This is the true story … of a risky MTV gamble … picked to become a pop culture phenomenon … and eventually a reality television institution … Find out what happens … when the Brooklyn cast stops filming … and starts making some ambitious strides in their lives.
When The Real World: New York premiered on MTV in 1992, it not only transformed the look of the network for the next decade, it left an indelible mark on the pop culture landscape. For almost twenty years now, Bunim-Murray has been entertaining audiences with variances on a simple recipe: throw seven diverse strangers in a house and film the drama of their lives that ensues over the course of three months. With 23 seasons under their belt, and over 150 Real World alumni, there were bound to be a few breakout stars who would go on to bigger and better things. Most notable among them: Eric Nies, (New York, Season 1) set the stage when he parlayed his newfound celebrity into jobs as a model, actor, TV host, and fitness professional. Jacinda Barrett (London, Season 4) and Jamie Chung (San Diego, Season 14) have found fame as film actresses, while Kelly Limp (New Orleans, Season 9) married actor Scott Wolf. Kyle Brandt (Chicago, Season 11) found his calling as a soap opera actor on Days of Our Lives. Trishelle Cannatella (Las Vegas, Season 14) posed for Playboy and became a reality TV fixture. And everyone’s favorite love-to-hate-him David “Puck” Rainey (San Francisco, Season 3) … well, he’s still infamous for being Puck!
For The Real World‘s twenty-first season, producers selected the New York borough of Brooklyn, and set their cast up on a gorgeous pier in Red Rock. They also made the conscious effort to shy away from the booze and sex-soaked shenanigans of seasons past, and instead get back to its roots – real people with real issues. J.D. Ordoñez was a half Cuban, half Puerto Rican gay man who ran away from home after suffering physical abuse from his father. Sarah Rice was a young artist who suffered sexual abuse by a teacher and in one episode was plagued by calls from her abusive father who she tried unsuccessfully to have imprisoned. And in a rather bold move by the network and the production company, Katelynn Cusanelli became the series’ first transgender housemate.
The cast of The Real World: Brooklyn.
The enigmatic cast was not only the most topical twenty-somethings the show had seen in years; they were also among the most motivated and ambitious. A year after their season aired, many of the cast members have catapulted their fame to further success.
When twenty-three year old Ryan Conklin joined the cast, he was already an Iraq war veteran, having been inspired by the events of September 11, 2001 to enlist in the Army at age 17. He was the good-natured, guitar-playing “boy next door” who aspired to become a filmmaker one day. Ironically, he was called back to active duty mid-season, and The Real World cameras captured every gut-wrenching moment of his decision to return to Iraq. Earlier this year, Conklin published his first novel, “An Angel From Hell,” which is a gritty, gripping first-hand account of the hellish conditions he served in as a turret gunner in Tikrit, Iraq. TVgasm’s SlifeGoesOn caught up with the young veteran while he was at the 2010 GI Film Festival to discuss the amazingly unpredictable turns his life has taken.
SlifeGoesOn: Where did the idea for your novel come from?
Conklin: I actually wrote it before I went on The Real World. It was like an outlet for me, a therapeutic way of dealing with things and just getting it out of my head and my chest and then pushing it away. I honestly never expected it to become anything, but I was in the right place at the right time, and I met the right people.
SlifeGoesOn: How did you end up on The Real World?
Conklin: I was at a bar one night in Pittsburgh when I was approached by some of the casting people. I’d been drinking obviously. And you know, I tend to get a bit conversational when I’ve been drinking! One thing led to another, and then I was getting called in for an interview!
SlifeGoesOn: How would you compare the Brooklyn cast to other seasons?
Conklin: I have met so many alums, but I honestly can’t tell you which season they’re from! I know with us, we all brought in something different. We were like polar opposites of each other, but after awhile we all just clicked. I think what’s cool is that we’re all continuing what we started even before the show.
SlifeGoesOn: Have you all stayed close then?
Conklin: Definitely! I’ve stayed close with everyone – especially the guys.
SlifeGoesOn: Speaking of, what did you make of your “bromance” with Chet?
Conklin: (laughs) I dunno! Our personalities just gelled! I mean, to find that guy, and to have a best friend for the experience was awesome. We certainly don’t live close, but we still try to hang out as much as possible.
SlifeGoesOn: What was it like watching your life play out on television?
Conklin: It was all pretty real to me. I did notice that my hair was different lengths between scenes sometimes! But I mean, everything that was shown – we did! So, it is what it is.
SlifeGoesOn: What are some of your favorite moments from the season?
Conklin: Oh, my gosh! Anything with Chet! (laughs) There was some stuff that didn’t make the cut, like these freak interviews we would do with people on the streets in New York. They were SO funny!
SlifeGoesOn: Which is scarier, being a war vet or a reality TV vet?
Conklin: They definitely have much in common! But, hands-down being an Iraq vet is much harder.
An Angel From Hell by Ryan Conklin
SlifeGoesOn: How does it feel to be labeled as a “hero?”
Conklin: To tell you the truth, I hate the term “hero.” I think it’s used way too frequently. Yes, I served in the war, but I’m the farthest thing from being a hero.
SlifeGoesOn: What are you up to right now?
Conklin: Well, I’m here in DC for the week for the 2010 GI Film Festival. It’s cool, Bob Woodruff and Gary Sinise are here, and Glenn Close has her directorial debut tonight. I’m doing some guest blogging of the events, and also attending a filmmakers’ workshop.
SlifeGoesOn: Wow! You’re definitely keeping busy! Do you still find time to play the guitar?
Conklin: A little! I’m keeping my options open. I like to have my hand in many candy jars!
SlifeGoesOn: You’ve already got one book under your belt. What’s next for you?
Conklin: For now I’m just returning to the classroom. I’m going back to school at Temple University as a film major. I think it would be really cool to become a director, you know? Take someone else’s vision, and then put your own spin on it.
SlifeGoesOn: Did being on The Real World meet your expectations?
Conklin: I had no expectations going in. If you had any, you’d just be setting yourself up for disappointment. I went in carefree, I laughed a lot, I had a blast, and at the end of the day, it was one fun experience!
SlifeGoesOn: One you’d do again?
Less modest, (but no less sincere) is Conklin’s fellow cast member, Scott Herman, a personal trainer, model, and actor who came into the house determined to break the two-dimensional stereotype that all jocks are jerks. Working out since the age of 14, Herman has been featured in Men’s Health magazine, and has earned himself the distinction of having the “best abs on the East Coast.” Since his season of The Real World aired, Herman has seen his ambitious star on the rise, and has successfully transformed his name into an online brand and fitness empire. SlifeGoesOn managed to squeeze in a little time with Herman during his cover shoot for Next magazine.
SlifeGoesOn: I just got finished watching one of your many shirtless workout videos on YouTube! Will that be the theme of today’s cover shoot?
Herman: (laughs) Hey! I like to cater to my female fans! (laughs) Usually when I do a magazine cover, they have me in my underwear! But today I’m dressed like a lawyer in a suit, so it’s kinda cool to try something new!
SlifeGoesOn: Was being on The Real World something you always wanted to do?
Herman: That’s a funny story. It was the summer that the Red Hot Chili Peppers came out with “Californication,” so I must have been like 12 or 13. And I remember being in the kitchen with my brother and saying, “I will never go on that effing show! They are retarded! They have no morals! They all sleep with each other!”
SlifeGoesOn: That must have been the Las Vegas season! So how would you compare your season to the others?
Herman: Brooklyn definitely brought the show back to its roots and kept it real! There was no sex! Except that Devyn kept spraying her perfume in my bed so that I would dream about her!
SlifeGoesOn: Have you stayed close with your fellow cast members?
Herman: Totally! I actually lived with Devyn and Baya for a year after the show in downtown New York City. Baya’s like a kid sister to me. Sarah’s cool, too. I talk to Chet every day! I talk to Ryan probably every week, and JD about once a month. And Katelynn’s been traveling a lot, but I’m going to be in her wedding soon.
SlifeGoesOn: What was it like seeing yourself on TV?
Herman: It was cool. I was really excited. I’d been modeling for awhile, but I had dreamed of doing bigger, so to see myself on TV was like, a step in the right direction.
SlifeGoesOn: What was the funniest moment from shooting?
Herman: I wish they had aired Halloween! We were walking in the costume parade, right? Well, I was dressed as King Leonidas from 300 in these $130 leather briefs and Ryan was dressed as The Joker in this custom-made jacket. And this kid dressed as the 1960′s Robin jumps behind Ryan and tries to surprise him. Only Ryan pulls out this plastic switchblade and put it to the kid’s face and goes, “You know how I got these scars?” I swear to God the kid was so mortified he shit himself!
SlifeGoesOn: (laughs) That’s pretty embarrassing!
Herman: This other time, I was driving us home, and Chet decided to moon the production van that was following us. So I slammed on the brakes, and his face hit the stereo!
SlifeGoesOn: Speaking of Chet, what did you think of his “bromance” with Ryan?
Herman: I thought it was hilarious! I loved the first episode when they were in that boat together! They were going strong for like, a month. But then I intervened and got a slice! (laughs) It was a 4-way bromance by the end, though!
SlifeGoesOn: What was the local reaction while you guys were filming?
Herman: The locals were cool. The Williamsburg kids gave us shit, but then they’d be the first ones to try and get in front of the cameras! New York people were cool, too. They’re always exposed to cameras and whatnot, so nothing seems to phase them.
SlifeGoesOn: What doors has your television experience opened for you?
Herman: I came on the show to prove that not all jockish guys are douchebags. I’m a genuine, nice person, and I think people saw that I wasn’t trying to always be the center of attention. People who watched the show got to know the real me, and I think it helped me land a bunch more modeling gigs.
SlifeGoesOn: Did you ever consider acting at all?
Herman: After The Real World, I was asked to be on an HBO pilot in LA, so I came out west for a little bit. I tried to see myself in LA, but the thought of moving there literally caused me ten mental breakdowns, and I was like, get me out of here! I realized that the more I pulled away from fitness, the more anxiety I got.
Wowza! Check out scotthermanfitness.com!
SlifeGoesOn: So tell me a little bit about scotthermanfitness.com?
Herman: I started my own free fitness website, and since last August it has just grown like crazy! I have 8,600 followers on Twitter; 14,000 Facebook fans; and 24,000 subscribers on YouTube. My videos have received over 4 million hits! But I’m most proud of my Break Me Down Series, where my friend Sean comes up with different routines to kick my ass in 30 minutes or less. We film it in one long, continuous shot, cuz people like to see me struggle. It’s more real that way!
SlifeGoesOn: How does one make a living by giving out free fitness advice?!
Herman: (laughs) Well, there was a time when I was only making ten cents! But, I do have sponsors now. And I get paid every time someone clicks on my website. I do all my own marketing and PR, and profits have doubled every month since August. I’ve also been selling t-shirts online to people all over the world! But I certainly don’t do it for the money.
SlifeGoesOn: What greater reward is there than money?!
Herman: I’ve worked at a gym my whole life, and what always broke my heart were the people who needed it the most, but couldn’t afford it. My destiny has always been to help people and to pull them into fitness. I now have this amazing online community of members who are so eager and willing to help each other. If someone posts a question for me online, I guarantee that ten people will respond before I do!
SlifeGoesOn: It sounds like you’re really paying it forward!
Herman: It’s funny, cuz they call it the Hermanation, and they call themselves my Hermanites! So many of my website’s banners and graphics were done for free by supporters. I help them lose weight, and in return they help my business grow!
SlifeGoesOn: So, what are your plans for the future?
Herman: I have been working since I was 14. I’ve owned a DJ company, I have my real estate license, I have my business license, I mean, you name it! My main goal has always been to be a well-known and respected business man and to bring honor to my family name. The Scott Herman way has always been to do as much as you can, and I just want to do more things on a world wide scale!
SlifeGoesOn may be one of the newer recappers at TVgasm.com, but his love for television is older than he is! He was exposed to endless hours of Charlie's Angels, Dallas, Hart to Hart, and Remington Steele while still in his mother's womb, and it is no wonder that one of his earliest memories in life is of watching the epic fire that consumed La Mirage in Dynasty's sixth season finale. He went through a troubled, awkward sci-fi phase in junior high, becoming obsessed with shows like Star Trek and The X-Files. This paved the way to his love for Buffy The Vampire Slayer, perhaps one of the best written shows of all time.
Now a recovering ex-Trekkie, SlifeGoesOn opts for a wide array of programming, from highbrow, high concept fare, to trashy reality TV, where he makes his living as a senior story producer. He was nominated for a Daytime Emmy in 2010 for his work on the second season of the Style network's number one-rated hit, Ruby.
His TVgasm recaps include the finely tawt thriller Damages, the campy, gothic True Blood, as well as the guilty pleasures that are Gossip Girl,Pretty Little Liars, and The Real Housewives of New York City. He has also done a number of interviews, with celebrities such as Carolyn Hennesy from Cougar Town. When not gabbing about television at the watercooler with co-workers, you can usually find SlifeGoesOn parked on the couch watching reruns of Sex & The City and reciting along with the dialogue.