Lesbian Reality Televison Q&A Round up
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Ruthie Sets the Record Straight...Sort of
Written by: Gretchen Lee
Even in television's Real World, the cameras don't lie. Or do they?
Last summer, 71 million homes nationwide sat glued to the set each week to see what Ruthie, a native Hawaiian, bisexual Rutgers University student and the wildest girl ever to inhabit an overdecorated summer home-turned-pressure-cooker Real World set, would do next.
In the very first episode, we watch as Ruthie, a spirited woman with an irresistible smile, goes with her housemates to a bar, has drinks all around, and then passes out on the bathroom floor with alcohol poisoning. She wakes up in the hospital after having her stomach pumped, and later wonders aloud, to the surprise of her worried housemates, "Did someone put something in my drink?"
In another episode, after another night of drinking, she impulsively kisses her (straight girl) housemate Kaia in the back of a minivan, and then claims the next day not to remember the incident at all. Ruthie's eyes widen as she says on-camera, "Maybe I had too much to drink...My girlfriend isn't going to like this very much." (She and the girlfriend have since split.)
"I remembered it," acknowledged Kaia, pointedly adding, "and I liked it."
Yet even after she's kicked out of the house mid-season and offered an opportunity to come back only if she successfully completes a stay in an alcohol rehab ward, Ruthie insists she's not an alcoholic. "I couldn't relate to the other women there," she says. "And I even got into a little bit of trouble in the [rehab] program because they said I was a little too happy."
"I know it was a big deal," she says, of the alcohol poisoning. "It was my second day there," she recalls. "I called my friends from Jersey and they were laughing, saying, 'Oh my God, already?'"
"It got out of control when I was on the show," she acknowledges. "People are going to think that part of my life is all of me. In actuality, that was just four months of my life. Everyone's going to have their own opinion, but no one was in my shoes but me."
From January to May of this year, Ruthie and six housemates lived in a posh, plantation-style beachfront home in Hawaii as cast members for MTV's popular reality-based soap opera The Real World. As part of their agreement with the show's producers, the cast of seven 20-somethings were videotaped 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Because there's always a camera running, you might think you see everything that happens. Eighteen surveillance cameras monitor the house and are observed continuously by a director or producer nearby. Three taping crews assigned to the cast work from sunup to around 5 a.m. or so, when the last of the Real World cast members has finally fallen asleep. Plus, a security guard keeps an eye on the house to alert the show's producers if the kids start sneaking around at night.
Eventually, the show is pared down in post-production to include only 22 one-hour episodes. So a lot is bound to end up on the cutting-room floor.
Some of what you won't see on The Real World will come as no surprise. Camera crews tend to shy away from taping in the bathroom. "Unless they're having a conversation in there," says MTV camerawoman and out lesbian Gretchen Warthen. Similarly, the crew keeps their distance from any lovemaking trysts. "We don't film people having sex per se," says supervising producer Matt Kunitz, "but we show enough to document that they're having a sexual relationship."
That strategy backfired this season when taping the first-ever in-house romance. The director, speaking off-site into the cameraman's headset, instructed the cameraman to back up farther and farther—until he landed with a loud splash into the pool, upsetting lovebirds Amaya and Colin, losing the shot and ruining the camera. Still, Warthen, who also crewed for the Real World season set in Seattle, and Kunitz agree this is the most open cast of any previous episodes.
Nudity was definitely "in" this season, to the extent that the crew had to devise a special "necklace" microphone for Kaia and Ruthie, who kept taking their shirts off. On the first day of taping in the beach house, Ruthie and housemate Teck lost no time in stripping off all their clothes and leaping into the pool. Kaia took a dip in the buff as well, while Justin, the more reserved gay housemate, rolled up his pants legs and dangled only his feet and ankles in the water.
Kunitz recalls one shoot that didn't make the final cut. Ruthie, Kaia and two of their friends were hanging out in the backyard taking nudie photos of one another as they applied suntan oil. "The neighbors peeking through the fence must have thought we were shooting a porno," he says.
In interviews after the taping, show co-creator Mary-Ellis Bunim claims not to have known about Ruthie's proclivity as a party girl. Not so, says Ruthie, who endured an intense screening process in which only seven of 23,167 applicants are selected.
"I laid it all on the table," Ruthie says. "I told them the good stuff and the bad stuff. I told them I'm a party animal. That I'm very independent. That I grew up in a foster family and about my bisexuality."
Ruthie, a fraternal triplet (two girls and one boy), and her siblings (plus one older sister) were raised as foster kids by a strict Filipino family living in Hawaii. She has a strained relationship to her birth mother, who hung up on Ruthie the last time they spoke by phone several years ago. And her foster family recently disowned her as well, after seeing the casting special and reading about the show in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
"We were treated differently because we were foster kids," she says. "My grandma—I call my foster mother my grandma because she's too old to call her mom--had seven kids. We were always treated less than them. When you're a little kid, you don't understand what's going on. I used to say, 'You don't love me! You don't love me!' at 9 or 10 years old."
"I went to visit my foster family when I knew I was going to be kicked out of the [Real World] house," she says. "I told them, 'If anything happens, please don't be disappointed in me,' and my auntie was like, 'You know I'm going to be there for you.' I got really upset when she said that, and was, like, 'When have you ever been there for me?'"
Living on her own since the age of 17, when she and her sister went away to college, Ruthie says her life changed 180 degrees after taking part in an Upward Bound program the summer after her freshman year in high school. "My self-confidence went from 50 to 110."
"I'm kinda glad that I went through this on the show, because it helped me grow as a person," she says. "A lot of people are going to tell you I didn't learn anything, but I can tell you I learned a hundred things. "At least I know who I am," Ruthie says. "And I know that this is not the highlight of my life. The Real World does not make you, you make you. People are going to learn from my experiences.
"Even though I was sacrificed to TV Land," she adds.