Thursday night’s Jersey Shore episode may go down as the second most dramatic installment in the MTV reality show’s long history (a random man punching Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi will forever be at the top of that list). “The Truth About Ronnie” reveals the turbulent soul hiding beneath the fuckboy mask Ronnie Magro usually wears. While Ronnie often refers to drama with his girlfriend Jen Harley, who gave birth to their child Ariana Sky weeks before filming, we were forced to actually see the toxicity in real time. There’s the harried, expletive-ridden phone conversations, a tense surprise showdown between Jen and Ronnie’s roommates, and, finally, Jen and Ronnie’s face-off, which ends with Jen spitting in Ronnie’s face.
The whole display is so unquestionably dark that the production team is forced to get involved multiple times. After years of watching this show, the move proves the crew only hops into the Jersey Shore action when things become truly dire. Unfortunately, all of “The Truth About Ronnie” is dire.
The first time the people behind Jersey Shore end up in front of the cameras during “Ronnie” is when the titular cast member attempts to escape the cast’s Planet Hollywood suite. He is desperate to go home to Jen, whom he’s been arguing with over the phone for an indeterminable amount of time, and his baby. This rash decision arrives after a recorded call suggests Jen has blocked Ron and refuses to tell him where Ariana is, leaving Ronnie's blood boiling. Still, any level-headed person would tell Ron to avoid Jen during this stressful, scream-y time.
So, a level-headed person does: creator and producer SallyAnn Salsano. It’s obvious from the moment SallyAnn grasps Ronnie’s arm she isn’t trying to keep the reality star on set for the good of the show — she’s trying to help him avoid a major mistake. “Give yourself a sec. Dude, you're overloading yourself,” she reminds Ron. It’s important to remember the producer has watched Ron “overload” for about a decade; she knows better than anyone when he actually needs help. Soon enough, Salsano and fellow producer Sarah Howell are watching Ron sob in a hotel hallway; minutes later, the heart-to-heart becomes a powwow with both producers, Ron, and DJ Pauly DelVecchio.
Pauly can understand Ronnie’s predicament better than anyone, as he has successfully figured out a custody agreement for his own daughter, whom he shares with an ex. If the producers wanted to actually manipulate Ronnie for ratings, they would have sent him home to Jen, followed his car, and captured all the inevitable violent fireworks between the pair on video. They didn't, and opted for a poorly-lit therapy session instead.
While watching Ronnie cry in a Sin City resort with two producers and his friend of nearly a decade, it’s difficult not to think of Pauly D.’s explanation of whether the crew coerces the cast during filming. Especially after watching the dark arts of UnReal, many viewers assume reality TV is at best a puppet show with producers pulling the strings, and at worst a complete fiction.
Pauly D. pushed back against that idea, telling Refinery29 during a recent New York City interview, “They emphasize what they have to emphasize, but whatever happens, we did. You can’t tell us what to say.”
When you see the next two times producers pop up in “The Truth About Ronnie,” this sentiment seems true. Towards the end of the episode, Jen comes storming into the cast’s suite to confront Ron. Considering the new parents' fight the night prior, it seems obvious Jen was always going to blow onto set, whether production was involved or not. All we learn during the scene is that a producer who appears on camera told Jen, who was clearly given a mic by staff, via text message when Ron would be back. That makes sense, as the cast traditionally can’t use their phones during filming (hence the duck phone). So, the crew would have to be the intermediaries between both halves of the toxic couple.
Production didn’t lure Jen to the suite, it merely managed the entire crisis.
The same could be said about Jen’s episode-ending clash, when she finally confronts Ronnie. Of course these two were always going to butt heads, and of course it was going to be aggressive. They only enter the scene when the vitriol goes from verbal to physical, as Jen starts spitting on Ronnie and clawing at him. At that point, a male crew member stands directly in front of Ronnie, an employee of the series, for protection.
So producers aren't tricking anyone into stumbling into chaos. They’re just recording it and stepping in when actual violence seems imminent.
And, if nothing else, always remember these sage words from Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino during his trip to Refinery29's office: When it comes to Jersey Shore producers, “In the old series, I wasn’t listening to anybody. So what you saw really happened.”
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