Kyle Brandt ’01

Real World: Chicago (2002)

Real World, first broadcast in 1992, is the longest-running program on MTV, with its 23rd season airing last December. Moving to a different city each season, the show focuses on the lives of seven to eight strangers, ages 18–25, selected from thousands of applicants who audition to live together in a house for several months. Cameras throughout the house record the occupants’ day-to-day interpersonal relationships. The narration at the beginning of the show states some variation of the following: This is the true story ... of seven strangers ... picked to live in a house ... who work together and have their lives taped. ... To find out what happens ... when people stop being polite ... and start getting real ... The Real World.

Most vivid memory:

What I remember most is the onset of the experience — the open casting call at Triumph Brewery on Nassau Street. In 2001, the term “reality show” didn’t exist yet, and The Real World still felt innovative. It was a popular show on campus, and I remember watching it with my roommates and skewering the cast members. So when the show came to Princeton in the spring, it was like the circus was in town, especially since A Beautiful Mind was shooting on campus at the same time. I was a second-semester senior with little to do, so my friends and I had a few drinks and went to the open call, mostly to make fun of it. I remember there was a line out the door at Triumph, and some of the students in line acted like they were about to interview with Goldman Sachs. When my turn came up I made a few jokes at my own expense, and then four months later I moved into that house with six strangers. 

How far did you go on the show? 

I made it all the way to the end, which isn’t saying all that much because as long as you didn’t quit, take drugs, or punch any of your roommates — you made it to the end. In hindsight, a combination of all three would have made the experience a lot easier, but I’m proud of how I handled myself.  

Lessons learned:

Countless lessons learned. But there are two that come up the most often: 1) You’re not going to like the way you come off on the show, no matter what. Seeing yourself on one of these shows is like hearing your voice on a recording — it always sounds unfamiliar and unsettling. 2) If you appear on a reality show, be prepared to answer questions about it for the rest of your life. The experience is indelible. It doesn’t matter what you accomplish in your life, that’s what people want to ask you about. I could find the cure for cancer, and when I held a press conference to make the announcement, there would be a question from the back of the room about, “What was it like to live with all those cameras?” That’s a popular one. So is, “Was it actually ‘real’ or was it edited?” And of course, “Would you do it again?” is another staple. 

So here we go: Would you do it again?

An excellent question: Would I do it now? Absolutely not. There are lots of opportunities to keep the party going or just revisit that world by appearing on any of MTV’s spinoff shows, but those have never interested me. Not that wrestling my roommate to win a Saturn or zip-lining in the Bahamas doesn’t sound like a good time, but I’ve grown out of that wear-a-bandana-on-my-head-while-I-shoot-Jager-on-camera phase. Retroactively, yes, I would have made the same decision. Despite the emotional toll it took, which was ample, the four months I spent on the show were still rewarding. A lot of graduates go abroad with friends after college. I went to Chicago and made some eccentric new ones — even if I’m in touch with only one or two of them today.

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