As a young teenager obsessed with pop culture, life seemed incredibly unfair when my parents refused to get a cable subscription so that I could lose myself in MTV. Thankfully, even if I couldn’t get my MTV at my own home, my grandparents had just moved to a condo building that had cable included whether you liked it or not. I was, and still am, obsessed with my grandma, so I spent as many weekends as I could, playing card games by day and watching the tiny TV in their makeshift guest room by night. Of course, this was back in the day when the network played videos, they had dancing shows I desperately wanted to be on and they were starting this really cool documentary series called The Real World, which followed seven very different strangers living in a tricked out loft in New York City.
What appealed to me most about the show was the opportunity to finally see real gay people on television who weren’t a part of the nightly news telecast. It was an opportunity to show the world that we not only exist, but that we’re just like everyone else — the good, the bad and the ugly.
Over the years, things have definitely changed for the network and for the show overall. Reality TV is all the rage and what was once a one-off novelty has turned into spin-off after spin-off on the form of Road Rules and now all of the MTV challenges pitting former cast members against each other in various games of strength, brain power and humiliation.
Tonight at 10 p.m., MTV premieres its latest competition and this time it’s getting really personal. Challenge: Battle of the Exes pairs two former cast members who have been intimate in the past and don’t necessarily like each other in the present. The lone gay team is comprised of veteran challenge participants Aneesa Ferreira (Real World: Chicago) and Rachel Robinson (Road Rules: Campus Crawl). We got a chance to talk to the ladies about being the only all-female team, their romantic history and what’s it’s like living as a reality TV star.
An interview with Aneesa Ferrera
AfterEllen.com: So, how many challenges is this for you now?
Aneesa Ferreira: (counting) Seven.
AE: Do you feel like the show has gotten more difficult or, maybe more ridiculous? It has definitely changed a lot since the first Real World/Road Rules Challenge.
AF: They’ve become more physically demanding and when you’re there it feels like you’re at some training facility. It’s weird because everybody’s working out. And like, now that’s part of my everyday life so it’s OK, but when people started bringing their protein and their weights and doing all this stupid stuff, I was like, “What are you guys doing!?” because the show used to be a lot of fun! We’ve always done ridiculous shit on these shows but now it’s become like all-out, run 13,000 miles and climb this mountain and dig this hole and do these problems in between.
So it’s become just hours and hours and days of trying to complete a final challenge. It’s like now we’re doing Survivor meets Amazing Race meets Big Brother and it’s weird. The old people were awesome, like Colin and Jamie and — I hate to say it — Beth . People were interesting and didn’t give a shit and there weren’t so many problems. It’s just changed completely.
AE: Yeah, I was wondering about that because even for me, as someone who is obviously watching a lot of TV and sits on the couch a lot, even the regular challenges seem to involve a lot of strength. You’re climbing ropes and wrestling each other.
AF: Well I like that stuff. (Laughs) I love wrestling with people, that part is always fun for me. It’s one of my strong points.
AE: Well and on top of that, I’m sure in a house filled with people hating on each other, wrestling out some of that aggression must feel good.
AF: Well a lot of the girls aren’t physical in that way. I mean look at Rachel: She’s a great athlete, but she probably wouldn’t want to be rolling around and wrestling someone. Even though she’s strong, it’s just not something she’d probably want to do. So that’s where I step up and say, “I’m signing up for this one.” So some of the challenges are based on strength, some on fear and some on humiliation and it’s all being done in a Speedo.
AE: Well, I’ll tell you, when I was younger I always wanted to be on The Real World. Then, as soon as these challenges came out and everybody was in Speedos, I was like, whelp, nope, that’s not happening for me. Dreams are officially squashed.
AF: (Laughs) I’m like where’s the T-shirt option? I want that. I’m bloated, why do I have to wear these mom shorts that come up to my boobs and then a sports bra? Everybody looked like they had a pooch even if they had a flat stomach.
AE: Well, everyone has been looking better as the seasons go on, probably because they now expect to have to wear these outfits, but in the beginning, nobody knew that the Spandex was coming. So for this challenge, when you found out it was going to be a battle of the exes and your ex would actually be your partner, what was your first thought?
AF: On these challenges, which is getting weird, people start making phone calls to see who else is going because they start getting nervous. They want to know who’s going where and they want to make plans and alliances before we even get there. So I knew Rachel was going before we got there, which was actually my comfort and we kind of made a plan: If you go, I go. Rachel’s girlfriend was like, the only way you’re going is if Aneesa’s going. And I was like, alright I’m there with one of my best friends — let’s do this. And then I found out it was battle of the exes and I was wondering how they were going to work it out because I haven’t really hooked up with that many people and the one that I had a relationship with was Rachel, so how is this going to work out to have a two-girl team versus all these other teams? We’re stronger than all these other girls, but together we make up one strong guy. I’m not saying it’s unfair because I think we can hold our own, but it is interesting.
AE: To be honest, I didn’t even realize you and Rachel had dated. Usually, I feel like shows like this are very quick to exploit relationships but I don’t remember hearing anything about it. I know it was around 2003 but how did it all happen?
AF: It was after I had done my show and it had already aired and her show was still airing. We met on Battle of the Sexes 1, which I guess was maybe in 2002. I didn’t pay attention to her and then one day I saw her walking up the stairs and I was like, “Oh wow, she’s got a great ass.” (Laughs) So we hung out and we had our first kiss there. And then once I got eliminated, which was about a week later, I was like, “Come to Philly,” and then after that I moved to New York and moved in with her. Mind you, I had just turned 21 and she had too. We were babies. I had wandering eyes back then and she was a really great girlfriend. She is very giving and she was a sweetheart. We shared everything; I loved her mother and she loved mine. And it was great for a while and then I — I guess I didn’t realize what I had then. When you’re young I think you look for different things. If I had met her at 30 I would’ve been like, “Oh she’s a keeper.” I mean she was a keeper back then, too, but it’s different now in my adult life. So, things went sour and I moved out after a couple of months and that was it. We hadn’t talked for a long time and she dated Veronica and I was totally against that. Jealous, maybe, in some ways — I mean, Veronica is a good-looking girl — so jealous in some ways. Mad because I didn’t understand it and felt that Rachel was changing as a person in so many ways and she wasn’t the person that I knew and that I loved. And it was very interesting. So one day, I paid her back the $500 that I owed her, and really that was what we weren’t talking about for a million years. (Laughs) So we made up, we were cool, we’d hang out. And then she started dating her girlfriend now, who she’s been with for over three years, and they’re happy as a clam, I couldn’t be happier for her. I love her girlfriend.
But I think all I ever wanted from her — and you can see it on The Duel 2 because her and I were intimate and she had said some things to me like, “I love you, don’t hurt me this time,” and it kind of led me on to make me feel like maybe there was something, until I had to hear from other people that she had hooked up with someone else. And it was kind of a respect thing. So of course editors cut things to make it seem like I’m the crazy ex-girlfriend. No, I am, number one, one of her best friends and number two, I was intimate with her and number three, she went ahead and had sex with someone else. And I wouldn’t care if we didn’t live in the same house but you sleep on the bed above me.
So I felt disrespected. And it was a hard pill to swallow seeing that and watching her sit back and let other people bash me. But I forgave her. So now, our relationship is really great. Don’t get me wrong, I still think about how she swept me under the rug for a long time. And I think it’s because she does care what other people think on a TV level. Outside of this, she doesn’t give a s–t.
AE: I feel like it’s got to be hard to even try to have a relationship with anybody if any part of it is on camera and you’re put in situations that would never happen in real everyday life. So how do you go about navigating something like that? Is there a point when you have to say to each other, look, whatever is on TV is on TV and everything else is completely separate?
AF: Well, yeah and that’s happened in the past with people who keep it in the closet. (Long pause and then laughter) Pun intended. No one knows it on camera but they’re dating for years. But I feel like if you really love someone, it’s hard to hide that. Like, how do you hide that? These people are filming everything. So it’s pretty difficult to say, please don’t film the fact that I’m in love with this person.
AE: Do you think part of their reasoning for casting the show in this way — besides making things incredibly uncomfortable — was to try to get certain couples back together?
AF: Oh yeah, definitely. They’re hoping for drunken hook-ups and people sleeping together. The crazy thing about this challenge was that a lot of people — a lot lot — were in relationships. Now whether they respected those relationships, I can’t tell you. I really don’t know, but it can put a damper on relationships. You get there, there are attractive people that you’ve hooked up with before. I definitely think they were hoping to catch people hooking up again. But when it’s just not there anymore between you, it’s not there.
AE: Do you feel like, in general, the show makes it harder to have relationships with people who aren’t on the show?
AF: Yeah, sometimes. It’s like real celebrities; like singers and actors. They go after people in the industry because they know what they go through, they know they’re not after their money or their fame. I’ve dated people and I’ve been like, get all your questions out right now because you can then pretty much gauge where somebody’s going with it. If they’re really excited and they’re on the phone being like, “I’m with Aneesa,” and I’m like, “And now you’re not with Aneesa.” I don’t really date. I am now, but I haven’t dated in a while. I’ve been single for a while just because I’m a little more selective now than I’ve ever been. It’s easier to stay away from it than have to deal with the drama of weeding people out. So I tend to hang out with and date people from my past, who I’ve known since eight years ago who don’t like the fact that I’m on TV. Who hate it but have to get used to it. So it’s difficult to date someone who wants to get to know me.
AE: Well, as somebody who watches, as soon as somebody says they’re in a relationship and they’re about to be cast on a show like The Real World, if I’m their partner, I’m just going to assume they’re going to cheat and our relationship is going to be over. More often than not, everybody cheats on the show. I feel like that would be really difficult to get over.
AF: It is. And plus it’s on camera. Like, I, when I hooked up with Rachel, I was in a relationship. I was an honest person, so I called when we were allowed to use the phone and I was like, “Babe, listen, I had sex with dada dada — please don’t be mad at me. I told you she was going to be here and I wasn’t sure what would happen. I’m so sorry it will never happen again, please forgive me.” And then I got my heart broken when I got home. Karma’s a bitch. It’s hard though, you’re living with that person every day and everything you kind of had just comes back up. So do all your problems with that person. So a lot of these kids don’t have a lot of self-control and it’s hard. I mean it’s not hard for me now but it was years ago.
AE: I’ve only seen the first episode but it seems like with these challenges they’re going to make things as uncomfortable as possible.
AF: Yeah well that’s the humility thing. Make us really awkward, wear unflattering things — I’m gonna look like a hippo. But being teammates, Rachel and I are just gonna get it done. It wasn’t awkward for us because we have a real relationship outside of the show. And that’s the difference for us because these people hook up and then never talk again. So why wouldn’t it be awkward?
AE: Right, well and especially needing to physically touch each other in kind of no-no part areas.
AF: Yeah, we were everywhere.
AE: So what are the odds of us seeing a good blowout this season?
AF: Oh yeah, there will be some good blowouts, fights, there might be some hookups, some plotting, some people are very conniving, there’s some backstabbing, because people won’t stab you in the front on these shows. A lot of comedy, a lot of boredom, a lot of alcohol.
AE: I’ve always considered alcohol to be an extra cast member. I’m looking forward to seeing it all play out.
AF: Yeah, me too! (Laughs)
AE: Well, as the show’s only two lesbians and actually, the only gay couple featured on the show, I’m hoping you guys go far.
AF: I told Rachel, we’re going to have a lot of people in our corner. I’m like, it’s going to be a whole feminist movement. I think that’s gonna be awesome, I kind of love that idea. It’s really empowering actually. Like everyone kind of looked at it like it was a bad thing but I was like, no this is awesome. Because I couldn’t have picked a better partner if I wanted to. She’s awesome.
Next page: An interview with Rachel Robinson