Karamo on Returning to Philadelphia for 'Queer Eye'  16 Years After 'Real World' : 'Craziest Experience'

"When I was in Philly the first time, I was a 23-year-old trainwreck," the star admits

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He may now be a household name due to his tenure on Queer Eye, but in the early 2000s, Karamo had a slightly different claim to fame thanks to The Real World.

In 2004, Queer Eye's future culture expert famously got his start in television as a 23-year-old social worker on The Real World: Philadelphia. In fact, Karamo's historic casting would even make him the first openly gay, Black man on reality TV.

So what was it like returning to the Pennsylvania city 16 years later for the most recent season of Queer Eye? A lot to stomach, apparently.

"It was one of the craziest experiences. When I was in Philly the first time, I was a 23-year-old trainwreck," Karamo tells PEOPLE. "There was a scene [on Queer Eye] with one of our heroes, her name's Rahanna, she's amazing, she grooms dogs. And we did this scene in a restaurant and I walked into the restaurant and I was like, 'Why do I know this place?'"

"Then I took a moment and I was like, 'Oh my gosh.' We got drunk when I was in my twenties at this bar and I was, unfortunately, regurgitating because I did not understand how to be responsible with drinking at 22, which is something I try to advocate to my kids," says the father of two.

He continues: "I was looking at myself as I was about to walk into this restaurant now and help somebody have an interpersonal relationship with their boyfriend. And I was like, 'Growth is real, y'all! Growth is real.'"

Luckily for Queer Eye's fans and heroes alike, Karamo, 40, has proven himself capable of using his own life experiences to change others' lives for the better.

"Let me tell you something: I am the poster child for You Can Grow," Karamo reflects. "If you have anybody in your life right now who is acting a fool, doesn't have direction, just say, 'Look at Karamo on The Real World and look at Karamo on Queer Eye.'"

While most famous for his Emmy-nominated hosting alongside Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Bobby Berk, and Jonathan Van Ness, Karamo has also appeared on other reality shows like Dancing with the Stars, The Challenge, Are You the One: Second Chances, and even Selling Sunset.

But he'll always cherish his time on The Real World: Philadelphia as the catalyst that allowed him to grow into the man we know and love today.

"It was one of those moments where I have to reflect confidently," says Karamo. "At that moment in my life, I was so unclear, I was so afraid to be vulnerable. I was so afraid to talk about what I was feeling. All of my issues and challenges were coming up in negative ways, and now here I am, years later, fully aware of who I am, living my passions, being honest with myself, being vulnerable, and helping."

"I say this all the time, 'If my gay, Black ass can do it, anyone can do it.' Because you just have to take the time to want to grow and then ask for help and go on that journey," he concludes. "So that's what it felt like for me to go back to Philly. It felt really good, because I went back as Karamo, but a grown version. It felt good."

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