The first season of “The Real World” (1992) was groundbreaking for reality television. The cast of young people who showed up to live together in New York City, on camera, had no other program to mimic. No drama from other shows to emulate. They arrived from all over to tell the “true story of seven strangers, picked to live in a house” and “have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start getting real.” (That was the tagline.)
There have been more than 30 seasons of “The Real World” since.
That first cast — Generation Xers — quarantined during COVID-19 and returned to their old apartment for “The Real World Homecoming: New York,” which streams on Paramount+ March 4. What happens when a bunch of middle-age adults who took different paths try to relate to each other in 2020? How do they talk about race and politics?
I spoke with Eric Nies, 49, one of the original cast members, about the upcoming docuseries. Nies became a heartthrob and model after that first season, and hosted an MTV workout program called “The Grind.” A disclosure: I was born in New Jersey, and our families knew each other. In the mid-’90s, through mutual family friends, long after my family had moved to Maryland, I asked Nies — a star, at that point — to a high school dance, thinking it could be incredible if I showed up with a celebrity. He did not accept the invitation, but instead sent an autographed photo and his regards, via his mother. Somewhere, I still have the picture.
Nies eventually left that pinup reality life and traveled the world to find spirituality. His website says that, in 2006, he chanted with 2,000 Monks in the Himalayan Mountains for World Peace, and in 2010, he had his first ayahuasca experience in Brazil. Now, he’s a “licensed CyberScan quantum energy practitioner, and a licensed doctor of pastoral science and medicine.” Last week, we spoke on the phone about what it meant to return to New York with his “Real World” friends. He tried to talk about the show without giving spoilers, which was limiting (his plotline involves some big drama).
Q. I wanted to write about this show because my younger friends might not understand how monumental that first season was. It birthed an entire industry. Did that play in to why you said yes again, at this point in your life?
A. The deeper meaning and purpose of this for me is more spiritual and global because of my journey that I’ve been on, and the understanding I have of what’s actually happening on the planet right now, with all of this separation and division. I feel like I have a different perspective because of the opportunity I’ve had to sit with spiritual masters and shamans in the jungles of Peru, and different elders and wisdom-keepers from indigenous tribes from around the world, and looking at prophecies of, you know, where we’re at, as a human race. Now I assist people in liberating themselves from their own suffering. For me, it’s an opportunity to share my journey of transformation and healing, in hopes to give other people some inspiration or some information — to assist them in their own personal evolution.
Q. When you reconnected with these people in the house, what role did you take on?
A. I can’t elaborate on that until the show airs. But I can say that everything has happened in divine order. We’ve stayed in contact with each other over the years. We’re on a group text together; some have communicated more than others. But they are aware of my journey. They are aware of what I’ve personally gone through.
Q. Do you think the isolation of the pandemic affected the group’s experience? And the election?
A. We need this — we, the people — especially going through the pandemic, and all of this separation and division on the political stage, and the economic stage, the global financial stage. This is a crucial time in history and for the future of this planet and humanity. It’s really important for programs, experiences, and experiments like this to take place. Whatever background you come from, whatever spiritual belief, whatever the color of your skin — we really need to see the commonality in all of us. That there is no separation and there is no division between us; it’s an illusion. It’s a lie. And that’s to me that’s what “The Real World” has always been.
Q. I think it’ll be interesting to see where people are at this specific age. There’s so much talk about baby boomers and millennials, but Gen X people are in real positions of power, and when I “met” this cast on TV, they were young people looking toward change. And now what?
A. To me, [the original “Real World”] was the first and last authentic reality TV show. We didn’t go in there with an agenda. We went on as raw as possible. And I think we need to be reminded of that. That’s what I believe is going to happen with this reunion special, is to remind people — and, more importantly, the media companies — that authentic programming works. We just did a bunch of interviews and somebody was saying how in the first week, MTV was looking at the first season and was like, “Well, they’re boring. This is boring.” But millions of other people didn’t think it was boring. I think we’re all like we’re starving for authenticity. I think this will be refreshing for people to watch considering the landscape of what we’ve just observed over the last four years.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at Meredith.Goldstein@Globe.com.