The Real World: 12 Behind-The-Scenes Secrets

The Real World is the longest running program on MTV! It’s also one of the longest running reality series with 31 seasons under it’s belt and the first episode dating back to 1992. As reality television becomes more and more popular among viewers, the Real World has been forced to change and adapt alongside their competition, catering to new audiences. But the general concept has always remained the same: seven strangers living under one roof, forced to live with one another and get along. The famous tag line goes, “when people stop being polite…and start getting real.” But how much of the show is really REAL? Producing a successful show takes a lot more than just picking seven strangers and putting them in a vacant house — there’s a ton of work that goes on behind the scenes and a level of editing that takes place to create a beginning to end show. Here’s a look at 12 behind-the-scenes secrets from the Real World:

12. Adapting the Show

Filming the first season of the Real World, Jonathan Murray’s own words was “a sh-t show.” He said, “We had no idea what we were getting into. We foolishly thought everyone would go to bed at the same time. That didn’t happen. We had this meager little crew trying to cover seven individuals who were all over the place. Everyone was shell-shocked by the end of the experience.” Now onto the 31st season things have gotten much more organized with numerous camera men following the housemates around the clock, a phone in the house that offers a direct line to a producer who is monitoring them at all times and ceiling cameras installed in the house to capture every little movement. The show has branched out to become a little more complex than usual with themed seasons like Skeletons, EXplosion, or Go Big or Go Home — this keeps the show interesting and makes it easier to market to their audience.


11. Living Accomodations

One of the best perks of going on the Real World is that the cast gets to live in these amazing homes, whether it be a mansion in the city or a penthouse suite in a Las Vegas hotel. Putting these homes together takes a lot of time and careful consideration. In the more recent seasons, producers choose to decorate the living spaces with furniture from local makers and artists. Murray said, “The first few seasons, we worked with Ikea. But now we have a production designer who goes out to the city we’re shooting in and finds out who the local furniture makers and artists are. One of my favorite experiences was walking through the Palms hotel in Las Vegas with George Maloof before it opened. He had just finished [the penthouse], but he said, ‘Oh, we can rip this all out and create a loft for you.'” The most budget friendly item in the house is the big couch. Producers have used the same big couch for the past five seasons and just re-covered it each year with a different colored upholstery. We can only imagine what that couch has been through…Gross!


10. Recruited Cast Members

In a reddit Q&A with Jonathan Murray, the creator of MTV’s the Real World and The Challenge, he answered a lot of fan questions, and divulged how the Real World cast is usually recruited now. When recruiting people they try to stay away from anyone with an interest in acting or background in acting; in fact they prefer to chose people who wouldn’t necessarily go on reality television and are looking for the experience, not the momentary fame. In an interview with Glamour, Murray said, “We read message boards, we look at fan groups, we’re out there trolling on the Internet. We once did an open call in Columbia, Missouri, and one of our crew members struck up a conversation with a girl who was working at the Starbucks there. She had never thought of going on the Real World, but casting interviewed her the next day and she ended up on the show.” That particular girl was Emily Schromm from The Real World: Washington, D.C. Open calls don’t happen anymore and now it’s strictly recruitment. Murray said in an interview with ET, “We don’t do big open calls anymore, and we actually do much more outreach now where we actually go out and find these interesting people who we think would be good on the show. We’re still looking for diversity, that’s important to us, but in the case of EXplosion, we had to find people who had an interesting history with their ex.”


9. Type-Casting House Mates

When searching for a potential cast member, producers are usually looking for someone who has “openness, sense of humor, curious about others, interesting, decent looks, strong opinions that they can back up,” said Murray in the reddit conversation. For a while, the show was getting the same kind of people over and over again, so producers recently decided to switch it up. “We looked at the [past several seasons] and decided we’ve had too many kids who are suburban middle class, who went to college. We set out to find more blue-collar people, from families who had to struggle and who had to struggle themselves. This season, we have Tony, who works at a chemical plant, and Jason, who had just lost his job at a car dealership when we cast him.”


8. Set Location

When choosing a city to film the next season the producers take the following things into consideration: “great mass transportation, cool neighborhood with restaurants and bars close by, and is a city of young people from across the country dream about living in,” said Murray. When thinking about all the legal regulations behind filming in public, fans might have wondered while watching how it is that camera crews simply walk in behind the cast when they go to a restaurant, bar or even when they get a job at a local establishment? When the cast shows up to the house they get a list of local employers they can go to if they want a job, but it’s completely up to them and they still have to earn the job through an interview. We’ve seen seasons of the Real World where it was required the cast members work, but other times it’s been completely up to them. Also, the cast has a pre-approved list of bars and restaurants they go to for their nightlife, these are places that will allow MTV camera’s to follow them inside. There is a clause in the contract they sign before going on the show which clearly states they will not “hide out” in an establishment where the cameras cannot follow them, so their outings are limited.


7. Under the Camera Lens

When there’s a group of good looking people living together under one roof for several weeks, drinking and hanging out 24/7 things are bound to happen! Every season there’s a series of hookups that happen either in the house or with the people they meet while filming. Murray commented on how ‘awkward’ it can be to film this kind of stuff and it’s simply a matter of trust between the camera crew and the house members, as well as their comfort level in front of the camera. “If there’s a camera person in the room when two people start getting heavy, the camera person will stay just long enough to establish what’s going on. Then they move out. But we do have surveillance cameras that stay on. That’s why you see everyone go under the covers. The cast knows we’re not going to show this stuff.”


6. Limited Social Media

It’s common knowledge that when a person is cast on the Real World they are agreeing to be cut off from the outside world to a certain extent. Cast members are not allowed to bring books, magazines, or any kind of outside entertainment. Jonathan Murray has commented about the reasoning behind this and it’s so that contestants don’t isolate themselves during the experience. “When we started the series back in ’92, mobile phones and texting and lot of other social media didn’t exist. We really want the roommates to focus on each other. It’s too easy to escape into your phone, so we limit this.” They also provide a lot of free alcohol to loosen people up and heighten emotions. However, in more recent seasons this attitude has changed, especially in the case of the Real World Skeletons and EXplosion, “Last season we decided to start giving them a phone when they went out. They were allowed to shoot video and post pictures online. We knew that if they were posting pictures of them meeting someone, and an ex saw, that ex would have a question for them the moment they walked in.” Also, in the most recent season we see the cast members address the topic of information being leaked to the press. Production definitely doesn’t want crucial storylines being leaked before the show is released so they monitor activity on the computer.


5. Background Checks

An unsigned Real World contract surfaced on the internet and revealed some pretty interesting things about what cast members agree to before going on the show and just how legally tied they are to the production team. For example, producers are under no obligation to do background checks on any of the cast members, which means individuals could be sharing a room with a dangerous convict! We know that because of how cast members are recruited now this isn’t as common, but it has happened in the past where someone comes into the house with a criminal background and the producers have no obligation to warn any of the housemates beforehand.

Source: MTV

4. Production Takes No Responsibility

The Real World contract also states that production is not responsible for any non-consensual physical contact or any diseases that may be contracted upon that contact. The contract states, “I understand there are risks in any such interaction, including but not limited to, the possibility of consensual and non-consensual physical contact, which could result in my contracting of any type of sexually transmitted disease, including, without limitation, HIV/AIDs, gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis…” and the list goes on. The idea of the potential for non-consensual physical contact is scary, and has surprisingly been a problem in the Real World house before as former cast members have shared stories about experiencing aggressive behavior from other cast members on the show. If this were to happen, the production team cannot be held responsible. This is concerning, especially after realizing they also don’t disclose background checks on the people they place in the house who might have a history of aggressive behavior.

Source: Screen Shot/MTV

3. Hand Over Their Life Story

Cast members hand over rights of their “life story” to producers, this includes their name, background story, and even memorabilia in their home which includes film, pictures and even emails. Producers are allowed to take things from their home as long as they return them when production is finished. Like with many other reality shows, there is a chance that footage collected by the production team will be meticulously edited to create a particular storyline, therefore they have the rights to make certain people look exceptionally bad or vice versa. The contract specifically states, “I further understand that my appearance, depiction, and/or portrayal in and in connection with the Program…may be disparaging, defamatory, embarrassing or of an otherwise unfavorable nature, may expose me to public ridicule, humiliation or condemnation, and may portray me in a false light.” This means the production team can edit the footage to manipulate the situation, even if the final product the gets aired isn’t what necessarily happened or how it happened. The contract clearly states, “Producer may depict, portray me and my Life story either accurately or with such liberties and modifications as Producer determines necessary or desirable in its sole discretion for the purposes of fictionalization, dramatization or any other purposes, including without limitation to achieve a humorous or satirical effect, and by means of actors who may or may not resemble me.”


2. Collecting Payment

The cast is obligated to participate in a reunion special with only 14 days notice for up to five years after the show finishes and will be paid a low sum of $2,500 for their involvement. They must participate in producer determined press and are forbidden to engage in third party media interviews, blogs, etc without a producer’s permission. Also, members of the cast are entitled to $300 per week for filming the show and get the lump sum of money when filming is finished. If a cast member leaves early they only get paid up until their last week and must pay for their own travel expenses to get home. These are just a few of the highlights from the contract, but there’s so much more!


1. Unseen Costs for Cast Members

When cast members request to be flown home for a family emergency or, in the most recent season, Chris flies to Utah to participate in an event, the production team is allowed to collect payment for these travel expenses after the production is finished. In other words, as we might believe these things are free for the cast because MTV makes so much money off the show, but they aren’t! Also, all those long distance phone calls that cast members make while in the house might seem like they come as a service for the whole experience, but these long-distance will be charged to each cast member after the show wraps up filming. When cast members sign their contract they are agreeing to reimburse the production team of any costs upon asking.

Katherine G

Katherine G

Katherine is the Managing Editor for Health and Parenting, but she has a soft spot for entertainment. She loves binging shows on Netflix, reality TV is a guilty pleasure, and country music is her go-to playlist. When she's not writing, she's spending time outdoors, especially with her puppy Zoey!