Ooh Las Vegas: Just the Place for a Poor Boy Like Me
"Reunited: The Real World -- Las Vegas" / Daniel Carlson
TV Reviews | June 12, 2007 | Comments ()
I’m at a loss for words to describe how happy I am that the phenomenally stupid people who made up the cast of “The Real World: Las Vegas” have been put back on the air and unleashed on an unsuspecting but assuredly grateful nation by the soulless corporate overlords at MTV. The Las Vegas season, airing in 2002, was probably the greatest (read:shithouse insane awesome) season of “The Real World” since 1999’s Hawaii installment, which was glorious. The cast members were drunk way more often than any of their previous counterparts, which seemed an impossible feat, but they rose to the challenge. They were all also recruited to have sex with each other. This wasn’t particularly new to “The Real World,” which by the end of the ’90s had come a long way from deigning to put fairly average-looking people on TV as it did in its auspicious first run; sorry, but those original New Yorkers weren’t exactly photogenic. But most seasons included at least one cast member who was on the show simply because they were an entertaining person, not because they were expected to get laid with any kind of regularity. Examples include Seattle’s Irene, who was infamously bitch-slapped by Stephen the day she left the house, and Hawaii’s Matt, who was affable and goofy and didn’t do much all season except watch Colin and Amaya implode and put up with the deeply weird sexual advances of Kaia, who even as a teenager freaked me out.1 But the Vegas kids: Now, there was a group of people whose sole purpose was to screw on camera. The first episode involved all kinds of hot tub shenanigans and three-way kisses and crazy amounts of sexual tensions, as if the dumbest and hottest kids at your high school had been dropped into a giant terrarium with a sixer of PBR and five hits of X and told to just have a good time. It promised nothing but glorious drama — by which I mean the kind manufactured by reality TV producers and emotionally stunted women and men, not genuine interpersonal conflict that leads to growth — and it delivered. It even launched the “career” of Trishelle, who would go on to appear on a few of the Challenges as well as pose for Playboy pictorial. (Not that that itself is terribly original; “Road Rules: South Pacific” cast member Cara also stripped for Hugh Hefner and was even a Playmate of the Month. Even in softcore porn, Trishelle is a loser2.)
Anyway, perhaps realizing that the show has been tanking in recent years — I kept hoping one of the roommates on the Key West season would die since it was filmed when Hurricane Rita hit — executive producer Jonathan Murray and Satan got together and decided to whip up “Reunited: The Real World — Las Vegas,” which picks up 5 years later by rounding up all the roommates and putting them back in that suite at the Palms, where precedent points to the inevitable drama, drinking, and sexually ambiguous practices for which “The Real World” so desperately aims. And man, right away the show is fantastic, by which I mean everyone is just as dumb as you remember them being. Maybe even more so. I love you, MTV.
My memories of the terms on which the roommates parted is pretty fuzzy, but so far it’s been great to see Frank and Steven palling around like some kind of Rat Pack reinterpreted by guys who think K-Fed was onto something. I remember some tension between them toward the beginning of the original Vegas season because Frank, who sported a high-wall haircut kinda like Dignan, privately confessed his desire to get all up inside Trishelle to Steven, who subsequently encouraged Frank to go after her while Steven himself played it cool and hung back, essentially setting up Frank for the fall because Frank was willing to go after her, and that kind of directness was bound to backfire. I guess, thinking about it, that this is actually pretty devious of Steven, but I still don’t think it means his ability to pull off a hormone-driven scheme means he’s any kind of scholar, just that he probably watched a lot of TV and had the kind of high school experience that most people don’t (i.e., he got laid way more often). But anyway, now they seem to be copacetic, meaning the story editors are going to have to work to come up with some sufficiently dramatic storylines; so far Steven got hammered and maybe assaulted a girl by the pool, earning him an episode-long ban from the patio that Frank valiantly and successfully fought to have overturned, which is pretty weak plotting. Then again, the fact we’re only a couple episodes in and they’re already getting so drunk they’re attacking strangers can be nothing but a good sign.
The girls promise to bring infinitely more drama, mainly because (a) women can do this like falling off a log, and (b) “The Real World” usually exclusively casts the kind of dumb alpha-girls who make other girls look really horrible by association. Granted, the producers do this with the men, too. But the men usually — usually — are just extreme versions of guys you know; they drink and fart and play basketball, just all to a greater extent and with a lot more riding on it. However, the women are often terrifying creatures, the kind of weird girls who got really into being manipulative ice queens in high school and have made the tragic mistake of thinking people in the real world3 can and do and should still act like that. Part of this is the fact that this particular cast includes four women and three men; had the balance fallen the other way, the season would have been more slanted toward mysogyny and fistfights. It’s also an apparent oversight that the casting of the original season had a pretty huge overlap with Irulan and Arissa, both light-skinned black women prone to tears. Usually, MTV and Bunim-Murray Productions try to spread around the stereotypes. For instance, the Denver season had two Christian guys, which normally would’ve been overkill, except that one of them was black and conservative and one was pretty and blonde and gay. See? Spread it around. But for the sake of the show, Irulan and Arissa are pretty much the same person. The downside of this is that it’s harder to care about either of them; the upside is that having two equally crazy people who are crazy in such similar ways in one apartment is a lot more dynamic, and guaranteed to start some pretty messed-up stuff.
It’s also hilarious and sad to see Brynn, who’s still cute and relatively spunky, carting her infant around Las Vegas. It’s not surprising that she got married and spawned in the years since her brief stint as a reality TV star ended, but I really hope that kid doesn’t have any kind of congenital defects or alcohol-related problems that have yet to make themselves known, because mama was and is a partier. But the fact that she has a kid, damaged though that kid might become, also makes her the most human, instead of the dramatic placeholders and caricatures that the rest of the roommates became.
Ultimately, “Reunited: The Real World — Las Vegas” is one of the greatest ideas MTV has ever had, and also the surest sign yet that the network’s eventual downfall is inevitable. MTV cultivates a mindset that of both infinitely reusability and instant forgettability; this is how videos can dominate “TRL” for weeks at a time4, only to be promptly forgotten when something
better newer comes along. It’s also how MTV can keep churning out the exact same reality show for 15 years but slap on a facade of freshness by relocating to a new and as-yet-unsullied (by the roommates anyway) city. But the reunited Vegas cast is being recycled from something that already aired, and not just the specific concept, but the actual people. These people aren’t supposed to be here; we finished with them a long time ago. By turning back on itself and offering up a part of its past as something ostensibly new, MTV is effectively eating itself. It won’t be long before the kids are being reunited to talk about what it was like to be reunited, and what used to be seven fresh-faced and weak-willed individuals wil have transformed into a bland entity whose sole purpose is to sell the worth of its own existence. So drink up, kids; you’re only young twice.
1. The Hawaii season actually highlights the inherent problem of casting more intellectually gifted roommates, namely, the fact that gay elitist Justin hated everyone else because he (probably rightly) thought they were kinda slow. He said that fellow cast member Teck’s antics were “so tired it’s comatose.” Justin quit the show to go back to school; Teck went on to costar in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder with Ryan Reynolds and a set of fake bulldog testicles. Draw your own conclusions.
2. Google her. She had obviously not yet appeared in Playboy in the spring of 2003, when my roommates and I would catch reruns of the show and one of my roommates, who shall remain nameless, would pontificate about Trishelle’s hotness. He, or perhaps one of his friends, also remarked upon seeing Britney Spears one day on “TRL”: “Man, look how low that skirt is. I bet her hoof starts right below that.” That guy worried me. Anyway, the point was that had Trishelle’s nudie photos been available at that time, I doubt I would have seen that particular roommate more than 4 hours total per day, and I also would have had to start using the other bathroom.
4. I assume. I haven’t seen the show in years, and can only guess at what’s actually going on there. But I’m probably right.
Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a low-level employee at a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.