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reality rumble

What’s the Best Reality Show Ever? Round 2: The Soup Producers on Real World: SF vs. Bachelor

Today we move to the second round of Vulture's ultimate Reality Rumble, a bracket to determine the greatest season of the greatest reality-TV shows, from The Real World on. Each day, a different writer will be charged with determining the winner of a round of the bracket, until Vulture's Margaret Lyons judges the finals on March 25. Today, in the first quarterfinals matchup, The Bachelor's 13th season, in which Jason Mesnick asked for a do-over after proposing, takes on The Real World: San Francisco, which introduced us to Puck and Pedro. And who more qualified to judge a reality battle than three producers of The Soup, who spend every day studying more reality television than you could ever hope to consume. Vulture contributor Gwynne Watkins moderated the deliberations between The Soup executive producer and writer KP Anderson, executive producer Edward Boyd, and co-executive producer and writer Lee Farber.

The Bachelor is a favorite ongoing topic on The Soup. So how well does everyone remember The Real World: San Francisco?
Edward Boyd: I actually remember it quite well because I was watching that show just as a fan. That’s when reality shows were really new; all the drama involved in all of that felt authentic, as opposed to the fake drama we have these days. And I’m gay myself, so to see someone from the gay community [Pedro] come on and be such a positive representation, for me personally, it was super riveting. But at the same time, I’m a human being, so to watch a human being like Puck, who represents the species so poorly, was pretty demoralizing.
Lee Farber: The thing with Puck was that it was basically the introduction of the reality-show asshole. And it was incredibly jarring for The Real World to put someone so brazenly horrible on television. I think he actually was the precursor to all of the awful ones. So every awful Bachelor and Bachelorette can thank Puck for giving them a place to go be that way.
Boyd: I think we were actually scared of Puck, though, sometimes. He seemed genuinely a real villain because you didn’t know what he was going to do. Whereas today’s reality-show villains all know their bullet points. And when Pedro died — I mean, talk about real. We were watching this guy in the mid stages of AIDS and really, that was riveting.

So on the one hand, obviously that season of The Real World was incredibly culturally important. On the other hand, reality TV has changed a lot since then. In one of the clips of The Real World I rewatched, the housemates were literally writing down their feelings about race and then reading them out loud to each other. So when it comes down to it, would you rather watch that, or would you rather watch two crazy chicks fighting over who has better memorized some guy’s Wikipedia page and therefore deserves to marry him?
Farber: Two crazy chicks. Always. Partly because I don’t know that I have the mental capacity to deal with that much actual drama in a half-hour anymore. Real drama has so much emotional attachment. I mean, the great thing about The Bachelor is, if you look at The Real World or any other reality show that’s been on for several seasons, it evolved. They changed things up for the better or worse, and you go back to watch the first season, and you’re like “Wow. That was so different!” The great thing about The Bachelor is that it was the same show, from day one. And literally, if you went back and watched Alex Michel in season one, the only thing you’d say is, “Wow, TVs were so much narrower back then!”
KP Anderson: You just said, “The great thing about The Bachelor.
Farber: Yeah, I’m sorry.
Anderson: I see no redeeming value in The Bachelor whatsoever. I really can’t watch it. If it’s on when I walk into the room and my wife is watching it, I can’t be in the room. I just think it’s the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to television. Because it’s all such bullshit except for the fact that — especially on the Bachelor seasons and not the Bachelorette seasons – you get the impression that these idiots really, really are competing for the love of this man. And how many of the marriages have lasted?

One. From The Bachelorette, not The Bachelor.
Boyd: And the people invest their time following this, and it’s been successful enough that so many people have invested their time. It’s not just Lee.
Farber: And I’m getting paid for it!
Boyd: That so many people have invested their time in watching it speaks such sad volumes about society.
Farber: I think The Bachelor actually, in this kind of meta way, provides the greatest commentary about humanity because people keep going back to it thinking something’s actually going to work out. It never does. So in a way, it’s the best comment on humanity and how we’re just gonna keep repeating ourselves and do these kind of futile acts over and over, because both the viewers and the participants just keep going back for more.
Anderson: We’re specifically pitting this season of The Bachelor against this season of The Real World right? I mean … they were both about loss. So obviously there was a much greater loss in The Real World.
Boyd: I lost more of my life watching The Bachelor.
Farber: But that season of The Bachelor is the greatest season ever. Because I mean, the guy, Jason Mesnick, picked Melissa Rycroft, he proposed to her, and she said, “I can’t believe I’m going to be Mrs. Jason Mesnick. I’m going to call myself Melissa Mesnick!” And during the After the Final Rose show — right afterwards, so in our space and time, it’s literally the next hour! But what actually happened is a couple months had gone by. And he says “You know what? I kind of want to marry the other one.” And so on live TV, he dumps Melissa, and then she storms off, later to become America’s Sweetheart on Dancing With the Stars. And Molly Malaney comes out. Usually it’s the runner-up who comes out first and says, “Why? Why? Why?” and then leaves in tears. And then the winner comes out and it’s the happy thing. They switched it this season, had the winner come out, leave in tears, and then the runner-up comes out, and now basically accepts his proposal.
Anderson: The Real World San Francisco had a commitment ceremony wedding that wasn’t nearly as funny. But it meant so much more to the world!
Boyd: I mean, I hate The Bachelor, but to hear Lee describe it, (a) I’m really, really, really sad for what we’ve done to your life, Lee, and (b) it’s way more entertaining to hear Lee encapsulate it than to sit and watch it all those weeks.
Farber: Hence — the success of The Soup!
Boyd: What would The Soup have done with that season of The Real World?
Farber: Well, I think we would have run Puck into the ground. But that was one of the seasons where it wasn’t nearly as set up and fake and full of manufactured drama. All the drama was real. And that’s harder to cover, when it’s about HIV and race and stuff. It’s not that funny.
Boyd: That was so much more of a like “Gosh, these people are actually living their lives” kind of show.

One thing that really stands out looking at The Real World is how little these guys knew what they were in for, whereas people on a show like The Bachelor know exactly what’s going to happen.
Farber: In the early days of The Real World, I think people were genuinely enthused just to be having the new experience. I mean, the only thing you could ever hope to gain from being on The Real World was to host The Grind.
Boyd: I miss Eric Nies.

Speaking of whom, we haven’t talked much about the other people on The Real World. Pedro and Puck are what everyone remembers, and Judd a little bit, but there was the hot Republican girl —
Producers: Rachel!
Farber: I remember the choker around her neck. It was ’94. She had a choker and beauty mark. Sadly, I remember her for being hot, and not conservative.

And then there was Cory, who was the nice sheltered country girl; Mohammed, the musician and slam poet; and Pam, who was in medical school.
Anderson: Pam had her act together, for sure, and really didn’t have much built-in drama because she had things to focus on that were important.

That was another thing about that season of The Real World: They all had actual jobs. The housemates were working and living lives that had nothing to do with what was going on in the house.
Boyd: The problem with The Bachelor, in a nutshell, is that nothing that happens on The Bachelor even remotely resembles actual courtship. Whereas with that particular season of The Real World, it did resemble actual life to the degree that these were people with plans, and they were trying to get somewhere in life. But with The Bachelor — I mean, when is the last time you went on a date in a helicopter? I think, in terms of what actual real people are thinking, that most people would not willingly engage in an open-bracketed tournament for love. They’d say, “If this is what you want, I’m the wrong person for you,” and move on. So to me, the actual inspiring idea of The Real World is a much more — I can’t believe I’m using this word — artistically sound idea.
Anderson: Which of those seasons would you say was more riveting? I mean, I remember the shit with Puck and I remember the commitment ceremony; there were must-see TV moments that were very real. That season of The Bachelor was amazing drama, though: the reveals of the proposal, and switching the girls.
Farber: I guess what it boils down to is which show’s producers were high-fiving each other more? When Puck started doing his thing, or when Jason couldn’t decide on one girl or the other?
Boyd: I have to say, when it comes to producers high-fiving each other, The Bachelor probably wins.
Farber: Yeah, because what are the odds? As a Jew, I can say this: That’s what happens when you cast a Jewish Bachelor. He’s gonna weigh his options right till the end.
Boyd: And if we’re putting it in a time capsule for history for people to see the most important reality show, which would we choose?
Anderson: I would choose The Real World over The Bachelor, not for necessarily the juicy entertainment value, but I would choose it for the purity of the idea at the time. If, God help me, I had to represent humanity in a time capsule with one of them, I would want people to think better of us than The Bachelor.
Boyd: I’d want to take that moral high ground and say that I would feel better about doing that also. And yet if I had to tell someone to watch a season of the show that would be more entertaining, I would tell them to watch The Bachelor — so I’m selling out my own show here.
Farber: But those two shows are fifteen years apart. A decade and a half. Each show is representative of its own landscape.
Boyd: Well, sadly The Bachelor is the more evolved, and this is a more evolved landscape. But I don’t care, it’s going in the time capsule anyway so I don’t have to see it anymore.

You mentioned the producers high-fiving each other over Puck — but you get the sense, at the time, that they didn’t really know what to do with Puck. They let the roommates vote him out on the phone. They didn’t even have a big confrontation.
Farber: He obviously was cast because he was going to stir things up, but I don’t think they realized how dangerous he was. And when I say dangerous, I just mean you don’t know what’s going to happen with him. He could go in any direction and the decisions he was making on that show were kind of scary. And so that was riveting for that reason. The producers probably didn’t have any control. They were high-fiving when no one got hurt. “We’re ending the season with the same number of participants as we started!"
Anderson: Yeah, but you didn’t turn it off. There were many, many times on The Bachelor where that’s just what I would do. And the fact is that The Real World has moved closer to The Bachelor over the years. But on that specific season of The Real World, you learn much more about the individuals. On The Bachelor, you didn’t learn anything about the individual until Jason dumped Melissa, really. You didn’t learn who they were. That fake “go home and bring three different girls home three different times to meet your parents” crap doesn’t count.
Boyd: I think the old Real World, we used to watch because we didn’t know what was going to happen and we were looking to be surprised and all that drama felt fresh and real and new. And we watch The Bachelor today because we know exactly what is going to happen and we love or hate on those people to a certain degree, but we know what were are getting and can be comforted by that.
Anderson: And you know, at the end of The Bachelor you get to see someone sadder than you.
Farber: Something like The Real World couldn’t sustain itself now because no one would put the money behind a show like that and take a chance that it wouldn’t be amazing.

So, are you definitively calling it for The Real World?
Producers: Ummmmm …
Farber: That’s a tough one!
Boyd: I love both of these seasons for reasons, but I do have to hand it to The Real World for having a social impact, being serial TV that was reality television that was reality for the most part, so I think it wins because of that.
Farber: I’m voting Bachelor, because that was lightning in the bottle. That was something that was completely controlled, and yet there was a huge surprise. As for The Real World, I think any combination of seven individuals in varying states of volatility would have created riveting television, it wouldn’t have been the same obviously, but it would have been riveting to some extent. For me, that season of The Bachelor was winning the lottery. So my pick would be The Bachelor.

KP, you’re the tie-breaker.
Anderson: I pick The Real World even though I actually agree with Lee that The Bachelor was juicier reality TV. Ironically, the producers of The Soup are going to go with The Real World, for the fact that it actually gave something to society in its own weird way.

K.P. Anderson is the head writer and executive producer of The Soup on E! Entertainment Television, he has also produced The Nerdist for BBC America, The Soup Investigates for E!, Last Comic Standing for NBC, and won a Daytime Emmy for The Wayne Brady Show. He's done a bunch of other stuff, but you stopped reading when you thought "K.P." was a stupid name. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, daughter, and Daytime Emmy.

Lee Farber is the co-executive producer and writer of The Soup. Prior to that, he served as writer-producer on The Wayne Brady Show, for which he received an Emmy Award and two nominations, as well as Wayne Bradys variety show for ABC. Additionally, Lee created and executive produced the popular comedy series The Stash for Playboy Television. That's right, Everyone He Went to High School With: Playboy.

Edward Boyd is an executive producer of The Soup. Hes also the creator and EP of Celebrities Uncensored, Web Soup, The Dish, and a bunch of stuff that never saw the light of day. He started out toiling in a series of mind-numbing daytime talk shows before breaking through as a sitcom writer on NBC. Hes currently in a committed relationship with The Soups mascot, Lou the Chihuahua.

New episodes of The Soup air Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on E!

Ed note: Some of the quote attributions were initially mixed up in transcribing, and have since been corrected.