The Real World is running our country. Literally. Twenty years to the day after Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray’s landmark MTV show debuted, its impact on American culture (not just pop) is pretty spectacular to behold. Sure, we could just discuss our favorite episodes and characters, but that wouldn’t get to the crux of the issue: This show actually matters. No, I’m not talking about its subsequent 26 seasons (26!) or its Kardashian-like spawning of spin-offs and D-list celebrities. I’m talking about the fact that The Real World is in Congress (U.S. Representative Sean Duffy, of the Boston season, right), in the court system, in cinemas, and of course on TV. Below, check out how the first major reality TV show still has a very Real impact.
Thirteen years after living with six strangers in Boston, Duffy (left, back in the Boston house days) made his political aspirations a reality. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Wisconsin’s 7th District in November 2010. Indeed, Duffy might be the most impressive testament to the show of all its 193 cast members (not counting the housemates of the forthcoming St. Thomas cast, who make their debut on June 27). In addition to his government service, he was also the first alum to marry another Real World-er (San Francisco’s Rachel Campos), and had the first Real World baby…and then another…and then another (they have six kids).
Not to dismiss the award-worthy work of Teck Holmes in Van Wilder, but San Diego’s Chung has had the strongest movie career of all of the dozens of aspiring actors and actresses on the Real World roster. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Trishelle Canatella from Vegas.) She’s been a noteworthy player in The Hangover Part II, Grown Ups, Sorority Row, and Sucker Punch, plus she has roles in upcoming films including Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s messenger mayhem flick Premium Rush and horror-in-the-skies film 7500. Her films’ combined box office has totaled nearly $600 million worldwide to date. Not too shabby.
This Real World: Los Angeles alumna brought the drama (and “It wasn’t not funny”) from the first minute she took the screen, including accusations of sexual assault that inspired the first Real World kick-off, a televised trip to the abortion clinic, and the controversial decision to wire her jaw shut to lose weight. Nearly two decades later, she’s still bringing it as a member of the cast of VH1’s Basketball Wives. Despite having “a mild heart attack” at the end of March, Roman is still fanning the flames on her Twitter feed and weighing other TV offers.
He may have lost his legal battle against HBO for a character he claims to have inspired on Entourage, but the fact that Key West’s John Devenanzio (one of the least enthralling characters of an unimpressive season) even had a court-worthy claim against HBO and Entourage in the first place speaks to the power of The Real World’s cult of personality. What’s more, the love-to-hate-him loudmouth is doing all right financially. He just won his second Challenge in a row – his eighth time on the show overall – and is sure to come back for at least 100 or so more. Now that’s Bananas.
Mike Mizanin landed a spot on The Real World’s return to New York in 2001. Flash forward 11 years, and he has legions of screaming WWE fans and more than half a million Twitter followers under his big gold belt. Mike The Miz is living the dream.
Pedro Zamora (Season 3, San Francisco) was one of the first gay and HIV-positive actors ever to be open about his sexuality and his HIV status on television. An AIDS educator by training, his appearance on The Real World in 1994 brought AIDS into the forefront in a way that no other television show had before. Even President Clinton acknowledged Zamora’s contribution, saying that the show’s fans felt they “knew” someone with AIDS. On the show, the loft was the setting for a commitment ceremony between Zamora and the man he’d been dating in San Francisco, so fast forward to today and it’s clear The Real World was ahead of its time. Zamora died of complications from the disease in November 1994, but his legacy continues to inspire numerous gay and HIV-positive characters and portrayals on TV.
Honorable Mention: David Giuntoli
The Grimm star technically emerged from Road Rules, but there would have been no Road Rules without The Real World. His supernatural series, which just wrapped its first season, performed solidly enough to get a second season (no small feat on NBC), and I’m willing to bet that very few people even recognized him as a reality TV vet.
All that’s without mentioning the impact of The Real World on reality TV as we know it today (see: Jersey Shore). What did I miss, PopWatchers? What are some of your favorite ways that The Real World continues to be relevant?