correspondent Jay Horton is enduring and recapping each installment to assess just how real—and how Portland-y—the housemates get.

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us,” Robert Burns wrote, “to see oursels as ithers see us!” Is this why prospective loftmates still apply in such numbers? To expose their base personalities before the unforgiving camera? To know themselves? And, if not, shouldn’t they try a bit harder on presentation? For anyone watching The Real World Portland with hopes of prying apart the underlying artifice, all the circumstantial evidence in the world can’t explain the participants’ motives. They could be acting out, but for what cause? How could portraying oneself so negatively possibly aid any conceivable future plans? If the awfulness weren’t a pose, what purpose would the surrounding rigmarole serve?

Just a hunch, but hyper-combative extroverts of cartoonish physiques and dissociative/borderline diagnoses need love too. Episode eight opens with a group trip—the only successful group trip so far, by some degree—to the West Burnside Fantasy Video. Marlon, bless his heart, points out leather gear with the anticipatory frisson of somebody still hoping for follow-up questions regarding his bisexuality bombshell. Nia treats each object as tremblingly familiar. Jordan stares down the dildos. Johnny somehow teases agreeable humor from a nervous joke about freeze spray sustaining his performance from two to “three-pump-chump.” Averey doesn’t so soften her delight at Johnny’s newfound sexual openness that we overlook the prostate-shaped parabola she airily twirls, but her pre-coital zest still feels infectious in the very best way.

Honestly, insofar as we’ve been unable to suss out the reasons why these particular seven strangers (eight, really, counting our long-lost Pac 10 Playmate) were chosen to inhabit the Portland loft, one possibility may have been overlooked. The designated cast members may care not at all about food or indie rock or weirdness as an aspirational quality, but, by God, you couldn’t ask for a better staff of sex workers.

If they were originally planned to work the rail, at least, that’d forgive the Pizza Schmizza entanglements, which this week extended into rank unpleasantness. However loathsome Nia’s base ethos, vicarious Office Space giggles could be gleaned from her absolute refusal to take seriously any part of the cocktailing shifts more or less forced upon her, but frustrations amongst managers led to a painful exchange. Almost off-handedly, seemingly determined to defend her earlier protestations to Marlon that she was made for something more, Nia clumsily ridiculed the manager’s seriousness of intent and effectively upended the notion of whose job actually lay in the balance.

Nia didn’t sign up for Pizza Schmizza, that much seems clear, but she has to see how the attitudes expressed would come across. When fun’s poked at the working class for nothing more than working, that’s a lodestone to be feared. In the same way, while Jessica’s tendency to flaunt an otherwise inexplicable prudishness might have proven damnably intriguing within a more salacious environment, our current scenario only served to isolate the neediest of all roommates—intercut with footage detailing her worst suspicions of putative friends’ giggly avoidance. Nia, of course, recognized Jessica’s anxieties and did her best to further poison what little trust existed while manipulating Jessica’s smoldering sense of dignity into an exclamation of righteousness that burst outside the Splash Bar bathroom stall housing Averey.

Nobody did themselves justice over the next few minutes. Not Jessica, whose demands to be treated with respect grew ever more shrill and petulant. Not Nia, who unsubtly blocked the door so that Averey couldn’t leave. Not Averey, who embraced her inner sorority dragoness with vivid swagger. Not Johnny, who all too effectively ended the tumult by calling Jessica fat and, once Nia countered with jibes about penis size, dropped trou so that “little Johnny” could enter the debate.

They all must have known how the resulting badinage would look, and, though the scene surely could’ve been staged, what would be worth the scorched earth reputations? How are they meant to deal with one another the month or so remaining? If this is indeed the final season of the Real World—and, as ratings dip ever more violently, the network has yet to renew—how horribly apropos if nobody speaks to one another through the climactic episodes?

That would never happen, of course, unless Marlon’s tension headaches lead to something more serious. For that matter, Anastasia and Jordan were allowed time enough to gush codependent, and our signature couple seems to have only been empowered by the surrounding disdain.

“I love you," Averey says at show’s end, nestling atop Johnny’s sparkplug body with frankly feline entitlement, “and I love your penis." Was the sentiment meant for the cameras? For her beau? For her sense of self? However dearly the program asks observers to prize naked emotion—that baring of souls absent perspective or self-regard—any note of falsity rang sweet. In a world so absorbed with keeping things real, isn’t it romantic when people start being polite?