April 17, 2014 at 05:00 AM EDT

Has there ever been a moment in your life when you thought you wanted to stop being polite and start getting real?

Though everyone joins the real world at some point in their life, not everyone gets to join the cast of The Real World. When MTV first started the show about strangers living together in 1992, its simple format pioneered reality TV as we know it. Now, it seems every other show is “real” in some way, or at least pretends to be. MTV just finished a controversial season of The Real World that broke format for the first time by bringing in some of the contestants’ exes to live in the house with them. Suddenly, not everyone was a stranger. And with the new season (the 25th!) of Real World/Road Rules Challenge premiering last week, some of these castmembers just won’t go away. So what exactly does it take to get the keys and get picked? As a fan, I was curious and decided to spend a Saturday afternoon at the Hooters of Burbank for a recent open casting call. Full disclosure: It was actually my second time going to a Real World casting call, and my second time in a Hooters.

I was lucky that my friend Lucy was as interested and intrigued in the process to come with me, though I think she was more there hoping to see some RW alums. The two of us had previously gone to a casting call in Chicago while we were in college, and as superfans, we totally freaked out when Challenge couple Brad and Tori were there — and with their baby! Brad, who was on the first San Diego season of The Real World, told us that lots of alums go to the casting calls in their area to promote the show/themselves. I remember asking Tori if she had any regrets from her time on The Challenge or Road Rules, and she simply looked at her baby and said, “The show brought me this, so I’m forever grateful.” Needless to say, Lucy and I were hoping for a similar encounter in Burbank.

The actual process is quite simple: Once we got to Hooters, the hostess at the front immediately asked if we were there for the casting. I guess something about my floral-printed shirt didn’t scream chicken wings to her. A small table was set up with one casting director asking how we found out about the casting. I personally discovered this one was happening through the website for Bunim/Murray, the producers of the show. I was given a questionnaire to fill out and told to sit at a table and let them know when I was finished. It was pretty easy to tell who was there for The Real World and who was an irresponsible parent taking their young children out to eat at 3 p.m. on a Saturday at Hooters.

The questionnaire asked for your typical basic information and the things you would expect, like “Why do you want to be on The Real World?” and “Have you ever been on TV?” and things about your relationship with your family and your best and worst traits. I struggled with whether to answer my occupation and career goals honestly, but figured I had nothing to lose at that point. Some of the more “out there” questions wanted to know the biggest challenge you currently faced in your life and the most unusual thing about you. I think my biggest challenge was understanding the purpose of both questions.

Once my form was done, I waited a little bit before joining a small group of seven other hopefuls at a larger table with one casting director, who honestly looked like she was there auditioning herself. We all had to go around the table and just say something about ourselves, our interests and hobbies, or something interesting about us that, you know, would help us get cast on The Real World. You would think a simple, vague prompt like this would give people tons of ideas of things to say, but I was truly dumbfounded by the lack of knowledge certain people had about their own lives. What did you expect was going to happen at an open casting call? If someone can’t describe what they like to do on a Saturday night, then why would I want to watch them on TV on a Saturday night? Out of all the others in my group, I would have to say the person with the best shot of ever being on TV was a guy named Chris, who liked to be called Biscuit. In fact, the guy even referred to Chris as his “slave name” — he was white, FYI — and that he has many homosexual friends who want to take him out to gay bars all the time, though he never goes because of money. I think he was trying to make this point because I was one of two openly gay guys in our group and he wanted to show that we could be friends. He looked directly into my eyes while he was saying this as if I was supposed to be proud of his accomplishment for knowing “one of you.” Yup — he referred to me that way too. Now don’t you think he would be perfect for TV?

Lucy and I did have one small fan encounter with the other group table. We thought the girl leading the discussion looked familiar, and Lucy overheard her sharing some personal anecdotes about her time “on the show.” We quickly realized it was Averey from the Portland season, best known for her relationship with roommate (now ex) Johnny and dealing with the crazy Nia train. But here’s a fun fact: Not only was Averey a former waitress at Hooters herself, she was discovered by MTV casting directors while working one day during an open call like this one. She was there to convince us that our dreams could actually come true — and, at the same time, judge those dreams critically. UPDATE: It seems like my gut instincts were right and though my friend convinced me otherwise, Averey was not at the open call. However, one lookalike casting director sure did play along when another fan made the mistake. Averey still was discovered at Hooters though!

Casting a show like The Real World is truly a science. In my opinion, each individual should have the personality and experience to have his or her own show if they wanted, but of course finding seven (or sometimes more) distinct personalities that can somehow still work together isn’t always easy. The stakes are high in the casting department, because the cast is the show. We want to get to know these people and learn from their mistakes, and then, if they’re lucky, embarrassingly compete against each other in exotic locations in ridiculous challenges for lots of money.

Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Free Agents airs Thursday night on MTV at 10 p.m. ET.

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