Some critics are calling Mike an Ugly American, and he thinks that's a bum rap too. Many reviews have cited a scene in the first episode in which Mike's father tells him Big Ben is a clock. ''I said, 'Yeah, Dad, I know Big Ben's a clock.' And the [editors] took off the 'Yeah, Dad, I know' and made it 'Big Ben's a clock,''' he says. ''All of a sudden, Newsweek writes an article about how stupid Mike is, when there's no way anybody in the world doesn't know Big Ben's a clock.''
Although Mike maintains he loves the show, he says, ''It's unfortunate that in the first ones they want me to look like the dumb Midwestern boy.'' But he has an explanation: ''They want to overemphasize the fact that Neil and I are opposites, so they can show the change. By the end, he and I are buds.'' Neil agrees: ''When I walked in, Mike seemed like the frat boy from hell. It turns out he's got quite a self-deprecating sense of humor, so we got on quite well.''
In fact, everyone got on quite well at least compared with the last two seasons, when obnoxious roommates got the heave-ho. ''I can't understand how you can ever kick someone out of a house,'' says Neil. ''That's just so rude.'' (This from a man who says his goal as a musician is to find the frequency that causes listeners to soil themselves.)
Now that the series has hit the air, the stars are grappling with the wages of fame. Mike shares his worst fear: ''I just don't want someone to come up to me when I go to the Galleria at Christmastime to buy my mom a shirt and go, 'Hey, you're that Mike guy, aren't you? You're a real d---!'''
EPILOGUE: Among the teeming masses at Heathrow Airport, I hear a familiar bark. ''That's Jacinda's dog!'' I think. Sure enough, I spot Jacinda toting Legend in a porta-case. They're flying to L.A. with Kat (and her cat, Bagheera) to visit Jacinda's boyfriend; Sharon's seeing them off. They've moved out of the house, but the camera crew is still close behind.
What are the odds that I would just happen to see three Real Worlders at one of the world's busiest airports? Maybe coincidences like this really do happen in the real world. Or maybe it was that big mike...
Meet the Cast
Neil, 24, Oxford, England: ''I don't like America. There are these strange American cousins across the ocean demolishing all semblance of culture. It's interesting in the same way car crashes are interesting."
Kat, 19, Yelm, Wash.: ''If you get to know me, I'm not as applecheeked and bubbly, which I've read about myself. I have a hard, cynical streak, too.''
Mike, 22, St. Louis: ''You see pictures of England and everyone's walking around in Levi's with McDonald's in their hands and you're like, 'These f---ers love us.' Then you get here and you realize that they hate everything about us.''
Sharon, 20, Essex, England: ''It took me a month to feel comfortable with the cameramen. Being English, I've got this politeness thing where I felt very rude not acknowledging them.''
Lars, 24, Berlin: ''There's not a lot of good German house DJs. I'm the first German who's ever spun on a Saturday at [London's] Ministry of Sound.''
Jacinda, 22, Brisbane, Australia: ''Modeling is great money and great travel, but I just find it really empty, so I can't continue doing it full-time. I would do my head in.''
Jay, 19, Portland, Ore.: ''My Visa situation was such that I couldn't work and I couldn't volunteer, so I'm the slacker character. I don't do anything.''