Jersey Shore was not just one of the most popular and successful reality TV shows of its era — it aired from 2009 to 2012 in its original run — but a cultural phenomenon in itself. The series chronicles a group of young, self-styled “Guidos/Guidettes” living under one roof, attempting to balance their love of partying and hooking up with their job working at a beach-front store in the middle of the Jersey Shore tourist district.
Jersey Shore made stars of its cast members, bringing the lifestyle and look of guido/guidette culture to international attention. Snooki’s signature beehive hair tools began flying off the shelves, and the behavior of the cast was the subject of numerous academic studies. While perhaps not the first reality series to turn its cast into household names, the series helped shape a new benchmark for what a reality show could look like.
Its unscripted structure, with no host or third party to intervene in the countless fights or hook-ups between the cast, kept the series unpredictable – and more importantly – kept viewers gripped. For a time, it seemed that every subsequent reality show wanted to re-capture the raw magic of Jersey Shore, from its countless (often international) spin-offs, to shows like Buckwild, Summer House, and even some extent, The Real Housewives franchise. Compared to the slickness of more contemporary reality shows like Love Island, where every cast member seems to be angling for a post-show brand deal, Jersey Shore was reality TV at its most unfiltered.
How the casting process for ‘Jersey Shore’ worked
According to Vulture’s “The Oral History of Jersey Shore,” the iconic reality series was initially conceived as a competition-based series — a highly popular genre in the early 2000s, thanks to shows like Survivor. VH1, the original network that had the rights to Jersey Shore, dreamed up a concept of “the juiciest gym rats and tannest fist-pumpers the tri-state area (and beyond) had to offer,” made up of an all-male cast. According to casting director Dan Ofir, the series would’ve likely been titled “America’s Biggest Guido,” or something along those lines.
Later, the show expanded to include female cast members, eventually dropping the competition structure. After realizing how unique the party scene on the Jersey Shore was, and that it conveyed Guido culture better than the competition, the series switched to a more fly-on-the-wall style of filming. “Look, it was like zebras in the Serengeti. We wanted to see this in action,” Ofir recalled.
The series kept on much of its original cast that were scouted during the competition phase, including Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, who shot the pilot episode that was never aired. Similarly, production retained Pauly DelVecchio, better known as Pauly D, as he had a $10,000 tanning booth inside his own home. If that alone doesn’t show what kind of guy he is, then what will?
Other cast members were spotted after casting producers took a step inside the world of the Jersey Shore, scouting in locations where the most stereotypically macho Italian-American men would hang out. Ronnie Oritz Magro recalled being approached in a nightclub, stating “I was out one night, doing whatever I do — I guess being a creep, if you wanna say — and a lady approached me. She was like, ‘Listen, you fit the criteria of somebody that we’re casting for a show. Would you like to try out?'”
Nicole Polizzi, best known as “Snooki,” signed up for the show after becoming interested in her own terms. “I saw an audition posting on Facebook for a show called Guidos and Guidettes. I went there drunk, because it was at a bar, and the rest is history,” Polizzi recalled.
Jenni Farley, aka “JWoww”, was working at a nightclub where casting directors went scouting —something that she recalled was a common occurrence at her former workplace for various reality shows. Farley tried out for the VH1 reality series Paris Hilton’s My New BFF, but failed to get cast. Later, the VH1 network called her and asked if she would be interested in the “Number One Guido” show they were developing, before retaining the future reality star when its core concept changed.
As the series developed the idea of its cast living under one roof, casting agents looked for auditionees who would shake things up in the household. “One of the [interviewers] was like, ‘What would you do if you were living in a house with four hot, tan guidos?’ And I’m like, ‘I’d put whipped cream all over their bodies and lick it off.’ The camera guy was dying,” Angelina Pivarnick recalled.
In short, shy, timid personalities needed not apply. Casting agents looked for the biggest Guidos and Guidettes they could find — in personality, hair, and muscles. Upon Jersey Shore’s adoption onto the MTV network, some cast members were dropped in favor of having a younger cast. In short, Jersey Shore’s early production saw its casting crew adopt the persona of mad scientists, obtaining ingredients of the highest power and mixing them together for an explosive chemical reaction.