From the Archives: Last Season, on The Real World

In 2013, Portland was just that city on The Real World.

From the archives: In 2013, Portlandia had already hit the streets of IFC, but Portland was still largely—in the minds of most of the nation—that city where they shot the 28th season of The Real World. What follows is a series summary by WW contributor Jay Horton:

Portland, The Real World is over. On Wednesday, June 12, 2013, MTV will air the final hour of the Stumptown season, as well as the customary reunion. As you may have seen over the past 11 weeks—though abysmal ratings would argue against it—the Portland incarnation of the venerable series has inspired eruptions of violence unlike anything in the history of reality television. To chronicle such uncharted dimensions of mortal venality, it only makes sense to sketch the deadliest sins of these seven pretend Portlanders.


Technically, eight roomies were funneled into the Pearl District last summer—nine, should we count Jack Russell-ish mutt Daisy, who received separate screen credit during the opening montage and won fans for voiding her bowels during cast members’ confessionals. But this season broke new ground by advertising Atlanta psychopath “Hurricane” Nia from the beginning—even though she only entered as a replacement during the fourth episode.

Participants were traditionally expelled for even limply violent gestures or an unwanted trespass that wouldn’t ruffle feathers at an Oberlin dorm. Never before, though, had we watched a loftmate suddenly come to their senses and vault over the wall. Recent University of Washington/Playboy alum Joi blamed Portland’s economic peculiarities for her flight—she spent the majority of the first three episodes weeping vainly while scanning job sites and phoning her parents to insist she’d wanted more from life.


Ever since the program turned away from the original casting philosophy (driven professionals, social activists) toward the current directive (fuck bunnies, the clinically insane), each season introduced a new venture to be shared among folks who’d soon demonstrate breathtaking incompetence in every conceivable facet of the job.

Still, their habits offer some advice for prospective job-seekers: Look for low-level service positions (Pizza Schmizza; frozen-yogurt stand; sadly, the Roxy declined); assume beauty will overcome lapses of résumé or character (Schmizza was oddly open about why Hooters vet Averey was hired); and wait to fuck up in grand fashion (Schmizza was disappointingly vague about why two roommates were still employed after a restroom quickie during their first shift). In the end, despite ever more spectacular bouts of workplace drunkenness, only Nia’s uniquely withering approach to customer service forced termination.


A loft equidistant from the Pearl’s aspirational splendor and Old Town’s sillier clubs may have made theoretical sense for these freewheeling libertines, but emotional disorders create strange homebodies. Early forays toward Dante’s burlesque show (eyebrows raised, threesomes refused, girls taken home and then released into the wild) and even across the bridge to Rontoms (the absence of signage predictably incensed moods) were abandoned for the curious comforts of Splash Bar: spring break imagined by an upscale Bulgarian airport disco.

Hopeful foodies must have been disappointed by cast attitudes toward cuisine that never rose above utilitarian carb-loading at Northwest pasta joints like Caffe Allora, and eventually centered on the nearest Subway.


We’ll forever blame the dreariness of Portland’s portrayal on network executives intent on selecting athletes and hostesses who held no recognizable passions, actively disliked those few areas (cafe culture, epicurean delights, vibrant artistry) in which we excel, and never really tried to mask the disappointed bewilderment of children promised Disneyland but given Fresno Gardens. Shouldn’t there have been, say, an author? A chef? A brewmaster, a sex worker-puppeteer, a fixie-riding bike mechanic with handlebars made from hemp and recycled aluminum?

The producers brought around a selection of physically impressive specimens singularly unsuited to Puddletown’s cultural/spiritual/actual climate. The Pearl’s perennially gray streets served as an oval track for incessant bouts of jogging. Trapped in a real world they never made, the cast members wanted only to bathe, exercise and announce their wants, unprompted, in declarative sentences. Insofar as our town fulfilled their imminent desires, Portland could’ve passed for a damp and pervy Bakersfield.


Who would’ve guessed the first episode’s showily diffident revelation of Texas Tech linebacker Marlon’s close-contact drills with a male cheerleader would’ve marked the high point of aberrant eroticism? Spirits ever willing, swelled egos and stunted empathy prevented nearly every attempt to further bodily pleasures, whether in dalliances with locals or during conjugal reunions with lovers from home.

When the group visited the Fantasy for Adults Only erotica shop on West Burnside Street, we were at least allowed a glimpse of the show that might have been had producers arranged work tailored to each member’s sensibilities. Marlon identified leather gear with the anticipatory frisson of someone newly (if partially) out of the closet. Nia warily regarded each object as tremblingly familiar. Jordan stared down the dildos. Carnal obsessive Averey twirled toys in the air, her pre-coital zest infectious in the very best way. However little they cared about dining or indie rock or weirdness as an aspirational quality, you couldn’t have asked for better sex-shop employees.


Its inhabitants shorn of responsibilities (Schmizza management perhaps no longer requiring them to work) and naturally predisposed to conservation of energies, the loft increasingly resembled a luxury hotel suite packed with defeated celebrants turning upon one another, and MTV never quite figured out how to sensationalize the torpor. Producers tried their best to lure group involvement in day trips to the Columbia Gorge or Mount Hood—opportunities culminating, respectively, in bitterness over the length of their trek and utter disbelief that a snowboarder of some celebrity actually chose an Oregon residence—and in a string of activities that only fueled the aggro tendencies of Oklahoman provocateur Jordan, who not only won the go-carts bout but also the BrewCycle’s ride to neighborhood pubs, which wasn’t really intended as competition.


‘Twas, in the end, a show about rage. Continual combatants Jordan and factory-damaged Southern belle Jessica took center stage early on. Once Nia entered the octagon as self-appointed defender of the sisterhood, words very nearly came to blows. Nia said she had no choice but to publicly “suck the skin off of” Jordan, and stakes were escalated when next she spotted him shitfaced and alone. Straddling and choking him, wielding a clock and a lamp as weapons, she slapped and shrieked while booze-laden Jordan seethed unmoving behind a calcified smirk.

Of the penultimate episode’s slugfest that began with Nia stepping in Daisy droppings and ended with her goading Averey and Johnny, we’ll reiterate only how singularly disturbing this season’s slide toward blood-simple brutality has felt. Yet every generation loves its first Real World. However joyless the frustrated rage of broken malcontents may appear to older fans, there must be, somewhere, a group of beguiled tweens who will one day insist that the franchise only ever took hold in Portland.