DOESN’T THIS GET ANNOYING?” she asked.
“Doesn’t what get annoying?” I said.
She was referring to the camera in our face and the boom mike hovering an inch over our heads. My denial of the existence of people taping our conversation was part something my six roommates and I had been asked to do, and part something that just became natural after five months of living in this strange environment.
We were living in MTV’s documentary series “The Real World,” a program that brings together a group of strangers who live in the same house for 22 weeks while all their activities, from the mundane to the profound, are recorded by video cameras.
I would like to think that the presence of the cameras didn’t affect my behavior, but obviously I didn’t pick my nose when they were around. At least I don’t think I did.
One day I did get out of bed naked and, being a little sleepy, didn’t realize there was a camera watching. Not a situation you want to be in, but I figured there’s no way MTV could show that. I hope!
On another occasion, there was a party at the house and this girl and I really got along. We decided to take a beach stroll, just so we could get to know each other better outside of the camera environment. The camera crew got wind of our plans and decided to follow. We tried to outrun them but, even with all their equipment, they were able to keep up with us. Another potential relationship lost.
Before I started this project I promised myself I would just be myself and do nothing out of the ordinary — nor would I refrain from doing anything — during the course of the 22 weeks. I was genuinely interested in seeing how the project would work out. I realize this is a rather utopian way of thinking, but my other alternative was to try and be someone else for 22 weeks.
It will probably be assumed we performed for the cameras. I can only speak for myself, but if anything, I may have held back because I didn’t want to appear “obnoxious” or be a “camera whore.” I’ve always tried to think before I speak — no matter where I am. I believe this to be a good trait.
The producers required that I spend one night a week at home with my roommates, with no music or TV; once a week I was interviewed by a director who asked questions regarding what was filmed that week. If it wasn’t filmed, it never happened.
This at first was hard to understand, but I tried really hard not to be concerned about how they ran the production. I was concerned with my day-to-day life.
Every day I called my contact, Matt, to tell him what I was planning to do, and the coordinators would decide if it was interesting enough to film. You soon learned that if you did anything with your roommates, they would film it.
THE WHOLE IDEA OF THE SHOW sounds completely absurd, but the strange thing was how quickly it all became normal. The crew must be bored out of their minds, I thought. I wanted to ask them how they felt, but as I was told, they didn’t exist.
Eventually, however, the crew took on a personality of their own. We even nicknamed them the “Trolls,” since at any moment, day or night, they might creep out of a “hidden” doorway in the kitchen area, behind which was their headquarters.
The house we lived in had six camera monitors and many more supposedly hidden microphones, which the roommates found on the first day. All of this was relayed to the Troll room, where directors told the Trolls what to film.
I went on two scheduled trips with my seven roommates: A camping trip to Joshua Tree and, near the end of our 22 weeks, a trip to the beautiful island of Cozumel.
The camping trip was strange, to say the least. There we were hiking through the desert with 60-pound backpacks, with two guides whom none of us liked, eating horrible food they supplied. We’d climb up a hill and there’d be a Betacam waiting for us. Around another rock was a different camera, complete with a boom mike, of course. In this deserted area were seven idiots being followed by acrew of 12 “that didn’t exist.”
I also took an unscheduled trip on my own when my father fell ill and came within seconds of death. It became imperative for me to see him. I was very concerned about how contrived it would look for me to be upset about my father. It’s not really possible to plan or prepare for the near-death of a parent.
I agreed to invite the cameras to my home in Ireland, but only after convincing my parents that what I was doing was a good thing. It was kind of tough.
MY PARENTS WERE A LITTLE SHOCKED when I arrived in Dublin airport with a four-man crew and 10 cases of equipment. My parents and sister were furnished with wireless mikes for the duration of my stay. They adjusted so quickly, and liked the attention so much, that Dad got upset one day when they took his mike off.
My relationships with my roommates ranged from very close to distant, just like real life. But since we were living under the same roof, we all made an attempt to get along.
There were many emotional highs and lows I went through during the five months. “What am I doing? Why am I doing this? Is this normal?”
With just a few weeks remaining we were informed by our contact that a psychiatrist would be made available to us for the six months of the show’s airing. This made all of us a little apprehensive.
Isn’t it normal to be followed every day by five cameras for five months while living with six strangers in a house none of us could afford? It seems strange that someone who reviews TV will now be reviewed by others. I hope they are kind. All I did was try to be myself; the situation was arranged, but everything that happened wasn’t.
As for the future, who knows. The last 22 weeks of my life were just that. They weren’t my whole life, but they were a part of my life that I won’t forget in a hurry.
The people at MTV tell me I’ll be recognized by others. If it becomes a problem, I’ll go talk to my psychiatrist. Oh, how Hollywood.
Dominic Griffin is a freelance writer who contributes television reviews to Daily Variety under the name Griffin Gilbert. “The Real World” is shown on MTV at 5 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays and 10 p.m. Thursdays.