The seven cast members aren't worried about an influx of negative feedback since the show was announced.
MTV has a successful history of filming the dramatic lives of wealthy youth in California’s premier locales — think reality hits “Laguna Beach” and “The Hills.”
So, it’s no surprise the network headed out of California and across the country to document the glamorous lifestyle of young people along the shores of America’s No. 1 beach.
However, many Sarasota residents were taken aback after it was announced May 7 during the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” broadcast that MTV’s latest reality show would take place on Siesta Key. The news was met with a flood of negative responses online, with several residents taking to Facebook to express concern with how the show will portray the barrier island.
But the seven local cast members on whom the docu-series will center aren’t letting what they call the “haters” get them down.
“I don’t ever react to that kind of stuff,” says Florida State University student Juliette Porter, 19. “I want to show that we’re good kids. We have good values, we have goals, and we’re normal people as well.”
The series will premiere at 10 p.m. July 31 as the first of 10 one-hour episodes depicting the everyday lives of an affluent group of young Siesta Key and nearby Sarasota residents. The show follows the cast’s summer escapades as they, in the words of the MTV media release, “confront issues of love, heartbreak, betrayal, race, class and looming adulthood.” Cast members range in age from 19-23, and some are home on break from college while others are permanent residents. Six out of the seven were raised in Siesta Key or Sarasota.
Producer Mark Ford hopes the show can be both a guilty pleasure for viewers and a coming-of-age story.
“It’s a complex time, and they are dealing with a lot,” Ford says of the cast. “We depict all the thrills and challenges of that time in life when you are graduating from college and facing adult decisions for the first time.”
It all started when Siesta Key resident Gary Kompothecras, the chiropractor most known for his legal and medical referral service 1-800-ASK-GARY, chose to listen to his friends who often visit from northern states. After observing the luxurious life lived by his son Alex, 22, and his friends, they advised Kompothecras to pitch a reality show about young people on Siesta Key.
“My dad was like, ‘All right, I’m going to pull the trigger on this,’ so he had a smaller camera crew come down and film a pilot, which they sent off to the networks,” Alex Kompothecras says. “It wasn’t like I fantasized about being on a reality show, it just kind of happened.”
MTV picked up the show about a year after it was submitted. Filming began on the Key and in surrounding Sarasota locations in April and wrapped in July.
“Siesta Key” was made by the same producers who created “Laguna Beach.” MTV is making it known the show should be compared to “Laguna” or its popular spinoff, “The Hills,” rather than its more dramatic cousin, “Jersey Shore.” The premise of “Laguna Beach” was similar to “Siesta Key” in that the eight-person cast comprised young people growing up in California’s affluent Orange County. “Laguna” followed the highs and lows of the teenage experience, including love, heartbreak and friendship drama.
Cast member Brandon Gomes, a 22-year-old actor, model and musician, says he expected people to prejudge the show, but he’s not worried.
“Whenever you tell somebody you’re going to be part of a reality TV show, all they think is it’s going to be trash,” he says. “But I just keep trying to tell them to wait until it airs. It’s going to be classy.”
Siesta residents offended by the bikini-clad teens and sea of red Solo cups in the show’s trailer think the program will give the island a “party image.” But to cosmetology student Chloe Trautman, 21, this is just reality. She says she’s had to get used to being told where to go and when for shooting, but when the MTV team tells her to go to Kompothecras’ house for a party, that’s where she would have been anyway.
Gomes, who recently acted in local filmmaker KT Curran’s “The First Time Club,” says he’s used to being in front of the camera, but it was going without a script that was hard for him. He says the producers would give the cast “things to go off of,” but at the end, it’s reality.
“If it’s like we’re throwing a party, they’ll say, ‘All right, remember that your cast is here, and if there’s an opportunity to go talk to them, talk to them,’’’ he says. “And then they’ll give you stuff to go off, like, ‘Hey talk about this that happened yesterday.’”
Former international model Kelsey Owens, 20, says having cameras document emotional moments of her life — particularly her mother’s struggle with multiple sclerosis — has been the biggest challenge of being on the show.
“They have to dig in on all your personal information and things that are going on in your life that you’re not used to sharing with the world,” she says. “I think that was definitely the biggest adjustment, but I’m glad, because that’s what people can relate to.”
Recent Southern Methodist University graduate Madisson Hausburg, 23, agrees, saying it was hard to have her parents’ recent separation be a part of the show.
“These are real struggles that we’re going through, so I think if people can relate to those, they can see other people are going through them and it’s OK,” she says.
Owens is the self-described “new girl” to Siesta Key, having moved here seven months ago from Ballwin, Mo., so jumping into a group of locals who were all at least familiar with each other was another challenge.
Although MTV describes the cast as a “group of young friends,” Garrett Miller, a 21-year-old personal trainer described as Owens’ boyfriend on the show, says he only knew about half of the cast members before filming.
The original cast also included Kompothecras’ cousin, 25-year-old aspiring rapper Pauly Apostolides, but MTV is now referring to it as a seven-person cast with Apostolides as a “recurring character.”
All cast members agreed that shooting the show has been a positive experience, but Trautman didn’t totally agree with her bio on the MTV handout on the show's press day June. 20, which featured the phrase “most likely to stir up trouble.”
“I think it’s just that I’m a very honest person,” she says. “I do think it stirs up the pot a little bit, but that’s just always been my personality, to be almost abruptly honest at times and maybe not at all the best times but for me, it’s like don’t do something if you don’t want people to find out.”
Everyone says they took the gig because it was a great opportunity — and they were upfront about enjoying the exposure aspect. Miller hopes the show will help him expand his clientele as a personal trainer. Trautman and Gomes say they’ve learned a lot about the entertainment industry that will help them in their careers in the makeup and music worlds, respectively.
Porter sees it as an opportunity to change the stereotype of young people on reality TV.
“Just because I’m on a reality TV show doesn’t mean I’m crazy, doesn’t mean I don’t want to get an education, that I’m not smart or put together,” Porter says. “Our life isn’t super simple — just because we live in a beach town and we get to have a life like this doesn’t mean that everything’s perfect.”