Just three years ago, a group of eight fist-pumping party animals moved into a house in Seaside Heights, ready to film a typical Real World-style reality series full of mixed drinks, hookups and hotheaded fistfights.
Yet the success of Jersey Shore exceeded the expectations of MTV executives and cultural critics alike, as the show pulled in nearly 9 million viewers and cable's best numbers among adults 18-49 at its peak. Sans new mom Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, the cast of MTV’s biggest reality hit gathered at Bagatelle in New York City on Thursday night to celebrate the beginning of its sixth and final season.
“It’s definitely been an awesome ride to be a part of this with MTV -- I’m very happy to be a part of six awesome seasons, on a number one show on MTV, and I really think that we helped pave the way for a new type of reality show,” Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino told The Hollywood Reporter. “I really think that we’ll be remembered as a very positive, popular show that changed pop culture.”
The first episode of Season 6 aired on Thursday night on MTV, debuting a sober Sorrentino and Polizzi at six months pregnant.
“I was definitely a little apprehensive going into this season because there was definitely a big challenge for me,” explained Mike, who returned to the shore house after a stint in rehab for prescription medication. “I just hoped for the best, thought positive, and to be honest, worked on it day-by-day to be the best me that I can be. As you can see, it ended up working out.”
“I knew going into the house, he’s gonna be a better Mike,” said Ronnie Ortiz-Magro of his castmates’ changes. “[And] it’s weird living in a Shore house with a pregnant girl; you’re used to Snooki being so wild and crazy. She did the right thing throughout the season – she moved out and she got her own house. We support her, and she still had a great time.”
Though the cast was not notified before or during filming that the sixth season would be its last, they admitted on the red carpet that they saw the cut coming.
“We kinda felt there was going to be an end,” Deena Cortese said. “We felt it was the right time, and I think MTV producers felt it was the right time – Snooki’s pregnant, all of us are growing up and going in our own directions, we’re all in relationships basically, So we’d rather go out while we’re still hot than phase out.”
"Going into it, I really didn’t know what to expect this year," added Paul "Pauly D" DelVecchio. "I usually know what to expect, but it’s probably one of my favorite seasons to film."
The decision to end the series had been on the minds of MTV execs for some time, as they evaluated their options at the end of each season. “At some point, it doesn’t make sense to continue to do the same thing, and we wanted to make sure that we went out on top,” said Jackie French, senior vp of programming at MTV. “This has been our most successful franchise, and out of respect for the series, we wanted to make sure that we did it in the right way.”
Executive producer Pam LaLima acknowledged that milestones like Jenni “JWOWW” Farley’s engagement hinted toward the show’s conclusion. “It’s not what everyone is looking for anymore. Their first steps into the shore, we all kind of related to that. Now that they’re taking the next step, people are sort of like, ‘Who cares? You’re getting married, you’re having a kid. Alright, you’re growing up -- we’re not interested.’”
Noteworthy moments for the cast vary -- Sammi "Sweetheart" Giancola gloated about “the cheese bed prank we pulled on Mike” – but most agreed that staging the fourth season in Florence, Italy exceeded their initial expectations of committing to the reality show.
“It was just something I’ve always wanted to do, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it if it wasn’t for the show,” Vinny Guadagnino said of visiting his mom’s side of the family in Sicily. “My whole family split up; half went to America, half stayed in Italy, and not many people get to go back. It all came full circle when I watched myself at my mother’s house in Italy.”
The original idea to capture this unique summertime experience on reality TV came from SallyAnn Salsano, show creator and executive producer.
“Oddly enough, I was a guido that grew up in Long Island, partying on the Jersey Shore. And every single person in that house represents someone I dated, wanted to date, screwed me over, screwed my roommate, no matter what it was,” she told THR of creating the show. “As [Pam LaLima and I] were casting the show, we were pretty much like, ‘Oh, that one, we know.’ You also know who’s gonna make fire, oil and water, and all the good things that come into reality TV.”
Six seasons later, the show that Salsano first pitched about “East Coast Persians -- no one knew what a guido was!” has spurred America’s guilty pleasure of outspoken personalities from New Jersey now ubiquitous on television, including Style Network’s Jerseylicious, Bravo’s Real Housewives of New Jersey and CBS’ new fall drama Made in Jersey.
“It’s amazing -- I can’t believe that we’re a part of such a huge part of pop culture history,” added LaLima of sharing the Shore subculture with the rest of the world. “I feel like we’re lucky to be a part of it and I’m glad that we were able to explain it to everyone else.”
Individually, cast members have felt the positive impact of having the show explode on MTV.
“I can watch my early twenties and how I grew up into a woman. I feel like I walked in there as a kid and left as a young adult,” said JWOWW. “The best part about it is the people that can relate and look up to us and be like, ‘I went through a breakup, I went through fighting with my friends and family, but you get along at the end of the day.’ All of us, especially women, are proud of our bodies, and repping who we are, and that’s what we wanna show young girls and young teenagers.”
Ronnie shared how signature slang – gym, tan, laundry – rippled into a positive phenomenon.
“The GTL was something to do -- you can’t go to the clubs during the day, so you gotta do what you gotta do to look good for the clubs. It inspires a lot of people: people hit me up on Facebook, and they’re like, ‘Because of you, I GTL.’ They send me pictures of how they look, and it’s crazy.”
Even more so, the show catapulted MTV to new heights, as well as its standard for programming, said Jackie French.
“Jersey Shore has set the bar a lot higher -- we knew we had something that would resonate with our audience, but there was really no way to predict the degree to which it would blow up. When we look at programming coming in now, we don’t necessarily think we can duplicate Jersey Shore, but we look at it and we say, is this going to resonate beyond our walls? Are people going to be talking about this at the water cooler on Friday morning? We have to look at things a little bit differently and maybe expect a little bit more.”
One constantly-pitched concept that has yet to be approved? Rebooting the hit series with a brand new cast.
“That question has come up a lot, and each time, we’ve decided, no,” explained French. “This cast was really lightning in a bottle. We’ve grown with them, we’ve been through their life changes with them, we’ve gotten to know their families, we know their friends. It’s a very unique situation, and I think that to try to duplicate that would be a mistake.”
Nevertheless, some cast members will still retreat to the Shore when the cameras aren’t rolling – Vinny will head over on weekends as a Staten Island native, while Ronnie hopes to visit friends there in the off-season. Sammi refuses to stop spending her summers there: “Oh hell yeah. I’m a Jersey Girl -- always.”
Taking the reality stars away from Jersey Shore doesn’t mean the guido culture will leave them by default, according to Salsano.
“I agree with the kids: guido has nothing to do with nationality. Guido is really a way of life, and it’s a lifestyle you choose. I chose that lifestyle at their age and did it. I mean, you can do whatever you want. I’m still in sweatpants and diamonds! That’s just how it goes!”