The sun beats down on the concrete and lifeless buildings right outside of Las Olas in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The least likely place anyone would suspect to find five strangers who stopped being polite and started getting real.
The truth of the matter is that all of those actual strangers standing in line are nice enough and fantastically unreal -- two concepts that go seamlessly hand in hand in Fort Lauderdale where, despite being the Sunshine State, it often seems like ninety-nine percent of the time, only one percent of the population have real tans.
You're in the line at VIBE, midday, unassuming, and puffing on an electronic cigarette, because in an effort to, well, get real, you decided to stop smoking, turn the page, take some responsibility for yourself. You are a Daria in a sea of Brittanys, a Trent in a sea of Trevors. You are not really sure what you are doing here at twenty-seven years old, but for the thirtieth season of The Real World, rumored to be filmed in Miami, you'd find some disappointment in yourself for not showing up.
It's an homage of sorts. You grew up watching The Real World, probably lost a lot of decent sleep staying up to watch the show -- even from the early days of Pedro and Puck, Heather and Eric. It may even be possible that it taught you about the birds and the bees, though you've spent plenty of time in therapy working that out. And now at twenty-seven, here you are, in line after living a life worthy of being televised --or so we'd all so sickly and insanely like to think. You're puffing on nicotine vapor, wearing a slouchy pair of jeans that only started to fall off your white girl booty a few months ago when you moved back to Florida. A few years traveling, you return to find the rent is so expensive these days, you can barely manage to budget a tofu scramble.
Around you are delinquents dressed in brightly colored denim and cut-off jeans. Too much skin, too much hair, too much lip gloss. Then there are those who are way too flashy for the casting directors to even take seriously. These are the ones essentially in costume, looking like lizards out of Phish folklore and stalking perilously through the line to talk to the others about their chances, or even worse, encouraging each other.
You are aware, of course, that the rules for casting involve the stipulation of one "appearing" to be between the ages of twenty and twenty-four years old, but at twenty-seven, you still get carded for a pack of cigarettes and bouncers constantly side eye you.
Plus, your editor believes you can get away with it. The discussion was something like "Wasn't Montana like forty?" And you both laugh, but really, those people used to look so old to you. Lars, Puck, Irene, Montana... Even Ruthie, and she was on the youngest end of the spectrum.
They want to know your name and you contemplate furnishing the truth. While you contemplate this, you suddenly remember all of the casting specials for every season (because yes, you have seen every season in real time and also in the one hundredth marathon episode). Those casting videos were aired -- shamelessly and legally. Signing the bottom of this form confirms that you have a waning sense of shame and most likely no concept of remorse. Not only that, but you're ready to make sure everyone knows that, including any future employe, life partner, or arresting officer.
This form is what will propel the casting directors to ask the right questions that will thrust you into the reality television spotlight. You hold your breath for a minute and consider the consequences. Gone are the days of acquiring a VJ position based on your outrageous behavior on the show, and slim are the chances of your weathered physique winning a spot on Real World/Road Rules Challenge -- which at some point must pay. Why else why would these reoccurring characters continue to make a career out of novelty episodes?
Wait, no. It's Gauntlet or whatever now.
You certainly won't be an Eric Nies. You're twenty-seven for Christ's sake!
The fear suddenly sets in. Your once fearless twenty-something heart is compelled to do the right thing. You stop with the form as your pre-adolescent dreams of reality stardom crash to a rude, grinding halt, leaving you with the psychosomatic symptoms of whiplash, though you've only shuffled ten feet in the last two hours. You now realize that the twenty to twenty-four age range makes so much sense now.
Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray knew what they were doing all those years ago, and it's just you and them and a forest full of trees, and only trees.
You take one last look at the pups in line, dressed to the nines, representing decades glad to have never met them. You stride your ass right by YOLO, and cross the street. Timpano's just opened for the day, and none of those babies will find you there enjoying a single malt in a dimly lit lounge, giving thanks to the universe for your ability to remain (for the most part) polite and understand what it is to be real -- even without a house full of cast mates.
Though, there's still that part of you that wants a spare bedroom for a video confessional.