Imagine seven strangers trapped in a strange land, forced to rely on each other for social interaction. Gilligan's Island? Naw, it's MTV's very popular Real World. For the uninitiated, this cable show dispatches a seven-pack of physically attractive college students to a major US city, where every moment of their lives for half a year is videotaped, edited, and screened for a ravenous television audience.
In each of the past eight years, Bunim-Murray Productions has granted these lucky youngsters a six-month stay in a cool pad, a few bucks for school, and enough embarrassing moments captured on video to plague them for the rest of their lives. Last year, the Real World gang hit Seattle, with a bunch of them apparently cast along the theme of "followers." Viewers were treated to the sight of seven dizzy kids wandering around Puget-opolis wondering aloud what to do next. Gripping television to be sure.
But this spectacle still didn't produce enough money to make the producers happy. So last season's seven kids (later six, as one wisely split town) were exploited to the max. The money-making schemes included follow-up specials, an outtake video, and a book featuring the innermost thoughts of the cast members (who—surprise!--all turned out to be mirror-gazers rather than navel-gazers). But the Seattle series proved the genesis of an idea brought to its ultimate extreme this year: Sell the kids' stuff!
Actually last year's event was fairly low-key. The IKEA furniture from their dream Pier 70 digs was peddled to the public at a "garage sale" at the Swedish firm's plush Tukwila outlet store.
But, leave it to the stunning success of eBay online auctions to trigger Bunim-Murray's lust for cash. This year's MTV online garage sale gave Real World enthusiasts the opportunity to bid on damn near everything in the kids' plush, beachside Hawaiian house. And bid they did.
OK, it's probably no big deal that somebody paid $22,002 for the full-size pool table that dominated their home/set. It stands on hand-carved tiki wood legs and the felt is silk-screened with a map of the Hawaiian Islands. It also got mucho camera time, as every important event took place either there or at the kitchen table (curiously not included in the auction—perhaps it's sitting in storage, its value climbing at twice the price of gold).
But, how can you explain the $340 purchase price for the kitchen toaster? The toaster, dammit! Even the auctioneers admit that it's only in fair condition and doesn't come with the original manual. At least two of the slots are large enough to toast bagels.
And just who paid $840 for the weird-looking wastebasket from the home office? Yeah, it's stylish ("a funky modern design," according to the catalog), but nothing you couldn't get at the mall for sixty bucks. Let's not even speculate about the folks who made bids on the coffee maker or waffle iron (in almost perfect condition, as the kids didn't eat many waffles).
But here's the real capper—they even sold the comforters off each cast member's bed (coming next year—underpants). Actually, this was the most interesting item in the auction, as the differing sale prices tell us much about the audience's impression of the different cast members. In descending order of sale prices we have:
*Colin ($3,000): The buff if somewhat dim-witted surfer boy was the cast's male hottie and, due to his brief relationship with castmate Amaya, his comforter was the most likely to be properly broken in, if you get my drift.
*Ruthie ($2,500): This foxy local gal got naked the most and her struggles with alcoholism were the season's major plot line. (Note to buyers: the Jack Daniels stains have been dry-cleaned away).
*Amaya ($2,425): The clingy UCLA sorority babe was probably the cast's sex star, notching three bedmates and an STD scare.
*Matt ($1,001): The auction catalog insists that the three orange comforters (Ruthie, Amaya, and Matt) were the most popular with viewers, who wrote in and asked where they could be purchased. Otherwise, there's no logical explanation as to why anyone would want to share the same bed covers with this smarmy, pint-sized weasel.
*Justin ($1,000): Although he never did or said much, this Harvard law student was probably the smartest and most normal cast member, until he flamed out with a bizarre round of cruel manipulations of his castmates, then fled back to Texas.
*Kaia ($999): Likeable at times, this rail-thin Berkeley coed ultimately proved too pretentious and self-absorbed to notch the comforter prize. Call her Margaret—her parents did.
*Teck ($951): The low price of comforter resale is yet another indignity of being the token African-American member of the Real World cast. Screw the bidders—this preacher's kid from Illinois maintained his wacky personality even as everyone else turned to whining—and was everyone's favorite cast member by the end.
One more thing: In a blatant attempt to keep interest in the series alive between seasons, the MTV Web site now features a weekly analysis of each episode of the Hawaii show, conducted by two former Real World cast members and a real-life astrologer. But how are they going to make a buck off of that?
James Bush is a staff writer at Seattle Weekly.