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'The Real World D.C.': They debate about real issues! They don't use the hot tub (sorta)! Civilization could yet survive!

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If nothing else, I’m fairly certain last night’s premiere of The Real World: Washington D.C. made MTV history: No one used the hot tub! No, actually, it’s even more shocking than that: As anyone who suffered through watched the subsequent Real World: DC Aftershow knows, the cast of eight did in fact pile into the hot tub on their first night, but MTV, for some glorious reason, chose not to air it on the actual premiere. Penance for endless shots of Jersey Shore‘s Snooki and Snooki’s thong hot-tub-grinding on every breathing man on that show’s season premiere, perhaps?

Granted, anything is going to look like Proust next to the walking cartoons on Jersey Shore. But after weeks of barely tolerating The Situation et. al. hosing up so much oxygen in the pop-culture universe, I could scarcely believe I would ever witness a straight, atheist, African-American dude and a bisexual, Christian, white dude debate whether God exists on an MTV reality show.

In truth, it’s been practically a decade since I really cared about The Real World. (Ready to feel old? This is the 23rd season of The Real World. The show was airing on MTV before some of the people on this season were likely potty trained. There. We all feel really, really old now.) The last even halfway redeemable cast by my estimation was on the New Orleans season in 2000, but I’m also 30 (old!), so I don’t think MTV so much cares what I think anyway. Still, these eight people not only managed to behave as if they hadn’t long ago tequila blasted away their remaining grey matter, they honestly managed to hold my interest for an entire hour, and I never once cowered behind my couch in abject fear for my nation’s future. So who makes up this unlikely octet? Let’s discuss them in the order we met them:

Ashley — The 22-year-old Californian loves loves loves Barack Obama (she even has Obama mints!); is Episcopalian; refuses to sleep under a stylized photo of Ronald Reagan; has a stepfather who once physically abused her (with a pillow, but still); has slept with five guys; does not like it when other people rock her boat; is leading the pack to be the official house drama queen.

Mike — My first impression was that the 22-year-old committed Christian was the house hottie set up to be Ashley’s lust object. Then he was so polite and put together and wax-chested, I began to wonder if he was also the token gay dude. Then he made a comment about hoping his roommate Ashley would continue to sleep in the nude. Then he announced at the first cast dinner that he’d slept with 15 women…and five men — but maybe not “sex” slept with, more like “everything” slept with, although I honestly don’t quite know which is the bigger deal there. Anyhoo, he’s bi, and by all I can tell, a totally decent, even-keeled guy, so why he’s on this show is kinda beyond me.

Andrew — A published cartoonist and certified wild-and-ca-razy guy — the intentionally offensive humor! the panda hat! Mr. Snuggles! — the 21-year-old is either going to continue to be the oddball comic relief, or drive his housemates completely bonkers after the third day and quickly become the house outcast. I’m thinking it’s gonna be mostly column A with a healthy scoop of column B.

Emily — On paper, the 20-year-old could be a borderline insufferable basketcase: Raised in a self-described “cult-like” Christian church until she was 13, Emily rebelled by, er, getting a tattoo, rock-climbing, shooting guns, and dating a girl. In person, however, she’s so immediately likable and down-to-earth that she’s far and away my favorite cast-mate on the show thus far.

Callie — This sweet, 21-year-old, Vegan, maybe-Republican photographer from a small town in Texas is in serious risk of getting overshadowed by the wealth of stronger personalities around her. Like, for instance…

Ty — In Ashley’s immortal words, he’s the “really hot black guy with a lot of muscles.” He also managed to be the guy who alienates some of his castmates on the first day with a confrontational, my-way-or-the-highway attitude (in this case, about that aforementioned atheism). Which is to say, not so great with the first impressions there Ty, especially with Ashley, who, no shy retiring violet herself, had pretty much written him off by the end of the hour. (Maybe Ashley would like Ty better if his face was on mints? Oh the irony!) That said, this 22-year-old adopted kid from an apparently bad neighborhood in Baltimore has the potential to be easily the most interesting person on the show — even if the season preview at the end of the episode set Ty up to be yet another angry black guy on The Real World. Yeeeeeeeesh.

Erika — She’s a rock musician! Who falls for other rock musicians, especially ones with tattoos and piercings! And, at 21, she’s never cheated on anyone except for that one time when she cheated with the guy who’s now her current boyfriend! Cut to…

Josh — He’s a rock (and rap) musician! With tattoos and piercings! Who has a girlfriend but is immediately attracted to Erika! Josh also mumbled something about dropping out of high school, being in a gang, holding a gun several times, and knowing now at 23 that these were maybe not the best life choices, but really, all the producers seemed to care about was his potential for compound relationship drama with Erika.

Okay, PopWatchers, your turn. What do you make of this year’s Real World cast? Best in ages? Or more of the same? Do you think Ty was too aggressive in calling out Mike’s faith, or was it simply a spirited debate? Like me, were you wondering why Erika and Callie didn’t just ask Josh to move into Ty’s room, instead of summarily deciding to move Ty into Josh’s room without asking Ty first? Were you further confused as to why no one seemed to bring this rather obvious solution up? How long do you give Erika and Josh before they break the hearts of their respective significant others? And do you vote yea or nay on the notion of the President of the United States making an (unwitting) appearance on The Real World?

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