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This is the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped. Find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.

The granddaddy of the reality show, this is one of MTV's biggest franchises, and effectively turning reality shows into the most popular American television format today.

In 1992, Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray came up with the idea of putting a random bag of seven twenty-somethings of different races, gender, and sexualities into an expensive apartment for six months, install a bunch of cameras in the place, and broadcast the ensuing film on national television. The ensuing show was a massive hit and, along with Cops, is considered to be one of the fathers of reality TV. It spawned a Spin-Off, Road Rules (aka "The Real World on an RV!"), and a crossover series, Real World/Road Rules Challenge.

The early seasons were ground-breaking in the way they dealt with a ton of social issues rarely addressed on television at the time, such as homophobia, AIDS, abortion, racism, alcoholism, eating disorders, etc. Furthermore, it has managed to kick start careers for a number of talented people, including cartoonist Judd Winick; actors Eric Nies, Jacinda Barrett, and Kyle Brandt; author Kevin Powell; radio personality Lindsay Brien; wrestler Mike "The Miz" Mizanin; rapper Heather B; and Daria voice Tracy Grandstaff (who appeared in the show's test-run season zero).

However gimmicks began to slowly enter into the premise after the show's fourth season. The most notable one was forcing the group to work at a job of MTV's choosing, which quickly went from something normal but meaningful like working at an after-school program, to glamorous media-related jobs. Further changing things was the ratings success of The Real World: Hawaii, which featured a gaggle of hedonistic party animals whose topless hot-tub parties and marathon drinking caused the show to score major ratings. This led to the producers slowly abandoning the documentary-style nature of the show, as later seasons became more and more about picking people who will get drunk, make out, and start fights on-camera.

The series remains MTV's longest-running show.

Not to be confused with Real Life, that place where most of us live.

Reality TV tropes in use:

Tropes used in The Real World include:
  • The Blank: Paul Dill, a Marine Corps officer and boyfriend to Danny in the Real World New Orleans season. To protect his identity, the show agreed to extensively blur his face and name in order to keep him from being outed, since exposure could have led to him being discharged from the Marines due to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".
    • We know his full name now because Paul left the military a couple years after the New Orleans season. He and Danny agreed to do a special with MTV on living under DADT, where Paul showed his face on camera for the first time.
  • Bleached Underpants: Dustin Zito, who claims to be 100% straight and is more than a little homophobic starred in several online gay-for-pay pornographic videos with other guys in the past. MTV is apparently trying their best to remove the evidence from the internet.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: In the opening two-parter of Las Vegas, Frank is shown drinking water in anger during Steven and Trishelle's first hook-up.

 A recapper on Television Without Pity: Frank angrily drinks a glass of water in the bathroom. I didn't know it was possible to drink a glass of water angrily, but I have seen it with my own eyes.

  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: In the vegas season, Steven works at a gay bar but is totally straight, and Dustin has a history of working in a lot of gay porn, but he insists he is completely straight.
  • Hide Your Gays: VERY much averted. Nearly every season has had at least one GLBT participant, and is so well-known to the housemates that when the new season's cast first meet, somebody asks, "Okay, which one of us is the gay one?"
  • Hooked Up Afterwards: Pam and Judd Winick.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Aaron from season 2 criticized women who do scantily-clad or nude scenes for advertising. When the women discovered that Aaron himself had done some cheesecake photos wearing nothing but a strategically placed surfboard, they printed hundreds of copies and practically wall-papered the house with it.
  • Ill Girl: Frankie Abernathy (cystic fibrosis) and Pedro Zamora (AIDS) — both of whom died after shooting their respective seasons.
  • Jerkass
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes: The bulk of the series can never be reaired since it aired during the period when MTV had carte blanche music licensing deals with the music labels. An attempt was made to redo the series for DVD release via purging the music/deleting scenes with the cast singing, but this was met with much disdain from reviewers/longtime fans that none of the other seasons were released.
    • While seasons two through six occasionally can be found on torrent sites (based off one fan's VHS tape recordings), good luck finding later seasons.
  • Missing Episode: In Seattle, one episode refers back to an unseen sequence involving one of the girls having a male friend come visit her. The episode in question was deleted from the final cut the season, due to the fact that the friend ultimately committed suicide after his visit, which made for a bit of a plothole when later on the girl is seen going on a skydiving trip and references her dead friend, as the two both shared a love for skydiving.
  • Odd Friendship- In "Real World Las Vegas" who knew a tall muscular garbageman(Leroy) and a scrawny, nerdy grad student(Mike) would have maybe the strongest friendship the show has ever seem
  • Only Sane Man: Justin Deabler in "Real World Hawaii", ultimately quitting the show due to him being fed up with his castmates drunken antics. A handful of other cast members have quit the show because of Executive Meddling or their housemates' debauchery. This is less common in post-Hawaii seasons, since the casting is more geared toward Reality TV archetypes.
  • Pet Homosexual: During the 2011 season the girls in the apartment were hoping their new roommate would be a gay man so that they could have one of these, and also because they wanted to see the other guys feel uncomfortable.
  • Pixellation: Nudity got blurred a lot, especially in the later seasons.
    • It actually created a problem during the Hawaii season. According to a documentary about filming the show, the producers said that since they put a bunch of hedonistic young adults in paradise, nobody, male or female, ever wanted to wear a shirt. This was something of a problem for the producers, since they still needed to find a way to put microphones on the cast members. They finally came up with the idea of putting the mics inside puka-shell necklaces and mandating that the cast wear them at all times.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Subverted; Neil from the London season, was cast SPECIFICALLY because the producers were hoping that Neil (who bore a striking resemblance to San Francisco/season three's Puck) would be just like him and create a lot of drama. What they got instead was a guy who was the complete opposite of Puck as far as being open minded, highly educated, and all around nice to be around.
    • Ironically, that's what they were expecting out of Puck in the first place.
  • The Rival: Irene McGee, who left the Seattle season after becoming fed up with the show's producers trying to manipulate her and her fellow castmates for drama. She's since become one of the most high-profile critics of both the show and of Reality TV in general, giving lectures on how it manipulates both the participants and the viewers.
  • Spin-Off: Road Rules, which started out as The Real World on an RV!'. The two shows later started crossing over with Real World/Road Rules Challenge (now known simply as The Challenge following Road Rules Cancellation), which incorporates Game Show elements.
  • Self -Harm: Ayiiia, from the Cancun season, is seen cutting.
  • Workaholic: Pam from season 3 was a 3rd year medical student doing her rotations and, as a result, was barely on the show.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Subjective. While Kyle Brandt (Real World Chicago) and his scheme to present a complete facade of being an "earnest cool guy" fell apart during the final days of filming, he DID win in the end as far as using his tenure on Real World to land a rather well-received run on the soap opera Days of Our Lives and, ultimately, landing work as a staff member on Jim Rome's radio program.