TOMS RIVER, N.J. - When sitting down to dinner with all eight members of the cast of MTV's Jersey Shore, one doesn't know quite what to expect.
Will there be body shots? A food fight? Any kind of fight?
Theyhave, after all, earned a rowdy reputation for knocking back drinks,throwing punches and, in general, causing quite a scene.
But onthis sunny summer evening, nestled into a back room at Rivoli's, theirfavorite local Italian restaurant, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, 24; Mike"The Situation" Sorrentino, 30; Jenni "JWOWW" Farley, 26; Pauly "DJPauly D" DelVecchio, 32; Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, 26; Sammi Giancola, 25;Vinny Guadagnino, 24; and Deena Cortese, 25, are all on their bestbehavior. Probably not best behavior according to manners maven EmilyPost, but pretty polished for what fans of the show might otherwiseenvision.
Filming of the reality show's sixth - and final -season has just wrapped, and once dinner is over, they're free to headhome. They've recently been reunited with their cellphones (a no-noduring filming - who wants to watch them sit around and text?) and aretrying their hardest to keep them out of sight.
Diet Cokes and waters are being sipped, and heaping plates of pasta,fried mozzarella and bruschetta are being passed around family-style.It's fitting, considering the cast says they've finished the season(premiering Thursday, 10 ET/PT) as one big happy family - one that, todate, has formed MTV's highest-rated series in the network's history.
In fact, the vibe is so rah-rah positive, it's almost as if they've spent the summer in group therapy.
Ina marked shift from seasons past, they say the drama, for the mostpart, stayed outside of the house. "We are like brothers and sisters, sowe had little arguments here and there," says Cortese. "But nothingmajor."
Ortiz-Magro, who has been in several blow-up argumentswith his castmates in past seasons, chalks it up to "constructivecriticism. We tell each other what we're doing wrong, and we don't takeit to heart because we know, deep down inside, we're trying to help eachother."
Farley chimes in: "We love each other."
Butwith Polizzi seven months pregnant with her first child and Sorrentinorecovering from an addiction to prescription drugs, there was bound tobe a change in behavior. (Polizzi and her fiancé, Jionni LaValle,welcomed baby boy Lorenzo Dominic LaValle on Aug. 26.) "We wereadjusting to living with Nicole, and I'm sure the other roommates werealso adjusting to living with somebody who had just gotten out ofrehab," says Sorrentino, bringing up the sensitive subject without beingasked.
'Like when we first met'
Having the supportof his roommates meant everything. "I was worried coming into it,because obviously, I've never gone a summer - or a season - sober," hesays with a nervous laugh. "Coming into this particular time, I had alot of things to worry about With the help of my roommates, everythingworked in my favor." Still, he says, "I went to the clubs every night."Some habits die hard, but his friends have rallied around him.
"Mike is back to Summer 1," says DelVecchio.
"Like when we first met Mike," says Polizzi. "Not a jerk."
"Whenwe first started this, I feel like we didn't know each other, and wewould go through things, and we would kind of be in a lost place," saysGuadagnino. He's by far the quietest of the group, but when he doeschoose to speak, everyone listens. "Now, these are my real friends inreal life. We've been together so long, when I have a problem, I feelcomfortable going up to them, and now that's what gets us through. Wereally are friends. We used to just run up to the producers (for help)."
Butevery family has its own dose of dysfunction. At one point, apre-pregnant Polizzi and Guadagnino shared a friends-with-benefitsfling, and Ortiz-Magro and Giancola are notorious for their on-again,off-again relationship. Right now, they say, it's on. Even more so thanever: The couple are planning to move in together. "Things couldn't bebetter for us right now," says a smiling, soft-spoken Giancola.
"Ronjust proposed," jokes DelVecchio, as the cast erupts into laughter andOrtiz-Magro's eyebrows fly north. On a more serious note, "I think theycame a long way," adds DelVecchio. "If they can get through what theygot through, they can be together forever."
The roommates, whoweren't always supportive of the relationship, all voice theiragreement. "We've all kind of been in a relationship with them," saysGuadagnino.
Polizzi, who resided in her own house "literally 10steps away" from the main house, says she "enjoyed this summer. Idefinitely did it differently" because of the pregnancy. "You're so usedto seeing me drink and party and go crazy. This time, I just enjoyed itbeing normal. " Clubbing, she says, "is not what I'm looking for now."
Filming is their vacation
Somuch maturity and rationality from someone who, on a prior season, wasarrested for disorderly conduct. "We're all the same, we just grew up,"says Guadagnino. "Definitely things are changing, but that's whathappens when people get older."
DelVecchio calls the show"life-changing. We came in and everybody was single. They've gotboyfriends now, she got knocked up - but that's real life," he says"(Sorrentino) had a problem, and he struggled with it but got over it,and that's real life. And that's why I like the show."
Still, thecast members claim that this is the best season yet and promise theirfans crazy antics, pranks and all of that outside-of-the-house drama.To their critics and naysayers who might cringe at the thought of more Shore,they insist the show is "a vacation for us, because when we're notfilming, we're working really hard to build our brands," says Farley.
But "vacations" - especially ones where you get paid - don't last forever. After three years and six seasons, Jersey Shorehad a good run while it lasted, says Ron Simon, curator of televisionand radio at the Paley Center for Media. "I find that there's, like, acomet that goes through television every three years with guiltypleasures," says Simon. "Three years seems to be the period thatAmericans can be fascinated with a subculture and then totally forgetabout it."
Shore viewership has been dropping since itspeak of 8.9 million during Season 3 in January 2011. But the randomhookups and daily GTL routine (that would be gym, tanning, laundry)have continued to fascinate younger viewers: The show has been thetop-rated cable series for ages 12-34 consecutively for all fiveseasons.
"It was a pop-culture phenomenon," says Simon."Especially for a younger demographic, it was almost obsessive to seethe show and see it again and talk about it. You've got to get peopletalking. It doesn't matter whether it's positive or negative."
Theallure, he says, is in "trying to understand who they are. It was just asubculture that so many people in this country did not know about withtheir own way of doing things, own way of talking. You do have thatslight anthropological distance as you look at the show. You can look atit with empathy, with disgust, whatever."
However you look at it, there are "no regrets," says Farley.
"If we're saying goodbye, it's just to the house, not to each other," says Ortiz-Magro.
"We'll still get together," adds Polizzi.
"I'll feel sad," says DelVecchio. "But if we're not filming (another season), I'm still coming back next summer!"