When you talk about reality TV, it’s practically criminal not to discuss MTV’s The Real World. The trailblazing show has been around for more than 20 years and spans 30 seasons of catfights, boozy hook-ups, and—believe it or not—genuine moments that still impact culture. It’s not all shock-and-awe trash fare, my friends.
In its lengthy run, The Real World has tackled issues like race relations, AIDS, physical abuse, and even pornography. In some instances, The Real World was the first show to cover these topics on television. So, yeah, this shizz is actually iconic.
These 15 watershed moments perfectly capture why The Real World is very important to reality TV history. This might sound corny, but it truly was the first TV show to get, well, real.
Check out more from VH1’s month-long Keepin’ It Real reality TV package.
The Real World: New York (1992)—Racial tensions run high.
Julie Gentry and Kevin Powell’s fight about the prevalence of racism in the ’90s prompted IRL debates about the issue. We’re still having similar conversations today.
The Real World: Los Angeles (1993)—David Edwards becomes the first cast member to leave the show.
After getting into a physical tussle with roommate Tami Roman, David is asked by his housemates to GTFO. Early departures have since become a staple of The Real World and many other shows.
The Real World: San Francisco (1994)—Pedro Zamora copes with AIDS, commits to his partner on screen.
Pedro is one of the first openly gay men with AIDS featured on television. His openness about the disease made him one of the season’s most beloved characters. Plus, his commitment ceremony with Sean Sasser was the first gay union aired on television.
The Real World: Seattle (1998)—Irene McGee gets slapped for outing a housemate.
Stephen Williams slaps Irene in the face after she accuses him of being gay. This sent shockwaves around the country, and the incident quickly became known as the “slap heard around the world.” Although he did later come out as gay, and violence is wrong, it’s still foul to out someone against their will.
The Real World: New Orleans (2000)—”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” makes an appearance.
Something strange happens to Danny Roberts’ boo Paul when he comes to visit: His face appears blurred out on TV. And the reason may surprise you: Paul was in the military at the time, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still very much a thing.
The Real World: Back to New York (2001)—The casting process goes (quasi) public for the first time.MTV
A casting special aired before this season began where 20 potential housemates spent time together to gauge who had chemistry. Finally, MTV opened the “How the hell do you get in the house?!” curtain.
The Real World: Chicago (2002)—The roommates watch the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on TV.
This one will break your heart.
The Real World: Las Vegas (2002)—The first threesome airs on TV.
It seems silly and raunchy, but this actually broke many sexual taboos. Trishelle Cannatella, Steven Hill and Brynn Smith’s ménage-à-trois proved that real people, not just porn stars, can get freaky. And it’s 100 percent OK.
The Real World: Paris (2003)—The Chris “CT” Tamburello and Adam King feud begins.
This European altercation was the first of a few knock-down, drag-out fights between these two. Oy.
The Real World: Denver (2006)—Brooke LaBarbera has her legendary meltdown.
When Jenn Grijalva calls Brooke a “whore,” she kind of freaks out a little. OK…a lot. It is, hands down, the Citizen Kane of Real World freak-outs. Bravo.
The Real World: Hollywood (2008)—Producers offer to send a cast member to rehab.
Fed up with his housemates, Joey Kovar has an onscreen chat with producers about his alcohol problems. They offer Joey the opportunity to enter a treatment program and then come back on the show—proof not all TV people are red devils.
The Real World: Brooklyn (2009)—The show welcomes its first openly transgender housemate.
Katelynn Cusanelli was one of the first real trans people on network TV.
The Real World: Las Vegas (2011)—A cast member reveals he starred in adult videos.
Heather Marter finds out that her boyfriend Dustin Zito made cash doing gay porn. Their emotional confrontation was easily a season highlight.
The Real World: St. Thomas (2012)—Robb Schreiber abuses himself on camera.
It’s a disturbing scene, but it shed light on the self-harming epidemic among young people.
The Real World: Portland (2013)—Dog poop-gate.
Nia Moore was not too pleased after she stepped in Averey Tressler’s dog’s poop. And she let her anger come out—via hairdryer.