Tim Stack
July 23, 2010 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Snooki is just too damn hot. Literally. It’s Cinco de Mayo at Ocean’s Ten, a beachside bar in Miami, and the wee Jersey Shore star is sweltering in the Florida sun while filming season 2 of the reality phenomenon. Snooki (née Nicole Polizzi) is joined by her housemate Jenni ”J-Woww” Farley and an MTV camera crew, but production has also attracted a swarm of paparazzi and gawkers. One woman, cradling an infant, practically tosses the child to a friend in order to snap a quick pic. A senior citizen with a zoom lens wanders over toward Shore‘s tanorexic duo, and then asks a table of young women who it was he just photographed. Those ladies, meanwhile, send over tequila shots for J-Woww and Snooki, the latter of whom is surprisingly hesitant to partake. ”I can’t do tequila — it makes my clothes come off,” she yelps. Rather than disrobing, however, she grabs a large inflatable Corona bottle — about the same size as her 4’10” frame —and begins to dry-hump it, screaming, ”This is my new boyfriend! His name is Corona!”

Yes, America, you made these people famous. Snooki & Co.’s alcohol-fueled antics turned a group of eight formerly unknown kids from the East Coast — Polizzi, 22; Farley, 25; Paul ”DJ Pauly D” DelVecchio, 30; Vinny Guadagnino, 22; Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, 24; Mike ”The Situation” Sorrentino, 29; Sammi ”Sweetheart” Giancola, 23; and Angelina Pivarnick, 24 — into international stars, and made Jersey Shore MTV’s most talked-about (and polarizing) show since The Hills. After Shore premiered last December, it took just nine episodes to earn MTV record-breaking ratings (4.8 million viewers watched the Jan. 21 finale) and to insinuate itself into the zeitgeist so completely that President Obama referred to the cast during May’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. It’s even attracting A-list fans: ”I was introduced to Leonardo DiCaprio and he was like, ‘GTL all day,”’ says The Situation, referencing the show’s popular acronym for the cast’s routine of gym, tanning, laundry. ”It’s been gigantic,” adds Tony DiSanto, MTV’s president of programming. ”At MTV you need shows that get great ratings, but you also need shows that explode in pop culture.”

But with big success comes even bigger headaches. MTV’s original plan for season 2 was to shoot 12 episodes in Miami, and then return the gang to their Seaside Heights, N.J., abode for 12 more episodes to premiere in early 2011. On July 19, however, word began to leak that some of the cast members were unhappy with their salary. According to a source close to the negotiations, the cast agreed in January to a ”favored nation” contract (read: Everyone gets paid the same amount): $10,000 an episode for Miami and $10,500 per episode for New Jersey. But the source says that the network recently attempted to renegotiate and establish a new rate for the Seaside episodes, with castmates divided into two different levels of pay: The Situation, Snooki, and Pauly D were considered top-tier, while J-Woww, Sammi, Angelina, Vinny, and Ronnie were classified as second-tier. No new deal was reached, though, and according to the source, on July 16 the cast’s contract reverted to the original equal-pay agreement. While some cast members refused to begin production on the Seaside portion of the season until a new deal was finalized, an MTV rep told EW, ”Season 2 premieres July 29, and production is on schedule.” (All 12 Miami episodes are already in the can.) A source close to the network said a resolution was imminent, with the cast likely to receive pay increases for the new batch of Seaside episodes. For updates on the situation (pun intended), go to EW.com. The latest behind-the-scenes drama has added fuel to ongoing rumors that one or more Shore stars may be dropped from the cast (speculation has mostly focused on Angelina). Co-creator/executive producer SallyAnn Salsano and her team performed an extensive casting call in the spring for new faces, but at press time MTV said no formal decisions had been made.

Whatever happens, it won’t affect what fans see in the first 12 episodes. Despite the change in scenery, viewers can expect more of the same drinking, fighting, hooking up, and fist-pumping ridiculousness they love. Producers even re-created the original Shore house out of two Miami hotel suites, complete with a hot tub — or the ”jizzcuzzi,” as the production team calls it. Most of the drama early on will revolve around the return of Angelina, who walked off the show last season. ”I wanted to kick myself in the butt, not because the show got so big, just because I didn’t have the experience the rest of them did,” explains Angelina. ”So I wanted to go back and have that experience.”

Being a crew member on Jersey Shore is kind of like being a storm chaser — if the tornadoes were drunk and prone to wildly emotional outbursts. When the cast decides to leave the house or change venues, it’s go go go! time for producers and camera crews, as they scramble into vans and rush to follow their orange-hued prey. This warm May day is a prime example, when exec producer Salsano hops into an SUV to meet up with J-Woww and Snooki at a Miami gym. (In lieu of water, Snooks chooses to sip a screwdriver as she walks on the treadmill. Instead of sneakers, she wears bunny slippers.) ”Tell those bitches not to leave before I get there,” Salsano yells to her staff in the control room. Though she sometimes has a biting tongue, Salsano has a soft spot for her rowdy cast — perhaps because she herself was once a Long Island teen with a yen for artificial sunlight. ”Seven days a week, my parents drove me to the tanning salon,” says the 36-year-old. ”When people are like, ‘Is this show racist?’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s my life.”’

Once inside the SUV, Salsano takes a call from Lisa Silfen, MTV’s SVP of program enterprises, to discuss options for catchphrase T-shirts based on season 2 bons mots. (One promising bit of poetry that’s been thrown around the house is ”Bone and disown.”) ”We’re doing Halloween costumes,” Silfen tells EW later. ”Snooki is the costume of the season.” Also look for Jersey Shore bobbleheads, Sesame Workshop-branded apparel featuring ”DJ Oscar G” and ”Snooki Monster,” and more (see sidebar).

Of course, the cast’s growing popularity has posed another challenge for producers, who don’t want to include any allusions to the group’s celebrity in the new episodes. That isn’t always easy: During filming in Miami, The Situation began discussing how his name had popped up on Jeopardy!, prompting Salsano to bark, ”Tell Mike to stop drinking his own Kool-Aid!” Salsano explains that it’s necessary both to keep the show real and to protect cast members from their own egos. ”I know where everyone was when I found them,” she says, ”so they can pretend as much as they want with me, but I’m like, ‘Really? You live in your mother’s basement.”’ Eventually, though, producers may have to give in to the inevitable. Says DiSanto, ”[Shooting] is gonna be tough if they can’t go three feet without being mobbed.”

The Situation and Snooki, arguably the Shore‘s biggest breakouts, have conflicting thoughts about how much longer they want to live the GTL life on MTV. ”I would do another season just to cement the longevity of The Situation,” says The Situation, ”and then move on to scripted [projects], almost like going from high school to college.” But his costar may have spent enough time in the heat of Hollywood. ”Honestly, I think the first season and the second season are more than enough for me,” says Snooki. ”Regardless, if I am on the show or not, I will still be at the shore doing my thing.” Most likely with her loyal boyfriend, Corona.

Jersey Shore For Sale
The cast has everything from clothing collections to workout videos in the pipeline, but here’s a small sampling of the merch you can get now.

Talking Bobbleheads
$13, amazon.com

Sesame Street-themed t-shirts
$19, shop.mtv.com

J-WOWW’s Filthy Couture clothing line

Nox Edge tablets (Endorsed by The Situation)
$64.95, noxedge.com

”The Situation” single
99¢, iTunes

Jersey Shore soundtrack
$9.99, shop.mtv.com

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