Norman Korpi is back in the real world after spending three months in "The Real World" of MTV.
A 25-year-old product designer living in New York's Brooklyn borough, Mr. Korpi was one of the seven young adults picked to star in "The Real World," a calculated mix of soap opera and rockumentary that in less than a month has become MTV's top-rated show. (The 13-episode program is broadcast Thursday nights.).
Looking back, Mr. Korpi says, "It wasn't a real experience; it was a surreal experience. But then everything in New York is surreal."
Still, even by New York standards, "The Real World" has to be considered a bit unusual: Trend-setting cable network, looking for low-budget soap opera a la Fox Broadcasting's "Beverly Hills, 90210" for its largely 18- to 24-year-old viewers, finds group of non-acting unknowns, plants them in rent-free, dreamy SoHo loft, lets them loose on the streets of New York and turns on the cameras.
Borrowing a page from the 1973 PBS documentary "An American Family," soap opera producer Mary Ellis Bunim ("Santa Barbara," "As the World Turns," "Search for Tomorrow," and "Loving") and partner Jon Murray (whose background is in news and documentaries) waited, watched and videotaped -- 30 to 50 hours a week to make each of the half-hour episodes.
Not that they didn't stack the deck, starting with their subjects. Eric Nies, 21, a professional model from Ocean Township, N.J., is this show's answer to "90210" star Luke Perry; Julie Oliver, an aspiring 19-year-old dancer from Birmingham, Ala., is the young innocent in the big city; 21-year-old Heather B. is a righteous rapper from Jersey City; Kevin Powell, 26, of Jersey City as well, is billed as a free-lance writer-poet; while Andre Comeau (long of hair and ego), is a 21-year-old rocker from Detroit; and Rebecca Blasband, 24, is a singer from Philadelphia with a flair for fashion.
As hoped, the cast and combination of personalities have produced some provocative television: heated arguments, sexy situations and at least some of the stuff twentysomething kids living in New York dream about (and their parents lie awake worrying about).
But is it real?
Mr. Korpi says no, not really.
"I tried to get them to change the name to 'Fish Tank,' " he says, believing it a more accurate title, though, overall, he adds, "It was an incredible experience."
And for Mr. Korpi's family back home in Williamston, Mich., it's been an unexpected revelation -- particularly episode 3, during which it was revealed that he is bisexual.
Mr. Korpi, who hooked up with the show when the network came to look at his loft as a possible shooting site, says he didn't say anything to the producers about his sexuality early on. "They asked me if I had been dating anyone, and I hadn't been. I had just broken up with a boyfriend, and so it never really came up in the conversation."
But when contract time rolled around (the cast members were paid $2,600 each), Mr. Korpi decided to speak up.
"They didn't even flinch," he remembers. "It was like nothing."
Well, not exactly nothing.
"I said, listen, this is really generous of you to do, but this is a big thing for me because I mean I'm going to have to go and tell my parents."
That's when it became obvious to Mr. Korpi that "they were, like, kind of hoping that I would do this all on television. You should have seen the gleam in their eye. They were just so happy. And I was like going, 'Oh, forget it! There's just no way that this is going to happen on television. You just forget that. That would be so tacky.' "
Nevertheless, he says, it was difficult for his parents, who live in a community he describes as "very Republican, white and the whole package."
Mr. Korpi isn't sure what comes next for him or how people will react, explaining that he's been busy catching up with his work at Gouda, his design company named after his Great Dane (another star of "The Real World").
"I haven't been mobbed in malls yet," he says, though he notes, "I did go out to Long Island and walked into this bar, and there were literally 10 different people who came up to me, and that's when I went, 'Oh, my. . . .' "
MTV says that Mr. Nies has been pulling in the most fan mail, and Mr. Korpi isn't surprised.
"I mean, my sister and her friends call, and they all scream and go, 'Did you touch him? Oh my God! Is he real?' and all that kind of stuff."
With only 13 episodes and no plans by MTV for "The Real World: Part II" (not yet, at least), Mr. Korpi isn't quite sure whether there's show business in his future.
"Unless some role was specifically built for me," he says of movies and TV, "I don't think I'd have the energy." (But he is talking to people in Hollywood.)
"A lot of people ask me, 'Where is this going to lead you?' And I say it was a very fun thing to do, you know; it was extracurricular in my life. So in that sense it was just recreational, and I had a really good time."