We decided to take a visiting Norwegian Friend –almost family – to Coral World early one Saturday morning with the Babies (frankly, you would have to be as close as family to brave Coral World with our two). Every time we had tried to go to Coral World on a Sunday (a non-cruise ship day, hence fewer crowds) one or more of the shows didn’t take place (the sea lions were on vacation, the sharks were busy, the exhibits were being cleaned) so we decided to try a Saturday. We planned to be there for the Shark Shallows talk, the Stingray Lagoon feeding, the Sea Lion Presentation, and the Turtle Talk, beginning at 9:45am. Norwegian, Husband, BG, BB, and I all showed up bang on time, but still ended up hanging around a bit waiting for the shark talk to begin (not an abnormal occurrence in the islands – waiting…). It was gearing up to be an extremely hot day, we were already sweating, and the children were becoming restless (not good at 10am), consequently we were more than happy when a young-ish guy finally stood up and started to talk.
Unfortunately, in the words of Miss Clavel, something was not right: his baseball cap was on sideways; his earrings were the kind that create portholes out of ears (I could see the Undersea Observatory Tower framed through his); and he nervously fumbled his words. It was like watching the ‘too cool for school’ 7th grade boy give an awkward science report. To be fair, he wasn’t all that bad and it seemed like he had actually put in some time and energy preparing for his talk – it was just not the normal radiant, smiling, chatty, and confident Coral World presenter, most of whom exude the impression that half their young lives are spent underwater becoming one with the marine world. My head spun around and noted the athletic spandex-clad person appear with a large video camera. Out of nowhere, a fuzzy mike materialized on a long boom, dangling above the shark ‘expert.’ Uh oh.
Full disclosure: I have not actually wanted to run into the Real World. Ever. I abhor the idea of being on camera/TV/video, and I don’t want my children anywhere near it. Irrational behavior perhaps, but recently I have lived in fear of unknowingly being filmed and ending up on TV later looking like crap (fine, so I’m superficial and narcissistic, sue me). On this particular day, I was wearing a blouse that I have been meaning to throw away for two years (except I love the fabric – reminds me of Klimt – and it is very lightweight). Problem is, it makes me look like a schloß – and not a small one. Add in some über-late nights with visiting Norwegian (always blame the visitors), unwashed frizzy pool hair, weight I attribute to a season of rummy Painkillers, and sweat-inducing heat – well, I was ready to hide. I muttered an expletive under my breath, grabbed BB (who was starting to wander/bolt off and yell – he’s, shall we say, a very vocal child), and headed straight for the ticket takers by the gate. The woman’s smile faded somewhat when I blurted out, “MTV? Here? Today? Really?!” With her smile bravely holding on, “Um, yes!” as though this were a good thing. There was no question of us leaving; this was the only day when all five of us were able to go together. Harumph. I texted a few local friends about our Coral World encounter who replied back with variations of ‘Hahahahaha!!!!! Have fun with that!’
More LA-looking camera-wielding people were melting out of Coral World’s low stone walls at an alarming rate, along with production people, sound/microphone holders, and Lord knows who else. Pretty soon they almost outnumbered the visitors. The rest of the Real World kids meandered in as well. Adding to this nightmare, I notice that Norwegian is lovingly holding BG up so she can touch a shark, with cameras zeroed in on them. BG hates to be the center of attention and one random comment or action can set her off. Next thing I know, I hear familiar shrieking. I found out later, thank God, that a parent must sign a waiver for their child to appear on the show. No waivers were presented (and none would have been signed). After both children raised a ruckus at the Stingray Lagoon, I sidled up to a production-looking guy and said, “You’ll be editing that out, please.” He looked startled for a second then burst out laughing. No flies on this mother!
Every exhibit was either presented by the Real World interns or had them taking an active part; they were introduced merely as interns – no one else seemed to twig on what was taking place, but to be fair, most of the other visitors were Danish, and they probably think cameras following people around is a typical American thing. Two of the girls helped with the Sea Lion presentation, and the rest of the cast gathered behind the actual Coral World visitors to watch them. I was crouched behind BB, around a corner, next to all the production people. It was kind of cool actually. They got what was filmed almost immediately, and it seemed as though they would review it then and there on a little box/viewer (I never claimed to have any idea about actual lingo), and chat quietly about it. The Real World guys seemed to move on air: I almost jumped when I looked up from one second to the next, and suddenly there they were standing next to me, marveling at how adept my son was with the iPhone (had to keep him quiet somehow). The girls were okay; their roles were more ‘magician’s assistants,’ with the sea lion as the rabbit. They were mostly giggly, and within seconds one of them forgot what she was supposed to say and bent over double with her head in her hands laughing, and then a minute later, the other one (I swear I heard this) said something about ‘Here at Optical World…’ Anyway, the actual presenter was the typical cheery capable Coral World person, and the Sea Lion show was a hit (at least with BG, BB lost interest the minute he realized he couldn’t run under the ropes where the Sea Lion was, hence the phone distraction).
After that, we sort of gave up trying to keep to a schedule. BB likes to run around, climbing up and down the steps in the Undersea Observatory Tower and checking out the various aquariums dotted around; BG likes to look at everything, but not really sit through whole talks about the life of a turtle or whatever (some of which she’s heard before), so we wandered around aimlessly for a bit longer. Meanwhile, I kept trying to remember to stand up straight, hold my wind-ballooning shirt closer to my body (to avoid looking like a billboard ad for the Secessionist movement), stop frowning, and not get caught in the background yelling at my children while wiping my sweaty face off with my hands. Traumatic stuff. After a snack, all had quieted down, and we decided to skedaddle to St. John on the people-ferry for lunch and a playground.
Since then, I have had texts with sightings (at Pesce in Red Hook for lunch Tuesday), heard more random things about the show (evidently three months of constant filming will be edited down to 8 hours), and chatted with people who have agreed or not to allow them to film at their store or restaurant for whatever reason (the number one reason against filming seems to be that it would irritate their loyal local brethren). I also heard that originally MTV had brought in their own motorboat captains to transport the seven 20-somethings around the islands, but after two boats were caught on reefs, locals were hired (and boats purchased – you break it, you buy it).
As I said before, I certainly know what I will be watching this summer, and having the Real World on island this season has certainly spiced things up – everyone likes a bit of drama, especially when it happens to someone else or on the fringes of your life. And therein lies the problem with and the allure of ‘reality TV,’ but that’s another topic for another day. Stay tuned.
P.S. Here is a website with the complete cast of characters. http://vevmo.com/f273/real-world-st-thomas-complete-cast-6877/