LOS ANGELES — It became one of the most talked about Jersey Shore moments.
Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and an unidentified male partygoer sloshed drinks at each other in a berserk bar brawl. The slaphappy altercation, however, hasn't aired on MTV. That's because the boozy battle was hastily captured on a low-grade camera and posted online months before the cultural phenomenon's second chapter is scheduled to debut.
The just-push-upload incident is the latest example of how instantaneous media is simultaneously building buzz and spoiling reality TV. The intentionally raw medium relies heavily on spontaneity, or at least something resembling spontaneity, and doesn't pack the same punch without Never Before Seen Footage or The Most Shocking Elimination Ever.
"It's a blessing and a curse," said Jersey Shore executive producer Sally Ann Salsano. "You're always grateful when people want to talk about your show, but in the end, those same people are the ones that take things, like what happened with Snooki, out of context. I know I'll have a chance to tell my story, but more people are going for the cheap shot."
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Reality TV spoilers have been around since CBS first stranded a group of 16 strangers in Borneo for the inaugural season of Survivor. Restrictive nondisclosure agreements that threaten legal action, signed by anyone exposed to a reality-TV production, are usually enough to keep the most important plot lines from leaking onto the Internet or elsewhere.
Newer tactics include forbidding the use of social media during filming. For example, the Jersey Shore ensemble said ciao to Twitter before they moved down to Miami. Even if contestants are allowed to post online during production, such as the ninth season American Idol finalists sporadically do, the updates are usually overseen by the show's producers.
Curiosity remains high though, especially when cracks emerge in the barrier between a show still in production and the rest of the world. Just ask manufacturing sales representative Steve Carbone, who has been dishing dirt about ABC's sudsy dating franchises The Bachelor and The Bachelorette for nearly seven years on his Web site RealitySteve.com.
"I'm not doing anything wrong," said Carbone, who lives in Dallas. "I'm just relaying information that's told to me. People can choose to believe it or not. It's just my track record has proven that I know what's going on. People that have come to know me know that I've gotten two out of the last three seasons dead on and told people exactly what will happen."
Carbone, who said he's never been told to stop spoiling the show by the producers or the network, insisted he has sources close to the production that provide him with his info. However, many amateur sleuths are able to stitch together what's happening on a reality-TV series simply by searching online, scouring for clues in status updates and photos.
"We glean information from wherever we can — Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, whatever," said college student Ron Lee, who operates the spoiler Web site TVFanSpace.com. "That's the nature of the fun that comes from trying to spoil reality TV. You try to get as much information as possible since everyone is chomping at the bit to know what's going to happen next."