Real World Key West cast felt “responsible for Paula” but didn’t “know what to do”

Today The New York Times profiles The Real World Key West star Paula Meronek, who the paper says has led the show into “murky ethical waters” because of her bulimia, anorexia, depression, and alcoholism, never mind the abusive relationship she was in.

Paula says she thinks she was cast because “‘The Real World’ turned into spring break, just people drinking. I think they maybe wanted to bring back some real-life issues to it.” Yeah, because there’s been no drinking or spring breaking this season.

Tyler Duckworth tells the paper that when Paula walked in, “I thought to myself: ‘Stop the show. What is she doing here?’” He says he went to the producers because “I felt personally that she was being exploited a little bit, but moreover she was sick. You could see her veins. Her body was covered with small, fuzzy hairs. Her gaunt face. And her wild, wild mood swings.”

He adds that the cast “felt responsible for Paula, but we didn’t necessarily know what to do,” he says. “I think that ushers in a conversation about the ethics of TV. What if Paula hadn’t gotten better? Would it have been Bunim-Murray’s responsibility? The roommates’ responsibility? Or ultimately, Paula’s?” Producers did pay for her to get help, and we’ll see that on tonight’s episode, when she visits a clinical psychologist.

Paula credits the show with helping her, telling the Times, “If nothing had started the change, I don’t know what I would be. If I didn’t get on the show, I honestly don’t know if I would be. You know what I mean?” Yes, we do, because now, Paula is touring the country like so many other past Real World cast members, and she says that’s totally helped her recovery: “It’s almost like you’re getting paid to party hard and show everybody a good time. I’ve faltered a few times on that, because you just get so caught up in it.”

Correction: An earlier version of this item mistakenly attributed the quotation in the fourth paragraph to the show’s producer, not to Tyler. I regret the error.

On MTV’s ‘Real World’ Paula Meronek Deals With a Grim Reality [New York Times]

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.