It’s been eight years since Jersey Shore made its debut on MTV, exposing audiences to summers in Seaside Heights, New Jersey and a brand-new lexicon (e.g. fresh to death, GTL, and smush, to name a few). Now, in the spirit of returning to its roots with the revivals of TRL and My Super Sweet 16, MTV is bringing viewers back to the beach for Floribama Shore.
The series, which premiered on Nov. 27, again spotlights a small subset of American culture through a cast of personalities that can captivate a large audience. It’s a formula that MTV pioneered and perfected, combining the strangers-thrown-together premise of The Real World with the hometown pride of Jersey Shore (which is set to return in 2018).
“There’s an authenticity to the actions of people who are not exposed every single day to Hollywood and show business,” says Troy DeVolld, a longtime reality TV writer and producer, and author of Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market. “I think that that’s one of the most appealing things about it.”
“The anti-melting pot formula worked; Jersey Shore’s ratings broke records for MTV year after year.”
MTV birthed the reality genre stateside with The Real World in 1992. As any millennial knows, the concept was simple: “seven strangers, picked to live in a house, work together, and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.” Casts were carefully selected to broaden one another’s perspectives: On the New York-set first season, Jersey boy Kevin and naive Southern belle Julie got into it about her racial stereotypes; in the San Francisco season in 1994, some of the cast members struggled to support Pedro, an openly gay man who had AIDS. Over the years, frictions on The Real World got heated, but ultimately, it was about difficult conversations among very diverse roommates.
All of that eventually paved the way for the fist-pumping feat that was Jersey Shore. The cast of strangers picked to live in a house—Snooki, JWoww, The Situation, Pauly D, Sammi Sweetheart, Vinny, Ronnie, and Angelina (and then Deena)—lived in a bubble of blowouts, juiceheads, and SoCo shots. They had similar upbringings and quite literally spoke the same language. That anti-melting pot formula worked; Jersey Shore’s ratings broke records for MTV year after year until the series ended in 2012.
Just like their Jersey forefathers, the roommates on Floribama Shore have varied backgrounds—Nilsa is divorced, Jeremiah was homeschooled, and Gus was homeless after being kicked out of his parents’ house at 17—but appear to have similar values. They pray before every meal and they go on proper dates in hopes of finding husbands and wives. (As 24-year-old Candace says, for her, the summer is about “proving [to] myself that I’m still young enough and beautiful enough to find me a man.”) Aside from Candace, who is from Los Angeles, they all hail from below the Mason-Dixon line. It’s an area of the country that doesn’t get much scripted TV time, but is the setting for the most successful unscripted shows on cable, VH1’s Love and Hip Hop Atlanta and Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta.
“The idea of a dynamic being people versus a situation is always more interesting to me than just people versus people,” says DeVolld. “Everybody had common goals to work towards and there might be some friction along the way, but it is really about trying to accomplish things or to have mutual experiences and that to me is a lot more fun to watch.”
It’s also more real, particularly compared to the celebrity-centric series that have been taking over reality TV. “I think that these Floribama Shore kids are probably not going to be on their guard as much [as celebrities],” says DeVolld. “That’s where you make room for great stuff to happen. Real people are better than fiction every time.”