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+TALK: DR. PAM LING & JUDD WINICK

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Dr. Pam Ling & Judd Winick.

KARL
How a reality show 27 years ago broke barriers, next.

Welcome to Plus Talk on Plus Life where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. My guests today started doing that almost 30 years ago on the MTV reality show, “The Real World San Francisco.” Joining me is Dr. Pam Ling and her husband Judd Winick who shared a house with one Pedro Zamora. And is it weird that 30 years on, people are still coming up to you and talking to you, not only about the show, but the impact that Pedro has had on the world?

JUDD
Yeah, I mean, I would say it’s, on one breath it’s been 27 years and we are shocked when we meet people who were not even born when the show was on and now they’re catching it on Paramount Plus, and they’re talking to us about it and are deeply moved by it. I mean, I guess that’s what brings us to the second part of the answer, which is we’re really not surprised because Pedro’s story was just absolutely so extraordinary that it’s really, I mean, we’re probably the least surprised that people are still so moved and we find it very heartening that all these years later, he is still affecting people and still changing lives, right?

PAM
Yeah.

KARL
Pam, when you went shooting the show, you were in medical school at the time. Being that Pedro was an AIDS educator and activist, what did he teach you in those, because it was still relatively, you know, we didn’t have the antiretrovirals and things like that.

PAM
That’s right, back when we shot the show, I was only in third year of medical school, so I thought I was gonna be the font of medical information to inform my household, but I actually ended up learning a lot more than educating others. Pedro was really a master educator, he could almost just sense when someone would have a question and of course he was really good at explaining that. You know, at that time it was a lot of stigma, people were worried that you could get HIV from, you know, eating off the same plates or sharing towels, or, you know, if someone cries on you, like those were the kinds of questions from the 90s. And Pedro really, I really learned from Pedro, just more the experience of having a friend, someone who was really like my age and really could have been one of my colleagues or a sibling of mine who’s just like me, you know, straight A student. He wanted to go to medical school because his mom had died of cancer when he was young, and so he had kind of the same career path that I had, except for, of course he became HIV positive and ended up being an AIDS educator. But it’s also true at that time that there was no treatment. So this all happened, Pedro got really sick and maybe within a year after he passed away, there was the highly active antiretroviral therapy pretty available, but…

JUDD
We do think about that a lot. I mean, you know, on both sides of it, that when we finished filming the show in June of ’94 and Pedro passed away in November, just a few months later, and we often thought about if he had been with us like a year later and he went on combination drug therapy, what would have happened? At the same time, I mean, a good example is Pedro’s best friend Alex Scarano, who was on the show, came to visit us, and we got to know him quite well. Alex went on a combination drug therapy and he died, you know, didn’t work there. And it’s something we, you know, we struggle with and think about.

KARL
Just sort of backtracking a little bit, Judd, because I know you sort of moved into the house, it was actually a birthday. As Pam mentioned, you know, the early 90s, there was a lot of fear and a lot of stigma surrounding HIV. What were your initial reactions when you found out that you’d be living with someone HIV positive. and through the process, how did you find yourself changing? Or were you already pretty open-minded and cool about it?

JUDD
I would say I liked to have thought that I was open-minded and cool about it. This actually all came up when we were auditioning for the show. When we’re being interviewed for the show, like there were six rounds within six months, I won’t get into it, 30,000 people try it out. We got picked, we’re very grateful. But around the halfway mark, the producers asked us, how would you feel about living with someone who’s HIV positive? And I gave what I thought was, you know, the real perfect lefty answer, which was, you know, it’s like, well, I’ve never, I don’t know anyone who’s HIV positive, and that’s, I know you get seven strangers from around the country together from different experiences and I would be really interested in learning from that person. Mostly what I’m thinking is like, oh my God, we’re going to be living with someone who has AIDS. That’s what I was thinking, because it 1994, we knew nothing. And all we had ever seen of people who are living with AIDS or HIV was on the news, and it was always, they were always young men who were dying, that’s all you saw. And so when I thought about living with someone who’s HIV positive, I thought about living with the HIV virus walking around on two legs, I wasn’t really thinking about living with a person. And then we had Pedro and it really did change for me very, very quickly because I was able to quickly put that together. I wasn’t scared, because I’m not living with the HIV virus walking around on two legs, I’m living with this guy who I just spent three or four hours hanging out with and I liked him. And it’s like, no, I’m going to be living with Pedro. And he’s great, and that’s where it started, you know? And then he became our friend and then we just fell in love with him, it became something different.

KARL
Well, the world fell in love with him. Pam, do you think the impact that he has made when you, you know, it’s hard to say 27 years ago when you’re shooting the show and you were all sort of experiencing this as friends and his housemates together, did you ever sort of take stock and think, this young man is gonna have a legacy that is going to live on, or were you all just really sort of living in the moment, as you said, as friends, he was like me, he was, you know, and you didn’t really think that far ahead about it.

JUDD
How do we ask, like, yes, all of that.

PAM
I mean, it was kind of both, right? We thought, on the one hand, it really was just like, you know, he’s just like me and we’re having a good time, we’re gonna live and be on TV. But I think that both Jen and I knew very early on that this was important. I think even when they raised the question in the pre-interviews and even set up the idea, like, what would it be like to live with someone who’s HIV positive certainly struck me as suddenly thinking, oh, this is gonna be interesting, and this could potentially be really important. And then when we met Pedro, definitely, I think Jen and I were both on, you know, team, you know, Pedro is gonna show the world that living with HIV is not about dying and it’s not, you know, about suffering, it’s, you know, you have serious medical issues, but also, you know, you have fun and, you know, Pedro fell in love, they got married on our show and story was certainly much richer than just about being sick. But I think when I first, they don’t show us the show until after we move out of the house, and they had a wrap party where they showed us the first episode of “The Real World.” I had never seen it, we had never seen our show before at that time, and I think once I actually saw the show and I saw the moment where Corey meets Pedro and she finds out that he’s the one who’s HIV positive and she kind of goes, oh no, because she just loves him. You know, I started crying, watching the preview at that time because I just thought, oh my gosh, they are actually gonna do justice to this story. They’re gonna give it like a really full and the right kind of treatment and it’s like so important. It really brought that home to me at that time.

KARL
Yeah, and Judd talking about doing justice to the story, you released the graphic novel, “Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss and What I Learned,” what’s the most important thing you learned from Pedro?

JUDD
Oh goodness, I mean many, many lessons, but if I had to pick one and it still holds true today is that people are living with AIDS, not dying from it. That was Pedro’s message more so than anything else. I think that the bigger message is that, you know, that these are people living their lives just like everybody else. And that’s what was extraordinary about his story. I mean, we did the show and it was supposed to be this stupid thing. I mean, really, it was just supposed to be dumb fun. We’re gonna go on MTV, you know, we’re, you know, at least forfeits, complete narcissist as we can go, no talent, we should be on TV. You know, early reality TV people, and it was just supposed to be stupid. And quickly we realized it was gonna be so much more than that. He had this, and we were aware, he had this really important story to tell, just by being on TV, just by showing people for the very first time what it was like just to live your life. And actually his life was not that different from anyone else’s. And we’re aware of that, and it’s one of the reasons why all these years later we’re still talking about him, ’cause the message hasn’t changed and the importance of his story hasn’t diminished, it’s still there, and it’s what, like we said, 27 years later, people they’ll come up to us.

KARL
Yeah, and well, look, 27 years later, people like me can do what I do in the profession I do and happily and proudly say, “I’m living with HIV.” It comes down to people like Pedro. Dr. Pam Lynn, Judd Winick, so good to have you on Plus Life, thank you very much. I know your busy schedules, so we really appreciate it. That is gotta do it for this episode of Plus Talk. If you want more information about what we’ve discussed, check out the website, pluslifemedia.com. And remember you can follow us across all social media platforms, we are @pluslifemedia. Until next time, stay safe, be kind to one another, and remember you can always turn positive into a Plus, bye-bye.

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