Tuesday, January 23, 2018
TV and Media

'My Big Redneck Vacation' ventures to Gulfport

GULFPORT

The situation seems tailor made for reality TV: Take a so-called "redneck" family from Shreveport, La., plunk them down in a commune filled with eccentric hippies, and watch the cultures clash.

So when the board that runs Gulfport's Blueberry Patch artist retreat got a call from the producers of the CMT Channel's My Big Redneck Vacation last year, fears about being made the butt of a televised joke fell away quickly.

In fact, as board secretary Liza Epstein tells the story, they expected it.

"We knew exactly what it was they were doing and we played it up," said Epstein, 24, who is shown washing her feet in the family's traveling bus midway through tonight's episode. "Everybody knows reality TV is for entertainment purposes. (Nobody) believes reality TV is real."

The series features an extended family from Shreveport who are taken to vacation in places where the culture clash might produce entertainment. This season, the family — known as the Clampets, of course — isn't told where they are headed, just transported on a bus to a new location and urged to investigate.

In the episode featuring Gulfport, the show's cameras show abandoned storefronts and houses before pulling up to the Patch, where local residents gather regularly to hear local bands perform in a bohemian setting.

As the Clampets enter the Patch, they are greeted with people twirling Hula Hoops, painting abstract shapes on canvases and practicing yoga. Before long, they're sitting in a circle, blowing on a didgeridoo and asking the family to share stories.

It's an episode that piles on the stereotypes about both Southern culture and the free spirits who help run the Patch. But Epstein said there were also some real moments where the Clampet family connected with some of their activities.

"It's a fast-forward through what the Patch is," she said, noting that the show calls the Patch a commune, though it is not, and shows a bunch of activities that might take place over a longer period of time happening at once.

Comic Tom Arnold, who began hosting the vacation show after first fronting CMT's My Big Redneck Wedding, said the show mines its entertainment from letting the family make fun of themselves.

"They bring their perceived stereotypes of other people with them," he said, touting an episode in a few weeks where they spend time with a Muslim family in Michigan. "These folks haven't been outside Louisiana, but it usually resolves well. They find out they have more in common (with people they meet) than they thought."

Arnold has become the face of several "redneck" series on CMT — "I think they just wanted a host somebody would know," he cracked — noting that his background growing up in a small Iowa town helps him relate to the family's adventures.

"I'm like a cousin that comes to the family reunion," said the comic, who delivers wisecracks at a studio in Los Angeles that are edited into the show. "I get criticized for being a redneck here (in California) and for not being a redneck in the South."

Epstein said her only disappointment was that the show didn't film bands performing at the Patch.

"Music was really what we're known for," she said. "But it would have been hard to edit scenes together with music playing (in the background)."

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