Shain Gandee and also Joey Mulcahy to be up in Wolfpen Hollow, the hardscrabble West Virginia cranny where Shain had actually grown up, as soon as the producer approached them. He was looking for kids for a brand-new reality-TV show. A neighbor had actually sent him your way, and Shain’s truck looked promising: muddy, a rebel flag in back, squirrel tails hanging off the antenna. Could he have actually 30 minutes of your time? “We take it him up on top of the hill in Shain’s truck,” Joey recalls, “with 2 or three various other girls and also another dude, and we threw them every in a mud hole, and also they dirt wrestled, and also we just had actually fun, and also we went with a dirt hole a pair times in our truck. He was like, ‘You all room crazy.’ ”

Afterward, as soon as Shain called his mother he’d bring away a Hollywood producer mudding, Loretta Gandee says, “I to be like, ‘Yeah, right.’ ” half a year later, as soon as the production agency phoned to follow up—Paramount pictures came increase on the caller I.D.—Shain had forgotten all about it and also ignored the calls.

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It did seem choose a movie. Ideal friends since childhood, Shain to be a garbageman because that the City of south Charleston, and also Joey operated at a spark-plug plant. Right here now was a spaceship from planet Hollywood landing in the sticks and promising brewing blastoff come faraway realms. However then, reality TV is nothing if no a generator of lottery-style reputation bonanzas, harvesting neighborhood repute right into cable-network renown, and also the producers to be persistent. They got to Joey, that promised to deliver Shain to them. Later, lock gathered several of their friends for a bonfire. “It was a bunch of creepy old men in the corner,” remembers Ashley Whitt, that was 18 and hosting in ~ an Applebee’s. “Everyone began drinking. They said, ‘Mind if we carry out ours cameras?’ we signed forms. Ns mud wrestled my finest friend. It went indigenous there.”

The display the West Virginia–raised producers had actually in mind would certainly follow a loosened group of friends, and friends the friends, having actually the kind of cheap, resourceful funny they’d had actually themselves together kids. “It to be Jersey shore meets Jackass,” claims executive producer J. P. Williams, who grew up in nearby Morgantown, before going top top to bring the civilization Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy. Eventually, the actors would number nine, however from beforehand on, it was clear that Shain, v his indifference to modern norms, to be Most likely to end up being Snooki, a character so needle-in-a-haystack extraordinary you could construct a show approximately him. “Shain had the many I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude,” Williams says. “He had actually heart.”

Shain also had a sly type of charm. A slim slug of hair clung come his top lip, and his indigenous tumbled out in an Appalachian smear of stunted vowels and also dropped consonants. Once he was a kid, household vacations meant obtaining in the car and also driving come the first intersection, where Shain or his sister, Shalena, would pick left or right, and also they’d simply go, not knowing where they’d finish up—a cave, a waterfall, a lake. He and also Joey had actually grown increase constantly break bones and getting stitches; once, Shain obtained bit by a copperhead snake. In ~ Sissonville High, girlfriend knew as soon as Shain come in his evade Neon because he’d skid sideways into the parking spot. He love cars and also making things—friends referred to as him a “redneck MacGyver.” He to be voted prom king.

In a people of rapacious media, Shain’s refusal to carry a cell phone made him nearly a feral child. Offered his penchant because that disappearing for days—maybe mudding, possibly road-tripping to Kentucky—the producer pressed a phone on him so they might track his whereabouts, but then as soon as he went awol and they inquiry why he hadn’t answered your calls, he said the phone call was most likely still plugged in where it was once they very first gave it to him. “If the walked in here and saw everybody on their phone, he’d it is in like, ‘Get off them space boxes,’ ” claims Tyler Boulet, one more cast member. “He’d do stuff favor that simply to make you go outside and do something and also make some memories.” even after the show launched, and also the cast was encouraged to become active on social media, Shain would certainly be the one member that refused to open up a Twitter account.

The display was picked up by MTV, and the producer filmed for 3 months. It got early buzz, after ~ West Virginia councilor Joe Manchin III, having actually apparently neglected to study how Jersey Shore’s doubters had only assisted power its success, referred to as Buckwild “a travesty” the trafficked in “ugly, inaccurate stereotypes around the world of West Virginia.” The cast members had their very own concerns. “I mean, look what MTV did to the exorbitant Whites; they type of do West Virginia look bad,” states Tyler, who took a leave from West Virginia technology to movie the pilot. “So us was like, we don’t know just how they’re walk to modify this. Yet we still took the chance.”

The first inkling the actors members had that MTV had actually high hopes for Buckwild came when they learned the display was walking to get the 10 p.m. Thursday slot being vacated through Jersey coast after 6 seasons. In January, the day prior to the premiere, the producers sent Shain and another cast member, a nursing student named Shae Bradley, to brand-new York City to promote the show.

It was Shain’s, and his parents’, very first time on an airplane. Shain no like new York’s taxis and found the world rude, but he favored seeing the giant Buckwild billboard in time Square, and also the Today and also Late Night with Jimmy Fallon audiences love him. Shain gave Fallon a seasoned of deer meat he had actually preserved, i m sorry the hold gamely dipped a finger into and sampled. Shain was ready to walk home, though. As the aircraft descended into Charleston, Loretta Gandee says, “he to be singing, ‘Country roads, take it me home / To the location I belong / West Virginia.’ You know that song? that loved gift home.”

*

Twenty-five year ago, before fact TV was a thing, everyone knew someone—in the neighborhood, in ~ the office, wherever—who was “wild” or “crazy” or “a real character” that “should entirely have their own TV show.” there were neighborhood heroes and town idiots, and also their fame to be confined come a Zip Code.

It to be unforeseeable, as soon as MTV debuted The Real human being in 1992, the the show’s formula—Breakfast society of archetypal strangers thrown together and filmed nonstop—would not just define a new genus that so-called unscripted television yet transform the channel that birthed the from radio-star-killing Voice that a Generation to young-­demographic-pleasing media outlet. The was virtually unimaginable that the country’s share of such strangers would sooner or later be for this reason depleted that it would become considerably difficult to find fresh ones.

But together MTV went, so went the cable universe. Formerly educational networks have not only transitioned greatly to truth programming yet host much of that is breakthrough content. TLC, when billed together “a ar for learning minds,” is home to right here Comes love husband Boo Boo and also Breaking Amish. The history Channel has Ice road Truckers and Pawn Stars. A&E has Storage Wars and Duck Dynasty. Pet Planet, which was co-founded by the BBC, is debuting thirteen brand-new reality collection this year alone, including pet BFFs (interspecies odd-couple buddies) and also My tiny Terror (about pooch-zillas).

The Real civilization seems weird now, alongside every the succeeding generations of reality-TV innovation. Competition/elimination reflects took off roughly 2000, v Survivor, The impressive Race, fear Factor, The Bachelor, and also American Idol. “Celebreality” came along in 2002, through shows favor The Anna Nicole Show and The simple Life. Then come the rich, white “docu-soaps,” achieve liftoff v Bravo’s genuine Housewives franchise and also E!’s maintaining Up through the Kardashians. MTV was responsible for some of the most prominent mutations, consisting of Road Rules, Jackass, The Osbournes, and also Laguna Beach: The real Orange County, and it to be MTV again the demonstrated viewers weren’t interested only in a gated-community way of life when the premiered Jersey shore in 2009.

If reality TV is one extractive industry, relentlessly depleting our social patrimony (geographic character, obscure vocations, piquant subcultures, sui generis personalities, humans who don’t conceive of themselves as corporate brands) because that our amusement, it long ago exhausted the surface-mineable goods. Hence the limitless recycling of tropes (grab bag of sub-functional dead-enders thrown with each other in a McMansion, etc.), cast members (via spinoff shows, all-star shows), and people (Omarosa Manigault has appeared, by she count, on more than 30 different reality shows). Reality-TV programmers gain pitched the same reflects so often that they have a term because that them, mops, which stands for most-often-pitched shows. “Celebrity food preparation is a large mop,” states Aliza Rosen, a Philadelphia-based truth producer. “Or like excessive Town Makeover—let’s do over a totality town!”

Amid the terminal creativity, “big characters” in “worlds we haven’t seen” has become the reality-TV programmer’s mantra come producers. “Everyone desires to discover Duck empire … yet not Duck Dynasty,” Rosen says. This has actually meant a boom in weird-job shows, specifically those in song with a deflated economic situation (Pawn Stars, warehouse Wars, operation Repo, American Pickers). It has additionally meant, spurred by the monster success the Jersey Shore, a wave of mirrors capitalizing top top the dwindling variety of places with a sense of place: wicked Tuna (New England), Ice roadway Truckers (Alaska), Ax males (the Pacific Northwest).

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On one level, local shows offer as pop ethnography, come the suggest of inspiring a university of Chicago conference top top Jersey shore studies. (Sample papers: “Foucault’s Going to the Jersey Shore, Bitch!” and also “Situating the Situation: Psychogeography, Mimetic Desire, and also the Resurgent Indo-European Trifunctional Paradigm in Seaside.”) however as the precious resource of unmediated, unstaged reality has steadily to be consumed, truth TV has gotten in an era of offshore deep drilling and also fracking and mountaintop removal. V an ever-expanding universe of obscure cable channels, there has actually been an “explosion of inexpensive niche reality,” states Michael Hirschorn, president of the production company Ish Entertainment. “Things space getting much more and more micro-sliced. There’s now a present on location America around toilet-bowl manufacturers. Which is, the course, genius.”

In the huge dig for the following prime-time-ready pocket of American strangeness, the richest mommy lode by much turned the end to it is in the American South, or much more broadly Redneck America. That not simply the evident breakout docu-soap access time of the last few years favor Duck Dynasty, love husband Boo Boo, and Swamp People. Shows newly on air the contain words “redneck” include Redneck Island, Rocket City Rednecks, My huge Redneck Wedding, Redneck Intervention, and also My large Redneck Vacation. Other ruddy-of-neck shows incorporate Cajun Pawn Stars, flow Monsters, Bayou Billionaires, Moonshiners, Hillbilly Handfishin’, American Hoggers, Lady Hoggers, The Legend the Shelby the Swamp Man, Pit Bulls and also Parolees, speak to of the Wildman, Backyard Oil, Street Outlaws, Lizard Lick Towing, Welcome come Myrtle Manor, and Southern Fried Stings. And also casting calls have actually blown a Dixie bugle because that prospective reflects with names prefer Party down South, The south Rocks, Rodeo Queens, and Redneck Dreams. If it seems curious the in the second term the America’s an initial black President, the point citizen viewers want many to behold is the white male id, it likewise remains the situation that, as influential spreading agent Doron Ofir says, “there’s the coastal cities’ suggest of view, but the truth is the nation is a much more comprehensive demographic.” “I think there’s an ext people who wish they could just go mudding, jump turn off a bridge, instead of the bullshit we have to deal with,” theorizes Williams. “The Kardashians space not what most of America is like.”

Last year, MTV confronted a looming, immoderately tan problem. Jersey Shore, after ~ six profitable (though declining) seasons, to be coming come an end. Throughout the network, prime-time ratings were under by 31 percent over the previous year. Wall Street analysts who cover Viacom had actually turned acerbic about MTV’s programming, and one publicly asked CEO Philippe Dauman if MTV was “broken.” MTV appeared to think so, happen in a brand-new head that programming in November. The network necessary a struggle to change Jersey Shore, and also it believed it had found it in Buckwild, which that explicitly advocated as having actually the very same “region-specific” appeal.