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Two weeks into Real World: Key West, and the season is still looking surprisingly strong. For a moment, I thought everything might just fall apart as this latest episode plunged us into a silly argument about bar-hopping, but oddly enough, even that conflict turned out to be curiously engaging. It wasn’t just drunk people fighting for the sake of the camera. It was drunk people trying to grapple with new values, new experiences, and new parameters. Kind of. Don’t get me wrong — it was still a seriously dumb spat, but at least there was a sense of learning and contemplation, unlike with last season’s endless parade of Dizzy Rooster dramas.
Of course, this episode wasn’t just about one crazy night in Key West. It was about one crazy girl in Key West too: Paula! Actually, I’m not gonna say she’s crazy because that’s a little cruel, even by my standards. I will, however, say that she’s seriously f’ed up, and her battle with anorexia — as well as a handful of other deep issues — has become the transfixing signature of this season already. I feel torn when I watch her. On the one hand, I feel like her plight is probably hard enough on its own. Does she really need to be stuck in this high-stress, chaotic environment? And isn’t there something mildly exploitative about the whole thing? But then again, there’s also something fascinating about Paula, and the idealist in me thinks that this could somehow help thousands of girls across the country. At the end of the day though, it’s good television, and that’s really what it’s all about, people. Right? (Why do I feel like a jerk for saying that?)This week’s episode began with the whole gang rising and shining and heading off to breakfast. Well, almost the whole group. Paula was still asleep on the couch, still recovering the previous night’s emotional meltdown / scary hyperventilation. Everyone thought it would probably be best to let her sleep it off, so they just let her be. Besides, this way everyone could talk about her behind her back.
We then cut to a crab walking along the sidewalk — symbolic of something I suppose, not sure what — and then we found our gang of six marching down the street, looking for a good breakfast joint. A kindly old man who may or may not have been completely out of his mind invited the kids in for breakfast, but they just smiled politely and moved on. They ultimately wound up at a place called “Blue Heaven,” which probably could be named “Empty Heaven” — not a lot of patrons. Still, the roommies didn’t mind, and so they sat down for their meal and commenced the gossip.
“You ever meet somebody who says that they’re deeply, deeply saddened by something?” Svetlana asked, in regards to Paula.
“I’m deeply saddened by your feigned interest in this,” Tyler replied in the unnecessarily instigative manner we all so predicted last week. He then went on to question Svetlana’s motives, saying, “Are you really hurting about this?” She didn’t know quite what to say. There was a combination of guilt, shock, and confusion on her face, and even though Tyler had called her out, Svetlana kept to her line, and insisted that she really did care. “I’m just joking around you,” Tyler suddenly said, serving up the morning’s lamest retreat. True, Svetlana probably didn’t truly care about Paula at the same level as, say, her parents or best friends. But it sounded like she cared enough. It was a bit rude for Tyler to attack her so quickly. But then again, this is The Real World. We don’t tune in for the civil behavior.
Well, Svetlana babbled on about Paula, surmising that her problems most likely stemmed from her dad or the men in her life. “Oh my god! You don’t know shit!” Tyler rebuked, again for no real reason — except, of course, to brew up drama and conflict. Luckily, none of the roommates gave in, and nothing really became of it.
Meanwhile, back at the house, Paula had woken up and was now red-faced with embarrassment over her behavior the night before. “I am twenty-four years old, and I’m the only one who couldn’t keep it together,” she said. And so, what else is a girl to do but to hop into a kayak and (to paraphrase Enya) row away, row away, row away. Paula eventually returned from her little excursion and had a heart to heart with Jose, saying “I feel like everybody has already judged and labeled me as girl with issues.” Now why would they say that? Just because you’re a girl with issues? That’s like calling a black girl, “a black girl.” People are just ridiculous.
Anyway, Paula’s biggest fear was that people would treat her differently and walk on eggshells around her. She didn’t want everyone to worry that she was going to freak out every time they went out drinking. You know, like the first time they went out… and the second time… okay, every time they’ve gone out.
Later, we found Tyler and Zach chillin’ out on the porch during some afternoon showers. They were having a conversation that amazingly wasn’t about Paula. It was about the whole house. You see, after Zach had announced that he hadn’t eaten that day, Tyler revealed that he was concerned about everyone’s eating habits. At this point, I was hoping that Svetlana would appear out of nowhere and ask, “Are you concerned? Are you REALLY concerned?”
Turns out that Tyler’s concern was not necessarily his roommate’s health, but more his own psychological well-being. He explained that in the gay community, image is so strongly emphasized that if he’s around people who are constantly dieting or working out, he was afraid that he might get caught up in it. I would be more concerned for the ano girl in the house, but that’s just me.
But enough with all these serious issues. These people need to be getting drunk, STAT! And so we moved ahead to later that night as everyone prepared to go out. Just another exciting jaunt to the club. But wait, this wasn’t the typical foray into the Key West bar scene. That night, everyone would be going to a gay club for Studio 54 night. Might this be a recipe for drama? Well, judging by the rumbling thunder outside the house, I’d say yes. Sure enough, there was resistance to the gay club, but not by John or Jose or Zach. It was Svetlana who had the most apprehension.
“I’m just picturing like really young boys hooking up with older men,” she explained. Sounds like someone’s been spending too much time at the NAMBLA website. Nevertheless, Svetlana was totally unhinged as she announced, “I will vomit.” Uh, maybe you don’t want to say that in front of Paula.
Well, Tyler joined the conversation and asked Svetty to express what was really bothering her. She responded with a convoluted answer that had something to do with young boys who didn’t know if they were gay flocking to the club and… oh, I don’t know. From what I could discern, she was just afraid she’d see a lot of impressionable youths being lured into a lifestyle of hedonism and sodomy. And she just wanted to protect them, dammit! “That’s very caring of you,” Tyler said. Hey, what happened to Breakfast Tyler? The guy who practically sucker punched Svetlana every time she said something naive or misguided? Anyway, Svetlana got over her issues (honestly, she could have just said that she was underage and solved the whole thing), and everyone headed out.
At the (empty-ish) club, the group encountered some sort of drag show which resulted in John winding up on stage with his shirt unbuttoned. A few drinks and ass-smackings later, John decided he was ready for another bar, and so he and the guys left, causing the other roommates to follow suit. This predictably annoyed Tyler, especially when they all wound up at an Irish Pub. So then he and Janelle hightailed it back to the gay bar, complaining that they ever had to leave in the first place. It made sense for them to go back. After all, he was gay, and she sort of looked like a man in drag. Then next thing you know, Zach was talking about how he wanted to go back to the gay bar because he wanted to dance (swishy swishy!), and I couldn’t help thinking that as petty as this entire controversy was, at least there was some strange universal element to it. I mean, how often have you been out with a group of friends and then everyone splinters off and people get mad and then blah blah blah it becomes a whole big, stupid deal? Truthfully, I’d rather see the roommates kvetch about this junk than the ridiculous antics from Austin (Wes and the groupie drawer, anyone?). All in all, everyone wound up in the bar and club they wanted to be in, so that should be the end of that, right? Not so much.
“OMG!! I’M POINTING INDISCRIMINATELY AT SOMETHING!!! OMG!!!”
Later that night, everyone wound up in the backyard, playing in the pool and whatnot, when Tyler and John got into a little squabble. Tyler was mad that John had left the gay bar and taken everyone with him. John, meanwhile, was mad that he had put in the effort to hang out in Tyler’s bar whereas Tyler had only stayed like one minute in John’s bar. Commence the eye rolling now, America. Well, ultimately, John did what he seems to do best, go for the low blow: “I’m so glad everyone convinced me to hang out with homos tonight and not my own peeps. It’s fine dude.” Great. Everyone buckle your seatbelts. Time for another classic Real World fight.
Amazingly, Tyler didn’t explode at John. Sure, he got mad, but he kept his composure. Then again, he really didn’t have time to get that crazy because in an effort to diffuse the tension, John grabbed Tyler’s legs and knocked him into the pool. Yay! Awkward resolution!
We then cut to commercial, and when we returned, the argument was actually still going on, but now Tyler had his shirt off and was squaring off with John in the pool. The rest of the roommates, meanwhile, were all lounging around, quietly watching and snacking on chips and guacamole. It was like they were us at home, except getting to watch the show live.
Anyway, after Tyler and John had babbled on long enough, Janelle finally rose up and talked some sense into the boys, saying that the evening wasn’t about gay or straight. It was about the group going one place for someone and then backing out. This caused John to have a moment of clarity (as much as someone like John can have a moment of clarity), and he announced, “People like different things… he likes one place; I like a different place.” Sadly, he did not then quote Donald Trump, who famously spoke, “That’s why they have menus in restaurants, you know? I like steak, somebody else likes spaghetti. That’s why they have menus in restaurants. It’s a great world.”
I think somebody just peed in the jacuzzi!
Later that night, Janelle and Tyler relaxed on the hammock and further discussed the debate, eventually coming to see John’s point of view and respecting it. The whole dustup ended with Tyler then approaching John, clearing the air, and then offering to shake on it. “I don’t want a handshake. I want a hug,” John said. Aww. How very Iceman and Maverick.
With the great Bar Hopping Controversy of 2006 put behind us, we could then focus on other things, like good ol’ Paula. The next day, we found our girl lounging in the hammock, enjoying the weather and possibly on the verge of hyperventilation. Meanwhile, upstairs, Janelle learned something rather disturbing: Paula’s been taking diet pills. From the internet. Great.
Cut to nighttime, and we found the whole gang at a bar getting drunk. Paula, remarkably, was not crying or gasping for breath. Instead, she was dancing up on some stage or tabletop, having a blast. We then frantically moved back and forth between her glee and all the roommates pointing at her excitedly. I sort of thought the whole scene would turn black and white and slow motion, leading up to some sort of panic attack, possibly involving images of clowns and a maniacal woman cackling in the distance. Either that, or the masquerade scene from Labyrinth.
Well, nothing too dramatic happened at the bar, and when everyone returned home, Paula flopped down on a carpet and did snow angels (minus the snow). This then motivated the guys to roll her up in the carpet and deposit her outside where she then had a Deep Talk with John about her eating disorder.
“Paula does not have normal eating habits,” John told us. Um, actually, Paula doesn’t have eating habits. Nevertheless, she explained that her biggest fear was to be “pudgy, fat, single, alone forever.” Of course, what John should have said was that it’s better to be pudgy than unhappy or dead. But instead, he replied, “Pudgy, fat, and alone forever, dude. That’s is depressing to think about that.” At which point I smacked my forehead and shook my head. Believe it or not, John was actually trying to make the point that Paula’s outlook was needlessly sad, but as is often the case on reality shows, he wasn’t so wonderful with the whole “articulation” thing. Nevertheless, he convinced Paula to go inside and eat a hot dog (sans bun, at her request), an event which prompted a cheesy song with the lyrics, “We are all the same!” Yay! Hold hands everyone! Curing anorexia in Key West!
Nevertheless, it was a nice moment, only undermined by a cynical voice in my head questioning just how long that hot dog would stay in Paula’s belly. Anyway, the amateur therapy continued the next morning as Dr. John asked Paula if there was one thing she loved about herself. Of course, anyone who’s ever known a girl at the height of an eating disorder knows that this subject is more or less taboo, and such questions can only end in one way: tears. And sure enough, as Paula tried to describe her mindset, she eventually devolved into tears and walked away to another room. Poor girl. I personally didn’t know how she was going to survive this experience, especially after she told us, “I feel ugly all the time in this house… I’m tired of like — living. It’s weird. I just want to wake up and… BREATHE like everybody else. And be normal. And I don’t even know what normal is, but I’d just like to really, really be that.”
Paula was obviously in a bad place, and she wasn’t going to get any better on her own. Luckily, Janelle asked her if she’d be willing to get professional help, and (sigh of relief) Paula nodded yes. “I can’t live like this forever,” Paula told us, as the screen went dark and a mournful note played in the background. And that was the chilling, sad end of the episode. So, um, fun times!
What do you think about the Paula situation? And what about the whole John/Tyler thing?