LAS VEGAS -- "My house in Cutoff is, like, a country house," says the all-smiles Trichelle, a 22-year-old from an aptly named rural Louisiana town, soon after the opening credits of the season premiere episode of MTV's The Real World. The cameras-in-the-house show that helped unleash a flood of so-called reality programming begins its 12th season on Sept. 17, set this time in the new youth-oriented Palms Casino Resort just off the Las Vegas strip.
"This," drawls Trichelle, who -- like all cast members -- uses only her first name, "is a city house."
To call the show's setting a house is a stretch. A three-bedroom, full-service, high-roller hotel suite is more like it. Real World's trademark device is to see what kind of intimacy results when you make roommates of seven photogenic 20-somethings who first meet in their quasi-dormitory living situation.
As Real World moved to the very unreal world of Vegas, the producers left behind the Ikea-style decor of their lofts and houses of past seasons. This time, the cast lives in souped-up modern style on the 28th floor of a casino resort, with incredible views and a relentless 24-hour scene just below.
Part of the voyeuristic appeal of Real World relies on the cast living fully exposed lives. And for it to work, the backdrop that is their home is key.
Walk into the Real World suite today, and it looks pretty much as it did when the cast lived there from mid-February until late June of this year. Palms owner George Maloof has taken care to preserve what the casino and MTV created together, and he is marketing the space to his top customers, personally deciding who can stay there -- "high-rollers, celebrities and sports people" being his first choice, he says.
Maloof says the project cost him $2 million. He paid to configure the rooms and decorate the space, and MTV, which won't say how much it spent on the apartment, added some of the fine touches, including artworks and other details.
Maloof used as designers the Los Angeles-based Jerde Partnership, which had designed the rest of the Palms resort-casino, because he wanted to give the apartment the same signature look. The 2,900-square-foot suite was created by demolishing six hotel rooms, and the entire floor had to remain empty for seven months to accommodate the setup, including 4 1/2 months of taping. Four rooms surrounding the suite were used for production. It was a small price to pay, Maloof says, for the exposure that the show will afford his $265 million Palms enterprise.
There's a definite "wow" effect to Jerde's interior design, created by Sharmila Tankha in partnership with Maloof and Tracy Chaplin, the show's executive producer. The circular suite has three very small bedrooms on one side, two with two queen beds, and a third with three. Quirks abound throughout: The kitchen doesn't have a sink, although the bar has two.
Three washbasins in a tightly fitting row stand out in the open hallway, just outside the bedrooms, and they all have small mirrors. A hot tub gets nearly as much space as the living room.
"The show is about voyeurism," Chaplin says, "and we needed to create unique living spaces for the cast." The sight-lines, he says, drive the flow of the design. In the shower, for example, you can see through windows into the living room and the bath, inviting inclusion -- and a bit of intrusion.
Susan Freudenheim is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.