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Pitt enrolls MTV cast in Semester at Sea

Monday, June 21, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Come aboard, we're expecting you! (To be on MTV). The latest version of MTV's "Road Rules" (premiering tonight at 10) follows the latest roadies as they enroll in Semester at Sea, an academic affiliate of the University of Pittsburgh.

  MTV's "Road Rules" went along with Pitt's Semester at Sea. On the cruise were, from left, Ayana, Yes, Veronica, Pua, Pawel and, in front, Shawn. (Bunim/Murray Productions)

John Tymitz, CEO of Semester at Sea, said the joint venture between his company and the producers of "Road Rules," Bunim/Murray, was in the works for two years. Some cast members from an earlier season were awarded a Semester at Sea at the end of filming, and from there further discussions stemmed.

It's a win-win situation. Semester at Sea gets publicized to its target audience, and "Road Rules" gets to set sail for exotic locales for 19 episodes, a longer run than usual.

What about the camera crews that follow "Road Rules" cast members everywhere? Did that disturb other students on the SS Universe Explorer? Apparently not too much, according to students who were on the Semester at Sea ship.

Brian Dunn, a fifth-year senior at the University of Pittsburgh, said at first he noticed the cast and crew a lot, but after a while they became less conspicuous.

"The crew members were really cool, and they didn't seem to get in the way much," Dunn said. "I didn't find it disruptive."

Dunn said other students had mixed reactions to the presence of "Road Rules." Some people tried to cozy up to the cast in hopes of getting on TV, while others stayed as far away as possible.

Kristin Schmid, a rising junior at Penn State, said she's excited to see her voyage through MTV's camera lens, but she hopes "Road Rules" will do the trip justice.

"I really want to see how they portray it," Schmid said. "My experience was not the whole 'booze cruise' thing. I got a lot of educational value out of it."

Schmid said she didn't get to know the "Road Rules" cast members much.

  Related article:

Pittsburgh's MTV vets find love


"I might have been slightly intimidated," she said. "They were more into the party scene than I was. I would have chosen not to have them on there if I were to do it again. The presence of the crew was sometimes disruptive to me."

Amna Dermish, a rising junior at Pitt, said the cast members "did a good job integrating themselves into the community."

Les McCabe, Semester at Sea's executive dean on the voyage this spring, expressed similar sentiments.

"Even though the cast lived together, they each had their own set of friends outside the group," McCabe said. "They really integrated into the whole shipboard community. It wasn't just them as MTV stars; they had the same struggles with courses and port experiences and they had to be on camera all at the same time."

Having the cast enrolled in classes like the other students was key to agreeing to allow them on board.

"The cast members had to meet academic qualifications before we'd admit them for the voyage," Tymitz said.

In addition, Semester at Sea consulted with the "Road Rules" producers about which adventure "missions" for the cast members were appropriate. Tymitz and company read scripts for each episode and receive a tape of each completed segment and have 48 hours to make comments.

"Do they have to listen to us? I can't give you the exact wording of the contract, but they have listened to everything we've said to them throughout the process, and I don't expect that to change," Tymitz said.

He was never concerned about the video crew because Semester at Sea always has a videographer aboard to film a "voyager yearbook." While a few students specifically asked not to be filmed, most everyone signed waivers from Bunim/Murray Productions allowing use of their image.

Tonight's first episode sends the cast to Cuba, the largest group of students to visit there since before 1962, McCabe said.

Trips to multiple countries posed a hurdle of another kind for Bunim/Murray: Getting permission to film on foreign soil.

"It was a challenge to get all these people and equipment out to these exotic countries, " said supervising producer and director Clay Newbill.

He said the Semester at Sea shoot ran smoothly, and being free from the confines of the Winnebago (home to Road Rulers in previous seasons) gave the cast members more space.

"In the Winnebago they were stuck with each other," Newbill said. "On this ship they shared connecting rooms, but there were eight decks of other students, and they had classes with other students. They developed relationships outside the cast and a couple of the guys had girlfriends, and that gave us a little bit more story."

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