"At the end of six seasons, six beautiful seasons, it's like high school -- time to graduate and go to college," Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino told CNN as he and his cast mates bid farewell to their MTV hit "Jersey Shore" at the New York Television Festival.
And just like after high school, it's time for the "Jersey Shore" cast to really get to work, just like the reality TV stars who came before them.
The "Jersey Shore" cast members are all expanding their empires while also giving back to the community that made them famous, via a planned one-hour fund-raiser to rebuild the actual Jersey Shore, which was devastated along with other areas on the East Coast during Hurricane Sandy.
"Restore the Shore" will be broadcast live from Times Square on Thursday, November 15, at 11 p.m. ET and tape-delayed on the West Coast. Unlike the graduates of "American Idol," "Project Runway," or even "The Hills," the self-proclaimed guidos of the "Jersey Shore" represent a region. Love them or hate them (or love to hate them), the TV special may bolster their reputations (not to mention their brands) when they might have been criticized for leaving the area a little worse for wear.
"I think of everyone in the celebrity world, we get bullied the most," said Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi. "People are just mean to us. Yes, I got drunk, I blacked out, I got arrested, but that's what happens to everybody. They just don't have a camera following them."
The final episode of "Jersey Shore" airs December 13, and with the end in sight, the cast are thinking about what to do when the party's over, spinoffs notwithstanding. Sammi Giancola is going back to college to finish her sociology degree.
Ruthie Alcaide from season eight of "The Real World," who became a spokesperson for alcohol awareness, might provide a role model for Sorrentino, whose own situation also involved a stint in rehab.
He doesn't think his hard-won sobriety had anything to do with the show coming to an end, but now that he's famous, he can't see himself falling back on his former career as a mortgage broker.
"I can't be 'the Situation' forever," he acknowledged, adding that he hopes to milk it for a little while longer (at least until the next TV gig comes along). He's also written a comic book using his "Jersey Shore" persona as a superhero: "By day he is Mike, almost like Clark Kent, and by night, he is 'the Situation,' who has the power of persuasion with females and gets that power from a tanning bed."
Sorrentino also hopes to make other endorsement and branding deals, pending an unresolved suit from Viacom over copyright of phrases that originated on the show.
The highest-earning member of the "Jersey Shore" cast, Paul "Pauly D" DelVecchio, who banked a reported $11 million last year, knows he can't rely on his reality-TV fame. The DJ signed with 50 Cent's record label and is coproducing an album with the rap mogul. (He's also partnered with 50 to put out a line of headphones and will DJ Britney Spears' wedding).
"I'm actually applying for unemployment now that the show's ending," he joked. "But I hear they pay you less now, so that's not going to work."
Already a queen of branding, Polizzi has more deals for her own fashion and beauty lines than the rest of the cast: indoor and sunless tanning, slippers, sunglasses, perfume, jewelry and a maternity line on the way. But this isn't enough, she said, so she's also getting into the music business, because the brands are not her long game.
"My parents, they're just trying to get everything out of this moment, and they want to have a family business, so we started Team Snooki Music," she said. "We're just trying to make a living so my kids can go to college, and they don't have to worry about anything. You have to plan."
Polizzi also hopes to get back on the air via her own TV talk show, "like a 'Chelsea Handler'-type show," she told CNN, "late at night, when I can talk about anything, because I have no filter."
Her BFF Jenni "JWoww" Farley is less ambitious, setting her sights on a television career behind the scenes as a producer. While she plans to continue selling brands such as her tanning line, Farley said she wants to actually "create something."
"I would love to do a fun makeover show with young women and men to up their confidence," she said, "and then do a show about bullying, really break down the barriers and help change the laws behind them, because it's behind the times."
Farley might actually have a shot at launching one of these shows at MTV, she noted, because she's been shadowing the network's producers and executives just as much as they've been watching her these past six seasons.
"I could go to MTV and be like, 'Hey, do you
Deena Cortese doesn't think her previous career as a dental assistant is in the cards anymore, because the show has tainted her reputation, not improved it.
"Be honest," she said. "Would anybody trust me doing that anymore? Probably not." But she thinks she has another fallback position in the real world: starting her own beauty salon.
As they prepare to say goodbye to the perks of being (temporarily) famous -- "I'm going to miss getting courtside seats to the Knicks games!" Pauly D said -- they always have the inevitable reunion show to look forward to, because, as show creator SallyAnn Salsano said, we've never seen the real "Jersey Shore."
"What really happened in that house, no one knows," she said. "You guys got the PG-version."
Could the fund-raiser special change the cast members' reputations? Will it help them succeed at their goals? It's too soon to tell, but at least it shows a new side of people who were about to be typecast forever.