‘The Real World: St. Thomas’ Recap (Season Finale): “Flyin’ The Coop”
Nothing happens, then it’s over.
The Real World farewell episode tends to be pretty forgettable, the meat of conflict and chemistry having long since been digested, leaving only the passable crust of closure left to force down. The bulk of the reality genre deals in classic spectacle, and the competition shows that comprise about half of it obviously peak at their high-stakes conclusions. But this once-fascinatingly prototypical specimen never had any point other than to introduce us to the characters and let each gradually annoy and endear in turn, so things can’t help but thin out toward the finale. This occurs not just to the viewer but equally, it seems, to the seven strangers, who always tend to wind down their mania as they realize they have little left to do but count the hours till they return to their boring regular lives. With a few exceptions—one that stands out being the poignant, 9/11-fractured Chicago installment’s, with once-homophobic Theo declaring his brotherly love for openly gay Chris as the two drive off down the freeway—the end of a season is more or less a formality, not nearly as fun as the drama-clogged middle.
With Brandon’s booting lending things some perspective, the mood at the outset here is convivial, if perhaps forcedly so, as the gang gets their cliché masquerade gear on for the proper Carnival blowout. One of the key traits the producers seem to look for in potential cast members (for at least the past half decade) is the ability to amplify any organic celebratory spirit into a paroxysm of delight through a sheer oppressive force of will, and here—hoisting the modest, frankly sub-par-looking St. Thomas Carnival parade into new heights of obnoxiousness, like boozy Atlases—the roommates are compelled to extremes. LaToya forces herself to down some rum. Marie is literally moved to tears by the experience of dancing like a moron in a one-piece in front of strangers. Swift decides to stay on in St. Thomas post-season: “I have fell in love with the V.I.” (Perhaps his enthusiasm will drain slightly a few days into his mansion-less, cushy-aquarium-internship-free, built-in-local-fame-bereft stay there, but I guess we’ll find out on the reunion. If he’s still alive.)
Anyway, the kids occupy their time with agreeable frivolity and sappiness: Robb searches for a special lovey-dove bracelet for Marie, and Swift sets out to capture and plant a wild chicken in Toya’s bed. (“A chicken for a chickenhead,” as he uncharitably puts it.) On the romance front, Robb acquits himself well, buying some hokey tourist trinket that’s actually a very thoughtful offering for his gold-digging maiden. “I haven’t found anyone, ever, who is so kind to me and so accepting of my bullshit,” says Marie. Quite. While she goes to blow some money on a companion piece for Robb’s wrist (ah, true love), Swift passes the afternoon disrupting life in a low-key St. Thomas neighborhood with his elaborate chicken hunt, managing to snag a couple only with the services of some bored locals. We’re then regaled with every single further step of the scheme, the sequence—which goes on about eight minutes longer than it should—simultaneously detailing Swift’s breezy animal abuse and giving the whole thing a sheen of playful irrelevance. I want this show to be over.
Oh, but it shan’t end before some graphic booze cruise puking and maudlin sunset reminiscing, and an eternity more of aimless screwing around and measured triteness; when they start shouting “EVERYWHERE WE GO-O” in the confessional, I see where they’re going with it. I do not care to hear any more of their cheerleader chant about Real World island. Show me five minutes of a leaf floating in the pool. Finally, finally it is time to leave, and the roommates seize the opportunity for reflective profundity. “You know, at the end of the day, we a family,” says Swift. “Dysfunctional, but we a family.” “I will definitely miss living in this beautiful home on this private island,” says LaToya, with a note of satisfied surprise.
Swift departs first and just sort of wanders timidly into the urban heart of the island. Have fun, buddy. The others sit around at the airport, Laura moping over her Trey hang-up. “Laura is an amazing woman,” he says. “I hope she finds someone that can actually give her what I couldn’t.” (……… Head?) Laura departs, then Robb. Marie and LaToya do their little butt dance in the airport, because how much further could they embarrass this beautiful, welcoming territory? As they leave, each of our young heroes relates what he or she has learned in their time in the Virgin Islands, as though their three-month drunken sojourn was a field trip to the science center. I’m struck by the extent to which the experience has bolstered their courage, generosity and vision. Trey: “One thing that I’ve learned here is never deal with two girls at the same time.” That’s a truth both incontrovertible and universal, and in an age where a generation of twenty-somethings can leverage their technical aptitude and passion for civic and social life to revolutionize communication media, help change big-league politics, and ignite a global stand for justice, it’s emblematic, I think, of our illimitable possibilities. “Show love no matter what the situation is,” says Toya, our cute little southern Maharishi. Cast out of paradise, our heroes return to the heartland. Welcome back; we need you.
Image courtesy mtv.com
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