Dan Renzi on "Real World: Miami" in 1996, and now, taking selfies in the very same city.
In a '90s TV landscape dominated by the likes of the saccharin-sweet "Full House," you could count on Dan Renzi of "Real World: Miami" to not mince words. The then-22-year-old Rutgers student took to Miami in 1996 looking for some direction and left it an international model, but is back in the same city 17 years later, en route to a career as a nurse practitioner. The Season 5 alum recently told Remote Control about life in Florida, his HIV/AIDS awareness efforts and what's up with his cat, Gurdy, who's an aspiring Internet celebrity. Check out the interview, keep up with Dan's blog for some hilarious pop culture musings and remember to tune in to the "RetroMTV: Real World " marathon this weekend starting Friday at 8/7c!!
What were you up to when MTV cast you for "Real World"?
I was a senior in college and I knew I wanted to take a break. I applied to teach English in Japan, and I was going to apply to work on a cruise ship, but the "Real World" called first. I sort of was open to anything that was going to happen.
"Miami" was shot 17 years ago. What do you think viewers gleaned from your story?
Times were so much different back then, and people forget that Norm and Pedro and Genesis and I were doing this before Ellen [Degeneres] came out of the closet. I remember it was a big deal whether or not I was going to kiss my boyfriend on the show. I remember that episode -- the guy, Johnny, and I were dating, and there were camera crews and flood lights. And he planted one on me. We just giggled about it, but then we were like, "What did we just do?"
When that show played, I remember the look on my parents' faces, like, "Oh, my God, what is our son doing?" But then life went on. We went out to the supermarket and were still able to shop. We wasted a lot of time worrying.
How do people approach you when you're recognized today?
When people are excited to see you years later, it's a really big compliment, but really all they want to do is sit there and tell you how old you are, like, "Wow, you look good for your age!" And it's like, how old am I? But then, every once in a while there's the guy my age who says: "I lived in Alabama, had no friends and would wait for the show to come on." It was part of the machinery of what the show meant -- it was what all of us did.
We saw you leave Miami as a model -- how did you get to your current career path?
Modeling was a great post-college job -- but going to Milan for Fashion Week is like moving to L.A. to be an actor: you just can't make a name for yourself. I would do one little job and make no money. Finally, in Paris -- my agency was above a bakery, which was just sadistic -- I bought a huge piece of chocolate cake and told my booker, "I'm done, I'm done."
Before I became a model, though, during my final semester of college, I got certified as an HIV counselor for a sociology project. I started touring and giving lectures in college, like HIV education and awareness, lectures for National Coming Out Day and World AIDS Day. I ended up traveling to over 150 colleges, and here I was, this gay guy from "Real World" talking about sex and condoms at, like, Catholic schools. I would have a line of administrators with their arms crossed staring daggers at me, and that became my niche -- not like a screaming, liberal, politically active person, but just elevating social consciousness.
So what are you up to now?
I stayed in HIV counseling, and my goal is to go get a master's degree as a nurse practitioner.
Frequenters of your blog see post after post honoring your dear cat, Gurdy. How did you two meet, and what's he like?
I help rescue and foster animals, and I found this kitten that was so awesome I ended up just keeping him. He has major anxiety disorders, is severely agoraphobic, has crossed-eyes and has the worst case of feline flatulence I have ever encountered. I wanna figure out how to make YouTube stuff so I can fund my graduate school with funny cat videos, but so far, it's not working out. He lays around a lot.
Do you still watch "Real World"?
I don't have cable, actually.
+ Miss "Miami" and other seasons? Download full episodes of the show on iTunes! And don't forget to watch our "RetroMTV: Real World" marathon this weekend, featuring full episodes of New York, San Francisco and the original Las Vegas.
Dig Remote Control? Follow us on Twitter, like, now.
Photos: MTV and courtesy of Dan Renzi