It seemed harmless enough -- Jeff got a slap on the wrist for messing with the cameras operated by the sponsor -- but soon any reservations the band had towards the "reality" behind reality TV became realized. It came to a head when the first episode aired while the band was still in the bubble. The guys were invited to watch the clip and soon became aware of how their words could be edited and spliced together: "I guess when Kevin said how he felt about the song, the reality is not everybody is going to like every part of it," became, "We don't like any part of this record."
"You fucking assholes!," Pugh recalls. "We were really mad. Then they were like 'we don't want you guys watching the episodes.'"
The surprises weren't all bad, though: Fellow Atlanta-native Wyclef was brought in to contribute a verse on the band's "Wasted" reggae remix. In another episode, an unknown accordionist was shepherded in from Times Square and recorded for the track "If I Were to Write the Song/Get Through This." Some of these moments never aired: Pugh, a known golf fan, was surprised when MTV ran a video of Tiger Woods wishing him luck.
When the month in the bubble ended on June 12, 2007, Cartel emerged and played a set -- a few new songs sprinkled in for a live MTV broadcast. The band returned home and were immediately back into a business-as-usual routine, soon hitting the road. The product of their time in the bubble, a self-titled sophomore LP, would be released the following month.