Real World has stopped being polite and stopped being real. When news first broke via a super press release–y post on EW.com that the MTV show had adopted a new format for its upcoming season, it felt like hearing that Bruce Springsteen had become a dubstep DJ. Learning that the new title was Real World: Ex-Plosion didn’t help.
Apparently, a little while into filming the show, producers decided to have the castmates' exes join the house. It's not a bad idea, but there was something nice about Real World always being the same ol’ Real World, even as Bunim/Murray employees right down the hall pumped out The Simple Life, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and Bad Girls Club. The “seven strangers in a house” format was the Adam and Eve of the reality TV species; strands of its DNA can be found in all current reality iterations. So at first this change felt wrong. It felt like MTV and Bunim/Murray were selling out.
Real World as we know it as gone. According to Entertainment Weekly, the reality TV stalwart is changing up the format and renaming itself Real World: Ex-Plosion. Quoth EW:
The season begins like any other: Seven young, attractive and single diverse cast-mates from around the country move into a house … They’ll start to form bonds, with each other and with San Francisco locals. Then, one month into the three-month shoot, they’ll go away for a day trip. When they return, they’re in for a huge shock: Their exes have moved in too.
I know. I have a lot of questions, too. Let's run through them:
The Internet is the best. Being old and dumb, I rarely discover the fun little corners of this vast web wasteland, but that changed last week when Juliet sent me a link about The Challenge cast leaking. The leak was posted on Vevmo, a forum site that always manages to figure out next season's cast before anyone else.
I'd been on the site before, but I'd never taken a deep dive into the various threads. Well, this time I did, and I couldn't be happier. There's page upon page of discussion ONLY ABOUT THE CHALLENGE! It's a community for people who are obsessed with Real World's mutant child, people who really approach The Challenge with the level of care and analysis it deserves as America’s Fifth Major Sport.
It’s easy to get bummed out by the Internet. It's a place where mean comments, creepy porn, identity theft, and idiocy run rampant. But finding something like The Challenge section on Vevmo can restore faith. At its best, the Internet connects people with similar interests and helps build communities. Well, The Challenge section of Vevmo is the lunch table GRTFL would choose in the digital cafeteria. It's full of people who say things like this:
“Lex, size doesn't really matter — see Derrick. Jonna's not the ultimate puzzle person but I'd trust her with a puzzle over Cara. Jonna does have the "Endurance" crap as well” —KVM1977
There are a lot of ceremonial and official end-of-summer markers, but nothing is as definite as the end of a Challenge season. C.T. finally won his first title this week, which he couldn't have done without his partner and noted entrepreneur, Wes Bergmann. To celebrate the victory and to recap the insane live reunion show, we had Kansas City's very own titan of industry call in. Wes talked about a wide range of topics, including whether he has ever done PEDs, who he sees most frequently from the show, and his infamous monster truck. If you are even remotely interested in how, as of today, Wes came to be a partial owner of 50 businesses, give this week's pod a listen.
Survivor is back, which means we finally get to introduce some new blood into the GRTFL waters this week. (Don't worry, you'll get your Challenge scoring update, too.)
Survivor: Blood vs. Water immediately gave us a hot doctor couple probably headed for divorce, the threat of assault with a deadly oar, a near drowning, a homophobe, a lady-robbing junkie, and, worst of all, wet socks. Tons and tons of wet socks. There's little in life worse than wet socks.
As we always do when we add a new show to the GRTFL universe, we made up a bunch of dumb rules.
This week’s Best of Grantland Pop Culture podcast features interviews with Breaking Bad's Dean Norris and director Michelle MacLaren, Jacoby and Juliet on The Challenge, and the Girls in Hoodies on Grand Theft Auto.
Diem. Dee-um. Diem! This week's Challenge brought us a lot of Diem Brown drama, and we did not shy away from it. We covered everything from Diem's deliberation dress to Johnny's breaking of the fourth wall for the viewer's benefit. After that, we returned to the Bravo well. What makes Eat, Drink, Love so incredibly watchable? As we tried to figured this out, Juliet revealed her three favorite foods and Jacoby admitted to his new reality TV crush. And as always, we cover our weird watches (Bad Girls Club, The Great Australian Bake Off), the news (with requisite Lamar Odom update), and our non-reality-TV news of the week (have you heard of 2 Chainz?). Enjoy!
Ever since 2008, when the world economy crashed down in a pile of overheated housing stock, circular corporate gambling, and credit-rating malfeasance, young Americans have borne the brunt of a weak jobs market. To see the pernicious effects of the weak economy on the flower of our young, one need look no further than the cast of MTV’s The Challenge.
On the surface, MTV reality stardom seems a pretty attractive deal. Spend a few months living in a manse in some exotic locale, imbibe massive quantities of alcohol, and appear on television with other like-minded, performance-enhanced, sexually active young people. Sort of like being in a frat, but for two months in Indonesia. The problem being, it doesn’t pay particularly well in addition to being just a tad Faustian.
Just consider the prize-money structure for the current iteration of The Challenge, Rivals II: After each challenge, the victorious non-jungle-designated-gendered team (team, as in divide these numbers by two) wins $1,000, down from $2,000 the previous season. For the final challenge, first-place teams receive $125,000, second-place teams receive $35,000, and third-place wins $15,000. In addition to prize money, each cast member receives a flat $4,000 fee for appearing on the show. So, assuming a contestant’s team wins every challenge (for which you would get paid only when your gendered team isn’t designated for the jungle) AND finishes in first place in the final, the most a player could walk away with is $68,500, which sounds all right until you remember that thing about taxes and not ending up like Wesley Snipes. So what’s it look like if you’re a Challenge badass? According to the always-completely-accurate font of modern-day wisdom known as “Wikipedia,” the top money winner in Challenge history is Johnny “Bananas” Devenanazio, with $266,543 in career winnings over eight challenges, which averages out to a bit over $30,000 per Challenge, less than a rookie mail carrier’s annual salary.
As summer stumbles out of the bar and fall saddles up, it brings with it chilly air, back-to-school bullshit, and some good ol’ lowbrow television programming that may or may not merit GRTFL tracking. GRTFL stalwart Survivor washes ashore Wednesday and will get the full treatment. I’m considering adding MTV’s new Coyote Ugly–meets–Honey Boo Boo–meets–depression day-drinking vehicle Big Tips Texas, but know I’ll regret it by Week 2. I may rekindle my relationship with Top Chef, but mainly for Padma reasons. I even looked at The Amazing Race cast because of a familiar face. And yet, I’m still not sure which shows to make dick jokes and puns about when the leaves turn. If you have any suggestions for shows I should add, please leave them in the comments.
In the meantime, thank God we have The Challenge. This week’s episode was all Diem, all the time. Let’s get right to it by turning our attention to this resilient, beautiful, inspirational, super-sweet cancer survivor and then making fun of her.
I’m going to hell.
Diem (Challenge, Simmons), 15 points
The Diem-CT pairing is the closest thing America has to Will and Kate. We watched Diem and CT fall in love; we watched Diem beat cancer; we watched CT try to eat a man’s face; we watched them break up; we watched her beat cancer again; and this week, we watched as their relationship went weird.
After a few weeks of partying with the Amish and going deep into cable's offerings, we went back to our roots. The Challenge’s Wes delivered the kind of soliloquy that can't be ignored, and thus we spent 25 minutes discussing this week's episode. Keep this video about Wes's start-up incubator open. After that, we dived into a new guilty pleasure from an old friend, Eat, Drink, Love on Bravo. Did you know that certain snacks could be categorized as "white trash"? About 44 minutes in, we moved on to our weird watches, news (including a Lamar Odom update), and non-reality news of the week.
Don't be alarmed when you hear the sweet sounds of Ol' Dirty Bastard welcoming you to the Right Reasons podcast. You're in the right place.
We’ve officially reached the point in the season when The Challenge morphs into Bodies in Motion. With only a few episodes left, America’s fifth major sport has taken on a more serious tone: It’s way less “Let’s all get inslopsicated and try to have coitus/drown each other all night,” and way more “Woah, we have a chance at winning some serious money, let’s work out all day and talk strategy all night.” As always, Bananas summed it up best: “With the final guys' challenge coming up, I think everyone is pretty much in the same mind-set right now. The finish line is so close, that ticket to the final is right there, and the anxiety levels are through the roof right now.”
MTV has been running promos for its fall slate of reality fare, and it doesn’t look too promising. Big Tips Texas is basically Buckwild in a bar, Teen Mom 3 is the latest iteration of a show so depressing and wrong that even I won't watch it, and Snooki and JWOWW only serves to further the Jersey Shore crew's descent into oblivion.
While none of these programs feel worthy of GRTFL consideration, they will be tracked and broken down on The Right Reasons podcast, because detailed analysis of programming for tween girls is important here at Grantland. But the bleak future for televised idiocy on MTV can’t take the spotlight away from what was a pretty solid episode of The Challenge this week. We had a near-drowning, some solid TJ, and the return of Crazy Camila. Camila had been behaving relatively sanely this season, leading one to think that perhaps years of watching her make a fool of herself on national television had led to her toning down her temperament … and one would be wrong. This week she was glorious and went straight insane.