Twenty-one. The premiere episode of The Real World Seattle: Bad Blood features 21 shots of the Space Needle (not counting the static interview room backdrop featuring the iconic landmark’s image).
The second episode features 15 more.
//Takes a deep breath
Okay, I guess we’re doing this.
So we want to start getting real? Fine. I’ve never watched a full episode of any reality TV program. I’ve never experienced a Survivor tribal council, cast a vote for American Idol, kept up with the Kardashians, rooted for roses on The Bachelor/Bachelorette, or seen why the current GOP nominee fired certain C-list celebrites. That doesn’t mean I’m not imminently familiar with reality TV and its many troupes, they’re an inescapable part of the modern pop culture lexicon (especially for a comedy nerd). But with reality TV’s godfather, MTV’s The Real World, returning to Seattle for its 32nd season—Real World Seattle: Bad Blood (airing Wednesdays at 10pm)—I took the plunge of morbid civic curiosity in an attempt to make sense of this “real” version of Seattle. Last week, MTV aired the first two episodes of the season, so let’s try to make sense of this world before the drama amplifies.
So who are the guinea pigs for the latest round of public observation? Here are some quick one-sentence intros based on initial presentations…
Jordan (21, Chicago) – A self-described spoiled model/hairdresser.
Mike (25, New York City) – An aggro meathead bro and ex-male stripper that apparently appeared on another MTV reality show called Are You the One? (which Wikipedia informs me is a tropical dating competition show).
Anika (24, New York City) – Just a little ball of positive energy (they have done very little to flesh her out so far).
Robbie (22, New Jersey) – A (seemingly) less aggro meathead bro who DJs as Maserobbie (a combination of the luxury car company Maserati and his name).
Katrina (23, Florida) – A small town Floridian who enjoys hunting and fishing.
Theo (23, Illinois) – An outgoing former high school football star that has a treasured stuffed animal bunny named Chuck.
Tyara (21, Georgia) – A military brat raised in the U.K. (with the accent to match) and a history of being bullied.
Now again, I’m a newcomer to the reality TV game, but for a show entitled The Real World, the cast seems perilously thin on diversity. Perhaps shockingly, this isn't meant in a racial sense. As Theo proclaimed excitedly during an interview spot, “Oh, and there’s four black people? It was four black people! What? That has to be a Real World record.”
Instead, this cast just seems incredibly uniform in its type of people. They’re all from the East Coast or Illinois, they’re all straight, and they all fit MTV brand of physical attractiveness. While it probably goes against the show’s tested formula, it’d be great to have a blander audience surrogate for the viewers that don’t identify with these seven similar people; someone who isn't constantly flirting or awaiting the next party. How I long for a person who'd occasionally stare into the camera like Jim in The Office as if to wordlessly say this whole situation is craaaaaaaaazy. But alas…
PLOT POINTS THAT MATTER
The concept of plot seems tenuous in these early episodes, as establishing familiarity with the cast is paramount. As is the case, there’s no sense in a detailed recap of the new housemates meeting, moving into their absurdly lavish Capitol Hill apartment, Instagraming Cupcake Royale trips, watching 4th of July fireworks on Lake Union, DJ Maserobbie’s set at 95 Slide, etc. Here are the only three storylines that mattered…
To better get to know one another, the Anika, Jordan, and Katrina decided to host a “Family Night” where they draw certain Truth or Dare slips of paper. The first question is about everyone’s favorite sex position. You know… “Family Night.” Tyara quickly bails because she thinks the game is stupid (correct!) and already thinks everyone in the house is against her (incorrect!), which increases the rift between her and the other six housemates.
But things turn upsetting when Robbie draws a slip instructing him to bite the lip of the person across from him, who happens to be Theo. Thus begins a deep dive into insecure masculinity and gay panic. Cool. Robbie declines to do the deed, but then when Anika draws a slip instructing her to get naked and streak through the house, the collective decision is that she only has to if Robbie bites Theo’s lip. This leads to Mike morphing into full bully mode and incessantly peer pressuring Robbie until he breaks and bites said lip. Anika’s streak follows, but then Robbie begins melting down.
In a rational mind, who the hell cares if you bit a guy’s lip? But you see, Robbie is a straight alpha bro. Now that he’s bit another man’s lip on camera, the dreaded and inescapable toxicity of gayness is on him. Heaven forbid. In his mind he’s betrayed the macho lifestyle and permanently undercut his fragile masculinity. He wasn’t being true to himself, bro. It’s something that belated cries of “no homo” can’t undo. The incident exposes him as a pathetic little manchild, not for his action, but his reaction.
Things escalate as quickly established terrible human being Mike begins mocking Robbie with jokes about him being gay. (SO GLAD I’M SPENDING TIME WITH THESE PEOPLE.) Eventually Robbie gets overemotional and breaks down in tears before confronting Mike, having to be restrained by the production staff’s security, and being forced to spend the night in a hotel while tempers cool. While things settle down a bit the following day, the whole Family Night debacle essentially just served as a shinning showcase of unseemly deep-seeded bro homophobia (a problem only amplified by the lack of any queer housemates). Reality TV, everybody!
Early Relationship Drama
Obviously, one of the main sources of reliable drama for The Real World is housemates’ successful and failed hookups. Through two episodes, we’ve already got one tally in each category. On the first night, Mike spent the evening unsubtlety flirting with Jordan and gets rejected when he goes in for a kiss in the confession room. Bro being a bro, he didn’t handle this that well. Based on teasers, we can expect Mike to remain persistent despite Jordan continually indicating she’s not interested. Fun. Weak white male egos that ignore “no” are so fun.
On the other end of the spectrum, Theo and Tyara are (at least temporarily) an item. The two were assigned to meet at Kerry Park before heading to the apartment and had instant chemistry (both admitting crushes on one another in interview segments). Being the last two to arrive, they claimed the last two remaining side-by-side beds in the loft. When Tyara instantly soured on everyone else in the house, she essentially stopped talking to anyone except Theo. When Theo grinded on another women at a bar days after their arrival, she became jealous because she assumed there was an unspoken romantic relationship between the two already (weird assumption!). By the end of episode two, they were attempting to avoid the camera people (seemingly forgetting there are camera rigged all over the house) in order to get hot and heavy in Theo’s bed. This whole thing will likely end very poorly due to Tyara’s jealous tendencies and Theo’s universal flirtatiousness.
The Oncoming Bad Blood
I’m not entirely sure the producers at MTV understand the basic dramatic principles of a twist. So about the Bad Blood part of the show’s title… the jarring surprise of this season is that a few weeks into filming, the house will suddenly double in size with the arrival of someone who has "Bad Blood" with the current seven cast members. This includes Theo’s cousin who ended up costing him his football scholarship, ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, former roommates, etc.
Certainly, this will create drama, but MTV reveals this twist in the package that opens the series. Instead of getting comfortable with the current cast, which would make the Bad Blood reveal hit like a ton of bricks, the disclosure that it’s coming around the horizon looms like a dark cloud hovering over all the proceedings. So when the cast members genuinely talk to each other about their troubled pasts with these people (that they don’t know are coming), it feels like incredibly ham-handed foreshadowing.
One last extremely touchy point. The most developed Bad Blood relationship so far is with Katrina and her sister Anna. It’s one of those not atypical best friend/worst enemy sibling relationships… except for the "worst" part of the equation stems from a rape incident. After a night of drama between the sisters via text messaging, Katrina confides in her roommates that the event that drove a wedge in their relationship was when Anna saw Katrina kissing a guy who had “technically raped” (Katrina’s phrasing) Anna. Anna had not disclosed this info to Katrina at the time, but… yikes. While ugly stories about rape culture should be explored in pop culture, the way MTV initially almost offhandedly slid in this storyline makes me incredibly dubious they’ll handle it with any necessary care and compassion. I’m really hoping I’m wrong. Rape shouldn’t be exploited in the name of pumping up Bad Blood drama.
Before putting a close on this opening chapter, it might be worth running down the cast from most hateable to I might actually be able to hang out with this person without wanting to kill myself.
7. Mike – Mike is just bro culture personified. He makes unwanted physical advances on women and even after his fallout with Robbie, his “apology” is admitting that he’s an instigator. He says that’s just part of his personality. THAT’S NOT A PERSONALITY TRAIT. YOU’RE JUST TRASH.
6. Tyara – There’s a decent chance that Tyara’s anti-everybody-but-Theo stance is greatly exaggerated via the magic of editing, but so far she’s utterly humorless and has yet to display a likable trait. When the other three women already room up before she arrives, she instantly shuts down and claims they’ve become like a high school clique. What are you talking about? They've known each other for maybe an hour or two longer than you. There’s nothing appealing about automatically assuming the whole world is against you. Try, Tyara.
Perhaps Katrina’s small town sensibility seems a bit to familiar to me. It’s hard to find her courting practices anything but irksome (or loathsome). Take two scenes set in Rhein Haus as an example: She shuts down when approached by a complementary fellow because he’s not a “real man” (oh, that lovely troupe). That’s fine! She should deflect unwanted advances. But in another scene, she wanders around the bar grabbing asses of random guys. Because when a woman walks around make non-consensual physical contact with guys it’s totally fun and playful and not sexual assualt cause all guys want it, right? Right?!? (By the way, the answer is a resounding NO.)
Oh, Robbie. You appeared to be a rather likeable brand of the cheeseball New Jersey stereotype until the Family Night incident. He clearly isn’t comfortable in his own skin and has anger management issues. Much like his housemates, he must rebuild my trust before I accept him.
Kudos to her for fending off Mike, but through two episodes she kind of just seems like a privileged pretty girl without a lot of personality depth. We’ve got so many of those on TV already.
People I Can Stand
So far, Anika has had the least screen time of anyone in the cast, but she’s mainly been a positive force in those limited moments. Streaking through the house probably isn’t a proud moment, but she did it in an attempt to defuse the situation and did her best to cover herself during the incident. More importantly, she’s been around to support all of her housemates during their moments of drama. Empathy goes a long way in such a surreal fake situation.
Theo is self-aware of the meta aspect of being on the Real World and has a sense of humor to maximize that: from joking about the cast’s racial makeup to referencing the infamous stuffed animal-induced slap from the original The Real World: Seattle after Tyara jokes about tossing his bunny Chuck off Kerry Park’s ledge. Furthermore, he’s the sole person in the cast that seems to be cool with everyone. Oh, and he’s the only housemate that’s not an incompetent bowler when they go to the Garage. The only downside? I’m guessing roughly 2,000 women in Seattle currently have Theo’s number because he’s one of those guys that seems like he’ll hit on everyone.
Running Space Needle Count: 36
The Real World Seattle: Bad Blood airs Wednesday nights at 10pm on MTV.