There’s a special place in MTV’s history for the original Las Vegas Real World season. For many fans, this was the season that ruined The Real World. For others, this was the season that attracted them to the show. How did one season invite so many people to watch the show yet turns so many off of the show?
The Real World existed for ten years prior to its original Las Vegas season. For the most part, these early seasons followed young adults as they adapted to life in a new city. The show was a candid look into the lives of people forced to live with others from different backgrounds and beliefs. Take a look at the Chicago season, the season immediately preceding Las Vegas. This season placed Theo, a devout Catholic, with two gay roommates. Tonya, and orphan with health problems, struggled to build relationships with her new roommates. Not to mention, the cast witnessed the events of 9/11. Then, Vegas happened. The cast was surrounded by the sin of Sin City and lots of drama happened.
Instead of filming five months of daily life, this season filmed five months of young adults on vacation. This season also required all the roommates to be older than 21 because it was filmed in a casino. This contrasted other season that only had an 18-year-old age limit, essentially allowing recent high school grads to be on The Real World.
What happens on the first episode? Rather than a standard introduction we are introduced to a Frank-Steven-Trishelle love triangle. The season would later showcase a love triangle, a pregnancy scare, Alton and Irulan starting a relationship despite Irulan having a serious boyfriend at home, a fork-flinging fight, and a few threesomes. This environment brought out the worst in people, and the public loved it. The show was a huge success in the ratings and shifted the direction of future Real World seasons. Drama would feel more forced, and production’s role in creating drama would be more transparent.
Remember, this season is a product of its time. In the early 00’s, reality TV was in the beginning of its formation. The Real World was the founding father of reality TV but it began to see competition from sensationalized reality shows. The public showed interest in shows such as The Osbournes, Survivor, Big Brother, or Temptation Island. These shows allowed production to influence the direction of the story, and the drama was less authentic. Production wasn’t going to step in every day on The Real World, but placing the show in such an active environment certainly influenced how the season would progress. There was a lot of hooking up, a lot of jealousy, and a lot of partying.
Ratings were so successful that The Real World would try to recreate these types of stories on future seasons. While the following Paris season was slightly toned-down, the San Diego season would return to the overly dramatic story lines. Ratings would yo-yo for a while until the public became exhausted by the the drunken drama around the time of the Sydney season. But the damage was done, and the authentic stories of young adults establishing their identities became secondary.
I don’t think the Vegas season had a huge role in changing The Challenge, but it certainly impacted MTV. Not only was The Real World forever changed, but MTV saw a market in reality shows over-saturated in drama. The premise of the Vegas season was really this: a group of strangers embark on a half-year vacation while their biggest vices and mistakes are filmed. In many way, I think shows like Jersey Shore or Laguna Beach only exist because of the Vegas season. The Real World became MTV’s way to experiment to Real TV trends and this season was a very successful experiment.
Where it failed was in attracting longterm fans. Many of the Vegas fans were the type of fickle viewers who would abandon a show half-way through because the drama become stale. There’s a reason Las Vegas is the only “Reunited” Real World season. It was a moment in time that no one wanted to relive five years later. Of course it was a success, but it wasn’t going to last forever.