Back in 2004, a team of MTV producers turned up at a Southern California high school on the hunt for the right group of charismatic teens to front their latest brainchild: a real-life, docu-soap version of Fox's runaway-hit drama The O.C.
"We're sitting there in class, and over the daily announcements they announce, 'Okay everyone, MTV's here. They're going to cast a reality show on Laguna Beach. If you're interested, sign up in the quad at break,'" Christina Sinclair (née Schuller) recalled to Time in 2014. "And I think for any 18 year old, that's a dream come true. It's like Grease—when they say they're going to film their prom and it's going to be on national television. Oh my gosh, I have to do it!"
In a pre-Kardashians, pre-Real Housewives world, what the network was after was fairly groundbreaking—a glossy-looking, new form of reality TV that simply followed a group of intriguing subjects around waiting for them to make good television. And, after weeks of scouting, when they stumbled upon outspoken blonde junior Kristin Cavallari, her dreamy senior boyfriend Stephen Colletti and his best friend Lauren Conrad, the perpetual girl-next-door who'd been harboring a secret crush, one development exec sent back word to the network: They had it.
Months later, on Sept. 28, 2004, Laguna Beach debuted, captivating some 3 million viewers with the exploits of the well-off teens who inhabited the picturesque coastal California town and setting the stage for every Bravolebrity that would follow with The Real Housewives of Orange County premiering in 2006 as Laguna was wrapping its third season.
By then, fashion student Conrad had already headed to The Hills, eager to fill up the blank page before her, a move that unearthed a true cultural phenomenon that introduced the world to the likes of Speidi, Justin Bobby and that ever-iconic phrase: "You know what you did!"
Suddenly we were all buying up Team Heidi and Team Lauren tees from Kitson and then-presidential candidate Barack Obama was joking about how he'd use his powers to end the feud between Conrad and Heidi Montag. It was, in a word, wild. No wonder Conrad recently confessed to Hills costar Whitney Port that she "just kinda needed a clean break for a minute to kind of emotionally recover."
We, however, require no such respite. And on the series' anniversary, respects must be paid. So swing by the surf shop, bust out your favorite white tube dress and check out what your favorite MTV alums have gotten up to in the last 16 years. Because while everyone's changed and they've grown, you're always gonna have that group of friends that you can come back to.