MIAMI — It’s after midnight and the “Jersey Shore” cast has arrived at Tantra, a South Beach nightclub. America’s hottest reality TV stars have just feasted on a huge Italian family dinner at their home away from home, fought about housework, donned their club clothes and now are ready to “fist pump” and “creep” as TV cameras capture all of it.
Production on the second season of the show has been under way for a month, and along with the young women in tiny outfits and middle-age men waiting in line to get inside on this humid night, there are about a dozen security guards and a handful of paparazzi. The Jersey kids may be the same — Snooki’s still the kookiest drunk, the Situation’s still talking nonstop about his six-pack abs — but nothing else is.
The last time these eight young men and women played this game, they were secluded from their friends and family in Seaside Heights, N.J., and trailed by cameras, but no one — including them — knew what would come of it. When it was over, “We were like, ‘What the hell did we just do?’” said self-declared mama’s boy Vinny Guadagnino, 22.
“I came home and I was like, ‘I don’t know. I just did some show. I think,’” added 30-year-old Paul “DJ Pauly D” DelVecchio, the oldest cast member. “We didn’t know when it was gonna air.”
A few hundred fist-pumps later, and gallons of hair gel and bronzer, the world knows them for being either thoroughly entertaining or completely appalling. Although some have lambasted “Jersey Shore” for its derogatory remarks against Italian Americans and its portrayal of bad behavior, there isn’t a talk show or red carpet the cast hasn’t been invited to this year, and even President Obama referenced them in a joke about the new indoor tanning tax (which, by the way, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi deems “unfair”).
Famous mainly for how they choose to while away the hours eating, drinking, exercising, tanning, having sex, fighting and partying, almost everything they do or say goes directly into the annals of pop culture. Simon Cowell may not know what a “Snooki poof” is, but high school girls around the country have been sporting the hairstyle all year. For better or for worse, their contributions have augmented the English language: “GTL,” or “gym, tan, laundry,” the process of getting ready to go out, is now part of the lexicon. So is “grenade,” the term of derision the Situation has given the unattractive woman in a group of attractive women.
If you’re wondering what “Jersey Shore” was doing in Miami, Seaside Heights doesn’t bustle with activity until July, and MTV wanted to capitalize on the phenomenon by bringing back the show in summer. The No. 1 cable series among 12-to-34-year-olds, “Jersey Shore” drew 4.8 million viewers for its finale — triple the audience of its debut. Looking to keep the Jersey love alive, and figuring that the cast members (who all live in New York and New Jersey) would vacation in Miami, the producers sent them south to film footage for 12 episodes that premiere at 10 p.m. EDT Thursday.
Production on the third season was scheduled to begin last weekend on the Shore, with seven of the cast members signing deals that almost tripled their $10,000-an-episode salaries. Only Angelina “Jolie” Pivarnick, 25, who bailed on the first season before it was over but was part of the Miami season, will not return.
On South Beach, where they lived in April and May, the cast was recognized everywhere and tracked by the tabloids. Last year, they were strangers, but this time they entered the house as a “family,” well aware of one another’s quirks and whose personalities had been altered by fame.
“Miami’s very exotic and cosmopolitan and we’ve never seen each other in that scenario, and no one has either, so that was pretty cool,” Vinny said. “Now that we all have the hang of it, you really start to see people’s true colors ... you really start to be, like, people don’t like each other? You let it be known.”
The public too seems comfortable in expressing its feelings about these uninhibited stars. About an hour after the “Jersey” crew arrived at Tantra, a young woman stopped to flirt with Michael “the Situation” Sorrentino, 29, in the VIP area. But after he moved on, she made her way to Snooki. They argued, the woman threw a punch at Snooki and Jenni “J Woww” Farley, who was standing nearby, jumped in and struck her. As fights go, it was typical “Jersey Shore” fare, but this one won’t air because the woman has filed a lawsuit.
“I think people just wanna have their five minutes on camera, and they’re gonna basically do whatever they have to do to get that,” said Snooki, 22. “Everybody thinks that we’re these crazy kids, that we wanna fight people, and that we’re rude and have no education. It’s not like that. But when you put us in a party scene, what are we gonna do? Put eight lawyers in a house with alcohol on the Shore, what do you think they’re gonna do?”
When the Los Angeles Times visited in May, crews were dispatched all over Miami Beach: Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, 24, went to get a new tattoo with his (on-again) girlfriend, Sammi “Sweetheart” Giancola, 23. Snooki and J Woww spent 20 minutes at the gym, where Snooki fixed her hair and J Woww did some light stretching. The Situation, Pauly D and Vinny went shopping for sunglasses and sneakers. Vinny, Angelina and Snooki actually worked at a gelato cafe. And the Situation and Pauly D went to an Italian market to stock up for dinner.
No deed went unrecorded. It takes a team of 25 to 30 producers on the ground working 12-hour shifts to cover the roommates 24 hours a day, using 36 cameras stationed inside the house and 12 hand-held cameras. Executive producer SallyAnn Salsano, who also lived at the Hotel Metropole, where production built a house for the cast, set up monitors in her suite so that she could keep an eye on the “kids” around the clock.
“She’s a master at following their outrageous drama,” said MTV Executive Vice President of Production Chris Linn. “No matter what they get into, she’s there.”
The “kids,” as Salsano calls them, decide where to go from a lengthy list of locations where filming has been approved. If they want to sleep all day, nobody wakes them. If they want to party all night, the crews hang tough, which proved daunting in Miami, where the night ends at 6 a.m.
“I never drank so much in my life,” Snooki said. “It would be 10 in the morning and we’d go to work or to tan outside and you would still see people out, ordering margaritas. It was great; I’m not the only one doing it.”
That worked out especially well for Snooki one day when she spent her shift at Lecca-Lecca, the gelato cafe where they all worked, making her special drink, “The Snooki Smoothie,” a banana smoothie with a plenty of vodka. Where did the liquor come from? A supersized bottle she carried in her purse all day.
“I drank a lot the night before, so I knew going into work, I just was gonna be miserable,” she said. “So usually the best cure to a hangover is to have another drink.”
“That only works for her,” added J Woww, 25. “She perks right up!”
As an Italian American who grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and spent part of her summers on the Shore “rocking out with the Guidos,” Salsano says she “gets the kids” and warns “we’re not being raised to sainthood this time.” She had tried to make the show for a long time but said TV executives didn’t understand how it would stand out in the crowded reality landscape. MTV at first thought it was too similar to its “The Real World,” the first U.S. program to house strangers together, waiting for sparks to fly.
But Salsano wanted to focus on young Italian Americans who frequent the Shore in summer. “They have all been kind of raised the same way. They have the same values,” said Salsano, founder of 495 Productions (“Tool Academy,” “A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila”). “Also, when I looked back at my time at the Jersey Shore, I see how ridiculous that time was but also how important it was to me then, and I thought that was something interesting to see on TV.”
MTV, which was moving away from competition reality shows and back to unscripted programs about “real people,” agreed to let Salsano cast the show. After 72 hours scouring the Shore and the Internet, Salsano had her picks.
Listen, as she explains her attraction to each cast member: Snooki reminded “me of myself in a demented way. She’s very wide-eyed and comfortable in her own skin.” Angelina “just says it like it is, and you gotta respect that.” Sammi “is on the outside put together and perfect but needs the most work inside. She’s the most unsure.” The difference between J Woww and the other girls “is that they think it but she lives it. She’s not an Italian girl. She’s a Long Island girl who dreams of becoming a Guido wife.”
Vinny said that he hated Guidos, but Salsano says, “I can’t think of a bigger Guido. His mom still cooks his food, makes his bed and does his laundry.” Ronnie, half Italian and half Puerto Rican, was the typical “juicehead who we all thought was cute and had a nice vibe.” Pauly D is “responsible, calls his mother every day and he couldn’t hurt a fly.” And, finally: “Anyone who shows up and says, ‘My name is ‘the Situation’ immediately gets my attention. Upon four seconds of meeting him, he had no clothes on. He wanted to make sure I knew what was under that shirt. I’ve met his friends, and they’re all equally named.”
MTV was smitten by the casting tapes. “They seemed so authentic and real and yet over-the-top at the same time,” said Linn.
Cast members say they were pleased that producers depicted them in the first season exactly as they were last summer. When J Woww lost her temper and punched the Situation, viewers saw it. When Snooki did back flips on the dance floor and revealed her thong, MTV didn’t flinch.
“They could have edited it any way they wanted to,” said J Woww, reflecting over breakfast at the Sheraton Universal last week, with the cast in L.A. to promote the new season, “but they kept it family-oriented. Every other day, we might have a fight or a problem but they kept us as a family.”
“They kept it real,” said Pauly D.
Knowing that, did they alter their behavior for Season 2?
“Everything I did in Season 1, it can’t get any worse than that,” said Snooki, who was disappointed the hotel couldn’t serve her a mimosa at 9 a.m. because the bar was locked. “Some people felt like they had to live it out this season and I was like, ‘Yep, you’re a loser.’ But as long as we’re a family and my friends know who I am, I don’t really care what America thinks about me.”
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