by Tierney Bricker | Thu., Jun. 28, 2018 10:59 AM
We love nostalgia this time of year.
Almost a decade after viewers were first introduced to a meatball with a bouffant and a penchant for leopard and a Guido who lived for any moment to lift his shirt and referred to himself as "The Situation," Jersey Shore is once again one of TV's most successful shows, thanks to the cast reuniting for Jersey Shore Family Vacation.
The 14-episode revival, which ends its first season tonight, proved to be one of TV's most beloved and successful reunions, delivering MTV its highest-rated series debut ever in its key demo and was their most watched unscripted debut since 2012.
Clearly, viewers missed the Guidos and Guidettes, a sentiment series creator SallyAnn Salsano said she's heard from many people since the Family Vacation premiered in April.
"It's like you're back with your old friends. We were like, 'How are they going to be received? Are people going to be welcoming?' And a lot of people were telling me they were afraid to watch it because they didn't want to ruin the great memories they had of the cast," Salsano told E! News. "And then I started getting all these texts and e-mails from people that were saying stuff like, 'Oh my god, I feel like I'm at a high school or college reunion. I missed these guys! I just missed them!'"
While fans were afraid of the revival ruining the magic of the original series, the reality TV mastermind was probably even more nervous in her attempt to making TV lightning strike twice, admitting she wanted to "throw up" after getting the green light from MTV.
"I was afraid of ruining it. Just as the fans were afraid to watch it it, I was like, 'What if I do it, and people don't care?'" Salsano said. "From a behind the scenes perspective, as a producer, you're lucky if you A. get a job as a producer, but then B. have something resonate so well worldwide. Do you want to take the gamble and tarnish it?"
On set in Miami, the crew and cast were aware of the pressure of bringing the culture phenomenon back six years after it ended its initial run in 2012.
"I said to the cast coming in, 'Don't let that get inside of your kitchen, but know that's for sure what we're all thinking about.'" Salsano said. "But the truth of the matter is most people don't get a second chance, and most people don't get a first chance. If we get up to bat and they don't love us. Who cares? This is our reunion then behind the scenes. We're going to have a great time."
And a great time was had over the 30-day shoot, with 40 cameras rolling 24 hours a day, all manned by the same production crew that worked on the original series, making it such a fun family reunion on both sides of the camera that Salsano said it was hard to walk away and take a break sometimes. "I wake up and I'm like, 'What happened!? F--k!" she joked.
"We don't wait for something to happen, we keep them rolling," Salsano explained of the non-stop filming approach Jersey Shore has always taken. "Like Nicole opened up the refrigerator, who would shoot that? Except when Nicole opens it up, everything falls out."
And that right there is the key to the revival's success, allowing the stars to just still be themselves, for better or for worse. Sure, they've had kids, gotten married, toned down the bronzer and grown up a bit, but at their core, they are still the same people we fell in love with.
"I've always said this about this cast: they're unapologetically themselves and they reveal themselves at a time when most people would hide from the cameras," said Salsano. "I think it's a testament to the casting that really nothing's changed. Because it's not like they came back all these different people. Sure, they've grown up…they're still them. I think that's the thing that I think resonates with the fans."
Still, there was one original cast member who chose to hide from the cameras when Family Vacation was announced in 2017, with Samantha "Sammi Sweetheart" Giancola not returning.
After getting the official news that the show was coming back, Salsano sent the cast a group text, then talking to each of them on the phone, including Sammi, who "was super excited to come back and very much on board."
However, a little over a week later, their Sweetheart had a change of heart, with her complicated history with ex-boyfriend Ronnie, that played out over the course of the show's original run, being the likely cause for her absence.
"My thing is always be supportive. We can all change who we are, but her past is cemented in history and I respect her decision. I don't think anyone overly pressured her to come. We did try to give her a bunch of different scenarios, but at the end you have to respect people and where they are," Salsano said.
"The only thing I truly feel bad about is, because as a person who knows how important and special she was to this franchise," she continued, "I just wish she would tell her story herself. And not to a news outlet, but I mean just come to the girls and say, 'Hey, here's why I'm not doing it.'"
Instead, Sammi chose to explain her decision not to take part in the revival on Instagram, a social media platform that didn't even exist when Jersey Shore first premiered in 2009. Now, it's playing a major factor in storylines—namely Ron learning his pregnant girlfriend may have seen video of him dancing with "French Fry" at the club thanks to a fan posting it on Instagram—despite the cast not having access to their phones while filming.
The social media aspect of it all is a production struggle Salsano still hasn't quite wrapped her head around, because as she so bluntly explained, "It didn't f--king exist," when they were filming the original series, when their only concern was the paparazzi lurking outside of Karma's velvet ropes.
Noting that "this may make me sound like an absolute and utter moron," Salsano said was actually in the club the night onlookers were capturing the footage of Ron dancing with the girl.
"I saw everyone there with their iPhones and I saw them shooting it. All of that was happening, I was alive, I was aware, I was conscious, and it did not even register. We were in the control room and we were like, 'Holy s--t, everything's out in the open!' Now, every single person is a paparazzi and full stories are given away."
Fortunately, Salsano will have time to figure out Instagram and any other challenges thrown her way, as cameras are currently rolling on season two, with MTV unlikely having any plans to end the party soon, which works just fine for the lady who brought this fist-pumping family together 10 years ago.
"When we're 60 and we're shooting them moving into the home," she said, "We'll all be together."
Jersey Shore Family Vacation's finale airs tonight at 8 p.m. on MTV.
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