Real Simple's Dawn Perry on the Single Greatest Season of Reality Television
Dawn Perry is effortless. And we don’t mean that in a look-at-my-perfectly-imperfect-but-actually-very-very-calculated-and-stressful-instagram-post kind of way. We mean that she’s one of those people who can “throw together” the ingredients for an impromptu dinner party while simultaneously having a heated dance-off with her 16-month-old daughter Ramona and manage to have insightful conversations with her guests and choose the perfect playlist at the same time. Oh, and if you point out her effortlessness, she’ll kindly convince you that it’s something you too can achieve (you can’t). For her Haystack Story, she took us back to reality TV’s origin story, when a cast of seven strangers moved in to a loft in NYC and basically (and yes, effortlessly) changed the very definition of celebrity.
Name: Dawn Perry Duckor (legally!)
Occupation: Food Director, Real Simple
Location: Brooklyn, NY
What’s the star of your Haystack Story?
The Real World, Season One, New York.
Do you still have it?
I mean, no, but I just spent an hour down a "where are they now?" rabbit hole so, kind of. It’s important to note the show was PRE-Internet.
Can you describe it?
It was the beginning of reality TV as we know it. Fresh, titillating, not gross and exploitative in the way reality TV feels now. These people might have suspected that this would catapult them to recognition (Heather B. says Eric knew) but there was an innocence and candor about it that we (or is it just me?) haven't experienced since. Even watching Real World 2 (LA) one had a feeling that the cast knew this could be their ticket to stardom (except Dom, he didn't give a fuck). But not the first cast. Or at least that's what 12-year-old me thought and 38-year-old me wants to believe: Julie wanted to dance, Andre wanted to do his grunge band thing. Norm wanted to be bi-coastal, etc.
This is the most oft found picture that comes up when you google “Real World One New York.” God, it's so perfect. Look at baby Julie. Becky's still into it. Eric, smoking hot, The Grind not even a twinkle in his eye. Even Kevin is like, "yeah, this is still a good idea." They (we) were so young then. They were all in it together.
Why is it so perfect?
Untainted, unknowing, unfiltered. It's what I still wish reality TV was. I can't watch The Bachelor. Those women hunting instacelebrity and endorsement deals simply for "being the short-haired one." I'm making that up. There was a short-haired lip-biter recently, right? This was before people signed up for reality TV to get famous. They had actual talents and creative pursuits independent of the show they were on. (Although I realize we didn't see Heather B in the studio that much. How productive were they?). Remember the reunion episode? When Kevin goes through how everyone got type-cast?
How do you feel when you think about the show?
Naive. Did they? Feel Naive? Did they know? In that photo, are those their own clothes? Seven unique and wonderful "lewks". Was there a stylist? I hope not.
If the show could talk, what would it say?
Who did you have a crush on back then?
Who DIDN'T I have a crush on? But I guess John Whistle IRL. Fast-forward to 10th grade and I would call him to "talk." We had never spoken. It was a cold call. Toward the top of the list of embarrassments that have, upon reflection, made me what I am.
What did your Friday nights look like?
Sleepovers at Nancy's. In the basement.
If someone gave you $20 to spend, what would you have bought?
Troll dolls? Or was that earlier? I've always been a little immature for my age.
What show did you rush home to watch?
The Real World, obviously. I would watch every episode whenever it was on, which was like at least twice a day. There were still music videos on MTV then, but the non-music programming was incredible (Sex in the 90s! House of Style! Remember that episode when the heroin-chic model was giving someone (Todd Oldham?) a tour of her apartment and there was nothing in there except vitamins in the fridge and we were all like, "Oh, she's addicted to heroin.")?
What was your favorite snack?
Doritos (original/nacho cheesier); Cold Coke
How are you the same as you were back then, and how are you different?
Still trying to figure out how to make a tie-front button down work. I like raw tomatoes now.