bureaus, everyone starts cranking up their personalities as far as they will go, knowing full well that being outrageous or controversial is the only way to get camera time. There’s a reason people say they want to be the next Puck and not the next Jay. (He’s the quiet, sleep-addicted playwright from ”Real World: London,” if you forget. And you do.)

So instead of any insightful look at young people, every year the end result is a showcase of needy, attention-deprived roommates far too convinced of their own charisma. Sure, that’s a singularly repellent concept, but I choose to look at it this way: Since these seven roommates have been hand-picked from a pool of thousands of self-involved candidates, they’re not just pains in the asses, they’re like the U.S. Olympic team of pains in the asses. Knowing that this is boobish behavior at its finest, I’ve savored the memories from this show as much as I would any classic victories of the quadrennial event.

When, for example, Seattle’s Steven punched Irene when she called him gay and then threw her stuffed animal in the bay? To me, that was as impressive a comeback as Greg Louganis winning a gold after hitting his head on the diving platform. When in Miami, Sarah’s visiting friends were threatened with a lawsuit by Flora after SHE flashed her chest at THEM, it was as inspiring as Kerri Strug’s vault with an injured ankle. And when San Francisco’s Corey would repeatedly burst into tears with little to no provocation (including one MVP moment when she whimpered because she had had a hard day at work at a clothing store), it was like watching Tara Lipinsky triple lutz every time.

My editor is still holding out for a voice of sanity on ”The Real World,” and I’m still cheering for all loss of rationality. After all, the bar has been raised this year. Over on the show’s upstart stepchild, ”Road Rules,” there was actually an argument when five cast mates accused another of practicing voodoo. That’s right, the Salem witch trials are back, and MTV’s got ’em! If the folks over at ”Real World” don’t start making a last-minute idiocy run, this year they may have to settle for a silver. Might I suggest a Hawaiian Inquisition?