Last year, during The Challenge off season, I wrote about a few seasons that changes the trajectory for the Real World/Road Rules/ Challenge franchise (Inferno 3, Real World: Las Vegas, Rivals 2, Road Rules Maximum Velocity Tour, Real World: Brooklyn, and The Gauntlet). We’re back in the off season, so I wanted to pick up this series of posts. This time, I want to look at the season that essentially killed the original Real World, the St. Thomas season.
This was the first Real World first I ever covered as it actually aired, so I was hyper aware of all of the issues that plague the season. I will be honest, this season seemed set up to fail. The second episode aired on the 4th of July, it overlapped with the summer Olympics, and Dish Network stopped airing Viacom networks (including MTV) for a period of time during St. Thomas’s airing. Ratings were bound to be poor, and they weren’t great, but there were other issues with this season.
The Real World: St Thomas showed how stale the show had become. It had a lot of elements for successful seasons, but it didn’t seem to connect with viewers. There were friendships like Marie & LaToya, couples like Trey & Laura and Robb & Marie, there was even some jealousy between Brandon, Trey, and Laura.
Still, nothing felt unique. We’d seen all of this stuff before and there wasn’t a compelling reason to watch this season. Plus, their island was pretty isolated. They didn’t leave the house as much because they needed to take a water taxi to get to restaurants and bars. This resulted in the season turning into a prank war.
I think back to the trailer and the “shocking moments from the season. All of them seem very surface. Robb supposedly went into a fit of self-hard. While he did, it was also treated as a drunken episode and not discussed much in later episodes. Trey had a girlfriend back home, but her issues were kept private and we didn’t learn much from him. Brandon got kicked off for cocaine use, but he never got a replacement and his drug use wasn’t treated as a big issue throughout the season. The deeper story lines that made us connect with cast members just weren’t there this season.
I truly believe this season is when it clicked for MTV. Putting seven people in a house is not enough to guarantee a show. Yes, the Portland season maintained the traditional Real World format, but production would even admit this season was grandfathered into production. Plus, that season gave us an organic twist: the entrance of Hurricane Nia. Is it a coincidence that the next two seasons, the first with twists, would introduce the twists as people entering the house? It seems like the drama created by a new roommate was the story line production wanted.
St. Thomas has a lot of the pieces to be successful. In 2006 it probably would have been successful, but the format of The Real World had been beaten to death by that point. St. Thomas is a widely forgotten season, and when people talk about The Real World they won’t be talking about St. Thomas. But the season did give us Marie, so one good thing did come from it.