No joke: 'Real World' audition challenges reality TV perceptions

Monday, March 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:36 a.m. CDT, Monday, March 9, 2009
Andrew Orozco fills out preliminary paperwork at "The Real World" casting call in Memorial Union on Saturday. Subsequent paperwork asked a variety of questions, some of which were rather personal. For example, one asked participants to describe their relationship with their parents.

COLUMBIA — Everyone I told about my plans to audition for MTV's “The Real World” on Saturday reacted in the same way. They laughed.  Then they asked if I was going to audition as myself.

My friend Melanie Morgan summed up everyone’s advice: “We need to make you a persona.”

I agreed. I didn’t think I had the reality TV demeanor. I don’t practice the exhibitionism that I thought a person would need to make it on such programming. Sure, I love attention  — I am writing a story about myself — but I don’t joyously proclaim my every inner feeling and conviction.

The premise of "The Real World" is that seven or eight strangers live together in a house for several months with the cameras on. It broke ground for reality TV when it began in 1992, and the casting-call stop at MU, one of 11 scheduled so far around the country, was for its 23rd season.

Besides not having the personality I thought I needed to succeed on the show, I am not a fan of reality TV. First and most obviously, reality TV doesn’t portray reality. The people are far too good-looking and the situations too contrived. Second, a show that claims to be real doesn’t appeal to me. If I wanted to experience reality, my first step would be to turn off the TV.

Still, auditioning sounded like fun, and I started thinking about how I could jazz myself up to appeal to the casting directors. But as I began to come up with material I felt I could pull off without breaking character or laughing, my editor stepped in. “You have to really want it,” she said. "Otherwise, don't go."

I’m competitive by nature. I like to strategize and analyze and calculate, but, most of all, I like to win. With new motivation, I locked my sights on “The Real World.” This was no longer a stunt.

I started pumping up my confidence early in the week, but I didn’t get a strong grip on what I was going to say until I was heading for the audition Saturday morning. With The Who blasting in my ear buds as I walked toward Memorial Union, I mined my head for anecdotes and gritty details, things that would leave an impression.

I came up with things I considered real and honest. But at the casting call, to my surprise, I found much more reality than I'd expected.

After I finished filling out a sign-in form and stapling my picture to it, assistants began counting off the applicants in groups of 10 and led us into the next stage: the group interview. Casting director Kasha Foster later told me that about 300 people auditioned, with a rush coming about 4 p.m.

My group was led to a table headed by Foster, who has worked for other shows including “Laguna Beach” and “The Simple Life.” And here's where my shock at what other people had to say almost struck me speechless.

One applicant mentioned how his childhood obesity marred his self-confidence to this day. Another showed the scar on his brow from when he was randomly assaulted by a group of drunken minors outside a bar, and he spoke about how the broken jaw he received forced him to eat liquid food for a month. One woman confessed that, if she had the chance to repeat her life, she would not have had an abortion.

If I hadn’t been afforded the distraction of being chosen to move ahead to the second round of auditioning, I would have been heartbroken. I had not expected to encounter such raw, naked reality at a casting call like this. Real people showed up and told real stories.

The second phase of the audition continued to reverse my reality TV bias. The 16-page questionnaire was hyper-personal, asking about my relationships with my parents and siblings, which physical or personality features I would change about myself and about times I’ve been ashamed of how I treated people. It was the first real look I had given my life at least since making a choice about which college to attend.

After finishing the packet, I handed it to the assistant sitting at the desk. She told me I’d hear back that evening about whether I’d be accepted for the next round of casting. Honestly, as I left Memorial Union, I was divided on whether I wanted to be called back. Sure, I’d enjoy the fame.

But I don’t know if I could handle the reality.

Andrew Orozco, 19, a sophomore from Lewisville, Texas, was called back a third time and appeared before casting directors for a video interview Sunday morning. However, he had to agree to no longer write about the experience. Orozco is studying magazine journalism and film studies at MU and this semester is on the features beat at the Columbia Missourian.

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Amber Hanneken March 9, 2009 | 10:24 a.m.

This was an interesting read. If Andrew does make it on the show will he miss school?

(Report Comment)
Jennifer Gerling March 9, 2009 | 11:47 p.m.

I have been through a lot to. That doesn't mean I will tell complete strangers the first time I meet them. Those people were confessing their intimate life stories in order to get on the show. It was obvious.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand March 10, 2009 | 9:28 a.m.

Dorm life sucks. Why would you want to subject yourself to basically the same thing all over again?

(Report Comment)
melquita Wilkons August 31, 2009 | 7:46 p.m.

This was a nice story... i too hope to be on the real world i did some research on season 23, it was supposed to be for people who have been through tragic things or hope to find long lost family members... so its basically gonna be another serious season much like season 21, season 22 was another drama filled "FUN" season in a vacation spot and i hope that 24 is the same way lol

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