Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, July 2, 1999

Ruthie, Real world cast member

In ‘Real World,’
there’s rehab

Bullet "The Real World": Airs 7 p.m. Tuesdays on MTV

By David Bauder
Associated Press


MTV's "Real World" is all about video voyeurism: The network sets up a house full of strangers and lets cameras watch their lives unfold without intruding. But in its eighth -- and most popular -- season, MTV changed its hands-off policy to help a cast member with a drinking problem.

Ruthie, a 21-year-old from Hawaii, is sent to a 30-day rehab program after a series of incidents. The situation culminated in a fight with some of the six other cast members who shared a home in Honolulu.

"It was like watching a train wreck," said Mary-Ellis Bunim, executive producer and co-creator of the series, "and we couldn't let that happen."

In the "Real World" season premiere June 15, housemates had to call an ambulance for Ruthie when she got alcohol poisoning. Tuesday's episode showed Ruthie kissing another female cast member, then claiming no memory of it the next day.

MTV has rarely tried to change the course of events, though a producer once took the car keys from someone who was about to drive drunk.

During one evening, to be shown later in the season, an apparently drunk Ruthie gets into a car with a companion, then switches to the driver's seat at a traffic signal.

They arrive home without incident, but the next morning "Real World" supervising producer Matt Kunitz tells Ruthie on camera that she needs to get help or risk being fired. Ruthie undergoes counseling but keeps drinking, and it's her fellow cast members who later confront her, Bunim said.

Bunim said exploitation charges might have been valid if MTV knew of Ruthie's problem ahead of time. In fact, one of the finalists for this year's cast appeared to have a drinking problem and was rejected.

MTV had an obligation to help Ruthie, network president Judy McGrath said. "We tried to do it in a way that didn't look parental or intrusive or too authoritative."

Jeffrey Hon, a spokesman for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, worried MTV was exploiting someone's troubles to get ratings. But after watching three episodes, he applauded MTV's response. The story line, he said, may help other young viewers fighting alcoholism.

"This is not a new topic for television," Hon said, "but what seems to be new here is that it's actually happening to real people. One of the reasons that 'Real World' is so successful is that people who watch it can see something of themselves in it."

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin