At the time of its initial airing, reviews of the show were mostly negative.Matt Roush, writing in USA Today, characterized the show as "painfully bogus," and a cynical and exploitative new low in television, commenting, "Watching The Real World, which fails as documentary (too phony) and as entertainment (too dull), it's hard to tell who's using who more." The Washington Posts Tom Shales commented, "Ah to be young, cute, and stupid, and to have too much free time...
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The show also gained widespread attention with its third season, The Real World: San Francisco, which aired in 1994, and depicted the conflict between David "Puck" Rainey, a bicycle messenger criticized for his poor personal hygiene, As the show increased in popularity, Zamora’s life as someone living with AIDS gained considerable notice, garnering widespread media attention.
Zamora was one of the first openly gay men with AIDS to be portrayed in popular media, and after his death on November 11, 1994 (mere hours after the final episode of his season aired), he was lauded by then-President Bill Clinton.
The narration given over the opening title sequence used during the first 28 seasons by the seven housemates states some variation of the following: This is the true story... picked to live in a house...(work together) and have their lives taped... Tracy Grandstaff, one of the original seven picked for what has come to be known as "Season 0", went on to minor fame as the voice of the animated Beavis and Butt-Head character Daria Morgendorffer, who eventually got her own spinoff, Daria.