In the parking lot of a Chili's in Edison, New Jersey, a small crowd is congregating, staring through the windows at Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi. The 22-year-old Jersey Shore star lives in Poughkeepsie, New York, but asked me to meet her at this particular Chili's because it's the site of her date with a guido juicehead who lives near here. "We're gonna smoosh later," she says, sliding her tiny tan self into a booth, wearing a blinged-out trucker cap and clutching a frozen margarita in a large mug. In the background, the staff sings the Chili's happy-birthday song to a patron, and Snooki gets lost in reverie. "I love Chili's," she says. "I got kicked out of Chili's last time I was here. I had too many of these, and I got up on the bar and knocked over all the bottles of Chili's liquor. They kicked me out for two days, until they realized who I was and brought me back." Snooki had reason to party: "It was Sunday Funday," she says. "Where you say, 'It's Sunday, I'm going to get drunk.' Is today Sunday?"
It's a Monday evening in June. But for Snooki, the pint-size princess of reality TV, every day is like Sunday. Snooki, with her baked skin and cartoonish pouf, has been living her dream since last December, when MTV's Jersey Shore became the highest-rated show among young people and Snooki became an instant star. Each week, almost 3 million viewers gaped as the eight self-proclaimed guidos and guidettes lived, partied, tanned, hot-tubbed, brawled, smooshed and fist-pumped their way through a summer together in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Yes, Pauly "DJ Pauly D" DelVecchio's gel-hardened Heat Miser spikes look pretty silly. And, yes, it's crazy that Jenni "J-Woww" Farley engages in a tanning practice called "the Triple Threat," where you go from a tanning bed into a spray-tan booth and then into a standing booth to cook a little longer. Snooki's preference for "gorillas" with muscles that at least appear to be chemically enhanced defies explanation. And it just doesn't seem possible that Mike "the Situation" Sorrentino could be that obsessed with his abs. (Oh, but he is.) "It's like a car wreck, but it's one of those car wrecks you just can't stop watching," says J-Woww, the show's female sex symbol. "But we're not one of those Real Worlds where they put opposites all together: We're all in the same scene, we all love the same things and we're just very strong personalities."
Because the show's popularity rests largely on the appeal of this particular group of affable idiots, the cast members have reportedly demanded as much as $100,000 for the second season, which begins July 29th. And for months, they've been making appearances around the country for about $10,000 a pop. DJ Pauly D even secured the Palms Las Vegas residency left vacant by the late DJ AM. "Mash-ups are hot right now, so I'll throw a rock mash-up into my set out of nowhere, like Bon Jovi with a dance beat, and the crowds go insane," he tells me at a Manhattan diner late one night. "The next thing is you dip into the studios, do a bit of producing and put out your own albums." He just recorded a track for the Jersey Shore soundtrack, which, he says, "is sick."
Not surprisingly, of course, all this has totally gone to their heads. The Situation's got a million stories about celebrities fawning over him: Leonardo DiCaprio hugs him and tells him he's awesome, or Jennifer Love Hewitt waves him over to her white Bentley in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard. "You find out how popular you are when you go to L.A. and you're amongst stars," he says. And while Snooki's still tight with friends from before the show, now that she gets to mingle with stars like Diddy and Lindsay Lohan, other folks just seem so lame by comparison. "At first I was like, 'Is this what my life is going to be like now — hanging out with celebrities?'" she says. "But now I'd rather party with them than normal people." She catches herself. "Not normal, but you know what I mean. When you're with people that are going through what you're going through, then it's fun, because they're not freaking out."
The cast members are all remarkably confident that Jersey Shore will bring them long-term success in any field they choose. J-Woww, for instance, hopes to transition from Jersey Shore to a career as a clothing designer. The 25-year-old plans on selling her line, Filthy Couture, on jwoww.com. At the Franklin Square, New York, home she shares with her boyfriend, Tom, a pair of yappy dogs and a framed painting of the Sex and the City women, she shows me her array of skimpy cocktail dresses, on which the fabric is adorned with swirls of puffy gel she applies by hand. It's hard to imagine them looking good on anyone other than someone named J-Woww. "This is the one I wore on the MTV Movie Awards," she says. "I have the non-cut-out version for weddings and proms."
Even Ronnie Ortiz-Magro and Sammi "Sweetheart" Giancola, whose on-again/off-again relationship got boring halfway through Season One, believe they've each got a future in entertainment. "I want to do acting, maybe pursue a career in fitness," Ortiz-Magro tells me, as Giancola sits by his side on the deck outside his father's house in the Bronx. "I'm artistic," she says. "I like art, I'm very unique like that. I like designing, maybe clothes and styling."
Snooki, of course, has big plans too. A huge part of Jersey Shore's charm is her deceptively adorable persona: She just wants a guido juicehead to love! Is that so wrong? Snooki may be brash, but it's hard not to appreciate her openness. "I accepted myself when I was 16," she says. "I knew I was this way. I don't care what people think about me. If you like it, we're friends. If you don't, you're my enemy, peace out. That's how everybody should be, otherwise you're going to be depressed all the time."
Snooki knew she wanted to be famous from the time she was a teen. She and her boyfriend, Justin, whom everyone called "Juicy," were on an episode of the MTV series Is She Really Going Out With Him? "We were your typical guido-guidette couple, so when I saw myself on that, I was like, 'Oh, my God, this is awesome.'"
Two years later, she's coming out with a book "about how to be like Snooki," and hopes to launch a clothing line called Snook A-Like and a hair-product line, just for starters. But the primary goals for Snooki are to find a "romantical juicehead" who appreciates her, to someday be considered a MILF and to have as much of it documented with cameras as possible. She's also hoping to shoot a series called Snookin' for Love, "where I find all these guys, then I pick one guy, and if it works out, then we go on to the next stage of showing us trying to have a family.
"To be honest with you, I Google myself every single day," Snooki says. "The negative stuff? I get off on it. Because the only reason why people talk negative is because they're jealous. Every time they call me a midget, Oompa-Loompa, orange, they're just jealous. It makes me want to be more ridiculous and more stupid."
The first thing you see when you enter the Howell, New Jersey, triplex the Situation shares with his older brother Marc, is a flatscreen above the kitchen counter, loaded to the Situation's Facebook page. He monitors the activity on it closely. In the aftermath of Jersey Shore, he's turned his family into a staff. Marc handles his business development — brokering deals for everything from Situation iPhone apps to a cologne he's calling Confidence, by the Situation — and his little sister, Melissa, handles scheduling, food-fetching and whatever else the Situation, 29, requires. "Everybody has that alter ego, that person that's them to the max," he says. "I'm a very deep person. The Situation, 99 percent, is me. But there's many aspects to Michael Sorrentino. Different situations call for different Situations, you know?"
In person, he's smaller in stature than you'd expect, his skin all shiny, his muscles bulging. He takes caffeinated fat-burning supplements twice a day and has the keyed-up personality to go along with it. There isn't a single moment when he's not on. But he only knows how to talk about a few things — how awesome he is, how awesome he will be in the future and how awesome it is that the whole world thinks he's awesome. "Maybe next year, I'll be being interviewed by Forbes, because of the brand that I've created and the success that I've had in just one year."
Things weren't always awesome for the Situation. After getting his bachelor's degree in business management from nearby Monmouth University in 2005, the Situation worked at a mortgage brokerage, but by 2007, the company had gone belly-up. He lost his house, then his girlfriend left him and took the dog, and he had to move back in with his dad. "My parents were so upset with me," he says. "They were like, 'You need to be a cop, you need to be a firefighter, you're wasting your time.'" So I decided, 'You know what? My whole life, people were saying that I have good genetics.' Year-round, my body looked unbelievable." He started hustling shirtless photos to modeling agencies and soon landed a one-year contract with a New York agency for fitness and underwear models. "I'm calling up my parents going, 'I'm going to be famous,' " he says, bouncing around nervously in his kitchen in a glitter-encrusted T-shirt and loose, light-gray sweatpants. "Three weeks into me doing underwear modeling, I was finding out that it was a very different world. I'd show up, and the guy's going, 'Let's see what you look like with the underwear off.' I was like, 'Maybe this is not for me.'"
He does have his interlude as a model to thank for his nickname. He was celebrating his modeling contract at a bar with his boys, with his shirt off, of course. A girl walked by, holding her boyfriend's hand, and stopped at the sight of the Situation's six-pack. "She goes, 'Oh, my God, honey, look at his abs,' and you're holding your boyfriend's hand, you just don't do that. My buddies were like, 'Wow, dude, that's a situation,' and I'm like, 'That's a situation,'" he says, pointing to his abs.
He's certainly applied his business acumen to his new career as the Situation. He's trademarked the name and markets his "catchphrases," like saying "GTL" for the daily ritual of gym, tan, laundry. "Now GTL is the number-one-selling towel on the MTV site," he says. "And Abercrombie & Fitch have a shirt called the Fitchuation, you know, after me, the Situation."
At cast member Vinny Guadagnino's refreshingly normal family home on Staten Island, meals are huge and Uncle Nino refers to the Situation as "the Sanitation." Before he auditioned for Jersey Shore, Guadagnino — who graduated college magna cum laude — was interning for a Staten Island assemblyman and working as a personal trainer at a gym. So did he ever manage to engage his housemates in any kind of meaningful discussion? "It's so funny," he says. "We'll start talking about religion or politics, and as we're doing it, we look at each other like, 'What the fuck are we talking about? We're fucking dumb guidos, we should be talking about fist-pumping and shit.'" Since the cast wasn't allowed to have a TV or use the Internet, Guadagnino says he'd call his cousins to find out about world events. "There was a volcano in Iceland, and the BP spill started — I can't really talk to them about that stuff. Snooki thinks BP oil is for tanning or something like that."
Overall, he's optimistic about his and his castmates' future: "Everything has an expiration date, but I feel that if we keep people laughing at us, then the phenomenon will keep growing."
Snooki, as usual, doesn't equivocate. When asked a question that includes the phrase "in the future, if there is no more Jersey Shore," she interrupts, "There will always be a Jersey Shore. It will be in the dictionary." Snooki — whose birth lineage is Chilean, though her adoptive parents are Italian — says her travels have taught her that even people who had never heard of guidos before Jersey Shore are now living under their spell. "At the end of the day, someone will be watching our show, and guaranteed, they're going to try once to be like us, to dress like us, to act like us," she says. "You work hard for your money, and you go out, you go to clubs, you live it up. It's growing up, but if you're in the kind of group that we're in, you're going to have 10 times more fun, and everybody's gorgeous. You get addicted to it. It's like a drug."