There are a few television shows I’ve never seen and I have pretty decent reasons for missing them. After all, I have important things to do in my life, like go to work or giggle at people heaving Keurig machines off balconies; I don’t have time to watch everything. But when I realize I’ve skipped a show that made an indelible mark on the cultural landscape – whether that mark was positive or positively tragic – I can’t help but feel left out. That’s how I felt back in the day when I was the only person on the planet who never watched Jersey Shore. That’s right…I have never seen a full episode of Jersey Shore. I turned it on once and saw a girl who looked weirdly like a foot get punched in the face by some guy in a bar and the visual was so staggeringly unpleasant that I never tuned back in. But even though I didn’t watch the show, I do still live in this world. The cast became so infamous that I eventually knew all their names and which product each endorsed. I hear about them still. In fact, one of them just got the cast together to celebrate both her wedding and her brand new face! I guess what I’m trying to say here is twofold:
1. As I have no long-harbored affinity for the original installment of Jersey Shore, I am coming into MTV Floribama Shore fresh. Though Jersey Shore may be this series’ distant cousin – the one who probably takes a shit in the potato salad during the family reunion – MTV Floribama Shore is very much its own entity and I intend to recap it as such.
2. Nobody knows who these cast members are right now, but that will change and it will change quickly. I predict at least three of our Floribama friends will end up endorsing a workout plan, a waist cincher, or a rehabilitation center by year’s end.
Make no mistake: the participants of this show were raised on reality television like it was spiked breast milk and they know exactly what to do to deliver ratings. And with their unabashed debauchery and ingrained willingness to beat the hell out of one another after last call, I am certain this show will be an absolute smash. Moreover, there’s sort of a feel-good aspect that comes through because these kids are youngish (all under the age of twenty-six) and you just know they will learn important life lessons along the very bumpy way so, in a sense, MTV Floribama Shore is sort of like a very special episode of Full House, the one you watch after taking a shot of ayahuasca and puking out your spleen.
Within the first few seconds, we hear a sound bite informing us that simply walking down Panama City Beach will cause one to go “buck booty wild.” (Incidentally, I’ve now decided to name my first child Buck Booty Wild, but I shall call him BBW for short because I’m not cruel.) We also get a graphic that shows us exactly where Panama City Beach is located, and that’s something I appreciated because I was absent the day they taught GEOGRAPHY and HOW TO EARN A LIVING BY BEING DRUNK ON TV in high school. PCB is beautiful and people show up to drink and dance until the end of the night when, apparently, you must throw down for no good reason whatsoever. According to one of our new TV friends, these brawls happen frequently and they’re probably a southern thing because, as she says, “I don’t see no bougies northern people get crazy like that,” and all of a sudden I feel like I understand the current political divide better than I ever have before.
Entering this heightened environment for the summer are MTV’s next big stars – at least they hope to be – and from some of their antics on just the first night, well, let’s just say they’ve got way more than a mere shot in hell at ending up on TMZ before Spring. Nilsa and Kortni arrive first. They’re PCB locals who are excited to spend the summer in a house with tan boys and a stocked bar. Nilsa is only twenty-three, but she’s already been married and divorced and she is looking to embrace some freedom. Unfortunately, she brought with her a friend she’ll have to babysit more than she would an errant toddler who just snorted an envelope of cherry Fun Dip. At twenty-one, Kortni has never been on her own and she proves just how ready she is for independence and responsibility by immediately getting buck booty wild. (See? It’s a fun little phrase! You too should use it in a sentence today!) Kortni ends up passing out before everyone heads to the bar. While they’re gone, she first drools out an absolute pile of thick saliva onto her pillow and then pulls her tiny jean shorts out of her labia, slides them down, and proceeds to pee all over her brand new roommate’s bed. This, my friends, is Night One and I’m already betting it’ll be Kortni who will land the first endorsement deal and sure, maybe it’ll be for Depends, but who cares? Girlfriend is going places.
Joining Nilsa and Kortni on this adventure are six other future household names. Gus is trying to move beyond a tumultuous past and is looking for a wife. I’m not sure anyone with a pulse actually believes he’ll find forever love on MTV Floribama Shore, but I suppose stranger things have happened. Just ask Aimee! She’s coming off a ten-year relationship that ended after the guy cheated on her with her cousin. Hideous though that experience was, Aimee swears a boyfriend cheating on you with a family member is just the kind of thing that happens in Alabama. (I could now make approximately sixty-nine Roy Moore jokes, but I honestly just don’t have the fucking strength.) Candace is from Los Angeles and already burdened by the fear that, at twenty-four, her youth is gone and she’ll never find love. Kirk is looking to do something better with his life. Codi bartends at an “old people” bar and would very much like to have playdates with humans his own age. For the record, I’m rooting for Codi. He seems sweet. Besides, his last name is “Butts” and my guess is his life has already been difficult enough.
Things really get started when Jeremiah, biceps blazing, walks into the house. Upon seeing him, Nilsa manages to roll her tongue quickly back into her mouth so she can properly enunciate her greeting: “You’re cute. I’m Nilsa.” My first impression was this guy would end up deadlifting her naked her by sundown, but then he randomly dabs out of nowhere and Nilsa seems to reconsider. I hear you, Nilsa, but mathematically speaking, remember that seven shots of vodka are known to erase any and all memories of bullshit dance moves, so imbibe at your own risk, okay? His posing momentarily complete, Jeremiah shares that his parents met at a strip club where his father served as the entertainment, he was home schooled, and he believes his role as a proper southern man is to be both a gentleman and a douchebag in equal parts. Oh, Jeremiah. For the love of all that is holy, please believe me when I tell you that sane women do not crave walking douchebags. Also, there are stores that sell shirts with sleeves meant to cover the biceps, so there’s maybe no need to be a douchebag-dabbing-Hulk every single day of the week. Maybe just stick to that shit on Thursdays.
Once all the roommates arrive, it’s time for them to take a series of shots and get to know one another. (It might have been a better idea for them to collectively sage the place to ward off the waking nightmares that are to come, but I guess the production assistants who stocked the place with alcohol forgot to swing by the spiritual store.) We learn fascinating things about our Floribama friends quickly:
· All the guys are interested in Nilsa.
· Nilsa is just interested in having one-night stands now that she’s finally single.
· Gus’ hair is as high as I wish I were right now.
· Kortni is a crass drunk and the televised representation of that one person we all know who’s kind of funny when she’s sober but makes you question humanity in general when she’s not.
· Aimee once drove directly into a beach house with her car.
Speaking of Aimee, she’s positively confounded by the “high-maintenance” fashion of her male roommates and their pink shirts and popped collars and I’d go on the record and tell Aimee she’s being ridiculous, but I’m not going to. For one, I’m already sort of scared of Aimee. Even though she plays nice this episode and only once mentions knocking down a place of dwelling with an automobile, you can just tell she’s a holy terror who will happily cut a bitch. Besides, the second she mentions how confused she is by the sailboats embroidered on the guys’ shorts, I realized I’d found my soulmate. I fully believe deep in my bones that whomever first designed pants with embroidered duckies or turtles or some such nonsensical shit did so as a dare and anyone who buys and then wears those articles of clothing deserves to be shunned by society at large. I realize such a punishment is harsh, but I think that may be the only way men officially learn this incredibly necessary lesson.
The plan for the first night is to head to Newbies, a combination bar and liquor store – and in the context of this series, such a combination legitimately frightens me. On the dance floor, Gus lavishes compliments on Nilsa, who accepts them warily and suspiciously. Her ex-husband used to compliment her the same way. Besides, Nilsa sort of suspects Gus is a player and he proves her correct almost immediately by flirting with some other girl who deigned it wise to sign a release that made it legal for her to be gyrated against on camera by a man with a wall of hair. Once Nilsa spots him sweating on another girl, she decides she’s not interested anymore, but the second he gives her some attention, her interest returns. I say such a shift happens in her mind because she’s young and a divorce can ravage one’s self-worth in ways that are difficult to quantify. She says the shift happens because she’s “a girl and an idiot.” As a fellow girl, I far prefer my reasoning.
The first night out ends without any of the bloodshed promised in the show’s trailer, but there are still adventures to be had! Returning home, the guys chivalrously hoist Kortni from the bed she passed out in back to her own bed, and that’s when Jeremiah notices a wet spot – and not the good kind of wet spot. After smelling the puddle and confirming a relative stranger’s urine is now drenching her mattress, Candace is stunned. She cannot understand how such a tragedy could have befallen her. “You could have peed in your own bed,” she explains longingly to the camera, and since nothing beats logic, Candace is officially in the lead as my favorite Floribama female.
It’s a new day and the urine has dried and crusted over. Nilsa – who looks very pretty without all that makeup – whispers to a newly conscious Kortni that there are rumors flying that she peed the bed. These rumors are lies, Kortni declares. She doesn’t pee in beds! And besides, she would never make such a foolish decision that would, say, be on par with allowing cameras to film her first experience with independence and then have that footage out there haunting her forever. Oh, wait…
After the craziness of the night before, the group decides to have a low-key barbeque where a lot of information comes out. Gus wants everyone to know that yes, he is extremely pretty, but he’s had it rough and both he and his hair are vulnerable. It’s Nilsa, however, who breaks down and reveals she married a guy she fell madly in love with, he deployed a month later, and he ended up being very different than he first appeared. On top of that, she suffered a miscarriage. As she cries talking about something that continues to devastate her, Gus gets up to console her, Codi cries with her, and every other person at that table responds with compassion and empathy. Candace is the one who locates the silver lining and promises Nilsa she will meet a wonderful guy who won’t misrepresent himself and she’ll eventually have a family and the whole thing is very sweet. Seems this show can periodically be heartwarming and it actually reaches that level when Nilsa explains, “I think we’re all going through something and we’re all gonna help each other through these dark places we’re in and finally get a chance to break away and heal with each other.” I challenge anyone right now to find one fucking example from Full House where D.J. says anything that even remotely comes close to that level of temporarily-sober self-awareness.
Gus really wants to be the one to help Nilsa heal – and if he could get himself laid in the process, he’d enjoy that, too. He asks her on a date and she agrees, but she’s nervous. Gus is her roommate. She hasn’t been on a date in three years. And Jeremiah can make his pecs dance and what if such a thing means he’s the right man for her? But Nilsa will have to worry about all of that later because it’s time to spend a day on the beach. Most excited is Kortni who expresses her joy thusly: “I can get drunk when the fuck I want. I can get tan when the fuck I want and I can just be me. There is not one other bitch like me.” And on behalf of all the other bitches, you are all fucking welcome.
Now, I suppose I could blame a lack of traditional socialization due to his home schooling for the fact that Jeremiah is attracted to Kortni’s revolting behavior, but I think it’s just that the guy has seriously questionable taste. I’m not sure how else to explain how he could stare at a girl pissing in a trashcan and decide she’s sexy, but maybe I’m the weird one and watching someone pee is supposed to make me feel all tingly inside. In any case, Jeremiah decides he’s going to ask Kortni out, but don’t worry, you guys. He’s not trying to “catch feelings” – though I suppose it’s entirely possible he could wind up catching something else.
It’s time for Gus and Nilsa’s date and he walks downstairs rocking a shirt and tie. His hair is pushed way up – and so is Nilsa’s bullshit detector. As they dine, Nilsa is freaked out by Gus’ intensity, by how he claims to like her so quickly, and the way he eats cheesecake off the floor, but all of that is nothing compared to how horrified she is when Gus tells her Jeremiah’s plans to take Kortni on a date. “He likes the loud, obnoxious girl?” Nilsa wonders aloud. Still, she’s not all that threatened by Jeremiah’s bizarre affections for a girl who cannot control her bodily functions. As she explains, “Kortni can go on a date with Jeremiah all day long, but at the end of the day, if I want Jeremiah, I will have Jeremiah.” Translation: game fucking on, but let’s all remember that the grand prize here is a guy who punctuates his sentences with a dab and proudly calls himself a douchebag, so the real winner will be whichever girl forfeits this sad game first. Also sad? Gus. Even after he shells out $150 for dinner, Nilsa won’t kiss him and she’s now downgraded their next date to lunch – or Pringles on the patio.
And now it’s time for these kids to earn their keep and be put in situations likely to make them reactionary, so they report to orientation. They’ll be working beach service for the summer and we quickly find out that not only does standing hurt Aimee, but she’s allergic to all aspects of labor. As a result, choosing to star on a reality TV show where all she has to do is act like a lunatic while drunk is a fucking genius move on her part – seriously. Clearly not hovering anywhere around genius status is Jeremiah. He watches Kortni run around and behave like a total moron and muses, “I feel like maybe there’s a lot more to Kortni.” And I, Jeremiah, feel like maybe there’s a planet inhabited only by mermaids, but chances are we’re both wrong and at least me being incorrect will not lead to someone pissing on my mattress.
For their big date, Jeremiah is decked out in a polka dot shirt, suspenders, a bow tie, and Clark Kent glasses. I’m dizzy just glancing at him, but I’m betting Kortni’s already feeling the spins so she doesn’t even react. He takes her to a hibachi place where she implores the waiter to squeeze tequila directly into her mouth. Jeremiah tells her his first impression was that she was “a hot mess,” but he thinks maybe there’s more to her and it’s just sad to watch someone in suspenders try to excavate qualities in someone that probably do not exist. After he swallows a blob of wasabi that almost kills him – even his polka dots start sweating – he finally realizes Kortni is exactly who she presented herself to be and he announces the two are just “bros.” Then he makes her kick in for half the check and she punishes him by crawling into his bed later that night because Kortni is a fucking mess. And as Jeremiah reluctantly spoons a crazy chick and wonders if he can diaper her when she slides into a REM cycle, Nilsa crawls ninja-style to check out her non-competition before twerking alone in a room occupied only by a camera because, dammit, if she doesn’t land herself a proud douchebag, she will land herself a spinoff.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle. Her Twitter is @nell_kalter