When 24-year-old Paula Meronek graduated from Quinnipiac University in May 2003 she was like many seniors in her graduating class who didn’t know exactly what they wanted to do next.
Little did she know, only two years later, in August 2005, Meronek would be working with six other young people from across the country to open and run Key West’s first Mystic Tan Sunless Tanning studio.
Taking a position as an employee at a “Mystic Tan” franchise wasn’t all that Meronek had agreed to. She would be one of seven individuals who would make up season seventeen of MTV’s hit reality show, “The Real World.”
“The Real World” is a reality television program that first aired on MTV in 1992 and is one of the first reality shows to gain a national audience. Currently it is the longest running program in MTV history. The show follows the lives of “seven strangers” who audition to live in a house together and have their daily interactions recorded.
The camera footage is edited into half-hour episodes, with the show taking place in a different city every season. This will be the series’ second visit to Florida, airing 10 years after “The Real World: Miami” of 1996.
Meronek, who grew up in Meriden and now lives and works in Cromwell, says she auditioned for the show on a whim, never dreaming that out of more than 35,000 hopefuls she’d be one of the lucky seven.
“I didn’t know if I was ready to do the whole corporate life,” Meronek said. “For a while I waited tables and bartended until I got a marketing job in New Jersey. Things weren’t going great and I felt like I was at a point in my life where everything seemed to be leveling off. I saw myself going more horizontal than vertical and I needed a change.”
Meronek considers herself “extravertedly shy” in new situations. She is still someone who enjoys attention. She has always been an ambitious and driven individual. She graduated from Quinnipiac with a bachelor’s degree in business and received the Alumni Association Academic Achievement Award for earning the highest grade point average among graduates in the School of Business.
Meronek enjoyed the creative side of business and focused her studies on marketing and interactive arts while also taking time to work as an Orientation Leader for the university, as well as being part of WQAQ and participating on several intramural teams.
“Quinnipiac was the right choice for me because it was really a beautiful school that offered exactly what I was looking for in terms of size and proximity to home,” Meronek said.
Meronek believes that she secured her spot on “The Real World” because of her audition tape.
“I decided to be completely open and honest about what was going on in my life at the time. Things were up and down and pretty shaky at times and I think that they saw concerns and issues in me that people in my age group are going through all the time,” Meronek said.
She feels that casting directors saw in her someone who was “real” and who was willing to lay everything out in the open.
“I cut out all the crap and was true to myself. I never apologized for who I was and I tried to do the same thing throughout the four months of taping,” Meronek said.
Meronek’s casting tape shows just that, and more. During her audition she admits to having an eating disorder, saying that she was “kind of, a little bit bulimic, and always had an issue with food. — I always think I’m going to get fat or be too ugly or something,” Meronek continued on the tape.
Although she seems very relatable and down to earth, she may have a feisty side like many of the female cast mates that “The Real World” has produced in the past, having enough confidence to moon the camera during her original audition.
Regardless of the show’s editing Meronek is ready for whatever the non-scripted reality show produces of her and her fellow cast members.
“I think that MTV probably thought they struck gold when they cast me,” Meronek said. “You have to be able to take ownership of who you are and what you do. No one forced me to do or say anything and I hope that people who love me will love me the same or more so after they see the show. It will definitely open a lot of eyes to who I really am.”
There is an endearing quality to Meronek when she explains how being part of “The Real World” has affected her life. “When you do something like this I don’t know if it is possible not to change. It’s almost like running into the world with your clothes off because you really see who you are. It makes you accept what you like about yourself or change what you don’t,” Meronek said.
Meronek is confident that MTV viewers will enjoy the Key West season and is proud to have been a part of it.
“The season has a lot of potential to bring viewers back to why they loved the San Francisco and New York City seasons, where cast members were actually dealing with stuff. I think that some of the recent seasons have been a little ‘spring-breaky.’ They didn’t really grab me,” Meronek said.
Preparing to live under a camera lens with people that she would come to love and hate was one of the toughest parts of Meronek’s whole experience.
“I had to make a decision within myself to let the whole world see the best and worst of me,” Meronek said. “It was scary, fun, and terrifying all at the same time. It was the best and worst thing I’ve ever done.”
Meronek hopes that being on the show will help get Quinnipiac’s name out more than it already is.
“I hope I can be one of our school’s claims to fame,” Meroneck said. “It’s a great university and it’s getting bigger and better every year.”
TUNE IN ALERT
Watch QU alum Paula on season 17 of MTV’s “The Real World” as this season’s drama unfolds weekly beginning on Feb. 28.