ATLANTA >> “MTV’s The Real World” is still around and has finally placed its home in Atlanta in its 33rd season.
But instead of being on MTV, it’s now on Facebook Watch because the target demographic is now online, not watching basic cable.
This season debuts Thursday with seven studiously diverse strangers who spent three months this spring in a cool home in the Inman Park neighborhood of Atlanta. And since it’s on Facebook, fans will now be able to more easily interact and comment with the cast and other viewers as well as catch plenty of bonus material via Facebook Stories.
In other words, “The Real World Atlanta” faces a very different world than the original version in 1992. At that time, basic cable was the hot new place to be. People still talked on landlines. A gay character on any show was considered risky, and gay kissing? Forget about it. The World Wide Web did not exist, much less Facebook.
The show in its early years became groundbreaking merger of “documentary” work and made-for-reality-TV conflict. By the 2000s, “The Real World” had spawned everything from “Osbournes” to “The Hills” to “Jersey Shore.” Even today, current seasons of “The Real Housewives of New York,” “Big Brother” and “Floribama Shore” all possess the DNA of “The Real World,” most notably the on-camera “confessionals” and forced interplay among people of different stripes.
What you’ll notice in the first episode is frequent printing on screen, in big bright letters, key phrases the cast members are saying as they say them. This is clearly a way for people to follow the show even if they don’t have audio on.
Here are the seven cast members in quick summary. They were cast with diversity and inevitable clashes in mind, a strategy that hasn’t changed in 27 years.
>> Arely Avitua, 21, Joplin, Missouri. She came to the United States at age 2 and is an undocumented immigrant who has DACA clearance so she calls herself a “Dreamer.” She is also a mom of a 4-year-old son.
>> Clint Wright, 28, Potterville, Michigan. A hot Republican farmer who lives in a small town who is trying to break out of his bubble. He was picked on the cast via Facebook vote.
>> Dondre Randolph, 25, Houston. A project manager who is black, gay and conservative Christian. That’s casting gold.
>> Justin Blu, 26, Atlanta. He’s an African-American speaker/activist who is super active on social media.
>> Meagan Melancon, 23, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was raised Christian, Southern and conservative but wants to get “out of my comfort zone.” When she finds out Dondre is gay, she says to the cameras, “It’s a hard pill to swallow.” And “Real World” cliche alert: She’s a virgin!
>> Tovah Marx, 27, Scottdale, Arizona. She is pretty and outgoing but has terrible luck with men.
>> Yasmin Almokhamad, 27, New York. She is someone who is clearly a lot of things: She is self-described “queer, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, teacher, feminist, artist, a refugee, an immigrant.” And she doesn’t shave her armpits!
Five came into the house single and there’s quickly a possible hook-up between Tovah and Clint.
But Clint’s moves don’t turn on Tovah. Early on, he texts her frequently and is perplexed she doesn’t respond. She is perplexed he is texting at all because they are living under the same roof. “Talk to me in real life!” she said. (Clearly, this was not an issue in 1992.)
Early on, there’s a funny moment when Justin and Dondre begin talking about Colin Kaepernick and most of the other castmates drifted away. When they have another discussion of race, Dondre calls out the white folks for staying silent. Tovah quickly gets defensive, saying she has nothing constructive to contribute and would get hammered if she said anything ignorant, stupid or (God forbid) racist. But ultimately, Justin and Dondre say they hope they can all have productive conversations about race and learn from each other.
Their first night out is in Old Fourth Ward and they hang at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium. Arely, who never got to party since she was 17 when she had a baby, gets drunk way too fast.
I spoke with Justin, who lives in Atlanta and didn’t have to travel far to be on the show:
A fan: “I definitely used to watch the show. It always seemed like a cool thing to do even with all the crazy stuff going on.”
Why do the show: “A large motivation for me is there are so many conversations that need to be had. Social media is not the place where these conversations can be made. ‘The Real World’ is a great place for that to happen. We’re in a place with people with drastically different backgrounds with views that could be drastically different. That’s where tough conversations can be had.”
Working class family: Justin grew up in Clearwater, Florida, with a social worker mom and law enforcement dad. He faced racial discrimination at Florida International University in Miami, which he’ll discuss on “The Real World” in more detail. He became engaged in social justice and how blacks are suppressed in society. And he chose two years ago to move to Atlanta, the hub of civil rights, hip-hop and the black elite, to make a difference. He is getting a masters at Georgia State University in African-American studies.
Social media influencer: He has drawn 119,000 followers on Instagram calling himself Justin Blu University. “I just speak about issues going on in the black community and work to educate people as much as possible,” he said. One major issue on his mind: the prison industrial complex that houses so many black men.
Avoiding stereotypes: “I feel I came in with an open mind. I really tried to judge people by their actions rather than their race or whatever stereotypes they might evoke. I tried to give each person a true chance before I made any final judgment.”
Minimal distractions: The magic of this show is the forced interactions even though they were allowed to be on their phones unlike some other shows. “People can’t hide who they are forever, for better or worse. Hopefully, we all learn who we are as well.”
Not an Atlanta expert: Though he knows some parts of Atlanta well, Justin said the show forced him to explore other parts of town. But he said at clubs, he had to keep an eye out for drunk publicity seekers who notice they were doing a TV show and tried to provoke them to get camera time. “People often do act differently when a camera is on,” he said.
He didn’t go home or see his regular friends or do anything routine: “I didn’t even drive by my place. I tried not to think about it. It’s such a different set of circumstances. I felt like I was living in a different city in many ways.”