Welcome to Reality TV Week at The Ringer! In addition to celebrating the best characters in the genre’s history, we’ll also be remembering some of its most iconic moments, starting, of course, with The Note.
In the violent climax of the most tumultuous story arc in Jersey Shore history, there is a sandwich.
People are bleeding, acrylic nails are broken, and hair extensions litter the kitchen counter. The fight technically started because Jenni made a comment about Pauly D’s drunkenness on a phone call, but the root of the tension stems directly from The Note: a four-paragraph, 63-word missive slipped into the second drawer of Sammi’s plastic shelves with her name written in blue marker and underlined four times.
In the corner of the kitchen, Ron is nonchalantly building what appears to be a four-layer sandwich with no less than eight slices of bread, some stacked directly on top of each other, interspersed with unidentified deli meat and cheese. Next to him stands Sammi, his on-again, off-again girlfriend, fresh off an all-out cat fight with Jenni, who sleeps approximately three feet away from her.
Ron calmly places bread slice on top of bread slice as Snooki, all 56 inches of her pulsing with indignant rage, screams the five words that fracture the female faction of the Shore House irreparably: “SHE WROTE THE NOTE, TOO!!!’
The absurdity of it all. Ron is calmly preparing a 6-inch tall sandwich in the same scene as a life-changing fight; an all-out brawl was spurred in part by a piece of paper that includes the phrase “grinding with multiple fat women”; a two-episode mystery culminates with Snooki hurtling across the kitchen, knocking Ron away from his sandwich. You couldn’t write this shit. Reality TV is great when it enforces the Mark Twain adage: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
How did we get here? A primer for those who didn’t just binge eight hours of this show in the name of journalism: In Season 2, Sammi and Ron arrive in Miami broken up but still emotionally invested in each other. Two nights at the club end with them screaming drunkenly, and after Sammi leaves in tears, Ron engages in behavior ranging from motorboating to making out with two women at once, then crawls into Sammi’s bed both nights. He offers her sugarcoated explanations of what he did after she left, despite the fact that the men in the house (and Angelina!) witnessed him in action. Snooki and Jenni are clued in about Ron’s mischief and then witness it firsthand. Sammi, meanwhile, is encouraged by Ronnie’s recommitment to their relationship—at one point sitting by his side through a four-hour tattoo session—while also imploring Snooki and Jenni that “If you guys know something, you guys should tell me. I would be very upset if you guys didn’t.” Sam even goes as far as to tell Angelina that if that duo knew anything about Ron and didn’t tell her, she would never consider them a close friend, ever.
And so, the bumbling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Miami decide to visit a cybercafe to type up The Note (using vocabulary such as “breasts” to disguise their identity). That’s the SparkNotes version, though I’d also recommend a rewatch. Words can’t fully communicate the nuances of the first morning the note is uncovered. Each cast member becomes an amateur sleuth to determine the writer: Ron, for example, fixates on the use of “wisely”—Snooki doesn’t have that sort of vocabulary, he reasons, so Jenni is involved; Pauly D responds by proclaiming “GYM, TAN, and FIND OUT WHO WROTE THE NOTE.”
But of course, because this is not fiction, no one responds like the viewers (or the housemates) expect. These are real people who act on instinct over rationale more often than not, which most of us would do if trapped in a house with seven other people with no internet, reading materials, or outside communication, and a never-ending supply of alcohol. Sammi is more concerned about the identity of the note-writers than the note’s contents, and the entire plan blows up in Snooki and Jenni’s face, culminating in a series-defining physical fight.
Only one episode in the second season explicitly references the drama by name—Episode 5 is oddly titled “The Letter,” though no one called it that—but the actual text of the message, and the ensuing chaos, is part of Jersey Shore lore. The cast still jokingly brings it up a decade later in episodes of Jersey Shore: Family Vacation, and the early departure of Angelina in Season 2 and her absence from the next four seasons stems in part from her role in the debacle. The episode in which the note is penned premiered almost exactly 10 years ago, but to this day, you can purchase tapestries, mugs, and framed prints with the infamous admission from Etsy, Society6, and CafePress, among others.
The entire liquor-soaked allegory addresses age-old questions of friendship, loyalty, and honesty. One’s answers to the moral quandaries raised speak volumes about their sense of responsibility. Consider this: Does Sammi have a right to be mad at Ronnie for his transgressions in the first two episodes, even though they weren’t technically together? Do Jenni and Snooki have a moral obligation to tell Sammi they know Ron’s being an asshole, even if Sammi is often an asshole herself? What’s worse: Ron lying to Sam, or Jenni and Snooki lying about writing the note? Why is Angelina HERE and why does she always cause so much DRAMA???
The way the cast behaves, and the real-life stakes that keep this story line afloat for seven-plus episodes, all come down to filming. The drama is created because of the accountability caused by the cameras, and then the cameras are there to capture the drama.
She’s going to look like such an idiot, is a refrain Jenni returns to when justifying why they need to tell Sammi the truth. But Jenni is talking about the rest of them as well: They know how it looks for them to have these conversations about Ron and not tell Sammi, and they know it’ll all come out eventually, because this is reality TV, and they were already one season into this grand adventure. Take the penultimate line of the note itself: “Multiple people in the house know, therefore you should know the truth.”
It’s clear that Sammi’s feelings outside of this house—when this is aired, and the truth is revealed—matter to them. They’re concerned about optics, but they’re also genuinely concerned about their friend. The Note was written so Snooki and Jenni could cover their asses when this all came out; it was also written because of an undeniable sense of loyalty.
The Season 2 saga of The Note is great TV because it’s unhinged, messy, indulgent, and drunk—the visual equivalent of a double order of nachos eaten at 3 a.m. But it’s only that way because of the undercurrent of authentic emotions. The stakes are high because there are real relationships involved, and the way in which these allegiances and sense of responsibility shake out ends up being stranger than fiction, of course, because true interpersonal drama has no predesigned plotline. That’s always been the true strength of the Jersey Shore spectacle. The show’s strongest narratives are the ones that hinge on unfeigned friendships.