On last night's episode of The Real World, two cast members went into the ladies room of a noisy nightclub so they could privately talk shit on their roommates off camera. But then they remembered they were still wearing their microphones. One girl assured the other that she doesn't think the producers were going to use any of the conversation on TV "unless they just show like the door of the restroom…subtitling it in." Which, of course, is exactly what happened.
It's just one example of the show's new dedication to breaking down the fourth wall in the interest of making a reality show actually real. The camera crew is now regularly shown filming and reacting to its subjects. Producers speak to cast members on-camera and can be heard asking questions during interview segments. Conversations among the roommates about how to evade the cameras and get away with explicit behavior are no longer edited out. Cast members regularly accuse producers of fucking with them to make a good storyline. Essentially, everyone has stopped pretending that they're not making a television show. And the result is some refreshing authenticity.
The Real World was revolutionary for its serialized documentary of young adults when it debuted 21 years ago. It invented the format—unscripted scenes spliced with personal interviews reflecting on said scenes—utilized by every reality show that's followed. It has become an institution. But it also has become stale.
For its 29th season, producers decided to make several major changes. Along with ditching the "This is the story of seven strangers…" intro that a generation of people know by heart, they've also done away with assigning the roommates phony jobs. And they've added a special twist: halfway through filming, producers brought in the ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends of the cast to be their new roommates for the duration of the season.
Naturally, the new format brings with it some guaranteed drama. But with such a high concept, it's no wonder that producers decided to give up on maintaining that fourth wall. There's no way that they could've introduced the new living situation in an organic way. It's clearly a machination of production, which just so happens to be the cast's reality—presenting it that way has brought some truth back to reality TV.