Here's a sign that reality-TV pioneer MTV knows what it's doing in the genre: Their undeniably addictive Real World/Road Rules Challenge is currently casting for its 12th season, but this time, as a nod to longtime fans of the obstacle course-laden competition, the show is giving "fresh meat" the chance to go up against the RW/RR veterans we've grown to love and hate. Are you what MTV is looking for? TVGuide.com picked the brain of Bunim-Murray Productions' senior casting producer Sasha Alpert, who's been sifting through extroverted 18-to-24-year-olds for the past nine years.
TVGuide.com: Which are some of the casts that you are proud of helping to choose?
Sasha Alpert: The first one I ever cast was [Real World:] Boston, so that was near and dear. There is a chemistry that happens in casting — you put it together, and then it goes off on its own, out of your hands. I always feel very strongly about the people I meet, and then they become something else when they interact with their peers.
TVGuide.com: Has anyone really surprised you with how they turned out to be on camera?
Alpert: Just to talk of recently, the things that happened with Danny [in Real World: Austin] were very surprising. You can never predict how a human being is going to react.
TVGuide.com: What are some of the funniest things people have done to get on a show?
Alpert: The funny things that people do aren't necessarily the things people would do to get them on a show. People have come to the open calls dressed as different things. Someone came dressed as the devil; [a guy] once came in wearing just a G-string; sometimes people send in 200 copies of their tape thinking that will up their chances [but it doesn't].
TVGuide.com: What clinches the deal for you?
Alpert: The initial thing [you want] is somebody who you feel is giving an honest presentation of themselves and is eager to articulate their emotions; a private person is not the best person for a reality show. In the years that I've been casting there has been a huge change in that people know that they're expected to be emotionally open. I also think that we're at a time when young people are much more politically aware because the stakes are high; they see their friends being shipped off to war. But on the other hand, the things that are most important in people's lives stay the same: who they're dating, how they were raised, their values, what makes them laugh....
TVGuide.com: Do you ever feel like there are only a few types of reality-TV personalities, and everyone's a repeat of people you've met before?
Alpert: The amazing thing about human nature is that there are no two people who are the same. I know that sounds really trite, but it's true. This is why this job has never gotten boring.
TVGuide.com: Are you scared that your own kids will become like any of the RW/RR people?
Alpert: There are risks out there that, all along in life, you can choose to embrace or not embrace. One thing that's really increasingly true is how much people drink on campuses; even more so than 10 years ago. One would hope that some people would avoid that.
TVGuide.com: Kids could learn why not to drink too much by watching Real World.
Alpert: Believe it or not, I think there's a lot that you can learn. One of the reasons the show has worked and continues to be popular is that [being 18 to 24] is such a key age, where the whole world and its possibilities are opening up, and you have to decide who you are. That never really happens again that strongly in your life.
TVGuide.com: I always think of Mike Mizanin from Real World: Back to New York as one of the people whose change — from conservative, sheltered small-town boy to the lovable, open-minded "Miz" — was so compelling to watch. Did you guess any of that would happen?
Alpert: It's always great to cast someone who is going to change, because change is fascinating. Clearly, he was going to learn a lot. [But] it's harder and harder to find people who are from a small town and not so sophisticated, because of the media [and because] the same stores and music and things are available all across the country.
TVGuide.com: What are you looking for in casting the next Challenge?
Alpert: This is a slightly different type of show. It's a chance for people to use their brawn and brain. In some ways the alumni have the advantage, but in some ways the new people will have the advantage because they've watched these people and they know what makes them tick, so they're going to go in there knowing who they're competing against.
TVGuide.com: Did you have any idea that the Challenge would be this popular?
Alpert: It has turned out to be more popular than anyone would have expected. You feel like you know these people really well. You're peering in on them in different parts of their lives. Some of these people are going to be approaching middle age soon!
TVGuide.com: Any last words of advice to people who want to apply?
Alpert: These challenges are as much brains as brawn. We don't have a treadmill at the open call, thank goodness! Just tell us why you have what it takes! Not just physically, but emotionally. Do you really want to beat these guys and put them in their place?