When Mizzou student Emily Schromm went to her morning shift at Starbucks on a Saturday morning last spring, she was expecting a day filled with the familiar cappuccinos and lattes. Instead, Schromm found herself swept up in a whirlwind of camera crews, reality television and fame, cast as one of the eight roommates on MTV’s hit reality show “The Real World.” The Kirksville native who had taken her very first airplane ride only the previous year now found herself moving to the big city of Washington, D.C., where she would stay in an opulent house with her roommates from July to October.
The cameras captured Schromm doing normal 20-something things: rock climbing, making the most of the city’s nightlife, interning with nonprofit organizations Africa Action and Kid Power, and, yes, making a few missteps in her love life.
Now that her Real World experience has ended, Schromm attends college classes at the University of Missouri during the week, works at Starbucks and G&D Pizzaria at night, and travels for bookings or MTV talk shows every weekend.
The jet-setting student agreed to pause for a few moments to enjoy a cup of coffee while answering Inside Columbia’s most pressing questions. In the end, Schromm says, her experiences were as much about self-discovery as they were about entertainment.
How did you find yourself on The Real World?
Well, I was at Starbucks on one of my Saturday morning shifts, and I think I was late. One of the customers kept coming in, so we just started a conversation and I asked him if he was auditioning for “The Real World” [across the street]. He said, “No, I’m not auditioning — I’m the casting director, and do you want to talk to me after work?” And they kept calling me back.
Was there a point when you realized that you really wanted the spot?
I’m very go-with-the-flow, so I was kind of like, “O.K., if they’re calling me back, why not?” And then when I got to the last audition in LA, I think it’s when my competitive self kicked in because I realized that people really wanted this. All of a sudden, I was like, “Oh, no, I really want this.” When I got the call of acceptance, I really thought it was the rejection call because I didn’t even think it went that well. I was pretty shocked. I screamed and then I think I cussed a lot and said, “Get the eff out!”
Why do you think MTV chose you?
That’s a good question. I did have a weird background and they always pick people with weird pasts or crazy pasts or crazy parents. I think they liked the free spirit and wanted someone like that in D.C. Or my casting director just wanted to continue a little flirting!
What was the “weird background”?
It was a very fundamentalist church, studying and very secluded from normal life. The school, the church, everything was combined into one and so there wasn’t much life outside of it. It’s scary that a person can be put in a box so small and be OK with it.
My mom was a teacher at the school and she saw how education was suffering because instead of going to math class they’d have an alter call. To her, education was first, so that was probably her first warning sign. I think I was 13 when we left.
How was life different while filming?
There were no cell phones, no social network sites. There was one phone, one computer and an e-mail account. They really don’t let you run from your problems at all. [laughs]
We did have a curfew; the streets in D.C. can get really crazy at night, and there was a lot of retaliation in D.C.; they either loved us or hated us. We had to be careful.
We couldn’t wear certain logos, like I couldn’t wear my Spiderman stuff. No TV.
Strangely, I think all of us got used to the cameras. I thought it would take some adjusting, and it did. That first day everyone’s just kind of throwin’ themselves out there and not really sure what to expect, but you really just have to let yourself go. Once you did, it was liberating, letting go of that insecurity. After “Real World” and letting go of your insecurities for the world to see, it’s so much easier to live day-to-day. I’m just so much more forward. Everything is healthy so far; it’s been a good experience.
Does MTV pay for the entertainment?
Oh, no, they don’t, but if you think about it, 3½ months and eight people who have never met each other — they don’t need to pay anything. They did a good job on casting.
Did MTV encourage the cast to be entertaining?
No, they stayed out of it, and I was really impressed. I definitely have a bigger respect for reality TV now coming out of it, because walking in I still thought it was kind of a joke. But they are really hands-off. They didn’t have to make us do anything; they cast us for a reason! [laughs] We took personality tests, we took IQ tests, we took drug tests, we had a process. It was not just like, “Let’s talk for a camera and see what you do.”
Did you ever get a break from the cameras?
There were times when you’d get in a fight and wanted to get away but they’d follow you because they want to see what you’re going to do, but if you just wanted to relax and go to the sauna or steam room or go boxing by yourself they’d respect that. For the most part, it was 24/7 but every once in awhile when they were feeling generous …
Did MTV edit the show in a way that distorted the truth?
They’re really good about sharing both sides of the story, for the most part. I haven’t seen any bad editing so far. I’m actually OK with it. Granted I would have liked less Ty and Emily, which I didn’t think was a big deal, but besides that I feel like they’re sharing everybody’s story [Schromm was referring to tension between her and her roommate, Ty]. Kid Power and Africa Action were two of the most amazing things I’ve done in my life, and I’m really excited for them to show more of that.
How has your family reacted to the show?
I guess my grandma watches it with my mom and my sister in St. Louis, and one day my grandma said, “I would have never guessed that little church Emily 10 years ago would be on TV right now in bed with a guy!” [laughs] It’s awkward. We were laughing about it.
Does it seem like a long time ago now?
Watching myself and what happened, it feels like it was years ago. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve changed or if it’s such a different atmosphere that I’m in now … it feels like a long time ago.
What’s next for you?
I live by the second. I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow. Well … for once, I actually do; MTV made me know what I’m doing tomorrow! [Schromm was set to film a follow-up segment the next day.] But I think I know that I’m most happy when I’m helping people, and I cannot wait to go to Africa and work in the HIV/AIDS prevention sector. I think one day I want to do Peace Corps and just find a way that I can be selfless, because I feel like that’s what life is about. I have a bucket list that is so long it’s just ridiculous. I want to do everything.
Considering all of your activities right now, that really doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
I know, right? I sometimes get emotional about it. I’ve wanted my whole life to do something crazy and random and never have a dull moment in my life, and here I am, never having a dull moment.