VAN NUYS, Calif.—Even if you're no fan of "reality TV," you've probably heard of The Real World, now in its 25th year. The basic premise is to throw a bunch of mismatched 18- to 25-somethings into a shared living situation in a house in some (usually) American city and record how they interact with each other—which over the past few years has been mostly to "party hearty!"
"During the second episode [of 2002], in a casino Whirlpool on the Las Vegas strip, Trishelle, the full-figured airhead from the bayou whose mother died when Trishelle was 14, moseyed across the hot tub to Brynn, the all-American party girl from rural Washington state, and started kissing and groping her," observed Benjamin Wallace-Wells on the blog C-Ville Weekly. "Steven, the straight guy working to put himself through business school by tending a gay bar, turned to the camera and gave it an unmistakable what's-a-guy-to-do? look. Then he joined in."
But what if, in "joining in," either Trishelle or Brynn had gotten pregnant, or if any of the participants had contracted crabs, HIV or any other STD? The short answer is, they'd be shit out of luck, thanks to the 30-page agreement that Real World Productions, based in Van Nuys, and MTV, which cablecasts the series, forces all cast members to sign.
Camille Dodero of the Village Voice managed to snag a copy of an unsigned, undated contract, and the number of rights and legal causes of action cast members have to sign away is staggering. For instance, check out this half-page sentence on page 25:
"To the maximum extent permitted by law, I and the other Releasing Parties hereby release the Released Parties from any and all claims, actions, damages, liabilities, losses, costs and expenses of any kind (including without limitation, losses, costs and expenses of any kind resulting from, or by reason of my participation on or in connection with the Program, including, without limitation, attorneys fees) arising out of, resulting from, or by reason of my participation in the Program, any exploitation of the Program or my participation in the Program, the failure of Producer to select me as a participant, the cancellation of the Program, any advice or input I receive in connection with the Program, or the exercise by Producer or anyone else of any rights granted by me under this Agreement, on any legal theory whatsoever (including without limitation, fraud, intentional or negligent misrepresentation, personal injury, death, moral rights, rights of privacy and publicity or confidentiality, false light, defamation, libel, invasion of privacy, intentional or negligent infliction of emotions distress, product liability, breach of contract, breach of any statutory or other duty of care owed under applicable laws, infringement of copyright, loss of earnings or potential earnings, and those based on my dissatisfaction with any prize, if applicable) (the "Released Claims")."
Whew! And how do they get away with this crap? Well, like many adult performers, Real World cast members aren't "employees." How do we (or they) know? It says so on page 11:
"I further agree that, if I am selected by Producer to be a participant, my appearance as a participant in the Program is not a performance and is not employment and is not subject to any union or guild collective bargaining agreement, and does not entitle me to wages, salary, corporate benefits, workers' compensation benefits, or other compensation under any such collective bargaining agreement or otherwise."
So if appearing on The Real World isn't "employment," then the cast members are independent contractors—like most porn stars—which allows the "Released Parties" to insert this clause on page 5:
"I further understand and acknowledge that Producer cannot control and is not responsible for, the events, which transpire, or allegedly transpire, during any transaction between myself and other participants or any other person on the Program... I understand there are risks in any such interaction, including but not limited to, the possibility of consensual and non-consensual physical contact, which could result in... my contracting any type of sexually transmitted disease, including, without limitation, HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), Chlaymdia, scabies (crabs), hepatitis, genital warts, and other communicable and sexually transmitted diseases or Pregnancy, etc. Participant further understands and acknowledges that neither Producer nor any other party has represented to Participant that any other participant is or will be free of HIV, herpes, hepatitis or any other sexually transmitted disease."
And if it sounds like The Real World's producers don't give a fuck about their cast members' health, don't worry; they're on the honor system:
"I expressly agree and affirm to Producer that I will conduct myself with the care, good judgment and discretion that an aware and reasonable person would ordinarily exercise in similar situations." (Pg. 5)
Of course, the producers might do a background check on any cast member—"I understand and acknowledge that Producer may or may not screen or conduct background checks or investigations of the other participants or any other person who appears, or may appear, on the Program (including an investigation of any person's medical, professional or criminal history..."—but they're not required to do so—"...and Producer has no duty to conduct such investigation..."—and in any case, "...In the event Producer chooses, in its sole and absolute discretion, to conduct background checks on other participants, Producer has no obligation to share the results of such background checks with me." [Pg. 5; emphasis added] Of course, any corporate attorney worth his/her salt would probably counsel them not to, since who knows what that might turn up?
Of course, if another cast member does have such a disease, and if Real World Productions does know about it... well, that's okay too!:
"Without in any way limiting the foregoing, I represent and warrant that, to the best of my knowledge, I do not currently have any sexually transmitted disease. However, I acknowledge and agree that other participants in the Program may have one or more sexually transmitted diseases and other diseases. I acknowledge and agree that if I choose to engage in sexual activity with any of the other participants in the Program or anyone else, at any time whatsoever, I do so at my own risk. The waivers, releases, and indemnities in this Agreement and any other agreement that I may execute in connection with the Program expressly apply to any contraction by me of any sexually transmitted disease or any other disease whether directly or indirectly related to or in connection with my participation in the Program." (Pg. 12)
Contrast that with the fact that every working adult performer is screened for several sexually transmitted diseases monthly, with any positive findings sidelining that performer until they test clear!
Kinda makes you wonder if CalOSHA might want to pay a visit to Real World Productions' offices at 6007 Sepulveda Boulevard, Van Nuys, California 91411, doesn't it?