The upcoming 26th (!) season of MTV’s The Real World begins airing on September 28. The network is already heavily promoting the season, which will be their second to take place in San Diego. As usual, they’ve tried to assemble an eclectic cast, and they released descriptions of each of the seven participants today. There are the usual stereotypes: the hot girl, the lesbian, and two “gym rats.” Since apparently that’s a “type” now.
Two of the show’s housemates fall under the rubric of gym rat. The first, Zach, is a professional arena football player. The second, Alex, “was the first woman of color and the youngest person ever to compete on the Zimbabwean National Gymnastics Team.” I can’t imagine two more different people to both be described as gym rats. Besides the obvious differences (one’s a white male, one’s a dark-skinned woman), each has a different relationship with fitness and with their bodies. While Zach’s career essentially means he has to stay in shape as part of his job, Alex has since abandoned gymnastics and is now trying to build a career as a singer-songwriter. The fact that both of these people enjoy exercise seems to be the absolute only thing they have in common. So does “gym rat” serve as a way to connect two different people to each other, or will it prove as empty a description as The Hot Girl?
The Real World has never been a stranger to stereotypes, or to reducing a person to one or two descriptors in order to create a storyline. But unlike this season’s The Lesbian (who is a vocal activist for LGBT rights) or a previous season’s The Nerd (who was starting his own business), Gym Rat seems especially vague. Whether their athleticism will have any bearing on their behavior or their storyline remains to be seen, but I’m not holding my breath.