When Kevin Powell went on “The Real World: New York,” the first season of the MTV reality series, he and his cast mates were experiencing a tumultuous United States, including the Los Angeles riots.

“When we did the show in ’92, it’s all the stuff happening in the world. Now we do it again, it’s COVID happening, a global pandemic,” Powell told senior TV features editor Danielle Turchiano in the Variety Streaming Room presented by MTV. “We felt completely safe and open and vulnerable. And just like the first time around, we just gave of ourselves because we knew that this was important.”

On the heels of “The Real World Homecoming: New York,” which reunited the series’ original cast 30 years later, Powell sat down with “The Real World” and “The Challenge” executive producers Jon Murray and Julie Pizzi and fellow cast member Eric Nies; “The Challenge” executive producer Danny Wascou; and “Real World”; and “The Challenge” alumni Leroy Garrett and Nany González, who both appeared on “The Real World: Las Vegas” and “The Challenge.” The group reflected on the power of reality television and how the series have evolved over the years, capturing the “The Real World” and “The Challenge’s” adaptability for even the social media age.

“Reality TV shows like ‘The Real World’ have said, ‘This is a way for people to have conversation,’ Powell explained. “Even if they’re sometimes uncomfortable, even if we disagree, this is actually what our country in this world needs, people of different backgrounds willing to talk with and listen to each other.”

For “Real World Homecoming,” Murray explained, “We just embraced all the craziness.” This includes Nies having COVID and not being able to film in person with the rest of the cast, as well as Becky Blasband leaving mid-season.

Unlike the original season, this time around the show is in a television landscape stacked with endless options of reality shows. To stand apart, Murray knows the answer to better television is transparency.

“Reality audiences are smart,” he said. “They know when it’s like a bad scripted drama. I’ve learned that the more you stay focused on the truth, the better the storytelling will be.”

In 1992, “Cops” was TV’s closest iteration of reality programming, so when “The Real World” hit MTV, it truly was a “social experiment.” What’s more, it platformed social issues and a cast who offered the diverse representation audiences so badly needed. As Nies sees it, “The Real World” serves as a space for healing.

“We really need to save ourselves and save each other,” Nies said. “That to me is what ‘Homecoming’ was all about. And there’s a massive opportunity to continue this really beautiful and meaningful spiritual work and utilizing media to do that.”

Watch the full conversation above.