Seaside Heights

Reality TV Takes Back Seat at ‘Jersey Shore’ Seaside Heights Telethon

Malcolm Jones on how the ‘Jersey Shore’ cast parked their attitude at the door at a Seaside Heights telethon.

Snooki worked an almost empty room.

Most of the TV crews and reporters had packed up and gone by the time the MTV handlers brought her into the area where the media had been interviewing the stars assembled for the network’s “Restore the Shore” telethon Thursday night. By then, the reporters had plenty of soundbites from the other stars of Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Teen Wolf, and assorted other reality-TV vets and musicians recruited to raise money for Architecture for Humanity’s rebuilding efforts.

But long before Snooki showed up, the press had had enough. There are, after all, only so many ways to say you hope they rebuild Seaside Heights, N.J., the town made famous as Jersey Shore’s backdrop and most recently devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

In the 3 1/2 hours of press interviews that preceded the 11 p.m. telethon, there was an unsettling disconnect between the clips from the sixth and final season of Jersey Shore rolling on the monitors lining the walls and the Jersey Shore stars being shepherded from one press table to the next in a sort of media version of speed dating.

On camera the denizens of that Seaside Heights beach house were living as large as ever. Jersey Shore may be real, but these camera-savvy stars are clearly playing to the cameras that monitor their every move. You couldn’t call it acting, but it is definitely a performance.

In person the cast was much more reserved, quieter, even serious. They clearly cared about the town that Sandy had ravaged. They were there to help.

Even Danny Merk, the man who runs the Shore Store, a Seaside Heights boardwalk shop and frequent location for the show, made an appearance. His store had lost its roof and his stock was ruined, but he was upbeat. And he couldn’t say enough about how the cast had stepped up.

“The cast came in and helped out after the storm,” Merk said. “They got rich in that town, so they are definitely helping. They lifted my spirits.”

A real man enduring a real disaster, surrounded by people whose every action on screen blurs the very definition of reality. Definitely unsettling.

SallyAnn Salsano, Jersey Shore’s creator, producer, and a veteran of reality TV, took it a step further, but in a good way.

“We didn’t have to twist anyone’s arm to come here, you know what I mean?” she said. “We were all texting as it was happening. Everyone is like, ‘My god, my god, did you see?! Where are you? Are you OK, how’s your house?’ Cause it’s like you’re checking in with people personally.

“Jenni [Farley, aka JWoww] lives in Toms River, and one of the producers on the show lives there. Jenni reaches out to the producer: ‘Are you OK?’ The producer is like, ‘I’m fine. I have no power.’ Jenni says, ‘You have an 8-year-old. Grab your kid, grab your husband, come sleep at my house. At least come do your laundry.’ Now that’s not something you do with someone you just have a working relationship with. But we’ve all become more than that.

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“When push comes to shove, these are good kids raised by good parents. I had a personal tragedy in my life this year, and when you’re at a funeral, and you turn around, and the people standing behind you in the room are these eight kids, you just choke up. These are good people.”

In other words, don’t believe everything you see on television.

No one was more earnest than Snooki, aka Nicole Polizzi. Demure is a strange word for a 24-year-old woman with oxblood-colored hair, wildly patterned tights, and heels up to here, but demure she was, sweet even.

She talked a little about her 4-month-old baby, Lorenzo: “It sucked because Halloween was canceled because of Sandy, so we didn’t really have Halloween. We just dressed up. So that was less fun. We just put the costumes on, and we took pictures so we’ll have a memory, and we’ll just tell Lorenzo that we had a hurricane.”

And she talked about motherhood: “It just changes your life. I don’t care about partying anymore. I haven’t had a drink in like a year. I don’t think about that stuff anymore.”

But this woman who is famous for being famous was clearly not there to talk about herself. “It’s sad to see the town on the TV show now, ’cause everything’s perfect,” she murmured. “But then you see it for real, and it’s not even recognizable.”

And even though the show has filmed its final scenes, “It’s definitely not my last summer there,” she said. “I’ll always go there. I just hope they rebuild it in time so people don’t forget about it.”

She paused for a moment and looked around at the four or five reporters crowding in on her. Then she went on: “Doing this telethon will help it get back, but it’s not going to be the same. I can’t really show Lorenzo my favorite spots, ‘cause they’re not there anymore.”

The sadness in her voice was genuine enough to give a cynic pause.

It was a night when reality faced off with reality TV. And reality won.