As part of MTV's ongoing 30th birthday and the often-difficult personal inventory everyone takes at that age, The Village Voice has obtained a copy of the contract signed by all participants in MTV’s The Real World, still the exemplar for all invasive and exploitative reality shows. As you’d expect, it’s both invasive and exploitative. And detailed! Over the course of 30 exhaustive pages, the document offers a revealing, highly specific glimpse into the total abandon with which all enter the proverbial hot tub, answering the eternal question, “What price fame?” (even in its debased, “reality show infamy” form).
For example: Should you catch any sexually transmitted diseases as a result of the events that may occur in that hot tub (“including, without limitation, HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis, pelvic inflammatory disease [PID], Chlamydia, scabies [crabs],'hepatitis, genital warts, and other communicable and sexually transmitted diseases”), you hereby absolve the producers of any and all responsibility. And while you must also testify with your signature that you personally don’t have AIDS or any other STDs, you understand that some of your fellow cast members might be lying when they do so, and you agree to accept that. Furthermore, you have to swear that you’re not pregnant, and agree that should you become pregnant during filming, it’s grounds for dismissal. (After all, this is a family show. Or not a family show. One of those.)
Anyway, all of this is hilarious in its specificity, but still pretty reasonable: In fact, most of the contract is a fairly standard waiver of responsibility should you become diseased, suffer a nervous breakdown, lose a limb during any of the physically demanding activities (or subsequent medical procedures), or die, all of which is on you. And even the bits about monitoring your email and phone calls, having total access to all of your personal records, and taking things from your home (with the promise to return them after filming) seems pretty par for the course for this sort of program.
However, what’s really interesting—and rarely detailed this explicitly—is the amount of control over the rest of their lives contestants are willing to sign away up front, including the blanket rights to all experiences “which occur, will occur, or have occurred at any time… (my ‘Life Story’),” which producers are given limitless freedom to portray in perpetuity in all “forms of exploitation… either accurately or with such liberties and modifications as [the] producer determines necessary or desirable,” including those that may humiliate you, portray you in “a false light,” or serve to produce a “humorous or satirical effect.” Oddly enough, participants must also agree to allow the producers to hire “actors who may or may not resemble me” to achieve these same ends, which is an ominous stipulation right out of The Twilight Zone, frankly. But hey, what’s a little total lack of control over the rest of your time on Earth in exchange for the respect and admiration you get for being a Real World cast member?