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`The Real World’ can still grab you

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As MTV's "The Real World" enters its seventh season, a good deal of the mystery is gone.

Like when David, one of the first two cast members to arrive at the house, doesn't immediately grab the best bedroom. "I'm just leaving it out here because I don't want to (tick) anyone off," he says.(Ah, he's been watching the previous six seasons. That has happened before.)

Or when Stephen asks one of the roommates he just met, "Are you lesbian?"

(That, too, has happened before. But, from all appearances, none of the roommates this season is gay or bisexual - a first for the show.)

"Someone's gonna hate me," Lindsay says.

(Well, that's pretty much bound to happen, as well.)

The basic premise of the show hasn't changed at all. These are still seven people picked to live in a house and have their lives taped for 4 1/2 months - thousands of hours edited down to 11 1/2 hours of TV that show us "what happens when people stop being polite and start being real."

(The hourlong season premiere is Tuesday at 8 p.m.; regular half-hour episodes will be seen Tuesdays at 8 p.m. beginning June 23.)

As always, this may be the real world, but it isn't the normal world. Most 19- to 22-year-olds don't get to live rent-free in a stunning abode built on a pier in Seattle.

"Even the soap's cool. We can't lose," David says.

"It was like looking into a candy store when you're a little kid. I couldn't believe it. It was just Christmas all over again only 100 times more," says Nathan, another roommate.

"I'm not even noticing the people because I've never lived in a house like this," says Irene, yet another roommate.

And the place is just amazing, with incredible bedrooms, a stunning living room, huge libary, exercise room, computers, hot tub, pool table, acquariums and all sorts of funky gadgets all over the place. Heck, there's even a rock-climbing area.

Not to mention the more than 50 pieces of artwork scattered around the place.

"This is unbelievable," says roommate Janet. "I'm not going to want to leave."

As always, there are a couple of twists this season. For the first time, two of the roommates are already best friends when they arrive - David and Nathan are classmates and former roommates at Virginia Military Institute.

And the roommates will all be working together - something that was tried last season when the cast volunteered at a child-care center. That didn't work out particularly well, so this season the roommates are working at a commercial radio station. (And that has possibilities.)

As for those roommates, they are:

- David, 21, who grew up in a Boston slum and attends VMI on a tennis scholarship.

- Irene, 22, a star student with a commitment problem, an attitude and a case of Lyme disease.

- Lindsay, 21, a "hyperactive wild child" whose outrageous behavior hides a more serious side - a side affected by the death of her father when she was a teenager.

- Nathan, 21, the other VMI student, has been pretty much on his own since his father died when he was 15.

- Rebecca, 19, is torn between her shy, romantic side and her extroverted, feminist side.

- Stephen, 20, who was raised a Black Muslim by his mother but chose Judaism when he was 15.

As always, the real - if decidedly odd - attraction to "The Real World" is the chance to eavesdrop, if not spy, on these young people who aren't old enough yet to realize how young they are. Not that they're bad people, but even in the first hour you can see the self-centered egotism that goes hand-in-hand with being 20.

And the producers of the show aren't dumb. They know they've got to stir some conflict into the mix, or the show will be a bore.

Thus, there's Stephen, who's sort of a whiny brat. In the premiere, he works himself into a couple of snits - first because he feels intimidated by the fact that his two male roommates are already buddies; second because, at age 20, he can't get into a dance club that his 21-and-over roommates are readily admitted to.

Then there's Lindsay, who seems to be more than a bit of a provocateur. Not to mention the immediate attraction between Lindsay and David.

And how about Nathan, who left a seemingly manipulative girl-friend back in Virginia. She's suffering more than a bit of separation anxiety.

"If I feel like this for the next 4 1/2 months, I'm either going to break up with you or drop out of school," Stephanie whines over the phone.

"She's really acting like a spoiled little brat right now," David observes.

Then there's the note accidentally left lying around that causes misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

And, of course, the producers have stocked that great library full of books about sex.

It may not be new anymore, but "The Real World" remains voyeuristic fun. You'll love these people, you'll hate these people, you'll feel sorry for them, you'll wish they'd just shut up and go away.

Just like real life.