Posted on Tue, Aug. 24, 2004
"The Real World Philadelphia" cast is taking off. Meet them tonight on MTV, but first, here's a sneak peek.
Inquirer Staff Writer
Where's the drama? The intrigue? The conflict?
It's not around the Old City kitchen table of The Real World Philadelphia house, where the seven castmates gathered Sunday afternoon for a farewell pizza.
As best friends do, they laughed, they hugged, they finished one another's sentences. They raved about Philadelphia's nightspots and tittered over the drunks who felt obliged to sing the Eagles fight song under their bedroom windows in the moonlight.
Mostly, Karamo, Landon, MJ, Willie, Melanie, Sarah and Shavonda (first names only, please) recounted how much they learned about themselves over four months.
The cast's unscripted stories, peppered with young-adult angst, are the centerpiece of the MTV reality series, one of the most-watched shows among young people.
The cast - three Californians, a Midwestern jock, a glib Southerner, a former child actor from New York, and an aspiring lawyer from Florida - will be unveiled tonight in a Real World special. The season premiere will be Sept. 7.
The seven would not spill story lines, but suspicions are strong that one of the men who aren't gay will talk about coming out.
"I didn't think it was going to be such an emotional ride, and it really was," said Karamo, 23. He's a community activist from suburban Los Angeles. "I thought it was going to be more surface, but it's really deep. I think this process has changed all our lives forever." The other six nodded.
The Real World's 15th season very well may contain drama, intrigue and conflict. It may answer any number of questions about the former strangers who shared and swapped doorless bedrooms, submitted to round-the-clock surveillance,and got matching tattoos.
But more immediately, within days of their arrival in late April, the seven learned the answer to the mind-bender "Which came first - the chicken or the egg?"
For reasons unknown, a heckler had rolled a shopping cart containing a live chicken against an outer door of the cast's house at Third and Arch Streets.
The building was egged later. Ergo, the chicken came first.
"I think the people of Philadelphia have been wonderful and great and warm, but an innocent chicken in a shopping cart?" said Sarah, 22, the house hottie, who soon will enter the University of Florida's law school. "I was... questioning animal rights issues in the city. It's not the city of chickenly love."
The others cracked up.
"Great story, Sarah," teased Willie, 23, the New Yorker, who as a youngster appeared on the PBS series Ghostwriter.
MJ, 24, a strapping football player who grew up in Nashville and is seeking his fortune behind the scenes in Hollywood, chimed in that a flasher had preceded the chicken. "Second night here, and a gentleman walked by and pulled out his private area. That was awesome."
The Real World Philadelphia's highest drama played out in March, a month and a half before the cast arrived and shooting began. Several trade unions picketed the house because the show's producer, Bunim/Murray Productions, had hired nonunion contractors to build the living quarters. Construction stopped. Days after a Bunim/Murray worker told a Common Pleas Court judge that pickets had grabbed her, producers announced they were leaving town. They were lured back a week later by an unlikely contingent of young activists, politicians, and newly contrite labor leaders.
"The residual effect was that the anonymity was compromised," said Tracy Chaplin, 42, the show's supervising producer and a veteran of eight Real World seasons. "Our address and picture were in the paper. The key to the success of this show is to allow the kids to focus on themselves, the city and their lives."
In the end, it didn't matter so much.
The seven profess to have weathered any scrutiny well, and ended up loving Philadelphia and most Philadelphians. "The people we would actually talk to were very nice," said Sarah. "The people who would interject were not very nice." Landon and Shavonda were involved in a bar fight last month after locals hassled a man trying to dance with Shavonda at the Old City club 32°.
Perhaps maturity was at work. This season's cast is the oldest in series history, and all but Willie had some college. (Willie was the only cast member who didn't get a tattoo of a Roman numeral XV.) Shavonda, a Hooters waitress and junior-college student from Southern California, is the youngest at 21. Landon, who soon returns to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to finish his degree in landscape architecture, turned 25 on Saturday. The cast age range usually is 18 to 24 during shooting.