"This is the story of seven strangers picked to live in a house." This is the famous opening to what is perhaps reality television's most significant phrase. That's how MTV has started nearly every season of its seminal, but now-struggling, reality series The Real World. Until now. In an effort to revitalize the flagging franchise after twenty-one years on the air, the show's producers have decided to drastically mix up the formula. The next season, set in San Francisco, will begin traditionally enough, but a third of the way through, things will go haywire.
The season will initially feature the usual seven young people meeting each other for the first time and navigating various social dynamics. (These days that means getting too drunk and hitting on each other. Or just hitting each other.) But then, a month into the shoot, the kids will go on a trip only to find, upon their return home, that all of their exes have moved into the house. Dunh dunh dunh! What a twist — though, a twist better suited to something more unapologetically sleazy, like Big Brother or, uh, MTV's Real World spinoff The Challenge. Not that The Real World is some high-minded, noble endeavor at this point, far from it. But it has, with only a few minor variations, at least relied on the same relatively lo-fi, tried-and-true formula since the beginning and should, in this longtime viewer's estimation anyway, continue to do so. Without that central, defining conceit, it's just not The Real World anymore.
Of course, there have been occasional tweaks to the form all the way back to when Nathan and David, from the Seattle season, became the first cast members to know each other outside of the show. But those were relatively minor alterations compared to this cheap, nasty gotcha. Why not throw weapons into the mix, and we'll start down the road toward the Hunger Games, which, come on, we've always been headed for. Or, a bit less hyperbolically, let's just call this something else and, in the interest of mercy, put The Real World down for good in the hopes of preserving at least some of the once-vital (it was! I swear!) series's dignity. That this gross bastardization is set in San Francisco — where the show had arguably its most culturally significant season — is just added insult. That should not happen.
The way I see it, the duped dopes on this other series — Sex Mansion Surprise? Argument Acres? Fightin'? — can still feed into The Challenge, thus ensuring that grimy but undeniably entertaining show's continued existence, but The Real World will be finally at peace, done with its two-decade long work of showing us the wonders and horrors of young people, and more importantly what happens to those poor guinea pigs when they're forced to live in a glorified soundstage and live their lives in the glare of a dozen cameras. The Real World has had its day, so MTV should let it die without mangling it beyond recognition. It's time to move on. So let's move on.