Josh Wolk
January 11, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

”The Real World”: Melanie’s embarrassing ailment

Melanie’s contracting scabies marked an important first for me: Though watching The Real World over the years has often made my skin crawl, this was the first time my skin has crawled watching somebody on the show’s skin crawl. If I were stoned, this kind of snake-eating-itself moment would have blown my mind. But, I was sober, so I was just a guy sitting at home whose entertainment of choice was watching someone on TV complain about a bad rash. This way, instead of being blown, my mind kept busy thinking about what a sad little existence I’d carved out for myself. If I find myself sitting through a three-part series on psoriasis tomorrow night, I think my mind is going to leave my sorry ass.

The saving grace of this episode was that the Real World producers treated Melanie’s ailment lightly. They usually exploit every roomie’s ailment under the guise of making it a ”teaching moment”: When Seattle’s Irene had Lyme disease, they melodramatically addressed it as if it were polio. As this episode went on, I cringed, expecting to see Dr. Drew pop up at the end telling us that if we or anybody we knew had little red bumps, we should call Scab-Anon.

Melanie got her diagnosis from Dr. Chuck, who seemed like a nice enough guy, which is why I’ll try not to harp on the fact that he goes by Dr. Chuck, a friendly moniker that comes dangerously close to Patch Adams territory. Dr. Chuck came by the house to examine everybody, which made me wonder why they don’t send doctors around to every Real World house. Not only could every Real Worlder do with a good delousing, but who knows, a full-body scan could turn up some interesting new medical finds. Had someone just waved a Petri dish around the Las Vegas house, right now medical students might be learning about a new venereal disease, Trishellia.

The roomies were very upset at the idea that they might have scabies, too. Willie said, ”Nothing has ever crawled up my skin or any crevice,” which Will & Grace just took home as part of TV’s ”Adopt a Straight Line” program. Since the roomies had to scour their pad, neat freak Sarah said that scabies was the best thing that could happen to the house. If houses could speak, this one might say, ”No, the best thing that could happen to me is if you all left and the body vermin stayed.”

The second plot of the show dealt with the roommates prepping for their big presentation of their playground plans. It was an interesting pairing of story lines: The roomies help kids . . . and have tiny bugs burrowing under their skin. I look forward to a future episode where Landon rescues a lost puppy while M.J. tends to a weeping sore.

Landon’s power grabbing again became an issue, as Sarah voiced her frustration that he was trying to do all the work himself. Doesn’t she understand? Pitching playgrounds to an arena football team co-owned by an ’80s rock star is his passion! Who knows, if he does this well, maybe it will catapult him into a job designing four-square courts for a jai alai team owned by Jefferson Starship. Dare to dream, my fuzzy-headed friend!

Finally, the day of the presentation arrived, and all the bigwigs were there, including Craig, the co-owner of the Soul, who kissed Melanie and . . . nooooooo, the scabies! I expected Landon to leap in between them like a Secret Service man intercepting a bullet meant for the president. And as he lay there, red bumps slowly popping up on his body that might otherwise be popping up on Craig’s, Landon would weakly whisper, ”I did it . . . for . . . the kids. . . . ” And they would erect a giant blond wig on the top of the jungle gym as a tribute to this fallen architect! And as a further homage to Landon, all the kids would be served shots of Jäger over by the monkey bars! And . . .

But I digress.

As if the pressure weren’t enough, Jon Bon Jovi himself showed up to watch the presentation. Now that’s pressure! Because if there’s one thing a rock star knows, it’s playgrounds. Jon Bon Jovi can tell you which hinge on a swing set is rusty just by the sound it makes when a fat kid pushes off. And he can tell you how many grains of sand are in a sandbox just by tasting it. Now slides, those are Tico Torres’ specialty. . . .

But I digress again.

The group made its presentation, and the crowd went nuts. Now, I don’t want to take anything away from the roomies’ big day, but the process as they described it didn’t seem that complicated. They looked at the space (okay, good first step), then took the kids to other playgrounds to see what they liked (okay, fine), and then they came back and looked at a catalog (all right, and . . . huh?). They looked at a catalog? I thought they were supposed to be designing this from scratch, but this was like assembling a Habitrail. They were just picking and choosing from already-designed materials. Okay, kids like slides and bridges and chutes, so give me one of each. Phew, making playgrounds is tough! Landon then said that the giant playground company would poot out what they needed . . . but in 15,000 pieces, which the housemates would have to assemble themselves! So, in short, they were going to be playing Legos.

I suppose the Soul team was so impressed by this group since they were the first Real World house to succeed at achieving the most basic demands asked of them. Compare them with Boston’s day care, where Montana gave a kid wine; or New Orleans’ cable access show, where David cast a bunch of strippers; or Miami’s entrepreneurial challenge, where the house’s clothing line petered out after one day of putting up fliers. Perhaps it’s applause worthy just that the Philly crew didn’t show up at the presentation hungover with one half-deflated soccer ball, saying, ”I guess the kids could kick this around. But somebody should really buy a pump.” So be proud, Philly: You did the job, and with only one of you covered in tiny vermin.

What do you think? Has The Real World finally given us too much information? And do you think they told Jon Bon Jovi he would be making an appearance on the soon-to-be-legendary scabies episode?

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