If you grew up watching cable TV, you probably remember the early- to mid-aughts as a golden era for celebrity reality. With VH1 leading the charge, we would tune in every week to get an inside look into the outlandish lives of some of Hollywood's kookiest personalities. And one the most iconic shows to emerge from this reality renaissance? None other than The Surreal Life and its rotating cast of extremely different celebs, all living together inside a Hollywood Hills mansion for two weeks of mischief, mayhem and plenty of drama.
Arguably one of the network's most impactful celeb-reality series, The Surreal Life was the site of many infamous pop culture moments, such as Omarosa and Janice Dickinson's beef, the My Fair Brady wedding and several temper tantrums courtesy of Vanilla Ice. And of course, no one can forget Brigitte Nielsen and Flavor Flav's unexpected romance, which later spawned an empire of spin-off shows from Flavor of Love to Charm School to I Love New York, even though the original series that started it all was unceremoniously canceled in 2006.
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However, VH1 has revivedThe Surreal Life after 16 years with an over-the-top cast of famous faces that includes YouTuber and beauty guru Manny MUA; Malcolm in the Middle actor Frankie Muniz; R&B singer August Alsina; Living Single's Kim Coles; Total Divas star and former WWE superstar CJ Perry; Grammy-nominated musician and reality staple Tamar Braxton; NBA legend and freelance diplomat extraordinaire Dennis Rodman; and even Stormy Daniels, the adult entertainment star who became an American hero after exposing Donald Trump.
So in celebration of The Surreal Life's long-awaited return, we spoke to the celebrity housemates ahead of the series' two-episode premiere on Monday, October 23 about their new roomies and the unexpected challenges that come with living alongside seven other people with extremely different personalities. And needless to say, they all agree that we're in for quite the wild ride. Read our Q&A with the cast, below.
What made you want to participate in The Surreal Life reboot?
August Alsina: It was at a time when I'd asked God to send me some newness in my life, and this just kinda came across the table. But I'd never seen the show, so I got a couple of buddies who did, and they helped me make the decision.
CJ Perry: For me, I was a huge fan. That's how I found out who Brigitte Nielsen was and I love Flavor Flav, so watching their relationship and [fellow WWE wrestler] Chyna on a different season. It was just crazy and, in college, we would run home and watch it... So, it was really a no-brainer when I got the call that they wanted me.
Tamar Braxton: I was also a fan... and also a huge fan of Flavor Flav, Brigitte and all the quirky crazy stuff they did on the show and how much fun that they used to have. We used to really be obsessed with it as kids watching, so I always wanted to be on that on that show.
Frankie Muniz: I'd watched all the previous seasons when it aired in the early 2000s. I was on Malcolm at the time, and I remember just being like kind of addicted to seeing that inside view of people in a situation you don't normally see them in. Not as a character and then seeing them go to do things that are out of their comfort zone.
Manny MUA: I was the only social media person, and I wanted to be put in a situation where I was going to be uncomfortable. So I felt like I was going to really grow and learn from his experience, learn from other people and be in a situation where I don't have control over my life, because I'm so in control of everything I do. [For my job], I do my own stuff and I know what to do with everything, but I wanted to be put in that situation where I was like, "I don't know what's going on, but I'm either gonna sink or swim. And I'm going to figure it out."
Stormy Daniels: I said "no" at first. My initial thought was, "This will get you into a lot of [legal] trouble... this is going to be bad. I should not do this, because we all know what happened the last time you went somewhere with a stranger, Stormy. Let's not go down this path again." But then I saw it as a chance to tell an unedited version of my story, since it's not a scripted show... Because we all know on some reality shows, you're coached by the producers, at the very least. Honestly, in this one, there was no one saying, "Go in there and tell this person this." I didn't have see or experience any of that and [it was nice because] I just wanted the chance to tell everybody my side and to dispel some rumors.
Aside from feeling like this experience was less manufactured than other "reality" shows, was there anything else about that ended up surprising you? Even for those of you who watched the original show and aware of what to expect going into this experience?
Perry: Nothing could fully prepare me for what we went through. But [Braxton] and I have both done reality and she was my roommate... and so I constantly went to her. I was like, "Okay, how much different is this compared to documentary-style reality?" Because there is that experimental part of the show and with Total Divas, we got the least see it before it aired. So I really have no idea about how it is going to be all put together.
Braxton: The truth is that the show's bananas... It's funny, relatable and adventurous, and there's nothing you can do to prepare for that, because you never know what you're getting yourself into every single day. It was something different every single day.
What did you find the most challenging about the show?
Alsina: Showing up for the show itself, to be honest.. So I guess once I got in there, I had kind of overcome my challenge. And then the other challenges just kind of showed up as the show unfolded. But my challenge was really about pushing myself to go do something different.
Muniz: I think the biggest challenge was just trying to get eight people, eight very different personalities on the same page, right? So we'd have these amazing adventures planned for us by the show and the producers, but getting everybody to leave the house was like, "Come on."
Coles: That's true. Some of us stayed up later than others and slept in, so even just getting everyone into the vans so we could go was a lot.
Braxton: For me, I was insanely single at that time, and I hated every second of it. Like, I had nobody on my phone and my DMs were a desert. It was not giving nothing. And the truth was I wanted a person so bad, so it was really hard, because I just felt like everybody kept telling their stories about how they love their husband.
The very beginning of what you were saying made me think that you were gonna tease a relationship reveal.
Braxton: No, not on this one! August is just my little brother and nobody's having sex with Dennis Rodman. So who else? Okay, Frankie comes out here to me... and how is that going to work? That's not shade, but it's like, "Who do I choose?" And Manny, he's gay!
Out of curiosity, were you familiar with any of your cast mates prior to the show? And if not, what was it like to meet these people you only know from the internet or the TV in-person?
Manny: I was a massive fan of Frankie's, because I watched Malcolm in the Middle. So the second I saw him I said, "Oh my God, am I about to be in the middle?" And it was so fun getting to have these experiences, because I obviously knew of Kim Coles, Stormy Daniels and all these people. But you only know a headline, and a lot of the times you don't get to know them as a human being.
I've had amazing interactions with every single castmate where I was like, "So this is who you are at a core." Like, I was shocked by Dennis. He does a lot of these things that are very outlandish and a little wild, but once you get to know him like at a deeper level, you know why he does these things. He's had a lot of trauma in his past.
Alsina: You really do just get to see people in their own walk of life, to see them and experience them without judgment for whatever — their work, life or career. So many people do so many different things to make money for themselves and take care of their family and kudos to them.
Braxton: You know, the person I really didn't know nothing about was Stormy and, first of all, she came with this little Chucky doll, right? So I didn't want to be her friend at all, because I thought her doll was gonna kill everybody in the house. But then I found out that she used to kick it with Donald Trump, and I wanted to know!
Here's the thing, you really can't judge a book by its cover. So people can come in the house and be a certain way or you can see them on TV, but this is an experience that gives you an opportunity to really get to know somebody. And Stormy ended up being a really cool individual, and I'm really glad that I got a chance to come on the show.
Perry: Yeah, when I think about Stormy, we were such opposites. I grew up as a Christian missionary kid [who was told] that "pornography was bad and from the devil," you know? I had no idea and didn't know anything. And then not only did she do porn, but she directed, produced and wrote porn, and she just normalized it. Putting us all together was so fascinating. Like, "You're so different than me, but you're challenging me to think outside of my way of life and my approach." I'm just grateful for these experiences to have with all these of these people.
Muniz: Because what's unique about this is that you're not just meeting them for an hour or six hours, or where you spend time filming and then you go home. You really truly get to know people's true authentic selves when you're in this situation, and I feel like I feel like I learned a lot about the other people in the in the in the house, because you do have preconceived images of some of them. But they were completely debunked, and I now think about them in a such a different way. And it's the same the other way, where I maybe thought more positively about someone, I left with a negative feeling.
Coles: Yeah, you do have own your own preconceptions about someone and what they're like, but then you spend time with them. You find out who they really are.
Daniels: Who they are for better or worse.
The Surreal Life debuts Monday, October 24 at 9 pm ET/PT on VH1.
Photo courtesy of VH1
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