The Real World: Philadelphia is the fifteenth season of MTV's popular reality television series The Real World, which focuses on seven diverse strangers living together for several months in a different city each season, as cameras follow their lives and interpersonal relationships. The Philadelphia installment began filming in April 2004, and premiered September 7 later that year. This was the fourth season to be filmed in the northeastern United States, after The Real World: New York in 1992, The Real World: Boston in 1997 and The Real World: Back to New York in 2001.
The Philadelphia season is the first with two openly gay
men, Karamo Brown and William Hernandez
, in the cast. (The first season to have two gay
cast members, regardless of sex, was the 2002 Chicago season
, although the 1999 Hawaii season
featured a bisexual woman and a gay man.) This was the first season to feature an openly gay black male.
The cast lived in a building at 249-251 Arch Street at 3rd Street in Old City Philadelphia . The 14,494 square foot, three-story building, which is adjacent to the Betsy Ross House, was built in 1902, and known as the Union Bank of Philadelphia Building until 1970, when it was sold to Seamen's Church Institute to house global seafarers. It was placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in January 1977, and purchased in 2003 by Yaron Properties, Inc for $2.2 million USD. $3 million more went into renovating and furnishing the building for production of the series, which included 42 mounted cameras for filming. The interior was designed by Norm Dodge of Norm Dodge & Associates.
In March 2004, producers ceased construction after completing two thirds of the project, and announced they were leaving Philadelphia because of disputes with Philadelphia trade unions. Joey Carson, CEO of Bunim/Murray Productions, and Ted Kenney, a producer on The Real World, met in private over a two-week period with the trade unions. The meetings were brokered by Mayor John F. Street, Governor Ed Rendell, Congressman Bob Brady, and other civic leaders in order to keep the production in Philadelphia. The flap delayed renovations by several weeks. The interior decorations used for the series remained until as late as October 2004. The building is currently an art gallery for the Art Institute of Philadelphia's F.U.E.L. Collection.
On November 29
, two Philadelphia police officers were arrested for aggravated assault
, simple assault
, criminal conspiracy
and reckless endangerment
, due to an altercation they had with a plainclothes officer guarding the Real World
house during filming the previous year. According to UPI
, Officers Patrick Cavalieri and David McAndrews were off-duty when they went to the house during filming of the program, and began banging on the door. Officer Brian Copeland, the plainclothes officer guarding the house, tried to stop them, and was allegedly assaulted by the two fellow policemen, who were suspended for 30 days with the intent to dismiss, according to a department spokesman. Cavalieri, a five-year veteran of the force, was eventually fired. One of the charges against him dropped, but he was found not guilty of another, and reinstated in his job. He later sued the city and Copeland for violations of the his civil
and constitutional rights
, asking for a minimum of $50,000 in damages. Copeland alleged that Cavalieri and his "friends" severely beat him, causing severe eye damage. Cavalieri alleged that Copeland was not an officially licensed police officer at the time of the incident, that he did not identify himself as an officer before attacking him, and that he lied several times during the investigation regarding his version of the incident, the injuries he incurred.
Every season of the The Real World
, beginning with its fifth season, has included the assignment of a season-long group job or task to the housemates. The Philadelphia cast worked for the Philadelphia Soul
, an Arena football
team which is partly owned by Jon Bon Jovi
. As part of their duties for the Soul, the cast planned and built a playground for underprivileged children as part of the Northern Home for Children program.
Age at the time of filming.
||RW/RR Challenges |
|| Born November 2, 1980, Karamo is an African-American gay man from Houston, who donates much of his time to charities and political causes, which he says are his passion. He is very close to his mother and three older sisters. His upbringing included strong anti-white prejudices and has related feelings about interracial dating, but according to mtv.com, he struggles to keep an open mind and overcome these feelings, and in an interview, he stated he auditioned to grow as a person. He attended Florida A&M University, where he majored in Business Administration. Prior to casting, he lived in Los Angeles, where he worked at the Brotherhood Crusade, writing proposals for grants and establishing programs for underprivileged people. He is an avid fan of Beyonce Knowles, the L.A. Lakers, and the band Octavius, enjoys going to art galleries, and dreams of visiting Japan.
|| The Inferno II |
||Born August 21, 1979, Landon is an athlete who in high school, was a state champion in doubles tennis and ranked fifth in the state in wrestling. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he was on the water skiing and wake boarding teams. He doesn’t like being labeled a "dumb jock", however, and fears that others won't accept him. He recently ended a seven-year relationship with his high school sweetheart, and still hasn't gotten over her. He loves female attention, and longs for a long-term relationship again. He is a fan of Brad Pitt, AC/DC, and Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, and dreams of visiting Thailand. He often drinks too much, which leads to problems with his castmates.
|| The Inferno II, The Gauntlet II |
|| Born December 22, 1981, Melanie ("Mel") was adopted at six months after being placed into foster care by her seventeen-year-old mother. She is an alumnus of the University of California at Santa Cruz and hopes to become a high school English teacher. She has a boyfriend named Andy. She claims to have a spontaneous, wild streak, loves to dance and party, is close to her family, and claims to be passionate about music, art, and politics. She is an avid fan of David Bowie and the band Modest Mouse. The cast often takes umbrage at what they perceive as Mel's rudeness and lack of consideration for others, as well as standoffishness for choosing to frequent a local tavern by herself, and consorting with some friends there to the exclusion of her housemates.
|| Born May 28, 1980, M.J. is a Southern man who graduated from Vanderbilt University, where he majored in Human and Organizational Development, and was a star football player. He had dreams of playing professional football, but he was turned down by the NFL. He auditioned after finding his post-graduate, 9-to-5 desk job doing marketing at a non-profit organization unfulfilling, and after a chance meeting with a member of the casting department during a visit to Los Angeles, to which he intended to move. M.J. began a two-month relationship before moving to Philadelphia, and he struggles to maintain it long-distance. He is close to his father, and his younger brother Austin, and is proud to be “a jock who can express himself.” He is a fan of Ali G and Dashboard Confessional. He has a preference for blonde women, which is partially the cause of conflict between him and Sarah in Episodes 2 and 3.
||The Gauntlet II, The Gauntlet III |
||Born and raised in Florida, Sarah graduated from Emory University and at the time of casting, was working 9-to-5 at a law firm, and planned to attend University of Florida School of Law. According to mtv.com, she is opinionated and outspoken, and isn’t afraid to use her sex appeal to get what she wants. She has overcome an eating disorder, which began when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. As her mother is still undergoing treatment, she continues to struggle with her weight. She was once raped, and she attributes her highly sexual behavior to this. She enjoys cooking, is passionate about politics, is a fan of the Tampa Bay Bucs, and dreams of visiting Brazil.
||San Diego, California
||Born February 16, 1983, Shavonda is an African-American woman who likes to party and to socialize with men. She lived a turbulent childhood, and in high school, She was a cheerleader and her school's first African-American homecoming queen. She struggles to support herself, and is putting herself through Grossmont Community College by working nights at a Hooters in Mission Valley. She has a boyfriend to whom she wants to be faithful, even though he is not the kind of jock that usually pursues her. She prefers jocks with a sense of humor.
||The Inferno II |
||New York City, New York
||Born November 20, 1979, Willie is a gay Puerto Rican American writer/actor with a passion for the arts and performing who works part-time as a personal shopper. His religious parents don't accept his lifestyle, which drove him from home when he was 15. He and his straight twin brother are the oldest of six children who all remain close. He admits to being stubborn and confrontational. As a child, he worked in commercials and musical theater and was a regular on the children's television show Ghostwriter, which promoted literacy for children. He is an avid fan of Madonna and the band Scissor Sisters.
- Episode 1. "Welcome to Philly!"
M.J. and Landon are the first to meet, and find they have things in common. They meet Shavonda. Sarah then meets Willie, and admits her nervousness about the experience to him, and they agree to look out for one another at the house. M.J., Landon and Shavonda arrive at the house first and tour it. They are joined by Willie and Sarah, who finds M.J. very attractive. Karamo and Melanie meet at the Philadelphia Art Museum
, and arrive at the house last. Sarah says she likes to walk around nude, and after removing her bra, invites her roommates to inspect her breast implants
, but Landon demurs. M.J. hasn’t associated with many gay people, but comes to respect Willie on the cast’s first night out. Shavonda is surprised when Karamo reveals that he is also gay, but keeps this from the others.
- Episode 2. "‘Out’ In Philadelphia"
Continuing from the previous episode, the cast returns home. Sarah and M.J. talk and flirt all night. Willie suspects Karamo is gay, but Karamo doesn’t want to come out to everyone yet, fearing M.J. and Landon will turn on him when they find out. Landon and Shavonda express disbelief of the depth of M.J.’s two-month relationship back home with a woman named Ashley. Willie and the women go out the next night to a gay club, while the others to another club. Karamo reveals that he is gay, much to the surprise of Landon and M.J., who feels that Karamo defies gay stereotypes.
- Episode 3. "Bed-Swapping Begins"
M.J. thinks Sarah is attractive, but isn’t certain what she wants from him. Shavonda and Landon are attracted to one another, but she laments that she is in a relationship, and on the phone, tells her boyfriend Shawn that she wants to see other people. M.J. is sympathetic, as he has a girlfriend too, but insists that he would break up with her if he felt he were about to be unfaithful. The two couples share beds, though Karamo disapproves. The next morning Sarah indicates she kissed M.J., but he says he doesn’t remember it. He breaks up with Ashley over the phone, and later flirts with women at a club. Sarah is furious when he asks her for the house number so he can give it to a blonde girl, but he later tells her at the house that their prior kiss was not the signal of a relationship, much to her hurt. Shavonda is not amused by Landon’s drunken antics, but he says in the confessional that he loves her.
- Episode 4. "Boys Will Be Boys"
Sarah is happy with the breast implants she got for graduation, but Melanie does not believe in plastic surgery. Sarah feels she is being intrusively judgmental. Sarah reveals she had an eating disorder
since she was 17, and was bulimic
just six months ago. Willie meets Daniel, an old friend, at a gay festival, and they realize a mutual attraction. M.J. and Landon aren’t completely comfortable having a number of gay men in their house all at once. Willie laments that while he now closer to his father, his mother still disapproves of his sexuality. He and Daniel later snuggle in bed. He wants to take things slow, but is excited at reconnecting with Daniel. When Melanie gossips to Landon and Karamo about the $140 Sarah spent on jeans, Sarah expresses hurt to her over this. Mel apologizes, and the two resolve the issue. Willie and Daniel make out in the shower before returning to bed, much to the others’ curiosity.
- Episode 5. "Gunning for Karamo"
Karamo and Landon discuss their views on race, and experience conflict in the episode. After Shavonda’s father fails to send her some money he promised, her ex-stepmother offers help. Shavonda doesn’t have a great relationship with her father, and feels she can’t rely on him. M.J. respects Karamo but feels it is not reciprocated. Karamo admits to being “borderline racist”, and doesn’t typically have white friends. At a club, policemen surround Karamo on an anonymous tip that he had a gun. M.J. intervenes, and tries to calm Karamo, but Karamo gets angrier. He later says that this has occurred to him more than 20 times. M.J. feels he holding the incident against him, but when he offers a handshake and a truce, Karamo walks away to pray.
- Episode 6. "The Roomies Have Soul"
M.J. feels Karamo has rejected him as a friend, but Karamo was offended that M.J. thought he was overreacting, which Karamo sees as insensitivity. While out walking, passersby harass and throw objects at Landon and M.J., and someone at a bar throws a stool at M.J. Karamo later laughs it off as karma
. The cast receives their job working for the Philadelphia Soul
football team, and are excited at the prospect of meeting Jon Bon Jovi
. They attend a game in a VIP suite. Willie is enthused that he’ll earn some money. M.J. is reminded of his own dashed NFL
dreams. They get lost on the way home, and while driving through a questionable neighborhood, Karamo is amused at his roommate’s apprehension. Karamo continues to avoid M.J. On their next arena trip, they meet Bon Jovi
, and learn they will help build a city playground. The cast hands out t-shirts at the game, and enjoys themselves. Karamo wishes to convey his hurt feelings to the others, but doesn’t want to come across as angry. He and M.J. mend fences.
- Episode 7. "Ivana Have Some Fun!"
Sarah and M.J. flirt, but do not share romantic feelings. Melanie observes that alcohol alters Sarah radically. Sarah reveals her sexual behavior is partially a result of having been raped
. Shavonda, on whom Landon has a crush, breaks up with her boyfriend Shaun, but Karamo opines she shouldn’t do this just to be with Landon. She later licks whip cream off a banana in exchange for free drinks, much to cast’s cheers, and Landon’s arousal. Shaun says he is willing to give her space, but not if her dalliances go beyond kissing, and they end the call on bad terms. M.J. drunkenly phones Ashley to tell her about Shavonda, and later crawls into bed with Sarah, who insists they did not have sex. M.J. later calls Ashley, and they laugh off the previous call. Melanie tells Sarah that M.J. doesn’t want her in his bed. He objects, but Sarah realizes she can’t rely on him for emotional support, and agrees with her.
- Episode 8. "Frustrations"
Karamo has a crush on a man named Dorian, and the two enjoy a dance together. The cast meets with their bosses as part of the playground assignment. Landon is angered by what he sees as Mel’s verbal attacks on him. M.J. says he and most of the others are fed up with Mel, a conflict that arises during their planning of the playground. Karamo and Dorian get to know one another further. Karamo feels he can’t be himself with the cameras around, as he is not comfortable with public displays of his sexuality. Melanie complains when the cast is delayed to work by traffic, which irritates the others. Dorian inspires Karamo to go out again and try to be open about himself. They later share affection on a couch, and Karamo says he sees a future with Dorian.
- Episode 9. "Landon & Leo"
Landon is frustrated by the erotic literature he and Shavonda read, and by his boring sex life, as his relationship with Shavonda does not seem promising. At a gay club, a drunk Landon dances with Sarah, but the next morning, doesn’t remember a subsequent argument he had with her. Mel goes alone to a bar, where she has a good time socializing, but her later refusal to tell the others the name of the bar offends M.J. Sarah feels Mel is insensitive to her stated experiences with bulimia. Karamo theorizes that Mel’s abrasiveness may not be derived from genuine malice, and recommends talking it out. Tension exists as Sarah and a hung-over Mel work with animals the next day, but they try to understand one another. Mel talks about how she was adopted, and her parents’ turbulent marriage, and how she is stronger for it. Shavonda tells Landon his drunkenness scares her, and he vows to change. When he later asks if she has feelings for him, she says she only sees him as a friend because of his drinking.
- Episode 10. "Things Change"
Landon laments that his ex-girlfriend is dating Jason, his old roommate. Shavonda is angered that Shaun is being visited by his ex-girlfriend. Landon is hopeful when he learns his ex, Becky, with whom he is still in love, is in town for the night, but she is happy with Jason. When Becky’s friend, Sabrina becomes nauseous, Landon thinks she needs a hospital, and is incredulous that Becky insists they just put her in a cab. Back at the house, he cries at how much Becky has changed. Shaun tells Shavonda that he made a mistake, and really needs her, but she is skeptical about any future between them. Mel and Landon suggest that she set some boundaries with Shaun. Landon and Shavonda open up about their relationships, and he assures her that he and the others will be there for her.
- Episode 11. "Happy Birthday MJ!"
Shavonda continues to experience conflict with both Shaun and Landon. For M.J.’s birthday, Sarah brings him breakfast in bed, and the cast later goes to Dave & Busters
. Landon is preoccupied with thoughts of Shavonda, and resolves to see other women. He and M.J. later party at Coyote Ugly
, where he meets a girl that he brings home. The others surprise M.J. with a cake. Landon and the woman make out in the hot tub, much to the disapproval of Shavonda, who resolves that he’ll not sleep in her bed any more. The next morning, the cast wonders if Landon had sex with the woman, but he says he didn’t. Shaun sends Shavonda roses, but Landon argues that anyone can do that. Landon is amazed by her sweetness, but Shavonda says Shaun is the only one to love her unconditionally.
- Episode 12. "Passive Aggression"
Willie complains that he is the only clean one in the house, but Landon complains that he should come to him if he feels this way. Sarah cleans the house, and after falling asleep, is awakened at 3am by M.J. and Landon, who says that he didn’t complain when Willie kept him up until 5am the previous day, and tells her to “fuck off”. Sarah later complains that the others worked at the office on the playground project without any input from her, and that Landon has implied that she, Willie and Karamo are lazy. Despite Willie and Karamo’s tardiness the next day, their employers are impressed the work the housemates did, but instruct them to all work as a team next time. Landon objects to the others’ criticism, but apologizes to Sarah, who make up.
- Episode 13. "Switchin’ Teams"
Sarah yearns for sex, and secretly hopes that Jason, a gay man she met at a club, is bisexual
. Landon and M.J. hit on some girls at a club, and M.J. takes one of them, Nicole, home, where they make out
. He is later slightly offended when Willie and Sarah joke about her. M.J. worries what Ashley will think of his antics, and growing heartsick, resolves not to take any other girls home. Sarah asks her male hairdresser, Diana, for advice about Jason, feeling that Jason is sending her “signals”. She later talks with Jason, but Willie advises her not to sleep with him without deeper feelings for him. It seems that Jason is more interested than he let on earlier, but while they make out, Sarah feels conflicted, later telling Willie she would rather not deal with this again.
- Episode 14. "Forbidden Affair"
Landon dates Gina, the Philadelphia Soul account, despite rules against fraternizing in the cast’s contract. Shavonda, who has been uncomfortable around the disabled
since childhood, is uncomfortable with the cast’s participation in the upcoming Easter Seals walk-a-thon
, but her experience with a child named Olivia during the event causes a change of heart. The cast’s employers review the fraternization rule, clarifying to Landon that his romance with Gina is prohibited. Gina wants to continue, but Landon thinks they need to end it.
- Episode 15. "Gone Sour"
Sarah’s mother is currently undergoing chemotherapy
for cancer. When her parents and sister Rachel come to visit, Rachel questions Rachel about her eating disorder, which started when their mother was diagnosed, and Sarah says she’s healthy. Karamo does not appreciate an unexpected visit from Dorian, in whom he is losing romantic interest, and after feigning illness, Dorian leaves. Karamo goes out with Willie, and when Dorian returns, he sees that Karamo, who was “sick”, is gone. Karamo later clarifies that they’re not in a relationship, and walks away in the middle of his talk with Dorian, saying he doesn’t want a relationship right now.
- Episode 16. "MJ’s Having Trouble with The Ladies"
Sarah and M.J. argue heatedly over the film The Passion of the Christ
. Sarah feels it is anti-Semitic
, and that Landon does not respect strong women. M.J. struggles to be faithful to Ashley, and experiences conflict with Shavonda, bringing her to tears. Karamo helps a drunken Willie pay a taxi bill, but the cast complains when he doesn’t go to work the next day. He later apologizes. Sarah and M.J. continue to experience conflict but they later resolve it.
- Episode 17. "Altercations"
Mel, Landon and Shavonda continue to resent how M.J. considers Drinker’s Tavern her own special place, and keeps company with friends from there, leading to a fight and exchanged threats between a drunk Landon and Mel and her friends. Shavonda and Karamo get to know one another, and Karamo says she is opening his mind and helping him to see things differently with respect to his feelings on race. When Karamo tells Landon that Landon put a knife in his pocket the other night when Mel’s friends were around, Landon realizes he has a drinking problem.
- Episode 18. "Ew, Scabies!"
Mel’s case of body lice
is a cause for ridicule and fear from the others. The cast also continues to be annoyed at Mel’s rudeness and lack of consideration for others. The cast has to present plans for the playground to their employers, causing conflict between Landon and the others. They again meet Jon Bon Jovi. After completing their task, they receive a trip to Fiji
as a reward, much to their excitement.
- Episode 19. "Fiji"
Shavonda asks Shaun about the prospect of her skinny dipping
while in Fiji with her friends. The cast arrives on Robinson Crusoe Island
, and she complains about the accommodations. Sarah flirts with a group of British men at the resort, but two of them refuse her advances, and she ends up making out with a third one. Landon and Shavonda enjoy a romantic sit on the beach. Mel flirts with the British men, much to Sarah’s offense. Landon and Shavonda make out.
- Episode 20. "Romantic Getaway"
The cast continues to enjoy Fiji, jumping off waterfalls, going topless or nude on the beach, taking boats, and diving. Shavonda and Sarah French kiss during a game of Truth or Dare
. Shavonda then makes out with Landon, who disrobes. Karamo disapproves of Shavonda and Landon’s displays, and disturbs the others when he makes a joke about slitting Landon’s throat if he were stranded on an island with him. Shavonda and Landon spend the night together, but are coy as to whether they had sex.
- Episode 21. "Back to Reality"
The cast returns home. Karamo expresses disapproval to Mel of Shavonda, in light of Shaun, who is outraged when Shavonda tells him what happened in Fiji. Shavonda is torn between him and Landon, who thinks Karamo’s disapproval is racist, which Karamo denies. Karamo brings his Puerto Rican
friend Ed back to the house, much to the surprise of the cast, because Ed is not black. Sarah reveals that Karamo expressed hatred of Shavonda, much to the incredulity of Shavonda and Willie. Landon and Shavonda dance or kiss other people at a club, which they later fight about. Karamo no longer has a problem with their relationship.
- Episode 22. "Intervention"
The cast conflict with Mel over her abrasiveness and exclusion of them continues. Shavona and Mel have a huge fight, causing a despondent Mel to consider moving home. The cast talks with Mel, and Mel resolves to improve her relationships with them. Karamo decides to mentor the children instead of helping with the playground. When he, Landon and Melanie fail to go to work one day, they are threatened with termination and eviction. The cast is told a sponsor donating $5,000 USD
will give each cast member $1,000 if they complete the playground on time.
- Episode 23. "Willie's Love Triangle"
Willie’s long-distance relationship with Dan proves conflicting for him. After Dan says he can date others, Willie has a date with an attractive man named Neil, but Sarah and Shavonda think his choice is superficial, and should stay with Dan. Neil is irritated when Willie breaks a date and shows up at a club with Dan. Karamo exhibits behavior the others find strange, but he says they merely misunderstand him and his humor, and tries to bond with them over dodge ball
- Episode 24. "Ashley’s Visit"
M.J.’s girlfriend Ashley and his friend David both visit. M.J. takes her out with David drinking, despite her exhaustion, and ignores her during the night. They spend time the next day, during which they discuss his faithfulness. After she returns home, he learns she wants to date others. Landon is shocked to learn from David how different M.J. is at home. M.J. admits that he hasn’t opened up as much a he could, but he and Landon both agree to try.
- Episode 25. "Motherly Love"
Sarah’s body image issues are exacerbated by her mother’s criticism. Her boss Donna reassures her, but Willie’s dismissal of her problems leads to a screaming match between them, and later, a talk. Sarah’s mother apologizes to her. Jon Bon Jovi is pleased with the playground, and has the cast use an IKEA
donation to furnish the day care center. Karamo decides to give special plaques as gifts to Landon and his bosses Laura and Donna.
- Episode 26. "Losing You"
As the cast’s time in Philadelphia nears its end, the cast discusses Willie’s flamboyant behavior. Landon and Shavonda discuss their relationship, leading to an attempt at inciting jealousy, awkwardness, a card from him to her, and an acknowledgment of the difficulties of long-distance relationships. The cast shares a group hug before sending off Mel, the first to leave. Karamo notes he is more accepting then he was in the beginning. Willie and Sarah depart for New York City
, bringing Sarah to tears. M.J. has learned much from Landon. Landon and Shavonda share a tearful good-bye.