“We’re here to compete in another one of MTV’s crazy concoctions,” John from Real World: Key West told the viewing audience near the beginning of MTV’s The Duel. Thus the presence of 20 beautiful, outgoing, and young non-Brazilian men and women in Brazil, the international capital of hedonism, was explained.
Not that anyone watching needed such clarification. By now, the concept is a familiar one: popular boys and girls from past Real World and Road Rules seasons travel to a remote location to drink, fight, and fuck their way through two weeks of “competition.” The winners receive monetary rewards, respect of their cast mates, and a footnote in the annals of reality TV history.
So The Duel began on 12 October quite predictably: the gang ran into a pimped-out home, excited at what they saw. One of them declared, “This is a sick palace made for some serious hooking up,” as if this would help distinguish this place from previous home bases. Challenge to challenge, reactions to the house never varied. Their expressive faces exploded with glee as they ran around, frantically searching for the “best room” and squealing throughout. It was charming in a “kid on a shopping spree in a candy store” sort of way.
But that’s the beauty of the franchise: it never gets old. MTV rotates the cast, keeping old favorites and adding new blood, moving them all to yet another brilliant location, ensuring that we’ll keep watching. It’s far from groundbreaking television, but it’s always entertaining.
The Duel is, after all, about the people, the crazy, mixed-up, flawed people. The game and house serve as an excuse for the debauchery, but the cast members make the show worthy viewing. The Duel uses the three Bs: the bitching, the backstabbing, and the breasts. It mixes 20 or so twenty- and thirtysomethings, a boatload of cash and booze, stirs them all together, then lets us watch what happens.
Still, the show does ask us to “relate.” The kids discussed “real world” problems in various voiceovers and confessions. Diem explained how she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was on last season’s Fresh Meat, but it’s in remission. Wes, who began dating cast mate Johanna after a season in Key West, wanted to win the game so they could “start a life together.” The difficulties of growing up bring us some connection with the “characters” who, since their original appearances on Road Rules or Real World, have led anything but normal lives.
And so you might anticipate that when Casey explained that she used her prize winnings from last season’s Fresh Meat Challenge to get a boob job and it was, she said, “the best purchase of my life,” the illusion would come crashing down. “Normal” people generally don’t choose this route. But contestants on The Duel regularly makes such confessions without any sign of self-consciousness, which makes them equal parts amazing, charming, and admirable. Whether they need money to start a family or get breast implants, their lives are open books. Nothing is sacred once the cameras start rolling.
In a way, it’s this lack of reticence that makes The Duel so watchable. The show is an all-star cast of personalities. Even the newest members already have an experience of reality TV under their belts. Thus, all the strained, seemingly pre-considered behavior that plagues Laguna Beach, The Hills, or The Flavor of Love is nonexistent. There’s no adjustment period. Tyler explained to Paula that he felt good about his chances because all the girls love him: “We like the same Madonna songs and they want me here singing it with them.” He appeared to be totally and unpretentiously serious, willing to explain his thoughts to Paula and a couple million strangers.
Real World‘s well-known catchphrase is “Find out what happens when people stop being nice, and start being real,” but it now applies more appropriately to The Duel. This is another sort of real life, filtered through the ever-present lenses of MTV’s cameras. Beth, one of the most reviled characters in TRW‘s history, said people constantly ask her why she’s doing another challenge, to which she answers, “Why not?” Why not indeed? The Duel seems fun, there’s a chance to win money, and you get to be as ridiculous as you want. It’s a perfect platform for a person who craves the spotlight. For the rest of us, it’s most often fascinating. And the bitching, the backstabbing, and the breasts don’t hurt.