LOS ANGELES -- The clock is ticking for "Jersey Shore."
The boozy reality TV series about a group of self-proclaimed "guidos" and "guidettes" cohabiting in a run-down Seaside Heights, N.J., party house is winding down as its sixth _ and MTV promises final _ season gets under way almost three years after it debuted and became a pop-cultural situation spawning catchphrases, punch lines, hairdos and tabloid fodder.
Don't remind the show's cast. They're not quite ready for their 15 minutes of fame to end.
"That was the longest 15 minutes of my life!" Ronnie Ortiz-Magro boasted during a recent interview with his pals.
"We got, like, a half hour," joked Paul "DJ Pauly D" DelVecchio.
What began as yet another MTV reality show _ "The Real World" with fist-pumping Italian-American twentysomethings _ became one of the network's biggest hits. Over the past five seasons, the Thursday night show dominated the Nielsen ratings, drawing as many as 8 million viewers and consistently ranking as the No. 1 cable series in the 12-to-34-year-old demographic.
As the popularity of "Jersey Shore" grew, so did disdain for the series documenting the drunken antics of Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino and company. Italian-American anti-defamation groups lashed out at "Jersey Shore" for its stereotypical portrayals. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie once deemed it "negative for New Jersey."
Despite the continued unapologetic success of the series, MTV announced this summer that the sixth edition would be the last call for the "Jersey Shore" cast and crew, who fled winter for Miami Beach in the second season and traveled to Italy for the fourth edition. It's a bittersweet moment for the tanned troupe, who have no interest in fading out of the spotlight.
"Everything has to come to an end," said DelVecchio. "`Sopranos' ended. `Entourage' ended. `Jersey Shore' has to end. It's only a chapter of our lives. Now, another chapter of our lives is opening. We're just gonna use that tool. Whoever is smart enough to make the right decisions will make it last forever. That's the name of the game: making it last forever."
The start of the sixth season, again filmed over the summer in Seaside Heights, N.J., found the cast at very different places in their lives: Polizzi was six months pregnant and engaged, Deena Nicole Cortese had just dropped several pounds and gained a boyfriend, and Sorrentino vowed to stay sober after a stint in rehab for an addiction to painkillers.
"I took it day by day," said Sorrentino. "I knew it was going to be an obstacle in how I was going to handle it, how they were going to handle it and how our relationship would change, if it changed at all. I just took it moment by moment. I tried to be the best Mike that I can be. Pauly, Ronnie and the whole crew really helped me get through the season."
"It was good because most of the time Mike was in the house, he wasn't sober and he was causing problems," said Ortiz-Magro. "It was good to have Mike come into the house with a clean slate and apologize to everyone and say, `I want to be your friend. I'm not here to be your roommate. I'm here to be your friend.' That was a good feeling, for me at least."
So after living the past three in front of MTV _ and paparazzi _ cameras, are the castmates going to miss all the attention, and those lucrative endorsement deals?
"As long as we're all happy, successful, doing what we love to do after this I'm sure that's all that matters," said Samantha Giancola, who recently moved in with Ortiz-Magro, her on-again, off-again boyfriend from the show.
DelVecchio is waiting to hear if his spin-off, "The Pauly D Project," will be picked up for a second season, while Polizzi and Jenni "JWoww" Farley recently wrapped up filming a sophomore installment of their series, "Snooki & JWoww." Farley, who recently got engaged to boyfriend Roger Mathews, isn't opposed to televising her possibly Las Vegas-set nuptials.
"I would only because my fans got to see my relationship unfold on `Jersey Shore' _ from meeting Roger to him asking me out on our first date, for our first and second anniversaries, so why not?" said Farley, who is counting her female "Jersey Shore" mates among her bridesmaids. "But Roger's a very private person, so I have to do some convincing."
Farley acknowledged that she sees parallels between the "Jersey Shore" cast and The Next Big Thing in guilty pleasure reality TV: "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," the popular TLC reality TV series about 6-year-old beauty pageant regular Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson and her family from McIntyre, Ga.
"I look at them like us because we're different in society," said Farley. "They're different in society, but they're such an amazing family, and we're an amazing family. Everyone loves them because they're themselves." She added: "They're funny. They're hysterical. There's nothing they're doing wrong. I love them for that."
MTV is a unit of Viacom Inc.
Associated Press Writer Alicia Rancilio in New York contributed to this report.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang.