Buy a red car and find someone young and spry to liven up your life. That's what most people would do when staring down the precipice of a life crisis.
I applied for The Real World online.
Last Tuesday I got an e-mail telling me that I was a very important person -- or at least invited to the The Real World's open casting call yesterday in Fort Collins for the 27th season, which will be shot in a yet undisclosed city, as a "VIP." I tweeted about it and gleefully told strangers at a bar. But when I showed up at the auditions at the Fort Collins Brewery yesterday, the friend I'd dragged along screamed, "These are all the people I wanted to get away from after high school."
Various shades of bottled blond milled around the parking lot. One guy who looked straight out of a Pac Sun ad asked if I wanted to play double dutch. A couple of girls in wrap-around sunglasses and hot pants were jumping up and down out of sync. It was imaginary double dutch, my favorite.
I had specifically swapped out my usual, massive glasses for contacts -- because when was the last time someone wore glasses on the show?
A cute blond girl handed us questionnaires, and we walked into the brewery, got a couple of tasting selections of beer, and looked at the single page of tightly printed text. The first question asked if I had performing experience outside of school or if I was part of SAG/AFTRA; as a writer with a serious case of stage fright, I doubted I was who they were looking for.
I handed the questionnaire in and was asked to stand in the middle of the parking lot. A large clump of people (including a total Snookie lookalike with a pink bow on her head) stood on one end of the lot. That group was already organized, I was told, but I'd be right after them. I was not feeling very VIP at all.
After about thirty minutes, my friend and I, along with six others, finally went into the casting room, where the casting director sat at one end. We were asked to say our name, age and anything else we wanted about ourselves. As we went around the table with our answers, everyone seemed to know which foot to lead with: I left home when I was 15; I danced in Cats; my apartment burned down; I like to party and have sex with people constantly.
And I fell for it. "I don't know what to do with my life! I take my life savings and backpack around Asia because I'm so confused and directionless!" just spewed out of me. Yes, I was genuinely trying. (Feel free to mock my first-world problems in the comments.) I'd been told by a close friend to play up my screwed-up family, but I didn't actually talk about that. It seemed all sorts of Emily Post wrong to say, "Hi, I'm Jenny and these are all the fucked up things about me" -- unless of course, you're auditioning for reality TV.
The casting director said we'd get a call by 10 p.m. if they wanted to see us again and that sure, we could be crazy and party but we should still check our phones at 10 p.m. sharp because she was not going to wait around to hear back.
I went home, and furiously Googled to see what other people had said about their experiences. It's funny how little the questionnaire questions have changed over the years; they've been 90 percent the same since at least 2005. The questions range from what's your type, to your best and worst traits, to how close you are with your family. As I was reading them, all the scenes of hot tub hook-ups, screaming matches that turned into spitting matches, and girls who compare favorite sex positions with their mothers came rushing back. Every question was loaded.
And while my chances of getting on the show seemed close to non-existent, I kept checking my phone because hell, if that guy who looked like Sonic the Hedgehog who said he was a good roommate because he had sex with his slutty female roommates got a callback and I didn't, well...I don't know, but it wasn't going to feel very good.
The casting director's final words were that that this wasn't our only chance. If being on The Real World was really our passion, we should keep on applying. It works out for some people.
But then I saw the thirty-page behemoth of a contract Village Voice published that had to be signed if you actually get selected for the show. Clearly, you'd have to be passionate about The Real World to sign this.
• You may die, lose limbs, and suffer nervous breakdowns. (Stipulation 1)
• Interacting with other cast members carries the risk of "non-consensual physical contact" and should you contract AIDS, etc. during such an interaction, MTV is not responsible. (7)
• You can't change your physical appearance during filming, without the Producer's express permission. (26)
• You grant the Producer blanket rights to your life story. (49)
• Your email may be monitored during participation. (20b)
• For one year after the show's final episode airs, cast members are required to participate in all producer-determined press and forbidden from engaging in any media (radio, television, chat rooms, blogs) without the Producer's written permission. (9)
• Under ordinary circumstances, all of this would be considered a "serious" invasion of privacy. (11)
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I've stopped checking my phone, and swapped that activity for obsessing over how great Alexandra is on the current, 26th season. (She runs an AIDS charity! She enrolled in Stanford at age 15! She has badass hair!) The Real World is a lot more real from the safe distance of my laptop.