Former “Real World” stars share experiences

Allison Corneau

Quinnipiac welcomed two new roommates to campus Saturday night, but not your typical students ready to unpack their belongings in the traditional residence halls.

Colin Mortensen and Ruthie Alcaide, of MTV’s reality television phenomenon, “The Real World: Hawaii” appeared at Alumni Hall for a lecture sponsored by the Student Programming Board.

Lecture Chair and QU junior Andrea Szymona headed up the free event, which also featured a question and answer session and autograph signing.

Mortensen, 23, originally from Thousand Oaks, Calif. and Alcaide, 25, a native Hawaiian, appeared on the eighth season of “The Real World,” shot on location in Diamond Head, Hawaii, with five other co-eds from across the country.

Following an extensive casting process, the seven strangers were brought together to live rent-free for four months in a swanky Hawaiian hideaway just steps away from the beach.

For Mortensen, who was originally rejected as a “Real World” cast member, the experience was simply to fulfill a common goal for most college students: to get out of debt.

Unbeknownst to many viewers, each “Real World” cast member receives approximately $4,000 in stipends following their stint on MTV for the eight-and-a-half hours of aired episodes that were condensed from 3,000 hours of raw footage.

Fresh from working and interning at radio and television sports departments, the then 18-year-old was approached by Bunim/Murray productions to host a casting special for the upcoming “Real World” season, where he was encouraged to interview potential cast members so the public could see what made them tick.

“That is a great thing to be typecast as on TV, a ‘loser,'” Mortensen said, adding he was initially drawn to host the special because of the $750 compensation from MTV.

“The show strives to make the audience feel better than the cast members,” he said. “We are a nation of people who want to be famous.”

For Alcaide, her magnetic personality was key to being cast for the show.

“They told me I was [cast] because they fell in love with my personality. [The televised product was] sensationalized,” Alcaide said.

“I thought I had a pretty interesting life story and wanted to get it out,” she continued.

“When you see yourself on TV, it is one dimensional. I’m a three-dimensional person,” Alcaide said. “It was really hard because they do not show you as a whole person. They just pick a storyline for you according to what is most sensationalistic to TV and that becomes your character,” she continued.

Forming a cast of four women and three men proved daunting for MTV, as Mortensen explains that “most of the women on the show, including cast mates Amaya Brecher and Kaia Beck, were last minute additions.

Once a student at the University of California at Berkley, Mortensen was involved in a relationship with fellow housemate Brecher, which provided unnecessary drama that he says was a non-issue.

“We dated for three weeks. It was lame, [MTV] aired it for four months. It was dumb to do on camera,” Mortensen said.

Four months in paradise may sound enticing for the average college student, but cast members were forced to live without familiar commodities that many people take for granted, including a television and stereo, in order to increase cast interactions and the drama of the show, produced by Bunim/Murray in conjunction with MTV.

The Hawaii seven filled their days by working at Waikiki’s Local Motion, a hip and happening surf shop and cafe, and were given the task of booking musical acts, forming their own production company, Seven Strangers Productions, in the process.

Although this job environment provided outside interaction for the cast, Alcaide realizes now that MTV viewers did not get the chance to see what she was really like.

Working at Local Motion, however, did enable her to get more involved in music, something she truly enjoys and is still actively pursuing.

“I wanted to be around other people [outside of the house], be around music,” Alcaide said.

“Music is a big part of my life and they would not even let us have a stereo or TV in the house, so I sought recreation at the beach or with other friends at outside restaurants and bars,” she continued.

It was her extra-curricular activities outside of the house that provided “The Real World: Hawaii” with one of its most controversial storylines yet: a cast member’s struggle with alcoholism.

Alcaide hopes that viewers realize much more than alcohol-related events went into the production of the 1994 season.

“I wanted [viewers] to see me doing normal things,” Alcaide said.

“I did a lot of outdoor activities like skydiving and bungee jumping, and all [Bunim/Murray] chose to show was me partying. I’m a lot more than that,” she continued.

Mortensen, on the other hand, has no regrets about his portrayal on “The Real World.”

“The show to me was a very insignificant part of my life. The maturation process gets sped up [on the show],” Mortensen said.

“You have to deal with things that people do not usually deal with. I think I’ve become a better person and I have a better sense of my priorities,” he continued.

“I think you reap what you sow and I believe in karma,” Mortensen said. “I do not have any hard feelings [toward MTV]. The big difference [after the show] is that I am out of debt and I make more money than most of my friends.”

“I just keep it in perspective. I know too many [former “Real World” cast members] who come out of it drinking and [substance abusing]. They are trying to be more famous than they are,” Mortensen said.

“If you are happy in your life, do not [audition for the show],” he continued.

It is such a perspective that allows Mortensen and Alcaide to move on with their lives ‘post-MTV,’ and venture into other areas of interest.

Alcaide, a recent graduate of Rutgers University, has since relocated to Los Angeles, where she has been working on a CD, and recorded with rapper Mr. Cheeks, of Lost Boyz fame.

Her latest single is successfully airing on Japanese radio, and she continues to travel the country on the college lecture circuit, while compiling a book of poetry.

Like his fellow cast member, Mortensen is also an accomplished author. In addition to contributions to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series with author Kimberly Kirberger, Mortensen released his first book, “A New Ladies’ Man,” published by Cambo Publishing, this past February.

“Ladies’ Man” allows Mortensen to dole out his fair share of love and relationship advice, in a manner that is humorous and reliable.

“People respond to it because it is real and speaks to them. I did not want it to be like the ‘Chicken Soup’ books,” Mortensen said.

“All of what I need(ed) to know in college, I put into a book. There are no books for dudes. I took all those things that your friends did not know about [relationships] and you did not want to ask your mom and dad about,” the author said.

Mortensen’s success and notoriety have afforded him the ability to purchase his books back from the publisher and distribute them free of charge to high schoolers looking for relationship advice; something he says he missed out on.

“If someone had put [a similar book] in my hands, it would have changed my life,” Mortensen said.

Interested readers can get a copy of “Ladies’ Man” through his website, which also features photos and daily quips about his MTV experiences and current projects.

Following the release of his book, Mortensen was invited, along with Alcaide, to participate in another MTV production.

“The Real World/Road Rules Battle of the Sexes” welcomed back 36 former MTV reality stars from the two shows, who were split into teams and sent to Jamaica to compete in “Survivor”-type physical challenges in hopes of taking home a cash prize of $50,000.

Mortensen and former MTV cast mates Mark Long (“Road Rules: Season One”) and Jamie Murray (“Real World: New Orleans”) walked away winners, on the show that aired this past spring. But for Mortensen, the money was hardly the best reward.

“I did not [go on the “Challenge”] to win it. I wanted to promote my book,” Mortensen said.

The author has also since been active with regional anti-tobacco activism groups.

Conversely, Alcaide participated in the challenge with a determination for winning.

“I did not go there to get a tan, I wanted to win,” Alcaide said.

“I wanted to prove to myself I could do [the “Challenge”]. I’m a competitive person and I wanted to show people another side to my character,” she continued.

“I wanted to be an inspiration to women, I think it worked,” Alcaide said.

Through it all, the two former reality television stars have managed to share their message with their peers across the country, and their weekend appearance at Quinnipiac was certainly no exception.

Regardless of what career or life path students take, Mortensen encourages them to understand his perspective, in order to truly keep it “real.”

“What’s important to me now is not being lame, not being ‘L.A.,’ he said. “I just want to be a normal person, live a normal life.”