SIESTA KEY — On a sprawling couch in a Siesta Key mansion, eight young adults sit posing for photos, talking and laughing with one another. They behave like old friends, perhaps assembling before a day on the beach or a night out at the nearby Beach Club.
They are the cast of “Siesta Key,” a new MTV reality show premiering July 31, the network announced. The 10-episode series follows a group of 19- to 25 year-olds over a summer, with some returning home from college while others live full-time in Sarasota.
Yet even before airing, the show has caused controversy with locals concerned it will transform their upscale coastal community with the world-famous beach into the next Jersey Shore.
“I’m ready for it to get out there because a lot of people don’t know what the show’s about,” said main cast member Alex Kompothecras, 22. “It’s a lot of misjudgment. So I’m ready, I’m anxious for people to get this on the air.”
To help promote the show, MTV held a press event at the Siesta Key mansion owned by Alex’s father Gary Kompothecras, a chiropractor known for founding the 1-800-ASK-GARY legal and medical referral service who is also currently trying to build a hotel on Siesta Key.
Cast members get passed off one-by-one to media outlets spread across the mansion’s expansive entrance and main sitting room, with its overlooking balconies, spiral staircase, wide-spanning skylight window and ornate furniture. Glass doors lead to a pool overlooking the sugary sand beach.
“I’d call this pretty much the headquarters of where a lot of filming is done,” Alex said. “This is where we hang out though, you know what I mean? I’ve always been the one that has everyone come over.”
Soon he’ll welcome the public, perhaps millions of eyeballs from across the country, into his house.
The question is now how will the masses receive him.
From pilot to MTV
“Siesta Key” originated about two years ago as Gary watched Alex and his friends’ life of boating, fishing, going to the beach and partying.
“I go, ‘You guys are really having a hell of a lifestyle,‘” Gary said. “I said this would be a good reality show. Plus they’re good kids, so that was the main thing, they weren’t bad kids. I said this would be a good story because when I was growing up, you had ‘Father Knows Best,’ you had ‘My Three Sons,’ you had people with values and I didn’t see that in the TV of late.”
Gary paid for a Jacksonville production company to film a pilot. Alex said the pilot was pretty similar to what they’ve currently been filming, following his relationships with friends and family.
Besides Alex, the initial cast featured his cousin, the 25-year-old Pauly Apostolides who moved to Sarasota from Washington, D.C. Then there’s Alex’s longtime friend Chloe Trautman, 21, who attends a cosmetology school in Sarasota; his high school girlfriend Madisson Hausburg, 23, who recently graduated from Southern Methodist University with an engineering degree; and their friend Juliette Porter, 19, a sophomore at Florida State University.
After finishing the pilot, the senior Kompothecras and his son sent it to various networks, who did not respond. It took about a year before they heard back from MTV.
“MTV called up out of the blue and said, ‘Listen, this is what we’ve been looking for,’” Gary said.
Filming for the full season started in early April, shooting at several local businesses including Casey Key Fish House and Tiki Bar, where Trautman and new cast member Kelsey Owens work. They also filmed at Siesta Key Village and Big Pass Sandbar and in Sarasota. In one episode, the group takes a trip to the Bahamas island of Bimini.
The 20-year-old Owens lived in St. Louis before leaving high school to model internationally, then moved to the Sarasota area about a year ago when her mother, who has multiple sclerosis, thought she’d be happiest here.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to travel anyways, I’m never going to be home, if it’s what going to make my mom happy, then that’s OK,’” Owens said. “Then we moved here and then I ended up taking a break from modeling, so I ended up living here.”
Owens’ boyfriend Garrett Miller, a 21-year-old personal trainer who was born and raised in Sarasota, was also added to the cast.
And Brandon Gomes, 22, who has known Alex since childhood, was approached by Alex to help diversify the cast. An aspiring musician, model and actor with an interest in fashion, he saw the show as a career opportunity.
Apostolides is also an aspiring musician, a trained pianist who started writing rap tracks while dealing with juvenile trouble in D.C., he said at the press event.
He was charged in Sarasota County this year for contempt of court failure to appear on a previous marijuana possession charge. Apostolides was arrested in 2015 for possession and fraudulent display of a handicap parking permit.
Nearly every cast member emphasized that “Siesta Key” won’t be like the infamous MTV reality show “Jersey Shore,” instead likening it to the network’s less scandalous reality shows “The Hills” and “Laguna Beach.” They hope viewers will relate to their friendships, relationships and struggles to plan for the future.
“I hope they take away from the show that a group of friends can come together, have some drama, but still keep it classy and not be trashy,” Apostolides said. “We’re not a ‘Jersey Shore,’ we do have problems on the show, but for the most part we’re all really good people.”
Though MTV hadn’t officially announced the show until now, a 10-second television spot aired in May during the network’s Movie & TV Awards show, proclaiming “From The Hills to the Beach, Welcome to Siesta Key.”
The owners of local businesses featured on the show have expressed support and hope the show will attract more visitors. But numerous residents, many also occupying Siesta Key’s numerous mansions and million dollar condos, have voiced concerns about that it will bring an influx of college-aged vacationers to an already crowded area, particularly as Siesta Beach was named the No. 1 beach in the country again this year by Dr. Beach.
“I think ever since Siesta Key got voted the No. 1 beach, it’s not like this hidden gem anymore,” Trautman said. “I feel like some people think we’re exploiting Sarasota and Siesta Key, but really we’re just beautifying the city.”
She thinks it will bring a younger crowd to Siesta Key, which Gary agrees with. He said it could also potentially benefit tourism and increase tax revenue.
“There’s always people that don’t like anything, there’s always going to be haters out there of anything you do,” Gary said. “You just ignore those people and you do what you think’s right.”
Alex said there are still misconceptions about Siesta Key, like that it’s part of the Florida Keys or that it’s only for older people.
He thinks “Siesta Key” will change that by giving the community a national spotlight.
“It’s going to show that there is youth in this town and there’s not just youth with money that act like brats,” Alex said. “I think they’re going to be like these people actually appreciate what they have and they live it up.”