In Bids for Congress, “Real World” and “Apprentice” Stars Find That Reality Bites

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Starring in a reality show is a good way to become an actor, a swimsuit model, or a prison inmate—so why not a member of Congress? “I’ve gotta put this on my dude resume!” MTV’s Real World: Hollywood contestant David Malinosky once said, in a quote that referred to a foursome…but could also summarize these political times. Three former reality-show stars are seeking seats in Congress this year; two of them face primaries today. Their television fame will boost their name recognition but not necessarily their credibility, especially in the cases of two former Real World contestants who’ve starred in hours of dudely video footage.

Sean Duffy, the leading GOP candidate for the House seat of retiring Wisconsin Democrat David Obey, appeared on Real World: Boston in 1997. In one segment, he dances on a pool table in his boxer shorts while drinking beer. In another, he attends a drag-queen show. It’s provocative stuff for a candidate who’s backed by the tea party. Duffy’s Republican primary opponent, Dan Mielke, used the footage to criticize him for being gay-friendly. But the video seems to show the opposite. After the drag show, Duffy says that he “felt out of place the whole time” and then grabs a woman’s behind in an apparent reaffirmation of his masculinity.

In Brooklyn, former Real World: New York star Kevin Powell is running for the second time for the seat of Democratic Rep. Ed Towns. Even before Powell was outed for owing the IRS upwards of $615,000, he was carrying some political baggage. In episode 11 of the show, co-star Julie Gentry accuses him of throwing a candleholder at her (the video is not available online). “She is scared of Kevin, thinks he is a psycho, and never wants to be alone with him again,” says MTV’s summary of the segment. “Kevin denies brandishing the candleholder and says the fight wasn’t his fault.”

The Democratic nominee in Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District, Surya Yalamanchili, may have an easier time turning his reality show past to his advantage. He was a contestant on season six of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, where he had the chance to show off his business chops. Nevertheless, his final episode involved a brutal mutiny by his teammates that convinced Trump to axe him. “I happen to think you are going to be a very successful guy,” Trump concludes, “but for now, Surya, you’re fired!” 

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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