Shain Gandee and Joey Mulcahy were up in Wolfpen Hollow, the hardscrabble West Virginia cranny where Shain had grown up, when the producer approached them. He was looking for kids for a new reality-TV show. A neighbor had sent him their way, and Shain’s truck looked promising: muddy, a rebel flag in back, squirrel tails hanging off the antenna. Could he have 30 minutes of their time? “We took him up on top of the hill in Shain’s truck,” Joey recalls, “with two or three other girls and another dude, and we threw them all in a mud hole, and they mud wrestled, and we just had fun, and we went through a mud hole a couple times in our truck. He was like, ‘You all are crazy.’ ”
Afterward, when Shain told his mom he’d taken a Hollywood producer mudding, Loretta Gandee says, “I was like, ‘Yeah, right.’ ” Half a year later, when the production company phoned to follow up—Paramount Pictures came up on the caller I.D.—Shain had forgotten all about it and ignored the calls.
It did seem like a movie. Best friends since childhood, Shain was a garbageman for the City of South Charleston, and Joey worked at a spark-plug plant. Here now was a spaceship from planet Hollywood landing in the sticks and promising imminent blastoff to faraway realms. But then, reality TV is nothing if not a generator of lottery-style fame bonanzas, harvesting local repute into cable-network renown, and the producers were persistent. They reached Joey, who promised to deliver Shain to them. Later, they gathered some of their friends for a bonfire. “It was a bunch of creepy old men in the corner,” remembers Ashley Whitt, who was 18 and hosting at an Applebee’s. “Everyone started drinking. They said, ‘Mind if we bring out our cameras?’ We signed forms. I mud wrestled my best friend. It went from there.”
The show the West Virginia–raised producers had in mind would follow a loose group of friends, and friends of friends, having the kind of cheap, resourceful fun they’d had themselves as kids. “It was Jersey Shore meets Jackass,” says executive producer J. P. Williams, who grew up in nearby Morgantown, before going on to bring the world Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy. Eventually, the cast would number nine, but from early on, it was clear that Shain, with his indifference to contemporary norms, was Most Likely to Become Snooki, a character so needle-in-a-haystack extraordinary you could build a show around him. “Shain had the most I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude,” Williams says. “He had heart.”
Shain also had a sly sort of charm. A thin slug of hair clung to his upper lip, and his words tumbled out in an Appalachian smear of stunted vowels and dropped consonants. When he was a kid, family vacations meant getting in the car and driving to the first intersection, where Shain or his sister, Shalena, would choose left or right, and they’d just go, not knowing where they’d end up—a cave, a waterfall, a lake. He and Joey had grown up constantly breaking bones and getting stitches; once, Shain got bit by a copperhead snake. At Sissonville High, you knew when Shain arrived in his Dodge Neon because he’d skid sideways into the parking spot. He loved cars and making things—friends called him a “redneck MacGyver.” He was voted prom king.
In a world of rapacious media, Shain’s refusal to carry a cell phone made him practically a feral child. Given his penchant for disappearing for days—maybe mudding, maybe road-tripping to Kentucky—the producers pressed a phone on him so they could track his whereabouts, but then when he went awol and they asked why he hadn’t answered their calls, he said the phone was probably still plugged in wherever it was when they first gave it to him. “If he walked in here and saw everybody on their phone, he’d be like, ‘Get off them space boxes,’ ” says Tyler Boulet, another cast member. “He’d do stuff like that just to make you go outside and do something and make some memories.” Even after the show launched, and the cast was encouraged to become active on social media, Shain would be the one member who refused to open a Twitter account.
The show was picked up by MTV, and the producers filmed for three months. It got early buzz, after West Virginia senator Joe Manchin III, having apparently neglected to study how Jersey Shore’s critics had only helped power its success, called Buckwild “a travesty” that trafficked in “ugly, inaccurate stereotypes about the people of West Virginia.” The cast members had their own concerns. “I mean, look what MTV did to the Wonderful Whites; they kind of made West Virginia look bad,” says Tyler, who took a leave from West Virginia Tech to film the pilot. “So we was like, We don’t know how they’re going to edit this. But we still took the chance.”
The first inkling the cast members had that MTV had high hopes for Buckwild came when they learned the show was going to get the 10 p.m. Thursday slot being vacated by Jersey Shore after six seasons. In January, the day before the premiere, the producers sent Shain and another cast member, a nursing student named Shae Bradley, to New York City to promote the show.
It was Shain’s, and his parents’, first time on an airplane. Shain didn’t like New York’s taxis and found the people rude, but he liked seeing the giant Buckwild billboard in Times Square, and the Today and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon audiences loved him. Shain gave Fallon a jar of deer meat he had preserved, which the host gamely dipped a finger into and sampled. Shain was ready to go home, though. As the plane descended into Charleston, Loretta Gandee says, “he was singing, ‘Country roads, take me home / To the place I belong / West Virginia.’ You know that song? He loved being home.”
Twenty-five years ago, before reality TV was a thing, everybody knew someone—in the neighborhood, at the office, wherever—who was “wild” or “crazy” or “a real character” who “should totally have their own TV show.” There were local heroes and village idiots, and their fame was confined to a Zip Code.
It was unforeseeable, when MTV debuted The Real World in 1992, that the show’s formula—Breakfast Club of archetypal strangers thrown together and filmed nonstop—would not just define a new genus of so-called unscripted television but transform the channel that birthed it from radio-star-killing Voice of a Generation to young-demographic-pleasing media outlet. It was nearly unimaginable that the country’s stock of such strangers would one day be so depleted that it would become considerably challenging to find fresh ones.
But as MTV went, so went the cable universe. Formerly educational channels have not only transitioned largely to reality programming but host much of its breakthrough content. TLC, once billed as “a place for learning minds,” is home to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Breaking Amish. The History Channel has Ice Road Truckers and Pawn Stars. A&E has Storage Wars and Duck Dynasty. Animal Planet, which was co-founded by the BBC, is debuting thirteen new reality series this year alone, including Animal BFFs (interspecies odd-couple buddies) and My Tiny Terror (about pooch-zillas).
The Real World seems quaint now, alongside all the successive generations of reality-TV innovation. Competition/elimination shows took off around 2000, with Survivor, The Amazing Race, Fear Factor, The Bachelor, and American Idol. “Celebreality” came along in 2002, with shows like The Anna Nicole Show and The Simple Life. Then came the rich, white “docu-soaps,” achieving liftoff with Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise and E!’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians. MTV was responsible for some of the most influential mutations, including Road Rules, Jackass, The Osbournes, and Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, and it was MTV again that demonstrated viewers weren’t interested only in a gated-community lifestyle when it premiered Jersey Shore in 2009.
If reality TV is an extractive industry, relentlessly depleting our cultural patrimony (geographic character, obscure vocations, piquant subcultures, sui generis personalities, human beings who don’t conceive of themselves as corporate brands) for our amusement, it long ago exhausted the surface-mineable goods. Thus the endless recycling of tropes (grab bag of sub-functional dead-enders thrown together in a McMansion, etc.), cast members (via spinoff shows, all-star shows), and people (Omarosa Manigault has appeared, by her count, on more than 30 different reality shows). Reality-TV programmers get pitched the same shows so often that they have a term for them, mops, which stands for most-often-pitched shows. “Celebrity cooking is a huge mop,” says Aliza Rosen, a Philadelphia-based reality producer. “Or like Extreme Town Makeover—let’s make over a whole town!”
Amid the terminal creativity, “big characters” in “worlds we haven’t seen” has become the reality-TV programmer’s mantra to producers. “Everyone wants to find Duck Dynasty … but not Duck Dynasty,” Rosen says. This has meant a boom in weird-job shows, especially those in tune with a deflated economy (Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, Operation Repo, American Pickers). It has also meant, spurred by the monster success of Jersey Shore, a wave of shows capitalizing on the dwindling number of places with a sense of place: Wicked Tuna (New England), Ice Road Truckers (Alaska), Ax Men (the Pacific Northwest).
On one level, regional shows serve as pop ethnography, to the point of inspiring a University of Chicago conference on Jersey Shore studies. (Sample papers: “Foucault’s Going to the Jersey Shore, Bitch!” and “Situating the Situation: Psychogeography, Mimetic Desire, and the Resurgent Indo-European Trifunctional Paradigm in Seaside.”) But as the precious resource of unmediated, unstaged reality has steadily been consumed, reality TV has entered an era of offshore deep drilling and fracking and mountaintop removal. With an ever-expanding universe of obscure cable channels, there has been an “explosion of inexpensive niche reality,” says Michael Hirschorn, president of the production company Ish Entertainment. “Things are getting more and more micro-sliced. There’s now a show on Destination America about toilet-bowl manufacturers. Which is, of course, genius.”
In the big dig for the next prime-time-ready pocket of American strangeness, the richest mother lode by far turned out to be the American South, or more broadly Redneck America. It’s not just the obvious breakout docu-soap hits of the last few years like Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo, and Swamp People. Shows recently on air that contain the word “redneck” include Redneck Island, Rocket City Rednecks, My Big Redneck Wedding, Redneck Intervention, and My Big Redneck Vacation. Other ruddy-of-neck shows include Cajun Pawn Stars, River Monsters, Bayou Billionaires, Moonshiners, Hillbilly Handfishin’, American Hoggers, Lady Hoggers, The Legend of Shelby the Swamp Man, Pit Bulls and Parolees, Call of the Wildman, Backyard Oil, Street Outlaws, Lizard Lick Towing, Welcome to Myrtle Manor, and Southern Fried Stings. And casting calls have blown a Dixie bugle for prospective shows with names like Party Down South, The South Rocks, Rodeo Queens, and Redneck Dreams. If it seems curious that in the second term of America’s first black President, the thing citizen viewers want most to behold is the white male id, it also remains the case that, as influential casting agent Doron Ofir says, “there’s the coastal cities’ point of view, but the truth is the country is a much wider demographic.” “I think there’s more people who wish they could just go mudding, jump off a bridge, instead of the bullshit we have to deal with,” theorizes Williams. “The Kardashians are not what most of America is like.”
Last year, MTV faced a looming, immoderately tan problem. Jersey Shore, after six profitable (though declining) seasons, was coming to an end. Across the network, prime-time ratings were down by 31 percent over the previous year. Wall Street analysts who cover Viacom had turned acerbic about MTV’s programming, and one publicly asked CEO Philippe Dauman if MTV was “broken.” MTV seemed to think so, bringing in a new head of programming in November. The network needed a hit to replace Jersey Shore, and it thought it had found it in Buckwild, which it explicitly promoted as having the same “region-specific” appeal.
Buckwild followed what has become standard docu-soap procedure. Various cast members slept, fought, and made up with various other cast members. There were improvised stunts—a dump-truck pool, a human slingshot—that were only slightly exaggerated versions of the sorts of things most of the cast members were used to doing anyway. It was a lifestyle with some hazards. Ashley bruised her T7 vertebra bull-riding, and Shain spit up blood after doing the human slingshot.
Though critics panned the show as “useless” (Hollywood Reporter), “awful” (Variety), and “a series of confusing and poorly manufactured fake problems” (AV Club), the premiere drew 2.5 million viewers, nearly twice as many as the Jersey Shore season-one premiere. Loretta Gandee wasn’t surprised. She knew everyone would love Shain because of his personality and the way none of the cast members took themselves seriously. “They were having fun and enjoying life. And that’s what’s wrong with the world today. Everybody’s too serious. They were making people forget about their problems for a little bit.”
The cast members felt the impact of their incipient fame almost immediately. After the second episode, Katie Saria says, she went downtown in Morgantown, “and everybody wanted a picture of me. I couldn’t even get in and out of bars. I was just being bombarded all the time.”
Shain loved being on the show but was ambivalent about the celebrity that came with it. Fans from as far away as Canada and Nebraska showed up in Wolfpen Hollow. If he was home, he’d always go outside and talk to them and have his picture taken. He stopped going out as much—being recognized meant he couldn’t just have a meal without being asked for his autograph. Followed at the flea market, he got in his truck to go use a bathroom elsewhere. But he was personable and social, and if he walked into a convenience store with Joey and Tyler, who’d pull their caps down and try to keep a low profile, Shain would yell, “Buckwild! Buckwild!” A producer told the Gandees their homemade candy, long reserved mainly for holiday gifts, could go national, and the family began ramping up to make Gandee Candy at commercial scale. On Thursday nights, they would gather to watch episodes of the show, and Shain would nitpick and give a running commentary of what was really going on behind each scene. He demanded a library atmosphere. “You were not allowed to talk if it was on,” Loretta says.
After the early shows got good ratings, all the cast members were flown out to L.A. in January to meet the producers. They were told that the key threshold for a new show was to get a second season—once achieved, odds favored at least three more. The cast, under the mistaken impression that other MTV shows, rather than rival networks’ shows, were the competition to beat, would disparage MTV shows on Twitter. Finally, a producer asked what they were doing and explained, Katie recalls, “that’s not the way this works. Stop doing that.”
Members of the cast knew that a second season could open things wide for them—the pay upgrade from season one to two was reportedly 400 percent—and when the show got renewed, they began to allow themselves fantasies about the future. Going by what had happened with Jersey Shore, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine some serious money kicking in soon. “I was like, man, we could actually make something out of this, and be big stars, and it was looking pretty cool,” Joey says. He and Tyler and Shain would talk about the Jeeps and four-wheelers they might buy, the land they might clear, “making our own place, and just making our own tracks and trails,” Tyler says. “We had some ideas.”
One of the drawbacks of packaging and commercializing authenticity is that it becomes increasingly hard to recognize the real thing. Reality TV long ago cracked the formula for ideal cast members: big personalities, big accents, a lack of self-awareness, and lots of self-confidence. A network executive once told Hirschorn, “If you could see people dressing up as this person for a Halloween parade, then they’re good for a reality show.”
Spotting them used to be so simple. The early casts of The Real World couldn’t know what their lives would look like onscreen, and they weren’t using their airtime to audition for spinoff shows. “Twenty years later,” says Max Dawson, who until recently was a professor at Northwestern who taught a class on Survivor, “the awareness levels are so high.” A 2006 U.K. study found that one in ten teenagers would drop out of school to be on TV. At the New York Reality TV School, aspirants can now learn how to model reality-TV behaviors. And as the realm where things happen that don’t contain within them an awareness of how they will be perceived recedes, reality producers must venture farther when looking for unspoiled characters. “I ask myself every day,” Aliza Rosen says, “how many resources should we be devoting to remote states to find people we haven’t seen? I still get surprised, but that’s rare. It gets harder and harder.”
With the rise of social media and casting sites, “anyone with a remote inclination to be famous started to apply for reality shows,” says Ofir, the casting agent who discovered Snooki. “But people consistently looking to be on TV are not the people we are looking for.” He’s found that teenagers raised with the habit of creating profiles online are adept at projecting assiduously styled identities. “A guy now’s like, ‘I’m a baller.’ And he becomes that, simply because every photo he puts up, he’s wearing the sunglasses, the watch, the light’s glinting off the glasses in the right way, he’s got hashtag ‘baller.’ So now it’s incredibly easy to find someone outspoken and self-defined.” It’s harder to find someone endearing or naïve.
Ofir still approaches casting the way he did promoting when he was a club kid in the nineties working for places like Limelight. Stalking the wild Snooki, “you have to embed yourself,” he says, to “go where the zebras of the Serengeti congregate,” to identify what he calls “the fab 50”—the M.A.C counter girl, the boutique-hotel concierge, the club doorman, the gatekeepers of any city. “Once you get those, you get everyone.” Again and again, though, producers and casting agents come up against the problem of the too perfect. “I just did an interview an hour ago,” Rosen says. “He was a sound-bite machine. Media-trained, clearly. He knew what I wanted, did three takes on each question, got better and better. He was aiming to please. He was great. So the question is: Is that going to come across as a cheesy car salesman or a big personality that’s going to carry the show? And I don’t know.”
“Maybe we need to get over the idea that we’re discovering innocents,” suggests David Showalter, the University of Chicago student who put on the Jersey Shore conference, “and rather use the fact that all these people know how they are expected to behave to break the tropes.” Bill Robinson, whose production company Shady Media recently sold a pilot to Bravo called Shades of New York, about gay hip-hoppers, agrees that a savvy reality actor, with a third eye, can be a blessing. “We had a full-on good old-fashioned dinner at a restaurant in the East Village, in a private room. The place is packed, and one of the cast members was smart, ’cause he’d been on a reality show before, so he knew what we needed, he stirred it up, caused a fight, provoked everybody. They’re punching each other, threatening each other, throwing things. I was like, ‘Cut, cut, cut, we can’t trash the restaurant.’ But in the cutting room, I was like, ‘Thank God.’ He knew.”
But the ideal reality star will always be someone who comes by his wildness honestly. Ofir recalls the casting of Nicole Polizzi, a.k.a. Snooki. “She self-identified as the Princess of Poughkeepsie. Her application was fingerprinted with bronzer. My casting ninja literally called me right after the interview and said she was dynamite. She had no self-editing at all. She was self-deprecating in the best possible way. She was fully aware of who she was—the look, the pouf, the mascara, the leopard print. She embraced it, she branded herself, and I think everyone was like, ‘I want to be friends with her.’ ” But is a branded Snooki the same Snooki viewers found so compelling? “I don’t think she thought of herself as a brand. She just was.”
Dawson, the former Northwestern professor, found early episodes of Jersey Shore to be a refreshing return to before-the-fall reality TV, and he had similar hopes for Buckwild. “But instead it was a continuation of the level of self-awareness and posturing of the later seasons of Jersey Shore, where everyone’s angling to be a vodka pitchman. Maybe in season five, when we’ve seen these people go through the media hamburger grinder, but to come out in season one and find out they’re just as media-obsessed as everyone else is a little disappointing. The one person I thought was a bright spot was Shain Gandee. He oozed authenticity. He was lovable.”
Filming of Buckwild’s second season had begun, and the cast was off for Easter weekend, when Shain disappeared. He and Joey had been out drinking; they talked about going mudding later that night. But Shain and his uncle Dave and a family friend left Larry’s Bar around 3 a.m., before Joey realized they were gone. And then Shain didn’t show up for church that morning, or for Easter dinner.
Disappearing for days was typical Shain, but he’d never missed Easter. By that Sunday evening, Joey and Shain’s family and a lot of other people were looking for him. By Monday, they had looked just about everywhere Shain had ever mudded. Cara Parrish, another cast member, called the local jail and hospital every two hours and scoured Twitter and Facebook for snapshots people might have just posted of themselves meeting Shain. She asked her friends at the casino to check their footage. People wondered if he’d broken down somewhere remote.
The one place no one had looked was close to home, because anytime Joey and Shain had gotten stuck in a mud hole nearby, no matter how cold or what time of night, they’d simply walked home. Finally, Joey’s father suggested they check a spot where they’d mudded “hundreds of times,” Joey says. “It was right behind his house. We rolled up, and the Bronco was sitting there, and it was tilted sideways. I was like, Man, that’s weird, there’s no way they’re in there.” But they were. Joey’s father called 911. The truck’s tailpipe was in the mud. Shain and his uncle and the family friend had all died of carbon-monoxide poisoning.
That same morning, Katie was shopping for makeup when she got a call from a producer saying there was an emergency meeting at the Marriott hotel in downtown Charleston. Katie was the first one there, and before the producers said anything, she just knew what had happened. “I was crying my eyes out … And then they started putting tissues on the table.”
At Shain’s funeral, which the producers paid for, the mourners wore camouflage, as Shain had liked to do, and Gandee Candy T-shirts. Later, at the cemetery, after Loretta and Shain’s father Dale had gone back down the hill, and it was time to cover the casket with dirt, Shain’s guy friends poured his favorite beer into the hole and tossed in a can of his favorite tobacco, too. Then Ashley, whose running joke with Shain was that whenever she entered the room, he’d say, “Show me your tits,” said, “I wish I could flash him just one more time.” She and the other girls conferred, and after getting Joey’s endorsement, they all took off their bras and threw them into the hole, along with camo bracelets that had been made for the funeral. Joey got his car, and they wrote Shainisms like “I imagine” in its dirt with their fingers. Then they all went mudding—Cara and Ashley mud wrestled—and afterward to a bar where, Cara says, they “raised hell all night long.”
Shain Gandee had been blithely reckless and died living life as he chose. In that sense, his death had little in common with those of notorious reality-TV figures like Ryan Jenkins, dubbed “smooth operator” on Megan Wants a Millionaire, who murdered his wife and removed her teeth and fingertips to make her body impossible to identify (an effort foiled, ultimately, by her breast implants’ serial numbers), then was the subject of a manhunt before killing himself; or Russell Armstrong, the estranged husband of a cast member on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, who’d previously said, “This show has literally pushed us to the limit,” and hanged himself.
While those deaths posed questions about the moral implications of reality television, Shain’s forced a more urgent, mercenary calculation on MTV: How to overcome the loss of a rare and priceless commodity? Soon after Shain’s death, the producers asked the Gandees their view on what should happen with Buckwild. There were already four episodes of season two in the can, and the Gandees wanted the show to go on. The producers, and many of the cast, were optimistic that it would continue.
At first, MTV said only that it was suspending Buckwild. Since the change in programming leadership in November, the show remained the network’s best chance for a monster hit. Walking away from something meant to replace the network’s biggest moneymaker, and which was drawing an average of 3 million viewers an episode, wasn’t an easy decision. But on April 9, eight days after Shain’s body was found, it was reported that MTV was canceling Buckwild. “How can the show go on with this specter of a tragedy hanging over it?” top MTV executive Van Toffler told the Wrap. At that point, J. P. Williams publicly trashed MTV, saying the network’s decision “smells of shit”; he later added, “Van and Susanne [Daniels, MTV’s head of programming] can keep promoting premarital sex and promoting leaving the baby after you have it. I’m so glad they have found their moral bar.” An MTV executive phoned the cast members, hoping to talk it out, but only one would take his call. “J. P.’s anger kind of came like a wave through the rest of us,” Cara says. In truth, MTV’s decision was a creative one as much as anything. “This is a show that for me is about joie de vivre, about youth and having fun and throwing caution to the wind and taking chances and playfulness and partying,” says Daniels. “So how do you continue with the show when you’ve lost the heart of that show?”
The loss of Buckwild was a blow to MTV’s lineup, and a marker of sorts. It didn’t portend the immediate end of redneck reality shows, or even of redneck reality shows on MTV: Before Shain’s death, the network had green-lit a new show about waitresses in a Texas bar called Redneck Heaven (airing soon as Big Tips Texas). But television genres have life cycles, too, and it appears we may have exhausted this one. “The moment anything is hot, there are dozens of copycat shows put into development, and the currency gets diluted almost immediately,” says Hirschorn. Shain’s death arrived at peak redneck overreach. “Recently we’ve seen that a lot of networks are trying to veer away from the South in the new shows they’re developing,” a television source told the entertainment reporter Hollie McKay last week.
For the Buckwild cast, the cancellation was the end of something irreplaceable. “You basically hear tires screech—these kids’ careers coming to a stop,” says Jennifer Novak, an executive producer on the show. “We got excited for them, too. These aren’t rich kids from New Jersey or New York City. It was nice to know it would help not only them but their families, and help them pay off their debts, and medical bills, and turn some lives around. For all of us, it was, Wow, this is over. It was tough.”
Up in Wolfpen Hollow, the month after Shain died, a car outside the Gandee home bore a decal: “In Loving Memory of Shain Gandee.” The doormat read, “One Day at a Time.” In the cozy living room, its walls adorned with small eagle heads, Loretta Gandee was sitting on a flower-print sofa, surrounded by other people who loved Shain—her mother, Joan; her daughter, Shalena; Shalena’s daughter, Charity; Shain’s cousin Brittany, whose father, Dave, had died with Shain; and Shain’s girlfriend, Kansas—and sharing memories. “Shain’s motto was, he said, ‘God’s only blessed me with one life, and I’m gonna live it to the fullest,’ ” Loretta said. “So he didn’t plan anything. When we would plan something, he’d say, ‘Mom, why are you even planning? ’Cause usually if you plan, it falls through.’ He was always, whatever happened that day, it happened.”
After the spaceship was gone, and after her initial disappointment about the show’s end, Katie felt some relief. It had all been kind of unreal. Now she could go back to her normal life: college and whatever followed. But then, along with the rest of the cast, two weeks after Shain’s death, Katie attended the MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles. They stayed at the InterContinental Hotel, where Snoop Lion and Flavor-Flav were also spotted. They rode in a Town Car to the awards show, where they met the casts of Teen Wolf and Awkward and Nikki & Sara Live and Jersey Shore, and seat fillers took their seats when they went to the bathroom. “Everything was just so pretty and sparkly and important-feeling,” Katie remembers, “and everything didn’t feel real. I felt like someone was responsible for me, and I didn’t have to worry about stuff. And that’s when it really hit me: Man, I really wish all this didn’t happen; I really wish I was still on reality television.”
This article originally appeared in the September 23, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.