MTV's 'The Real World' going "old school" for twentieth season casting
By Christopher Rocchio and Steve Rogers, 03/22/2007
In a move would seem to mark an acknowledgement that the once groundmaking reality series has lost its way and devolved into little more than several months of drunken partying, fights and hookups in recent seasons; MTV's The Real World has announced a "back to basics" approach to the casting of its upcoming twentieth edition.
"We're trying to get back a little bit to the roots of the show, getting some people on who come into the house with goals, career goals and certain things they want to achieve like way back at the beginning of the show," Damon Furberg, The Real World's supervising cast director, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a recent interview.
Although The Real World's casting department has discouraged people who have "entertainment industry-related goals" in the past, that won't be the case during the show's twentieth season housemate search. "This time actually we're looking for some people like that," Furberg told the Sentinel.
According to The Real World's twentieth season casting call notices, "aspiring actors, models, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, athletes, artists, journalists, stylists, and fashion designers are particularly encouraged to apply, as well as anyone else with interesting career goals and a passion to succeed."
During the interview, Furberg offered up his own explanation for why the show's recent casts haven't been as diverse as its earlier editions.
"I think the age-range of the show has shifted younger, and there certainly are different priorities in that age range," he told the Sentinel. "But also, I kind of can't help but wonder if it's a generational thing. I think every generation has somewhat different priorities and maybe that has a little bit to do with it."
With casting for the twentieth installment of MTV's The Real World set to get underway in coming weeks, Furberg described the casting process as a balancing act. He said "if everybody's well adjusted, the show is boring," but "if everybody's too messed up, it's not something we want to involve ourselves in."
"We think about things in more broad terms then what I think people realize," Furberg told the Sentinel. "It's kind of more like, 'Alright, how do we get a good mix of people in here.' Because the idea is that, what the show is based on is you take people who wouldn't normally meet in everyday life and you put them together and see what happens. So obviously you don't want a homogenous group of people, otherwise there's nothing for them to talk about. And on the flip side of that, it's a balancing act. Because you want to have people who have enough in common that they are able to forge bonds with each other but that have enough differences that there is going to be a little bit of conflict. But you can't have too much of either one."
Furberg has been involved with casting for The Real World since its twelfth installment, and has since helped determine housemates for Las Vegas, San Diego, Austin, Key West, and Denver, as well as the currently filming nineteenth edition in Sydney, Australia. With several seasons of casting under his belt, Furberg said "sometimes people give us a little more credit then we deserve for being puppet masters of some sort."
"The fun thing about the show -- and sometimes for somebody in my position, one of the most frustrating things about the show -- is that people are completely unpredictable," he told the Sentinel. "We've been doing this for a long time, we like to think we're good at it, but nonetheless, we certainly make guesses and assumptions about how people are going to act towards each other, how they might behave, who's going to do what, who's going to smooch who and what have you. But we're wrong a lot of the time. Sometimes we nail it. To be honest with you, those sort of predictions we kind of just do for fun, it doesn't really have anything to do with making our decisions of who to put on the show."
As MTV and Bunim-Murray Productions continue to crank out new editions of The Real World, Furberg said that's made it harder for the show's casting department.
"I would say lately, one of the biggest things that we struggle with is, oddly enough, too much familiarity with reality television and with the show," he told the Sentinel. "We certainly love to cast people who are fans of the show, but we don't want to cast people who feel like emulating behavior that they've seen on the show or acting like a particular person that we've already seen."
Furberg provided an example, referencing the popular David "Puck" Rainey, who got kicked-off the show's third edition that was filmed in San Francisco and aired in 1994.
"I almost immediately tune-out when somebody sits down and says, 'I'm just like Puck.' Because I'm like, well, Puck was cool... he was definitely one of the biggest personalities we've had on the show, but we already had Puck on the show. We don't need Puck Jr," Furberg told the Sentinel. "It's sort of a backwards way of saying we're always looking for something we've never seen before, someone we've never seen before. If you're going to come in and flat out tell me you're like somebody we've already had, that's not in your best interest."
To make the tightrope walk even more difficult, Furberg said some of "hardest moments" casting has is when ultimately deciding who to put in the house.
"Those moments where you have somebody who is just an incredibly interesting person and filled with drama and has all kinds of issues that they're dealing with and so forth," Furberg told the Sentinel. "But you have to step back and say, 'Alright. Is this experience going to be healthy for them? Is it going to be safe for them?' And those are questions we do ask."
During the interview, Furberg also discussed Paula Meronek, a housemate on The Real World: Key West, who had body-image problems, enjoyed drinking heavily and also claimed to be physically abused by her boyfriend.
"That was an interesting situation because I think that if you ask her about it today, I think she feels like she got a lot out of the experience, despite the fact she struggled a lot and went through a lot of things," Furberg told the Sentinel. "There are certainly many, many times when we get down to a point with someone where we say, 'No. This isn't right for them. It would be irresponsible to put this person in this situation.' And we don't cast them."
Despite his earlier comment that "if everybody's well adjusted, the show is boring," Furberg also refuted critics' accusations that The Real World bases some of its casting decisions on shock value.
"We don't want to see people crash and burn," he told the Sentinel. "Our agenda -- if it can be said that we even have one when we put somebody like that in the house -- is to hope that they're going to grow and change. They're going to come in as a flawed person like we all are, and maybe learn a little something and mature."