"This is the true story, of seven strangers, picked to live in a house and have their lives taped ...”
These words are memorably spoken during the opening credits of MTV’s long-running reality series The Real World. Premiering in 1992, the show set the template for several successful franchises that followed, from Survivor to The Real Housewives to The Bachelor.
The Real World's first season focused on seven young people living together for three months in a New York City loft. And with that cast reuniting for the first time in almost 30 years for Paramount+’s Real World: Homecoming, here are some interesting facts about one of television’s most influential reality TV series.
1. The Real World was originally pitched to MTV as a scripted show.
Jonathan Murray and the late Mary-Ellis Bunim initially pitched a series called St. Marks Place that would have focused on a group of New York City twentysomethings, but the network passed, partly because they worried about the expense. Inspired by the British documentary series Up and PBS's An American Family, the duo reconfigured the concept to follow real people instead.
"We would actually bring the MTV audience onto the channel by making a show using those people," Murray told Rolling Stone of the idea. "That was our pitch. And, of course, we finished it with the thing that every network likes to hear: 'And it’ll be cheap!'"
2. There is a Real World pilot that's never seen the light of day—and it featured someone who ended up becoming an MTV star in her own right.
A pilot with six people living together in a SoHo loft was filmed over Memorial Day weekend in 1991, and the results were promising enough for MTV to greenlight a 13-episode season. None of the pilot’s cast were retained for the first season, but one still became an MTV mainstay: Tracy Grandstaff, who voiced the eponymous character on the animated series Daria.
3. The Real World's season 1 roommates earned very little money for their time.
According to several season 1 cast members who appeared on E!’s For Real: The Story of Reality TV, each of the roommates earned just $2600 for filming an entire season of The Real World: New York. More recent cast members have reportedly seen their pay bumped up to $5000 per season. (In contrast, long-running The Real Housewives of New Jersey star Teresa Giudice is said to earn $62,000 per episode, totaling almost $1.2 million per season).
4. Those who agree to join The Real World have to give their consent to some eyebrow-raising stipulations.
In 2011, The Village Voice obtained a standard cast member contract for the reality series. Among the things that cast members must agree to upon signing: Participation in the show has the potential for "death, serious physical injury and extreme emotional distress"; their depiction on the show may be “disparaging, defamatory [or] embarrassing" and they may be portrayed in "a false light”; and they must affirm they are not pregnant and agree not to become pregnant during the taping of the series. (And if they did, they must immediately tell the producers, and the pregnancy was grounds for removal from the show.)
5. Production on the first season of The Real World was very much a learning process, which Jonathan Murray likened to a “sh**show."
"We had no idea what we were getting into," Murray told Glamour in 2014. "We foolishly thought everyone would go to bed at the same time. That didn't happen. We had this meager little crew trying to cover seven individuals who were all over the place. Everyone was shell-shocked by the end of the experience."
6. Season 1 of The Real World established many of the show's key rules, including having no tv in the house and giving confessional interviews.
“It was really hard work trying to cover people 24/7,” Murray told Rolling Stone about the first season, when the small crew scrambled to document the lives of all seven roommates. "You almost have to sit there and try to predict human behavior as to what is going to be interesting to follow." Introducing a more controlled environment, as well as the opportunity for the cast to have a private room where they could confide to the camera, helped them keep better tabs on the cast, their interactions, and thoughts about one another.
7. The Real World's roommates were tasked with job assignments because of the “shy” Season 3 cast.
After season 3, which was set in London, the cast was given pursuits outside of the house, such as working at a radio station or mentoring teens at Outward Bound, in order to elicit more interesting storylines. “Our American cast members didn't know what to do with themselves in London,” Murray said. “We needed to get them out of the house, meeting people. That's when we introduced the idea of the job."
8. The Real World cast members could get their pay docked for not following the producers’ rules.
According to an anonymous cast member from The Real World: Cancun, the roommates were required to let the production team know when they would be venturing out of the house, and if they failed to do so, they felt the consequences in their wallets.
"They wouldn't pay you," the anonymous cast member told Cracked. “If we broke rules, they would fine us, like $100 ... This guy would come up to me in the club and say 'You gotta go now or we'll fine you.'"
9. Several The Real World alumni have gone on to become famous in their own right.
After the first brushes with fame via reality TV, several The Real World alums have gone on to forge high-profile careers in a number of disciplines. The Real World: Boston's Sean Duffy is a former congressman and Fox News contributor who is married to The Real World: San Francisco's Rachel Campos, who has guest hosted The View and also appears on Fox News. The couple, who met the couple met while filming Road Rules: All Stars in 1998, have nine children. The Real World: Back to New York cast member Mike “The Miz” Mizanin is a WWE professional wrestler.
10. Other The Real World stars have continued working in front of the camera.
The Real World: Philadelphia’s Karamo Brown is one of the new Fab Five on the hit Netflix reboot Queer Eye. The Real World: London's Jacinda Barrett has been acting steadily since shortly after her time on the show; she has appeared in The Human Stain (2003) with Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins, Ladder 49 (2004) opposite Joaquin Phoenix, and in the Emmy Award-winning Netflix series Bloodline. The Real World: San Diego boasts two famous castmates: Jamie Chung and Cameran Eubanks, who have had divergent paths in retaining their stardom: Chung’s acting career includes high-profile roles in Big Hero 6 and HBO’s Lovecraft Country, while Eubanks stars on another popular TV reality series, Bravo’s Southern Charm.