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Where are they now? Catching up with the original ‘Real World Chicago’ cast

“The Real World” returns Tuesday with a new season set in Chicago, where the MTV series last filmed in 2001.

Original Chicago cast member Kyle Brandt won’t be tuning in this time around.

“I watch ‘Baby Einstein’ now,” said Brandt, 35, whose son, Calvin Thomas, turned 1 year old earlier this month.

The Lincolnshire native and former Stevenson High School football star married a woman he met on Match.com in 2010. They live in Orange County, California.

“If I want to see Chicago, I’ll just go home,” said Brandt, an executive producer for “The Jim Rome Show” on CBS Sports Radio. “I don’t need to see Chicago with seven people in a confessional doing a three-way kiss or whatever the hell they do now.”

One of Ralph Frese’s canoes on display at the Chicago Maritime Museum.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman
Original Chicago cast of “The Real World” in 2001 (L to R, top row): Kyle Brandt, Keri Evans and Chris Beckman, (bottom row) Aneesa Ferreira, Theo Gantt, Tonya Cooley and Cara Kahn. | Sun-Times library

As the 30th season of the groundbreaking reality series is about to begin, I talked to five of the original seven Chicago cast members — Brandt, Cara Kahn, Keri Evans, Chris Beckman and Theo Gantt — to see what they’ve been up to since leaving the camera-rigged Wicker Park loft they called home 13 years ago.

All five of them have children. None of them regret their “Real World” experience. At least not now.

“There were times when the show was airing that I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I done?’” said Kahn, who in 2006 married a St. Louis man she met a few weeks before moving to Chicago to shoot the series. He’s an eye doctor. She sells Marc Fisher shoes and handbags on QVC. The couple lives outside Philadelphia and has a 4-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter.

“He had a hard time with the show,” Kahn said about her now-husband, Scott Fudemberg, one of many viewers who got an intimate look at Kahn’s “Real World” hookups thanks to bedrooms outfitted with night vision cameras and microphones hidden in the headboards. “I knew he was my life partner at the time [it aired], so I thought, ‘What have I done to us?’ There were definitely times of regret but not anymore.”

Kahn occasionally runs into Philly native Aneesa Ferreira, who’s been a regular on MTV’s raucous “Challenge” shows, where “Real World” and “Road Rules” vets as well as newbies duke it out for a cash prize.

Ferreira competed as recently as earlier this year in season 25, “The Challenge: Free Agents.” She’s never won a “Challenge” despite having had plenty of opportunities as one of the most frequent players.

Brandt isn’t surprised his former housemate keeps getting invited back.

“She was like the Derrick Rose of ‘The Real World,’ ” he said. “I talked to one of the casting directors after the show ended and he told me Aneesa was their first-round draft pick. No matter what, they were going to have the biracial, vegetarian, Jewish lesbian. And they did. And she was a superstar.”

The initial Chicago season featured another openly gay cast member: Beckman. The handsome fitness fanatic also was open about being a recovering alcoholic.

He wrote a book in 2005 about his journey from addiction to sobriety. The 37-year-old artist lives in Brooklyn. He’s in a committed relationship and three years ago adopted two children, now 7 and 5.

Chris’ ex-roomie Keri Evans also has two kids. Evans eventually moved back to her beloved hometown of New Orleans, where she lives with her husband of 13 years and their two daughters.

“I’ve been sort of anonymous and I really appreciate that,” she said.

One cast member who hasn’t been anonymous is Tonya Cooley. The Walla Walla, Washington, woman went on to pose for Playboy and star in a 2007 episode of Cinemax’s soft-core porn series “The Erotic Traveler.”

Cooley sued MTV in 2011, saying she was sexually assaulted with a toothbrush by two male contestants while she was passed out on “The Challenge.” Both parties settled out of court in 2012.

Gantt did a couple of “Challenges,” too, but the pastor’s son said MTV stopped asking him after his second one, “The Gauntlet,” where he abstained from alcohol. Instead of reading people the riot act, he read the Bible.

“I wasn’t drama anymore,” said Gantt, 33, a human resources employee at Target. He has an 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter with his wife, Bianca, whom he met during a post-“Real World” promotion event in Dallas, where he now lives.

“So something great came out of it,” he said.

Brandt parlayed his “Real World” experience into a nearly four-year stint on the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives.”

“My mom always wanted me to get a graduate degree, so it was sort of like going to shirtless, nationally televised graduate school,” the Princeton alum said.

Brandt said that when he did “The Real World,” “it wasn’t as nefarious as it is now.”

“The term ‘reality show’ didn’t even exist,” he added. “This was supposed to be a show — at least in its intention — about what happens when seven people with different backgrounds live together. There was none of this injecting exes or putting you on ‘Challenges.’ It was a little more pure.”

And it was a lot more popular, both in the ratings and the pop-culture zeitgeist.

“I decided a long time ago that if I grow up and invent the cure for cancer, when I’m at the press conference announcing the vaccine there will be somebody in the back row asking, ‘Hey, weren’t you on ‘The Real World?’ ” he said. “‘What was it like living with Aneesa?’”