How Much of Jersey Shore is Real?

The cast of clowns is taking Italy by storm, but are their antics real—or carefully plotted in advance? Barbie Latza Nadeau talks to locals and extras and gives the show a reality check.

Brian Prahl / Splash News

Much to the relief of the citizens of Florence, the cast of Jersey Shore is winding down their filming of the fourth season of their reality TV smash hit and will soon be heading back home.

The motley crew came to Italy on the premise of exploring their Italian heritage and soaking up the culture of their mother country (even though not all of them are really of Italian descent.) Naturally, however, their time here was mainly spent engaging in the typical antics Jersey Shore fans have come to love: getting drunk, brawling, falling down, and generally making asses of themselves. That’s what makes for good TV—a fact that the show’s producers are apparently well aware of. “Everything they do is completely scripted,” says Genevieve Provost, a 19-year-old Canadian who was tapped to be an extra in a pub scene. “I thought it was all supposed to be more natural.”

In “reality,” the only thing real about the muscle-bound, boob-jobbed, super-tanned posse’s trip to Italy is the fact that acting imbecilic seems to come naturally to all of them. But according to several extras and locals who spoke to The Daily Beast, much of what happens on the show is planned in advance. An attorney whose studio is across the street from the Jersey Shore digs said he’s seen rehearsals of their walkabouts and that they frequently reshoot scenes from different angles, repeating dialogue and rehearsing facial expressions. When Pauly D. and Vinny tussled on the cobbled streets after a night of debauchery in a Florentine hot spot on Monday night the street became a mini-film set. Bodyguards in black t-shirts with secret-service style earpieces cordoned off the area to keep drunk fans and pesky paparazzi at bay before the “spontaneous” tussle took place. Vinny ripped up his t-shirt for added effect, and the duo stopped just below a streetlight, which just happened to light the scene perfectly. “They were talking about having the fight when they were drinking here,” said a waitress at the Astor Café, where they went before the incident. “Then the cameras went out ahead of them and gave them the thumbs up to leave.”

Snooki raised eyebrows two weeks ago when she crashed the cast’s Fiat Multipla into a police car. The car she hit was the team’s own protective police escort, and witnesses said that, oddly, there was a camera crew on the ground (in addition to the crew tailing the car) at the precise location the crash took place. Lucky break? The police on the scene don’t think so. Two officers were hospitalized and are still off work, and Snooki’s international driver’s license was revoked pending a full investigation. Snooki then wore a fake neck brace around town. A police source in Florence said that the accident didn’t seem all that accidental. “They were traveling at a very slow speed and it looked like the car intentionally hit the police escort and then kept moving forward for no reason.”

The kids have also been pretending to work at O’Vesuvio pizzeria near their apartment during their six-week sojourn, but The Daily Beast has learned that MTV actually rented out the restaurant. The pizzeria’s “customers” are extras, and authentic customers who try to enter are questioned about their age and intent. (Journalists are not welcome.) The crew have been kneading pizza dough and handing out publicity flyers, but primarily to men and women under 30 with a certain amount of camera appeal. Anyone allowed to enter the pizzeria must sign a confidentiality agreement and do as they are told in exchange for free pizza. “They told us in advance that the pizzeria would be closed to regular business for six weeks,” according to a clerk at the tobacco shop on the street who regularly lunches there. “The owners are making a killing on this.”

MTV declined to comment, but a source with the network confirmed that certain elements of the filming have been pre-arranged. "In a country like this, you need to take care of certain details ahead of time, but the cast does exactly what they want to do and there is nothing we can to do to stop them, nor would we want to." She said sometimes there are technical difficulties, of course, and shots have to be retaken. She confirmed that all those who are filmed have to sign waivers and that sometimes they do tell them not to speak or not to get involved in the dialogue of the principals, but "in general they are totally unscripted."

On Tuesday the cast split up to spend the week scouring Italy in search of their ancestors. Not to risk another automotive disaster, MTV has commandeered a fleet of drivers who will take them to Bari, Naples, and Sicily to see what shenanigans they can get up to in Italy’s more conservative southern regions. When the season premieres on August 4, the self-proclaimed Guidos and Guidettes will be portrayed “surprising” their ancestors in the small towns and villages, even though a source close to the MTV production crew confirmed that an advance team has already gone there to secure the necessary waivers and permits and, when necessary, hire locals who will make sure the scene seems as authentic as possible. They will then return to Florence on Saturday where they will finish up their last week of filming. The season premiere, it was just announced, will air August 4.

In the end, even Florentine mayor Matteo Renzi, who initially banned the octet from shooting scenes in the city’s museums, softened his stance for the cast’s last week in town. But even his motives are of questionable intent. After what an official in the mayoral office called “careful consideration,” Renzi decided the show can film in the city’s museums – for a donation to the Florentine cultural fund.