This is part four in a five-part series about the MTV show “College Life.” Read the intro to the project here. Read part one here. Read part two here. Read part three here. Interviews have been edited, condensed and arranged by topic to allow a coherent story to emerge.
JASON SMATHERS (Badger Herald Editorial Board chairman in spring 2009), in a review of the show: Hey, do you want to know what college is like? What’s that? You say you’re a high school student who forgot what school you applied to after Spencer’s latest blowout with Heidi wiped your mind of all memories in the last week? Hmm. Well, do you want to ride on the fumes of a Midwest-based “Hills” with fairly boring people and “Cloverfield” with keg stands camerawork? Yeah, I don’t really either.
DAVID WEXLER (show creator, writer, producer): Once I realized I wanted to do this real reality, I thought: Why have professional cameramen film it? Why have the network tell the story they want to tell? Why not have real stories with real kids?
LOREEN STEVENS (independently contracted casting director): I just didn’t — for me, I just didn’t know if it might have been a little too ahead of its time to give the kids their own camera. … When I have people send in videos, I ask them, “Were you jumping on a trampoline when you took that video? Because part of taking a video is holding the camera steady.” … Holding a camera, learning how to frame your shot, figuring out lighting, it’s not something you give a kid and say, “Hey, go do this.”
DAVID WEXLER: For critics, it actually was kind of a critical hit immediately. It was a relatively cheap show to produce, and we had a lot of viewers, so that’s a hit in many respects.
ALEX WEPRIN (broadcastingcable.com), in an April 2009 blog post: The series premiere of “College Life” on MTV delivered a 1.18 rating in the network’s target P12-34 demo and 1.16 million total viewers Monday night, according to Nielsen live plus same day data. That is up slightly from the last major series launch in that timeslot, “Run’s House” spinoff “Daddy’s Girls,” which debuted Jan. 5 to a 1.15 rating. … “College Life” is also a much cheaper series to produce than “Daddy’s Girls” as it does not use an expensive camera crew or feature a cast that is already known to viewers.
SUE WITTHUHN (mother of a 2008 UW freshman): As a parent, you’re kind of looking at it as a disappointment because you’re hoping your kids are there having a lot more positive experiences — not just positive, but more experience that would be of value since you’re paying all this money for them to go there.
HANNAH CURLEY: (senior in high school class of 2009): I didn’t love it! I was watching it with my two friends and they were going to Georgetown and Gonzaga, and they just made fun of me for coming here. I thought [the show] made it seem like such a joke at UW-Madison. The people in it seemed petty and like they didn’t care about anything.
JOSH HICKSON (cast member): When I would go out or something a guy would say “Oh, you’re the guy from ‘College Life’” and say something dumb every once in a while. But no one ever really got in my face about it. Someone may be a hater out there somewhere.
HANNAH CURLEY: I never met anyone [in the cast] officially. I think I saw one of the girls freshman year and we tried to talk to her, and she wasn’t havin’ it.
KYRA SHISHIKO (2008 UW freshman): [Jordan and I were] chilling on someone’s porch, and he’s just like “I’m so sick of talking about ‘College Life’ with people,’” but you could tell he kind of liked it. But for whatever reason, I just thought that whether it would boost his ego or whether it would annoy him, I never wanted to mention it. So we hung out a few times, and I don’t think we ever mentioned it or brought it up.
JORDAN ELLERMAN (cast member): Especially on the weekends when people were drunk. It was — I don’t get recognized anymore. Like, very rarely. Very rarely. And I’ve never been recognized anywhere else. Maybe one other spot besides Madison. But mainly on campus, I definitely had to deal with drunk people coming up to me asking about that. Sometimes I had enough patience and I’m in a good enough mood to talk about it, and sometimes I’d completely blow people off.
ANDREA ENDRIES (cast member): People were more easy going about it than you’d think because they didn’t know really what was going on. … We were still finishing filming while they started airing the first episode. And once that happened, that was really hard because then everybody knew, you couldn’t go anywhere without someone recognizing who you are and what you’re filming, and you have some yelling “Oh, there’s the camera!” and then people are trying to get in it, or they’re trying to push you out.
JOSH HICKSON: A lot of [my friends] thought it was cool to be on the show, but a lot of them also were like “I can’t let my personal life out to everyone in America to watch it.”
JORDAN ELLERMAN: My friends from home, I had to hear about it from them. Usually it was them making fun of me because the show, the footage I turned in doesn’t really represent me very well as a person. … As far as my friends from Madison go, they were involved from the get-go, so it was nothing new to them when the episodes started airing and stuff. None of my friends cared either way. They were really great.
JASON SMATHERS: No one really cared about the thing other than Kevin Tracy.
LOREEN STEVENS: I liked Kevin and Jordan. … I guess because I’m much older and they kind of represented people who had a real story, and just, something that you want to tune into. The whole key is to have something that you want to find out what happens next. I think Kevin is a very smart kid who does the typical things that kids do when they’re away from their parents for the first time, so that just felt relatable to me.
JOSH HICKSON: I would say Kevin’s story with the alcohol and bad grades and stuff is pretty bad-looking on UW. But if they would have let us film at UW, we could do the football experience and like all the game day stuff, and people actually studying for finals in the right location compared to some random library.
LOREEN STEVENS: In some ways I feel like Jordan was the most relatable, if not for the timing of the — you know, he was kind of an artist, sensitive. Kevin kind of fit the party-boy. And the two women, I don’t know if I — just in terms of relatability, I would say that the guys seemed more relatable, but that’s just me.
ANONYMOUS (comment on Jason Smathers’ review): “College Life” had the potential to be a successful and relatable program for students all over the country from various institutions, but MTV definitely blew it. … However, I would watch Kevin Tracy all day. … I think he’s hilarious.
JASON SMATHERS: A lot of people as freshmen especially go in there trying to essentially destroy their high school personalities. That’s what it is; it’s a scorched Earth campaign against the high school me.
ANONYMOUS (comment on Jason Smathers’ review): As a teacher of Kevin Tracy, I am so embarrassed for him. His mom must be mortified.
JORDAN ELLERMAN: Kevin, I used to hang out with a lot, probably the most. … He’s a lot of fun, like, he’s a nice — he’s a really nice guy, if he likes you and if he’s your friend. But if not, I mean, he’s just kind of a bro, so, you know, things happen. But he’s a good friend; I like him.
JOSH HICKSON: I wasn’t a big fan of Kevin and his lifestyle; I just don’t like that lifestyle. Everyone else was alright. I don’t know; I didn’t have any issues with them.
ANDREA ENDRIES: [I didn’t know anyone on the show well] besides Josh. Josh and I are still good friends.
JORDAN ELLERMAN: Andrea I’ve probably said ten words to in my life. Josh, a couple of my friends — like, one of my good best friends — he has friends that are mutual friends with Josh so I’d see him at parties a lot. And he is just — he’s a tool. He’s a giant tool. You can even print that, that I said that, because I don’t give a fuck. That kid is a giant tool.
JOSH HICKSON: [laughs] Um … I don’t know. [That’s] his opinion?
JORDAN ELLERMAN: Who else is there? Lindsay Zadra, I also have mutual friends with her; a bunch of my friends went to high school with her. We partied together sometimes.
JOSH HICKSON: The whole Lindsay thing was weird. They showed us arguing about something, but I don’t think that even really happened that way. … They could have showed me meeting other girls and going to different concerts and stuff, but they didn’t. They just followed the whole Lindsay story and the Andrea story.
JORDAN ELLERMAN: I hate — I shouldn’t say that. I’m not a huge fan of MTV, and I’m definitely not a fan of reality TV. So the whole thing, it really wasn’t me. It’s not the essence of my personality, so I don’t really like talking about it.
ANDREA ENDRIES: For a little bit I thought I wanted to play Hollywood superstar, and there’s so much more to life being recognized, you know, and being noticed and I’m glad that I was able to taste that and then be able to say I don’t want it.