Let’s start here.
The blond woman, Tovah, has just shouted this in response to a question about why she and her two white housemates always fall silent whenever the house’s minority delegation, which is actually a 4-3 majority, talks about race. By this point, there was only about a minute left in the episode. I was watching the seconds tick off with bated breath—what else could this triumphant half hour do to rattle me to my core? Tovah continued:
“Do you know how much shit we would get as white women in America? Any opinion we have will be shit on [Note: It was bleeped out, so could very well be “shat on”]. 100 percent.”
Welcome to the Real World: Atlanta, both my longest dream fulfilled and potentially my worst nightmare.
When it comes to my life, I know six things to be true. One of them is that Atlanta, the United States of America’s finest city, is cursed:
for falcons curse, braves curse, hawks curse, democrats curse, no real world curse -- see WHATEVER DEAL WITH DEVIL WE DID TO GET 96 OLYMPICS— Rembert Browne (@rembert) November 5, 2014
Our sports collapses have been well documented, but Atlanta not getting a Real World season in the show’s 27-YEAR HISTORY was what took my belief from theory to fact. That some cities would get a Real World twice (or thrice, even) before Atlanta got one has long been one of my greatest frustrations. So, even after aging out of the true Real World watcher demographic, you can imagine my excitement when Atlanta Journal-Constitution entertainment reporter Rodney Ho broke the news this past February that Season 33 would be in Atlanta. “The curse is broken!” I yelled to my Uber driver, who did not respond. But then I kept reading: Real World: Atlanta, in fact, would be airing on Facebook Watch.
The curse continues.
Sure, Facebook Watch is a thing that people care about, in large part due to the Pinkett Smith Industrial Complex, but this was still a blatant demotion. All I wanted was for my Real World to be on MTV, a station I truly haven’t watched in years—I needed that Viacom Validation. I didn’t want to hit play on my laptop—I wanted that raw, uncut, using my remote shit, for the cable that I most certainly do not have.
But now that I’m on the other side, everything is different. Real World: Atlanta is my Chernobyl. You can’t unsee this. As for my macro reaction, which may be yours should you decide to give your life over to these seven strangers, the only thing it feels akin to is going to a terrible funeral. Not terrible as in sad, but terrible as in an aunt writes and performs a 17-minute song and then the casket falls over and you don’t know whether to gasp or laugh, as you look for the exits while also hoping it never ends.
Like past seasons, there are seven people on the show. The wrinkle this time is that six were chosen by producers and one was chosen by a fan vote via Facebook. Their names are Justin, Tovah, Dondre, Yasmin, Arely, Meagan, and Clint.
Let’s start with Yasmin, who sets the tone for what the Real World looks and feels like in 2019.
To answer the question I know you’re going to ask: Yes, this entire thing is shot like a BuzzFeed Tasty video. In true Facebook fashion, REAL WORLD: ATLANTA IS MADE TO BE WATCHED EVEN IF THE SOUND ISN’T ON ON YOUR LAPTOP, THANKS A LOT AL GORE-ITHM. Learning that that’s how it’ll be for the duration of the show is a tough pill to swallow—which is also a quote said in this episode, by Meagan when she learns that Dondre is gay.
Who is Dondre? Oh, you know, just a black conservative gay Christian from Houston. Clearly positioned to be the show’s initial point of conflict, he wastes negative time. Things get tense even before all seven are in the house. When Dondre, Arely, and Yasmin first meet, Dondre’s sexual orientation has not been announced. Arely, who is extremely bubbly and sweet, begins to describe her background:
This, of course, prompts a response from Dondre:
At this point, Yasmin—the show’s best character and it’s not even close—interjects: “You’re talking to two immigrants, how the fuck are you gonna say something about legal immigrants in the first 30 seconds of meeting a person.” I definitely don’t need any extra ignorance in my life—there’s already Twitter and cable news and humans in real life. But the Real World knows—and has always known—that you can’t stop. No matter how bad it makes you feel, there will always be another morsel of must-see drama. And in the case of Real World: Atlanta, I mainly couldn’t stop because I knew who else was in the house—a black man named Justin Blu, a self-described scholar-activist—and I couldn’t wait for him and Dondre to be in the same room. I knew they were going to beef, and I also had a sneaking suspicion Justin might not be as accepting of a gay male housemate as his so-woke-he’s-never-gone-to-sleep exterior suggested.
In the kitchen, Dondre tells everyone he’s gay, which comes as a shock to everyone, either because he’s black and conservative or because his first-impression outfit is so—and I mean this with the utmost respect for the mall in which it was purchased—trash. Meagan tells Dondre “You do you, boo” and then starts talking about the Bible. As for Justin (who I may start calling “Dreads McBookstore”), his response to Dondre’s news is, “As long as he respects my sexuality and doesn’t try to cross any lines or anything of that nature, that’s his business.” Then he reveals his overarching read on Dondre:
This is going to go well.
The one person that I haven’t brought up yet, Clint, was the one voted on by the fans and, to no surprise, is a buff white farm boy who looks like he’s been on 11 different seasons of The Bachelorette. What’s Clint, our handsome white king, been up to this whole time? Just saying nothing; being genuinely silent. But then, with a legendarily wild transition, Dondre asks Justin, out of nowhere, about Colin Kaepernick. Dondre only throws fastballs. Once this conversation begins, certain people lose interest:
Please note Tovah and Meagan, who went into a barely stocked cupboard and just started touching things to avoid participating in this discussion. I laughed—in an “all things are terrible” kind of way—because this was the one moment when the Real World actually felt like the real world. Clint, meanwhile, left the scene altogether. “I’m not gonna get bitched out so I’m not gonna talk about it at all,” he would later say. (It’s not scripted, but I could have written 90 percent of the lines spoken in this show.)
In general, Dondre really likes to give his opinion about things and people, both publicly and privately. And even though he insulted most of the people in the house, he really enjoys Meagan, especially after learning that she’s a virgin. So what’s Dondre’s favorite part about Meagan?
What a man. What a show.
When we rejoin the cast the next morning, the show proves the extent to which they’ll subtitle anything:
On Day 2, since Justin has lived in Atlanta for a bit over a year, he takes the rest of the group out for a tour of the city. He brings them to see MLK’s house and church and then shows them some graffiti and ... that’s pretty much the extent of what he’s learned about Atlanta so far. That night, they go out.
If you’re from Atlanta or have spent much time there, you know that this is Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium a.k.a. Church a.k.a. a truly fantastic bar. There, everyone’s drinking and having regular amounts of fun, but Arely turns up to 28. She’s an amazing TV drunk: She just loses her stuff and falls down and smiles and laughs. And it makes sense why she’s going so hard—her son’s staying with her mom and she hasn’t really gotten a chance to let loose since getting pregnant at 17. Arely’s great.
Night 2 is also when the first budding romance—a Real World staple—begins, as Clint and Tovah gravitate toward each other. Tovah’s curious while Clint is all in. His game plan is to text her when they’re between 5 and 50 feet away from each other.
He does this several times and Tovah never responds. She finds it very unattractive, probably because of the exclamation marks. She also brings up his Instagram, which she says makes him seem like a fuckboy.
But back to the race war. Look at this photo:
This is why I love Yasmin. She’s in a perpetual state of “all y’all crazy but I can’t stop watching,” which was my mindstate for the entire show. You see, Ben Carson and Dreads McBookstore are talking about slavery before breakfast, which is just entirely unnecessary, but they were, which brings us back to Tovah’s aforementioned “Plight of the White Woman” speech. While Tovah spoke, three-fourths of #TeamMelanin looked on:
To Tovah’s credit, she later said that she’d engage more, because that’s what her housemates want. Where’s Clint during this conversation?
Justin, wrap the episode up for me, my brethren.
There is so much room to critically analyze these characters and the things they’re struggling with. And maybe, down the road, I’ll do that. But for now, I’m just down to clown. And there’s so much to work with it’s almost overwhelming. It’s just the first episode, but I do hope Atlanta becomes more of a character, especially given the topics that they’re discussing. As it stands right now, this feels more like Real World: Twitter Replies.
By the end of the premiere, I was pretty sure I had seen enough of Real World: Atlanta. Then they showed a preview of the second episode, and this conversation between Clint and Justin:
“You are the only racist motherfucker in this house. Are we boys or no?” Clint asks.
“We are associates,” Justin answers.
Just like that, I’m counting down the minutes to next Thursday.