With fist pumps and perfect tans, "Jersey Shore" returns to TV on Thursday for a new season of shows that has audiences wondering if the cast that put some reality back into reality TV is still really real after its brush with Hollywood stardom.
For the new season, the cast of eight Italian-Americans holed up in a Seaside Heights, New Jersey home, including pugnacious Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, 22, and gym rat Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, 29, have packed up and moved to Miami.
The season begins as old cast member Angelina, who left the house in the last season, returns to make plenty of drama, jokes, screaming and cursing.
In a crowded reality TV market where privileged kids such as those on Hollywood-based "The Hills" captured young viewers, "Jersey Shore" won fans with its original personalities from middle-income America.
Cast members embraced the terms "guidos" and "guidettes" -- long-considered slurs for working class Italian-Americans -- and spawned new pop culture catch phrases such as "GTL" for gym, tanning and laundry, or "gorilla juiceheads," meaning muscled-up guys on the beaches of the Jersey shore.
"It's the most 'real' reality show on air right now. There are a lot of reality shows out there which are really produced or you are not sure if it is really real," said MTV Executive Vice President of Production Chris Linn.
"They are big personalities...but when you watch them, you feel they are real," said Linn. "They are incredibly funny, their catch phrases, the way they describe themselves, their view on life."
Since the program's debut in December 2009, the cast members' use of "guido" and "guidette," their late-night boozing nights and sexually-charged escapades have been criticized by some as stereotyping young Italian-Americans.
Earlier this week New Jersey's governor Chris Christie said the cast and show gave a "negative" impression of New Jersey.
POP CULTURE PHENOMS
But whether mocked or beloved, fans like to watch them. In its first season, "Jersey Shore" rose to become the most popular program on U.S. cable TV among 12 to 34 year-olds, according to MTV.
The final episode of its first season saw the audience size increase to 4.8 million viewers, up by some 3.4 million from its debut. And the audience is not limited to younger viewers, as evidenced by Tuesday's spectacle on the New York Stock Exchange when the cast rang the opening bell and stayed on to sign amid a crush of onlookers.
"It shows how far they have extended into pop culture and how much a part of the zeitgeist they are now," said Linn.
Unlike other reality shows, Linn said the drama was not scripted and the casts' antics not guided by producers. The catch phrases naturally fit with language trends made popular by text messaging and social networking websites.
"They are very sound-bite friendly, they have funny little ways of summing things up," said Linn. "In a very strange non-orchestrated manner, they really reflect the way people are communicating and reflect this new style of media."
Social networking also helped build early buzz, Linn said. The show's Facebook page enjoys more than 1.6 million friends.
"Our audience is grabbing it, owning it and almost promoting it for us, which is kind of how shows become a hit now," he said.
A third season is being filmed back on the Jersey Shore, but the cast's growing popularity has meant more attention off-camera, leaving audiences wondering if Hollywood-style stardom will affect their already oversized personalities.
"There is a lot of speculation about will they be same? have they changed?" said Linn.
Fans can tune in Thursday to find out.