Josh Wolk traces the growth -- or lack thereof -- of each member of the New York City cast
The Real World

The season’s finale exposes Coral’s dark secret

The New York gang had a tough time separating on the Dec. 4 finale, and showed it in different ways. Rachel wept most of the time. Malik embraced everyone. And Mike gave some guy an atomic wedgie and dumped him into a garbage can. Kind of makes you wonder how Mike reacts to a death in the family: short-sheeting of beds? Ah, sweet prince Mike, we share your grief…now please don’t stick our heads in the toilet.

But the bulk of the episode was devoted to exploring just how much each roommate has changed during their stay. So, as our own finale, let’s recap their personal growth.

LORI You’ve got to give her credit. She knew what she wanted — a chance to record a song — and she didn’t let raw inappropriateness stop her from getting it. So she prowled the Arista halls until she found a producer who would record her, picking up her hints (dropped with all the subtlety of a bowling ball off the Empire State Building), or at the least being attracted to her portable documentary crew. As for love, she never quite found it, but as long as she has cameras following her, nothing can stop her. What’s that? When the show’s over, the crew goes home? Uh-oh.

KEVIN Perhaps the most even-keeled of the group, Kevin has largely avoided conflict, which is no small achievement in this house. It’s kind of like avoiding snowflakes in a blizzard. He always had his healthy ego to keep him from getting worked up. While Lori sat and mewled over where their fictional relationship was going, he went on about his life. So when they bade farewell, and Lori joked about how she was sorry that she couldn’t return his affections, he laughed but was probably wracking his brain, thinking, ”What is she talking about? Oh yeah, I vaguely remember something about her having a crush, but then I went out and actually did stuff and forgot all about it. Well, it can’t hurt to laugh knowingly about it with her. I wonder where my cab is?”

NICOLE Nicole’s an odd one to track. She spent the entire season collecting grudges against housemates like they were baseball cards, apparently having used up all of her positive vibes on her dreamboat, Bobby. At the end, she didn’t seem as broken up as everybody else to leave, which is probably why she barely got any camera time. (They did show her donating clothes to a battered woman’s shelter, as if that was the only ”caring Nicole” footage they could find.) The one kind statement she made seemed a bit cryptic, that she would miss Rachel the most. Didn’t she spend the bulk of the season teasing Rachel until she cried? I guess you can’t find good scapegoats where Nicole’s from, and THAT will be missed.

MALIK Wow, what a roller coaster ride of emotion he’s been! Remember the time he raised his voice slightly? And what about that time he hugged someone, but only at 78 percent hug strength? And then there was that time that he almost frowned…or maybe he was coughing, it was tough to tell. Malik entered the house the sweetest man in all of New York and left the same way. Even through traumas that would make the strongest man flip out — Nicole screaming in his face, or Jisela totally playing him — he just stood there quietly, the gentle aura of his afro radiating calm. Perhaps his hair is like Samson’s, except instead of strength it gives him coolness. I have a bad feeling that he’ll get a haircut for the next reunion special, and then he’ll be stalking the audience, screaming, ”What the f— do you mean, what was my favorite experience?”

RACHEL She entered a baby-faced young’un, and she left, well, five months older. Rachel’s been through a lot, and at the end of the finale maintained that she didn’t feel like a little kid anymore. She’s lived in New York on her own, hung out with bands, and did a pole dance on a subway car, and now she’s determined to go home and tell her mother that she’s an adult now. I wish her all the best, but I have a bad feeling that this is the way that conversation will go:

Rachel: Mom, I’m not a little girl anymore.

Mom: But I made your favorite dish, fishsticks! And I spelled your name in ketchup!

Rachel: Yummy!

Mom: Now what was that you were saying?

Rachel: (with mouth stuffed full) Nothing. Can I stay up past bedtime to watch ”Dawson’s Creek”?

Mom: Now, you know that’s the devil’s programming.

Rachel: Yes, mother.

MIKE Mike has made some laudatory changes, but in other ways he’s the same frat dude he was when he got there. During the final episode’s flashbacks, we relived the conversation where he told Malik and Coral that black people are lazy. The ignorance of the statement was only enhanced by the fact that with his short haircut, he looked even more like a teenage dimwit. Cut back to the end of his stay, with longer hair, and he even looked more mature as he said he recognized the error of his ways. Of course, the grown-out ‘do didn’t do much for his adulthood when he spent the bulk of the show prancing around as his ”The Miz” wrestling character and giving the aforementioned wedgie. Granted, there is something lovable about Mike, in a ”Look how many times my dog runs into that glass door” kind of way. But allowing him to have the final word of the show by running around the house with his ”championship belt” was an odd attempt at a triumphant gesture. It seemed to say, ”We all had some good times… thanks to a halfwit who taught us all how to yell.”

CORAL She had perhaps the most dramatic personality switch in ”Real World” history. (Irene’s Seattle freakout doesn’t count, since it was allegedly medically induced.) Coral spent the first two-thirds of the season with a superiority complex the size of Times Square, but then abruptly began joining in on all the roommate games, even wrestling with Mike at one point, when earlier the very thought of physical contact with him would have made her raise her withering eyebrow so far it would reach the back of her neck. By this final episode, she was hugging everyone and crying, and showing nary a trace of condescension. I admit, I’ve been tough on Coral throughout the season, but there’s been one thing about her that I’ve truly admired: There is obviously something in her past that has made her so tough, but she’s never mentioned it. In the finale, Mike actually asked her, and she replied that her dad was in jail when she was young, but she barely elaborated from there. Most Real Worlders can’t wait to blurt out their personal demons, knowing it’s their key to their own spotlight episode. But Coral has kept her past to herself, and as much as the point of watching reality TV is seeing people get uncomfortably personal, her respect for her own privacy has made her one of the most respectable ”Real World” characters ever. Who knew?

What did you think of this season?

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