More than two decades ago, Julie Stoffer made international headlines when she was kicked out of Brigham Young University — for appearing on MTV’s “The Real World.”
“Truthfully, my life was forever changed because of that experience,” she said. Not just because BYU released public statements questioning her morality, but because it set her on a path to her current happiness — after leaving behind The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I was not completely loved and embraced by the Mormon community,” Stoffer told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I was one of the first, if not the first, Mormons to go on a reality television show, and Mormons weren’t sure what to say about that.”
Well, a lot of them did know what they wanted say. She got hate mail. She even got beaten up by a group of LDS girls.
Stoffer and her roommates from “The Real World: New Orleans” have returned to that city 22 years later for a reunion on the Paramount+ series “The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans,” which starts streaming on Wednesday. And, while her 2000 experience was not all she had hoped, she has no regrets.
“Listen, it was also the foundation for the person that I am now,” Stoffer said. “I am not the definition of what a happy girl in Utah looks like. Yet I’m very happy and I love my life now.”
Kicked out of BYU
Growing up in a Latter-day Saint family in Wisconsin, BYU was Stoffer’s dream school. “I worked really hard in high school,” she said. “I was, like, 11th in my class so that I could get into BYU.”
She never imagined being on MTV, until she read a story about auditions for “The Real World” in The Daily Universe, BYU’s student newspaper. “That’s the reason I went to the audition to begin with,” she said.
And she was “shocked” when she learned that she was being kicked out of school after being one of seven strangers picked to live in a house (in New Orleans) and have their lives taped — because she shared the house with four men and two other women. That living arrangement, she was told, violated BYU’s Honor Code, which prohibits unmarried students from cohabiting with members of the opposite sex.
Stoffer was not attending school when she was filming “The Real World.” And, at the time, a BYU spokeswoman said the school’s decision wasn’t “just about co-ed living. It’s about Julie’s commitment to living the Honor Code, and whether she lived up to those commitments.”
It got worse for Stoffer, when a letter she received from BYU said she “was kicked out because I was ‘sleeping with members of the opposite sex on several occasions,’” she said — a statement that was printed in publications around the world. “So, essentially, the connotation was that I had been having sex, which I had not. I was still a virgin at the time.”
Nobody at BYU had to take her word for it. Everything she had done in New Orleans was documented. “They recorded literally everything,” Stoffer said. “So you know anything bad that I did made the show. … Kissing boys really just shouldn’t get you kicked out of school. But they kicked me out for living in the same house with the guys.”
According to BYU, no one at the school watched the show before deciding to suspend Stoffer. It was not standard procedure for BYU to monitor the living arrangements for students when they weren’t attending school. “I don’t think they cared about the rest of us,” said Stoffer’s husband, Spencer Rogers, “but with her being on TV, it was a special case.”
Stoffer said she “did all the things” requested of her to get back into school, before eventually giving up. “The last letter I got from BYU, after probably a year of trying to remedy everything, they said that the committee had decided I was too famous to be effective on campus.”
Lawyers offered to take her on as a client and sue BYU. “At the time I was so Mormon, and you don’t sue God!” she said with a laugh.
She transferred to the University of Connecticut “and, actually, UConn is ranked a little higher than BYU,” she said.
Back into ‘Mormon life’ and leaving the church
After that last letter from BYU, Stoffer said she “just kind of threw myself into the Mormon life again and tried to … double down on my Mormonism and show people that I was a good person. That I wasn’t just, like, the mother of whores, like they said in ‘The Singles Ward.’” (Stoffer made a cameo appearance in that 2002 movie, a comedy about Latter-day Saint culture.)
She said her 20-year-old self was “somewhat traumatized by this experience of getting kicked out of school” so she “got really, really pious. I tried to be a good girl.”
But at the same time, she was competing on the “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” shows “and I felt freer there.” But she couldn’t admit — even to herself — that she was “trying so hard to be something that ultimately was not going to work out for me.”
In 2004, she married “a good returned missionary boy” — Spencer Rogers, now an ophthalmologist — in the Salt Lake Temple. But several years later, after she was done with MTV and “life had settled down, I finally just got honest with myself and asked myself what I really believed.”
She said she “started looking really hard” at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “and I realized I didn’t believe it. And it was the most heartbreaking thing in the world , because I wanted to believe it,” she said, her voice breaking. “It was everything to me, and I’d given my whole life to it.”
She and her husband took “parallel journeys” over the next several years and both “came out on the other side” happy with their decisions to leave the church, Stoffer said. She added that they now both feel “so happy and so fulfilled.”
Stoffer made a point of saying, “I think that Mormonism is so wonderful for so many people, and it’s such a great journey for them. It wasn’t a great journey for me, and I took a very long time to get to the place where I could admit that.”
It was a personal journey that was also public because she was so identified with her religion on “The Real World.”
“It’s a huge part of my identity. I am the Mormon girl,” Stoffer said. “That is who I am when I go out in public. People know me as that.”
She hasn’t talked much publicly about her exit from the church. “That’s why this ‘Homecoming’ show is kind of a big deal for me, because it was the first time that I publicly came out and told people that I was no longer Mormon,” she said. “And I kind of had to answer to — ‘Well, why did it take you so long?’ All the questions that I’d been avoiding because I was too ashamed for so long to even ever talk about this.”
‘The Real World’ wasn’t great for her
Anyone who watched “The Real World: New Orleans” back in 2000 could see that those seven strangers never became close friends. Multiple cast members make that clear in the first episode of “Homecoming.”
Stoffer said “the only reason appearing on the ‘The Real World’ was worth it was because of the support she got from Bunim-Murray,” the production company. “I didn’t walk away with tons of friendships, but I had amazing life experiences because they took me to countries I never would have visited. They introduced me to not just people, but concepts that never would have entered my consciousness.”
After production on her season ended, Bunim-Murray hired Stoffer to compete on “Real World/Road Rules Challenge,” a competition/reality show. And a member of the production team put her in touch with the producers of the Canadian show “The Electronic Playground” — a magazine series about video games, TV, movies, etc. — that she hosted for almost a decade.
The “Real World” producers and crew “treat you like family in a lot of ways,” Stoffer said. “I needed that family because I was having a lot of hard times with my own family.”
Her parents, while objecting to BYU’s insinuations about her behavior, supported the school’s Honor Code and their daughter’s suspension. The oldest of five children in a staunchly Latter-day Saint family, her parents weren’t thrilled when she went on MTV. Her father appeared in an episode of “The Real World” and berated Julie for her decisions.
All four of her younger siblings graduated from BYU. “But I will tell you that with my brother”( who made a cameo appearance on ‘The Real World’) almost got kicked out of BYU because he had spiky, dyed hair,” she said.
In a family of devout Latter-day Saints, “I’m kind of the lone black sheep,” Stoffer said.
She didn’t watch ‘The Real World’ for years
“The Real World: New Orleans” aired from June to November 2000. Stoffer finally watched the full season about a year ago.
“I saw a few episodes here or there, and then I was really busy trying to figure out how to feed myself after I got kicked out of college,” she said. In addition to competing on “Challenge,” she was “working odd jobs, hosting in restaurants before I got my gig up in Canada. And so I just never was able to watch it in its entirety. And I had a lot of Mormons telling me how horrible it was.”
And how terrible she was for appearing in it.
“I wasn’t necessarily the best representation of, like, a Molly Mormon,” Stoffer said. “I got a lot of hate mail. It just did a number on my self-esteem at that time, and I just decided I can’t watch the show. It’s horrible. I’m horrible.”
When she finally sat down and binged the 23 episodes, she “cried and cried” and was “totally in love with my 20-year-old self. I just thought she was so brave, and she’s gone through so much [expletive] and come out the other end” even after “looking stupid and ugly and all those things.”
Stoffer definitely looked sheltered and naive at times. Worse yet, in the year 2000, she referred to Black people as “colored,” and was called out for it. But, she said, she has no regrets. “Listen, it was also the foundation for the person that I am now,” she said.
At the time, she was held up as a representative of her church — which, she said, was “horrible. I didn’t go down there to be a Mormon. I knew that they kind of cast me because I was a Mormon, but I didn’t know how to be anything except for what I was. And so that’s what they got – me, full of flaws. …
“But I had my good moments too. And I had my human moments.”
She also jumped at the chance to live in fabulous mansion in New Orleans for five months.
“To be offered that opportunity, and to be able to go wide-eyed into a city where I’d never been and have these life experiences — that was something I couldn’t say ‘no’ to then. And I couldn’t say ‘no’ to it now. That’s what brought me back.”
Marriage and children
Stoffer, Rogers and their kids live in California, but visit Utah often. “That’s kind of my second home,” she said.
When Julie met her husband, part of the initial attraction was that Rogers never watched “The Real World,” and “really knew nothing about her, except that her relationship with BYU was on ice.”
“She was getting mobbed by a lot of fans back in those days,” he said. “I think it was a breath of fresh air for her to meet somebody that did not know who she was.”
They married in 2004 and are the parents of four — a 12-year-old daughter; 10- and 6-year-old sons; and a 6-year-old foster daughter. The kids don’t know much about their mom’s TV career, “and they fascinatingly don’t care,” Rogers said. “I mean, they really couldn’t care less. I don’t think they understand that their mom actually was a big deal back in the day and that she would get recognized on the street.”
Stoffer said she doesn’t think that will happen again — Paramount+ operates in a TV world with umpteen channels and streaming services, whereas MTV was a really big deal back in 2000. But she’s at least a bit worried that appearing in “Homecoming” will upset her “great life.”
“Life was really hard after the first ‘Real World,’ and I got through it and I found the love of my life. And we’ve got this family we’ve built and we live in this house that I love — and I don’t want anything to change,” Julie said.
She recalled a “Real World” director telling her back in 2000 that the show was going to change her life, “and I didn’t believe him. And then it totally did. And so I was like, ‘Oh my God — if I do this again, is it going to change my life?’”