It's hard to remember it now, but when "Jersey Shore" debuted in 2009, Mike "the Situation" Sorrentino was the stand-out star who caught everyone's eye. Yes, Snooki has always been Snooki, but the Situation arrived on the shore as a character that none of us had ever seen on TV before: bold, loud, full of catchphrases and towing behind him one of the greatest nicknames in reality TV history.
"The real Mike is somebody who is a positive person, a generous person. A loyal person," said Sorrentino about the man he was when he got his first shot at stardom on the show. "Somebody that's gonna help you if you call me up and say, 'Mike, I got a flat tire.' I'm there, you know?"
When "Jersey Shore" debuted, Sorrentino said the person you saw frolicking in the clubs and on the beach, getting his GTL on and working the ladies was the real Situation. "In the beginning of 'Jersey Shore,' for sure, that was the real Mike. That's the Mike that I know, that's the Mike I love. And that's the Mike I strive to be every day."
But as he told MTV News' Sway Calloway in an exclusive interview, by season three, that guy began to fade into the distance and he turned into a recluse who picked fights with his roommates and nearly drove them to the breaking point.
Once he began abusing prescription painkillers, Sorrentino said he transformed into the "total opposite" of that person. "In the beginning of my career, everybody knew it, it was no secret that I loved the spotlight. I basked in it. And then all of a sudden, I turned into this person who was reclusive, or hiding."
He stopped hanging around with family and going to the gym. When the latter happened, that's when the rest of the Sorrentino clan began to ask questions. "Once I stopped going to the gym the family started to immediately notice," he said. "They were like, 'Why isn't Mike going to the gym? Is he OK?'"
Looking back, he sees how he went from being the hero in the first two seasons to a "villain" in seasons three, four and five. "At that time I didn't mind," he said about his slide to the dark side. "I figured somebody's gotta be the villain. [But] I'm definitely not that person today for sure. I don't have any animosity towards anybody."
Now that he's gotten sober, Mike said he doesn't hold any grudges or anger against his castmates, whom he realizes he will be connected with in people's minds and hearts, for the rest of his life. "During the last 80 days I've received an e-mail from Vinny, texts from Pauly, I think a text from Ronnie, text from Jenni," he said of his housemates. "At the end of the day, all the kids care for each other. I'm sure some of them didn't know how to handle it."
Curiously, Mike did not mention the one person he's had the most complicated relationship with on the show: Snooki. "We went through the same things," he said of the formerly tight friends. "We used to be very close, to the point where she would call me up and say, 'Yo, I just saw an article about you, is that true?' She had my back and I had her back too. We were close for a long time ... I am going to say that I am upset that we're not as close as we are today. I care about the girl, for sure."
Sorrentino said he regretted hurting Snooki's feelings in the past and that if he could turn back time he would definitely do things differently.
But what will the new season the "Shore" on the horizon be like with a pregnant, sober Snooki dealing with the impending arrival of her little man, as well as a newly sober Situation? "Of course my family is concerned about my health, but at the same time they trust my judgment," Sorrentino said about concerns over him returning to the place where he was often depicted drinking and carrying on with his "Shore" cohorts.
Asked if he would be back at his old haunts like Karma, Mike said, "Oh, hell yeah!" And when Sway wondered if that could pose a problem, Sorrentino quickly replied, "Nah."
Why? Because he feels like a changed man.
"Mike today? I wake every day these days with a smile," he said of the new Situation. "Happy to be alive. Happy to have the family that I have. Happy to have the fans that I have, the friends. Happy to be involved in the show ... almost like a smell-the-roses moment. I'm happy where I'm at, man. I love what I do ... I know where I am and I know where I'm gonna be and that's all that counts."