Lounging around my dorm room in 1998, I was watching The Real World. The Seattle season wasn’t too trashy, especially when compared to some of the seasons yet to come (cough, Las Vegas). This was the season with the slap heard ’round the world, where after listening to Stephen Williams utter many a homophobic comment, Irene McGee yelled at Stephen that he was a homosexual, and he slapped her in the face. I was in my prime years of learning about the big world out there – I had gone far away to a college in an urban setting and was taking public transportation everywhere. I was exposed to so many people who weren’t like me – in person and on TV. In many ways, The Real World, as one of the first ‘reality’ shows, was a mirror of some of the awakening I was experiencing at school. I was around openly gay people for the first time, made black friends for the first time, met people from totally different parts of the country. On the New Orleans season I watched Julie Stoffer – a sheltered white woman my own age – live with men for the first time, take a risk to sing at a coffee house, and struggle in her relationship with her Mormon family. It was utterly relatable for me at the time.
What used to be so good about The Real World in those earliest seasons was watching roommates learn from each other and expand their world view. Unfortunately, the increasing number of producer-manufactured crises and drama took away from the authenticity of the interactions between true strangers living together for a few months. The Real World became more about scandal and less about learning. But when I was watching the show religiously in the late ’90s and early ’00s, it resonated with me because I was experiencing that world view expansion in my own life.
The podcast Sleepover is kind of like a mini version of what The Real World used to be for me: people opening their minds to the way others might think, and applying that to their own lives. The fantastic show from the CBC is hosted by Sook-Yin Lee. Three strangers agree to sleep overnight in a hotel room for one night with Sook-Yin. They each bring a problem that they would like to solve, and they all help each other talk through it. It’s a simple idea wrought with personal risk for the participants. Can you imagine? You don’t know who in the world is going to be in the room with you, it’s not just a short meeting, you have to expose a problem you have … an introvert’s nightmare! But at the same time – you know you are going to test your assumptions and learn something about yourself. I was hooked simply upon hearing the premise of the show.
Sleepover features, among others, a doctor, a politician, two writers, a student about to go to college, and a math prodigy. People who are afraid of change, who want to change but don’t know which change to make first, and who want to repair a relationship with a family member. They’re physically disabled, old, young, black, white, Asian, gay, straight. It would be genius enough if the producers matched up people of different backgrounds, but Sleepover bests that concept by including KIDS in the mix. It is not gimmicky at all – the kids featured on the show (Tai and Charlie) are mature and thoughtful and truly add to the constructive conversations. And in addition, kids who think with a more open mind and who haven’t been so jaded by life not going their way offer an uplifting, hopeful perspective. As Alan, 64, says in Episode 3, he didn’t expect to learn from the other guests, especially Charlie who is 8, but he sees parallels in their stories:
Each night is split up into three 25-30 minute episodes, one for each person’s issue, though the participants are on all three of the episodes for their night. Season one featured three sets of three people and one recap episode. Most of the guests seem very genuine about their experience and wanting to get the most out of the night spent with strangers. Lee is a great host, challenging each person to grow much as a therapist could in one night. I love her casual approach to hosting – nothing is scripted which is very refreshing.
I think this is a genius idea for a podcast. I listened to every episode as soon as it showed up on my feed and was sad when season one was over, so I can’t wait for season two. It really is like The Real World for me – just a classier version with truly normal people just like you and me, who help each other solve problems with genuine care. Check out this unique show – it’s a great one for a binge listen!
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Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (3 / 5)
Pop Culture Value (4 / 5)
Host Listen-ability (5 / 5)
There is not a better choice for a host than Lee. She is inquisitive, helpful, and a little hesitant about pushing the guests’ boundaries, which plays perfectly on audio. It reminds the listener that these participants are taking a risk and being very brave.
Flow & Production Value (5 / 5)
I imagine this show is a logistical juggling act – in addition to getting people to sign up and actually show up, they need to capture sound from multiple people in a big room, accommodate any special needs, make sure enough time is spent on each person’s issue … it’s a lot of work and I think the team did a fantastic job.
Humor (4 / 5)
Investigation (3 / 5)
Storytelling (4 / 5)
Makes Me a Better Person (5 / 5)
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (5 / 5)
Start with These Episodes:
Best to do this series at least in order of the three guests that are in the room together: I’d start with the very first trio of Charlie, Scaachi, and Alan.
Scaachi and the Silent Treatment
Alan Takes Control
You May Also Like …
Honestly – there’s really nothing else like this show. But you may also like The Life Game andYou’ve Got Issues.