A blond Texan who recently kicked a heroin habit. A sweet-talking car salesman from North Carolina. A lesbian EMT with a thick-as-cement Staten Island accent.
These are some of the seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped for the Chicago-set season of “The Real World,” premiering at 9 p.m. Tuesday on MTV.
None of the cast members — most of whom were still in diapers when the reality series/social experiment debuted in 1992 — had been to the city before filming began this summer. Production on the 30th season wrapped Oct. 22, when the seven roommates moved out of the tricked-out, two-story West Loop loft they called home since August.
Before they boarded planes to head back to their respective corners of the country, they returned to the house one last time to meet reporters and talk about their experience, which included eating a lot of Subway, working out at West Loop Athletic Club and tending bar or doing other jobs at nearby haunts like Vincenzo’s Sports Tavern, Old Fifth and Red Kiva.
“Isn’t it crazy how you can live right next to your job and still be late?” mused one of the roomies, Jason Hill, a Southern country boy who toasted his arrival in the big city at Beer Bistro with a shot of malort. “You could start a car with it. Thanks a lot, Chicago. I can still taste that on my tongue.”
Did I mention that they also partied? Hard?
That will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever seen five minutes of the show. What is new this season, dubbed “Real World: Skeletons:” Each cast member had at least one unexpected visitor, a skeleton who went from being in their closet to showing up on their doorstep and sleeping under the same roof.
Meet “The Real World” Chicago cast:
Hometown: Dallas, Texas (lives in Austin now)
A child actress who commuted between California for work and her native Texas, this high school cheerleader started dating a guy who turned her on to recreational prescription drugs. That led to heroin use.
“I was addicted,” said Madison, who worked at Vincenzo’s while living here. “I’ve been sober for about two years now.”
Her surprise houseguests — all of the roomies insist they didn’t know their “skeletons” were coming — were people she needed to make amends with as a result of her drug-abusing days.
“I did a lot of things that I’m not proud of,” she said. “It’s OK because it made me … such a better person for overcoming all of that.”
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
This self-professed mama’s boy grew up cash-strapped, raised by a single mom who had him when she was a teenager.
Jason worked as a car salesman back home. Here, he was a barback at Red Kiva lounge next door to the “Real World” digs on Randolph.
“I felt like Cinderello — the male Cinderella,” he said. “I’m back there sweeping, mopping, humming and singing to myself. But it gave me time to think, which was cool.”
A few things that weren’t so cool: not being allowed to play music in the house or see one of Chicago’s pro sports teams in action.
“If the cameras can’t go, we can’t go,” he said, adding that it wasn’t always fun having your every move filmed.
“You’re not used to waking up with a camera,” he said. “I look like my breath stinks.
“I’ve done some things that I wish I could take back, I said some things that I wish I could take back,” he added. “But that’s part of life.”
Hometown: Staten Island, New York
An EMT who wants to be a firefighter, Nicole hails from a traditional Italian-American family.
“Walking into this house I said, ‘We’re family,’ ” Nicole said. “I feel I kept everyone together.”
Back home, this triplet’s two sisters are engaged. Press materials describe Nicole as the non-committal type, a player who likes to hook up with “the flavor of the week.”
“I’m the only lesbian cast member,” she said, noting that her sexuality wasn’t an issue with her roommates like in earlier seasons. “Everyone had really open arms.”
She’s been a “Real World” fan since age 16. Her experience here also made her a big fan of Chicago, which is “just like New York, except New York is a little busier.”
Nicole didn’t work much over the summer, preferring to paint, drink wine and chill at her favorite spot, Bottle & Bottega.
Hometown: East Providence, Rhode Island
Born in Portugal, Bruno moved to the States with his family at age 7. He was bullied for not speaking English well.
Bruno developed a bad temper largely thanks to a strict, Catholic school upbringing “where discipline was not always verbal.”
A few years ago he stormed out of his house after a heated argument with his ex-girlfriend. A car going almost 50 mph hit him, leaving him severely injured. The fitness fanatic had to learn to walk again.
Bruno and his brother Briah, a model living in New York City, had a petty argument three years ago that resulted in a huge falling-out.
“We got in a fight over a tuna sandwich,” said Bruno, who got mad at his sibling for taking his food. “He starts cursing at me. He’s like, ‘You should’ve died that night [of the car accident].’ I flipped out. We hadn’t talked in three years.”
Spoiler alert: Briah is Bruno’s skeleton.
“At first when I seen him, I didn’t even get up,” said Bruno, whose brother spent about a week in “The Real World” house.
Hometown: Sarasota, Florida
Violetta’s friends from Florida were supposed to fly to Chicago for her birthday Sept. 26 — the same day a man deliberately set fire at an air traffic center in Aurora forced thousands of flight cancellations.
“Next thing I know they’re driving up here, 19 hours,” said Violetta, a bartender at Old Fifth who celebrated that night at El Hefe Mexican restaurant, Bull & Bear and Hubbard Inn.
This marketing and advertising major at State College of Florida doesn’t need a special occasion to let loose. Her party girl alter ego even has a name: Claryse.
“There’s a few drunk nights I definitely don’t want my parents to see,” said the only child, who moved to America a decade ago from the Eastern European country of Moldova.
Violetta said she was a victim of cyber-bullying back home, where high school classmates voted her most likely to be on a reality TV show. A couple of the people who taunted her on Instagram and the like pop up in the flesh this season.
Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
Sylvia ended up on the show after being listed as a reference for someone else who applied. Producers interviewed her over Skype and asked if she’d like to join the cast.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, why not?” she said.
That’s not to say the saleswoman and part-time bartender was instantly sold on the idea of doing reality TV.
“Living with people who don’t know you, cameras everywhere — that can be nerve-wracking,” she said. “That feeling when you’re on a rollercoaster and you’re about to go down? That’s the feeling I got when I came to that front door.”
She had that feeling again when her skeleton arrived at that same door.
“Mine is the boss from hell,” she said cryptically, adding that “it’s a little more in-depth than just being a boss.
“Had my skeleton not come here I would have never approached the subject that we had to talk about,” she said. “It was hard for me because that was a part of something I wasn’t 110 percent sure I was going to tell any of the roommates. When you’re brought face-to-face with it, you kind of have to let everybody in on it. It’s not something I’m proud of either … it was tough.”
Hometown: Folsom, Louisiana (lives in Baton Rouge now)
Tony was raised by his single mom on the bayou, morphing from an awkward, overweight kid into a bona fide ladies’ man. Press materials read: Like James Bond, girls want to be with him and guys want to be him.
A skirmish with an ex-girlfriend back home landed him in the hospital for knee surgery. The injury forced him to go on leave from his job at a chemical plant. He made money here as a waiter at Old Fifth.
Tony would have liked to spend some of that money at a few particular restaurants and nightclubs he’d heard about. But some of those establishments turned down the show’s request to film inside.
“That’s a bummer when you see a place and you’re like, ‘Oh, man I want to go there,’ ” he said. “That was the only downfall of being on the show and not being able to fully explore every part of Chicago.”
The last time “The Real World” shot in the city — season 11 in 2001 — the cast wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Their temporary Wicker Park home became the target of graffiti, broken windows and protests by opponents of the neighborhood’s gentrification and of the series itself, which critics blasted for portraying an unrealistic view of young Americans.
These days, cast members said the only people loitering outside were the occasional looky-loos snapping pictures.
“Last time they were in Chicago, things got a little messy,” Tony said. “The West Loop — I’m glad they put us here. It was easy to deal with people. I didn’t think everyone was going to be so inviting.”