On Monday, MTV announced the return of Jersey Shore after five long years off the air.
While fans of binge drinking, fake tanning, and Vinny Guadagnino are doubtlessly psyched, haters will be wondering how well the iconic MTV franchise will translate in 2017. Of course, this question is built on a bit of a false premise—the myth that Jersey Shore ever really left us. Because it was a true, slogan-creating, must-see TV, money-making cultural phenomenon, it’s easy to misremember Jersey Shore as a single moment. When we think about the show, we’re usually thinking about the first season which, with its heady mix of drunken revelry, ill-fated romance, and Staten Island accents, culminated in a season finale that was 4.8 million viewers strong—more than triple the premiere audience. At the time, even the stars of the show seemed a little shocked by its appeal; as Vinny told Rolling Stone in 2010, “It’s funny, sometimes we’d sit in there and say, ‘This is boring.’ We could never comprehend what the mass audience was going to see about the show; we were just living our life.”
Jersey Shore didn’t exactly burn fast and bright. As befitting an MTV hit, the series was left to languish on the air as audiences slowly moved on. The world changed, but the inhabitants of the Jersey Shore house were more or less obligated to stay the same. They brought their trademark charm and hauntingly orange faces to the shore, then Miami Beach, then back to the shore again. They filmed a fourth season in Italy, much to the annoyance of the European continent at large, before returning to the U.S. for two more seasons. Overall, the cast put in four years of solid work, fearlessly fist-bumping into their own irrelevancy.
And while Jersey Shore’s ratings severely dipped in its sixth and final season, its cultural legacy has never quite dissipated. While the original Jersey Shore is just now returning from sabbatical, iterations of the series have inundated foreign markets in the form of eight official remakes. Just because you’ve never heard of Geordie Show or Warsaw Shore: Ekipa z Warszawy doesn’t change the fact that these are actual shows that aired on television. Meanwhile, the majority of the Jersey Shore cast have had full reality-TV careers, meaning that Snooki and The Situation were never really gone—they were just on different channels.
Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino may boast the most reality-TV show appearances, with stints on Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars, Worst Cooks in America, The Sorrentinos, Celebrity Big Brother, and Dancing with the Stars. Sorrentino was also charged in 2014 and then again in April 2017 on tax offenses. Jenni “JWoww” Farley and Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi have teamed up in their post-Jersey Shore careers, co-starring on four seasons of Snooki & JWoww. Farley and Polizzi are both married with two children. Polizzi has also written five books, and starred on a house renovation show, Nicole & Jionni’s Shore Flip, with her husband. Most recently, she appeared on The New Celebrity Apprentice. Paul “Pauly D” Delvecchio is a fairly accomplished DJ; he also met and began dating singer Aubrey O’Day on VH1’s Famously Single. Ronnie Ortiz-Magro also found a girlfriend on Famously Single—Khloe Kardashian’s on and off-air BFF, Malika Haqq. Ronnie and Malika have since split.
Vinny Guadagnino has starred in two projects, MTV’s The Show with Vinny and Vinny & Ma Eat America, a 2016 travel show on the Cooking Chanel. Sammi “Sweetheart” Giancola co-hosts a podcast, Just Sayin’, and also has her own clothing line. According to her social media, Deena Cortese is a dog trainer at New Jersey’s Green Leaf Pet Resort.
This isn’t even the seasoned cast’s first “reunion.” Last summer, the crew got together for a televised catch-up courtesy of Burger King. The commercial, which featured the fast food joint’s new chicken parmesan sandwiches, was conspicuously Ronnie-free.
The fact that we’re treating the reunion of life-long reality-TV stars as some sort of unexpected gift from the MTV gods is proof that we’re seeing Jersey Shore through nostalgia-tinted glasses.
Since the Jersey Shore reunion is what passes for good news these days, it’s easy to forget that the series was not universally beloved when it premiered. In fact, The Jersey Shore was controversial—which is hilarious in comparison to the increasingly dark controversies that have come to define the entertainment world in 2017. This was a fun controversy, with Italian American organizations going after MTV for its use of the term guido and the number of Italian flags decorating the cast’s beach house, and Chris Christie denouncing the series as “negative” for New Jersey. The cast members, many of whom are neither Italian nor New Jersey natives, took all the criticism in stride. “I think people get offended by our drinking, how we talk, and people have such an issue with us being so tan,” Snooki opined. “They call us orange, they call us burnt hoes, and they think that hurts us. But to be honest with you, I’d rather be called that stuff than be called pale.”
“If you’re looking for someone at the shore who’s 100 percent Italian, someone who has good family morals, someone who likes to party, then I’m your guido,” Vinny added. “I like to fuckin’ fist-pump and shit like that. I love going to the gym every day, I love being tan, and I get my eyebrows waxed.”
Anti-Italian propaganda or not, the original Jersey Shore certainly featured a few scenes that would be deemed offensive by 2017 standards. If the show is aspiring to bring together a nation of viewers with some feel-good reality-TV, there will have to be some serious updates. While hard-partying teens are still standard reality-TV fare, the conversations around alcohol and consent have evolved to the point where viewers no longer feel completely comfortable with blackout hookups. When Bachelor in Paradise had its own recent scandal around a sexual encounter that was rumored to be nonconsensual, it led to the series airing a cast-wide conversation about sexual assault, as well as updating the show’s rules around alcohol consumption. The BIP incident raised the question of when a guilty pleasure show crosses the line, potentially exploiting or endangering its participants. In this world of increasingly critical reality-TV consumers, certain moments from The Jersey Shore days probably wouldn’t have made the cut. For example, MTV probably would have gotten a lot more backlash when they decided to air a clip of a club-goer punching Snooki in the face. And the male cast members wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) have gotten away with their rampant misogyny, on a show where “battling grenades”—aka avoiding fat, unattractive women—was an actual, stated plot line.
Still, without giving the original series a free pass, it’s not too hard to imagine a revamped Jersey Shore that’s amusing without being morally repugnant. The reunion is already giving us good old-fashioned guido drama, thanks to the relationship/storyline that never ends. Sammi “Sweetheart,” in what appears to be a remarkably sane decision, is reportedly opting out of Jersey Shore Family Vacation. “Everyone was invited to come on the show but Sammi was the only one who didn’t want to. A big reason for that was because she didn’t want to be around Ronnie,” a source told Us Weekly. “She has been enjoying her life off of TV and didn’t want to change that.”
Sammi and Ronnie spent the majority of the original Jersey Show fighting and making up, officially ending their on-again, off-again relationship in 2014. Here’s hoping that with Sammi out of the picture Deena can finally get some screen time.