From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
AFTER WRAPPING a photo shoot one recent Friday night, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi couldn't wait to start her weekend. But instead of rounding up her BFFs, teasing her infamous poof and heading out for a night of raucous revelry, the Jersey Shore star did something even more shocking: She tweeted "Sleepies!!!" to her 1.2 million Twitter followers, retreated to her hot-pink bedroom and hit the sack.

Could this really be the same woman who, for three seasons on her hit MTV reality show, routinely guzzled Long Island iced teas like water and warned that she would attack a castmate "like a squirrel monkey"? "I'm not a party girl!" declares Polizzi, 23, who still lives with her mother in Marlboro, N.Y., just as she did before Shore, when she was studying to become a veterinary technician. Seriously? She reconsiders: "That's me...but not really." When the cameras are off, she adds, "I like to be alone and quiet."

But she was neither of those things on the show's Jan. 17 episode: After a particularly long drinking binge, Polizzi was arrested for disorderly conduct in Seaside Heights, N.J. (Criminal charges were later dropped.) "It was really hard to watch because I was blacked out and don't remember what happened," she says of the incident last July, during which she cursed at policemen and fell face-first into the sand. Even so, Polizzi-who was fined $500 and sentenced to two days of community service for disturbing beachcombers-insists, "I definitely don't have a drinking problem. I don't usually have the urge to drink unless I'm on the show, and [even then] I only like to go out on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. We don't party as much as it looks like." (Now she restricts her non-Shore imbibing to only "a couple" drinks with friends.)

When they heard about the arrest, her parents were alarmed-and her dad, Andy, 52, threatened to remove her from the show if she got into more trouble. "Nobody wants to see their child in that light," says mom Helen, 53. "But we all have to experience some things the hard way." Adds Andy: "She realized you must pay the consequences for what you do."

Polizzi has always tried to learn from her past, as she did when she developed an eating disorder as a high school junior. After smaller girls joined her cheerleading squad, she became obsessed with keeping her spot as a flier, no matter what it took. "I was eating a cracker a day and dropped to, like, 87 lbs.," says the 4'9" Polizzi. "If there was a pinch of fat on me, I was disgusted."

Her parents, who adopted her from Chile when she was an infant and divorced in her freshman year, were there for her, and when she stopped cheering after her senior year, she felt the pressure to be skinny melt away. Today, "I go to a trainer and I'm trying to eat right," says Polizzi, who sticks to egg whites, chicken, salads and clear liquids (her alcoholic beverage of choice is now a seltzer vodka). "I want to be healthy."

And happy. After enduring a string of boyfriends who tried to capitalize on her Shore fame, Polizzi met Jionni LaValle, 23, in Seaside Heights last August and has been dating him ever since. "I'm in a stage," she says giddily, "where I'm like, 'I want to marry you!'"

But who has time? Between her many paid appearances (see box), she has just shot a pilot for a possible TV show with her best friend, Jersey Shore castmate Jenni "J-WOWW" Farley, and in the spring, she'll head to Italy to film Shore's fourth season. She's also released her own slipper and jewelry lines as well as a novel, A Shore Thing. "I love my roommates, but I want to do my own thing," says Polizzi. Just don't expect to see her out of the spotlight any time soon. "I miss just being a normal girl," she says. "But this is so much better."