I have procrastinated writing this recap. I have been clinging to my chair. But I know that my time has come, that time always comes, just as housemates always leave their Real World homes, one by one, in what has become a predictably orchestrated long goodbye designed to wring the bittersweet out of this Last Time Ever milestone. Those moments that hang in the air and are strung together with the hum of Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” “Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You,” and Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me.)”
You think that you’re stronger than all of that treacly trickle. That you…will…not…cry. But for Gen X-ers watching this final episode in the Real World Homecoming short series, it’s impossible not to cry.
You can trick yourself into thinking you’re crying because the fucking pandemic makes you cry about everything.
You can trick yourself into thinking you’re crying because they totally played Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” as the outro.
You can trick yourself into thinking you’re crying because that goddamn Becky has worked your last nerve.
You can trick yourself about all of these things, but the reason you’re crying is because this show forces you to face your mortality and bury your lost youth once and for all.
The original show in 1992 was fizzy with hopes and dreams and you remember how you felt in 1992 when the world was in front of you. Now it’s 30 years later and things are… fine? You still have hopes and dreams, but they are much less fizzy. But the thing you can’t escape is knowing that there will not be another reunion in 30 years. If there is, it will likely be much smaller. And they certainly won’t be camping out in a loft all willy-nilly. Perhaps they will gather in a Real World-branded assisted living center.
Eric said in an earlier interview about the reality show genre he and his six loftmates ignited: “The world needed this to evolve.” I don’t believe it. The reality show genre devolved from the moment The Real World aired in 1992. The most common catchphrase of reality TV is: “I’m not here to make friends.” The Real World was built on the concept of bringing people together from different backgrounds to see if they could become friends. And they did become friends. Even Becky. Most reality TV that came after that first Real World season was about competing and elbowing people out of the way. Even the Real World franchise was overshadowed and eventually overtaken by the Challenges, which started in 1998, a mere six years after the first Real World season. Regardless, I am a sucker for it all and I, too, have certainly devolved since 1992.
So, where’s the recap, huh? OK, OK, here it is:
This final episode picks up where the last one ended: Kevin is upset about his phone call with Becky. The loftmates join Kevin in the living room and he discusses the ill-fated conversation. Heather B. brings him a glass of water in a sweet and doting way. He says: “I love Becky, but sometimes you have to let people go.” There was a lot more said, but let’s not waste any more time on Becky and just let her go. Bye, Becky.
There’s a knock on the door and the surprise guests who break through the fourth wall are Jonathan Murray, the co-creator of the Real World, and George Verschoor, the director and producer of the first season. It’s here we learn that many of the loftmates have had long-standing relationships with the production crew from the show, casting an even wider net of friendship than we had previously seen.
The two Real World honchos told the cast that they could ask them anything. And we hear from Heather, and this is when I blew through all my hankies. She told them she was upset because they filmed her going out to dinner with her father and then never aired it. She rightfully critiques this absence from a racial perspective saying that they didn’t even know how to tell the story of a Black girl’s loving relationship with her father. To prepare for this season, I re-watched all of the original season and afterward I wondered why there was no footage of Heather and her family since she said over and over that she was close with them. I figured it was because her parents didn’t want to be on TV, but the truth was harder to take. Jonathan Murray apologizes to Heather. And then they air a cobbled-together segment of them going out to dinner with the old footage and I fucking lose it. I’m bawling because her dad is now dead (like many of our dads) and it’s much too late. But I’m also crying some white lady tears because in 1992 it would have seemed natural to me to focus on Julie and Eric at the cost of airtime to others (who are of course just the supporting players) because THAT’S JUST THE WAY IT IS, DUH. So many lost opportunities for so many because of white supremacy, homophobia, misogyny, etc. and I accepted it as just the way it is. Fuck, tears are colliding with Dorito dust on my keyboard right this very second. I now wonder about everything they didn’t air to show more shirtless Eric Nies.
[I have slapped some cold water on my face and I am back.]
Next, they have a sweet little surprise party for Julie that Heather put together. It’s Julie’s birthday, but Heather jokes that it’s also for Eric and Kevin because she ruined their birthday party in 1992 when she hit a guest and the cops came.
And then it’s a flow of memories. They splice footage of original interviews with the cast about whether they think they would remain friends with their castmates in the far future and it’s something they all say yes to. And they also discuss their relationship with their audience. Kevin talks about how he has learned to leave shame he had about being connected with the show behind and to embrace his relationship with the Real World. “We belong to all these people,” he says of the audience.
Norm sums up what made this first reality show season so different than what came next. “Friends are real,” he simply says.
Cue: “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”