Seeing the popularity of Reality TV granddaddy The Real World, MTV rolled out a new version that took place on an RV. The series followed six (originally five) strangers, similar in age and varied demographics of its sister program, as they traveled the country (or other countries, on occasion). At the start of each season, the cast members were required to surrender all of their money, and had to earn money to survive on as they traveled by either completing missions or performing odd jobs.
Of course, like The Real World, this show also slowly evolved into a shell of its former self. Whereas the show was originally meant to resemble "The Real World on an RV", it eventually became more like "Fear Factor on an RV". The missions originally seemed to emphasize experiencing new things, especially in the context of travel, with the last usually an "ultimate ending" such as a bungee jump; in addition, mission failures were infrequent. However, by the show's end, almost all of the stunts were usually either incredibly hard or incredibly gross, and with them came "punishments" for the team that failed them, the most obvious being a requirement to vote someone off, who would then promptly be replaced.
A long-standing tradition of the show involved interaction with the cast of the currently-taping season of The Real World, usually involving a "sabotage mission" of some sort. Together the two shows would eventually spawn what is now The Real World/Road Rules Challenge.
Reality TV tropes in use:
- Confession Cam
- Eat That, especially in later seasons.
- Elimination Statement
- Everyone Meets Everyone, and please place your belongings here before boarding the Winnie.
- Non-Gameplay Elimination: Several.
- Season 7 (Latin America): Gladys Sanabria attacked Abe Ingersoll and was sent home.
- Season 12 (South Pacific): Abram Boise was forced to leave after physically attacking Donell Langham.
- Season 13 (X-Treme): Ibis Nieves volunteers to go home after she feels like she lost the mission for the team.
- Season 14 (Viewers' Revenge): Abram Boise is sent home (yes, again) for hitting Adam Larson.
- Reality TV Show Mansion: Subverted, in that the Roadies shared an RV.
- Voted Off the Island: Penalty for failing missions in the last few seasons.
This show also provides examples of:
- Animal Chick Magnet: In season 7, Abe Ingersoll used Menudo, the group's pet Chihuahua, to meet girls.
- Broken Pedestal: The friendship of Piggy Thomas and Chadwick Pelletier; both were best buds in season six (Road Rules Down Under), with Chadwick offering much support to the homesick Thomas. But when they met again in the first season of the Real World/Road Rules Challenge, Piggy was heartbroken to find out that Chadwick was now an egotistical jerk who dumped his longtime girlfriend after becoming "famous".
- Corrupt the Cutie: This was the entire story of Susie from Down Under. Cute, blonde, and freshly turned 18, they played her up as a sweet, naive, Christian farmer's daughter, and the majority of the season showed her doing things like performing in a drag show, getting a butterfly tattoo, and stealing a pair of bowling shoes.
- Don't Try This at Home: Certainly true of the gross-out stunts in later seasons, but an early-season incident prompted MTV to pause the show with a full-screen warning viewers not to imitate what they were about to see: The travelers were sick of smelling like they lived in an RV, but hadn't fared well in recent challenges, so they had no money for a place to stay. They stopped at a motel and asked if they could preview one of the rooms. The manager let them borrow a key, which they used to let their RV-mates into the room. They then returned the key, hid the RV, and snuck back to the motel room. As MTV noted, this is misdemeanor theft, and could have caused a Non-Standard Game Over for the cast if they'd been caught.
- Food Fight: Most notably in Campus Crawl, where the cast had to endure being pelted with cafeteria fare from the Alabama student body.
- Gotta Catch Them All: The "Road Keys" in the second season, which when assembled directed the cast to their final destination. Revisited in the tenth season with a slightly different mechanic.
- Linked List Clue Methodology: The entire premise; at the end of one mission, a clue would be given for the location of the next.
- Littlest Cancer Patient: Well, not the "littlest" since he was a teenager, but one mission during the "Maximum Velocity" season involved a boy with cancer who always wanted to be on the show, but would probably not live long enough to meet the minimum age. Through the Make A Wish Foundation, he got to meet the cast and got them to prank the Real World cast in New Orleans, providing that season's crossover episode.
- Mascot: The bull head skull on the front of the RV.
- Nintendo Hard: Some of the stunts in later seasons, including one in which the cast had to climb the staircase of a skyscraper. Combined with the fact that one of the castmates was obese...
- Pixellation: Plenty of body parts to edit out, much like RW.
- Product Placement: Winnebago being the most obvious.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Major point of the show; can a group of normal, everyday people, who initially don't know each other, work together to accomplish the missions, or will drama keep them from doing so?
- Recycled INSPACE: As stated above, the show started out as The Real World on an RV, with later seasons switching Real World out for Fear Factor.
- Spin-Off: See Recycled INSPACE. The two shows later started crossing over with Real World/Road Rules Challenge (now known simply as The Challenge following Road Rules' cancellation), which is a Game Show competition between past and present housemates from the shows.
- Treasure Map: Although the cast was only given a clue to the next location after completing a task at the current one.
- Unbuilt Trope: It's telling that during the later years of the show, the producers added the standard reality tv tropes (Eat That, Voted Off the Island, etc) to catch up in wake of Survivor and other reality shows' success. Before that, Road Rules was basically a candid reality show on a RV, where there was no politicking/betrayal/alliances and the only competitive element was the cast working together to pass challenges.