'Real World: Ex-Plosion' delivers on its promise as the Singles' Exes finally join the house

American Horror Story finished up last week and I need another show to recap.” “Want to do this season of The Real World?” “Yeah, that’s probably fine. Where are they this time?” “They’re in San Fran, but the real gimmick is that their exes all show up a few weeks in.” “That sounds awful.” “Yeah! It’s called ‘Ex-Plosion’.” “…I have to do this, right?” “Yes.” “Well, shit.”

And I thought I hated this recapping assignment this morning! An hour into my first season of Real World since maybe New Orleans, the one with Mormon Julie, I can safely say that Ex-plosion is the worst example of human suffering as sport currently on television. I’m sure there are snuff films playing deep in the 900 level of channels, and certainly Kris Kardashian’s talk show does no favors to humanity. But this — this thing made me feel actively bad for the hour I sat in front of it, upset both at and for these people on display. Yes, anyone signing up to be on Real World has already made their bed and should accept the consequences of signing whatever Faustian bargain MTV had their lawyers draw up. Yes, the Exes probably knew exactly what they were getting into when they agreed to be on a show in which they might screw (and screw with) their former flames. But for whatever cartoon characters these people might be, with their engorged biceps and Croods speech patterns… they’re still real people, with real heartbreak. And to watch that heartbreak foisted upon them as entertainment, the possibility of “drama” wetting the lips of a roomful of lecherous MTV execs? Gross.

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Maybe I’m sensitive to this shit right now (see my latest journal entry How I Met Your Mother recap). I’m probably too sensitive to this shit right now. BUT STILL.

All of which is a long-winded way for me to say “ …and yet I still had to find a way to recap, so” before explaining that if you can detach yourself just enough from your sense of human empathy and concentrate on, say, ridiculous scenes of meatheads trying to out-crunch each other at the gym? Then you just might be able to make it through! Fellow Bustler Kristie Rohwedder, an upstanding human being, was smart and last week concentrated her recapping efforts on absurd but poetic quotations. Tonight I want to talk, as non-high horse-ingly as possible, about DOUBLE STANDARDS.

The Ballad of Cory, Jenny, and Jenny’s Ex Brian

I’m sure the show will dig into other couples’ woes over the run of this season, but for tonight, we just had two love triangles keeping our attention. The first, which by episode’s end is less a triangle than an inevitable shirt-ripping wrestling match between two oil slicks, featured Jenny’s ex Brian coming to terms with the fact that his girlfriend had definitely boned Cory. (Several times, and probably in a hot tub.) Cory is immediately drawn back to his Ex, effectively ending the friends with benefits thing he had going with Jenny. But Brian, simple Brian, is still very upset at the prospect that anyone — especially some other meathead — could sleep with his girl. “I finish f***ing you and then you turn around and go f*** him?” asks Brian, suggesting that Jenny has just shot a porn film. But then Brian pulls his own quick-change and moments later is telling Jenny he “wants to feel free… to be accepting of anyone’s interest in me.”

Aside from that phrasing being pure poetry, it’s honestly astonishing the lack of self-awareness. Brian can’t stand the idea of his ex-girlfriend with another guy… but also wants her to know that he’s, you know, not to be tied down. Obviously, it’s a lot of bluster right now. Brian doesn’t “accept anyone’s interest” at the club, and even manages to tell Jenny he loves her later in the episode. He’s a real softie at heart! But the expectation that your girl devote herself to you as you proclaim your right to not devote yourself to her — we’ll call it “problematic” right now, then probably “Chernobyl” when things finally EX-plode in a few weeks.

Triangulating Jamie, Thomas, and Thomas’ Ex Hailey

Thomas is in a real pickle! He and his longtime girlfriend, sweet Hailey, broke up two months before he was to appear on the show. As soon as he got there, he started hooking up with the boisterous, tattooed Jamie. Then Hailey showed up. And that’s when things stopped being polite, and started… no, shit has gotten real yet. But Hailey is still definitely into Thomas even as Thomas professes to want to do his own thing. That is, right up until the prospect of her hooking up with anyone else enters the equation. “This is all great fun and everything, Hailey, but you and I still have to deal with each other afterwards.” Translation: “It would really make things a lot more emotionally comfortable for me if I kept hooking up with Jamie, but you didn’t… do that. Cool?” There’s a brief moment where you think Thomas has realized he has a responsibility to both girls to keep the peace and not hurt them. But then this brilliant idea: just remove the “boyfriend/girlfriend” thing from his relationship with Jamie, that way “Jamie has no reason to get mad.” Hahahahaha perfect, Thomas. You are a mastermind.

***NOW RETURNING TO THE GOLDEN SHORES OF BEING SO, SO TURNED OFF BY THIS WHOLE SHOW***

I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of one of the housemates here, whether “Ex” or “Single,” agreeing to appear on a show that… maybe I didn’t know would be this bad, but certainly I had a feeling about it. Wouldn’t I have consulted with some friends, maybe a wise uncle who would talk me out of doing it? Seen a fortune teller, whose divine powers of sight would CLEARLY demonstrate that this premise would tear out at least a large part of my heart? I don’t know. MTV does funny things to people. No one thinking at full brain capacity about this season could ever think it would go well.

In two weeks: Fighting and pregnancy!

Image: MTV