Reporting from 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 underway 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 an "unfair" tariff).
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, the "Jersey Shore" finale drew triple the audience, 4.8 million viewers, than 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 on Thursday at 10 p.m. Production on the third season was scheduled to begin this 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 each other'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?"