Second season of 'Breaking Amish' set in Sarasota

An Amish Mafia cast member was convicted of DUI in Sarasota, which was shown.
An Amish Mafia cast member was convicted of DUI in Sarasota, which was shown.
Published May 6, 2013

AT FIRST, it hardly sounds like the makings of a great reality TV show.

That's because, when you ask Breaking Amish executive producer Eric Evangelista about filming the show's second season in Sarasota's Pinecraft neighborhood, he's got nothing but nice things to say.

"All the Amish and ex-Amish and Mennonite people down there were really nice," said Evangelista of people in the community "It's a great place to film. … Sarasota is ridiculously beautiful."

But fans of Breaking Amish's first season know that pleasant surroundings didn't turn the show into TLC's highest-rated freshman series, drawing an average 3.2 million viewers per episode. More likely, eyeballs were drawn to five young people who claimed to be from the strict religious culture, shown drinking alcohol, cursing, fighting and getting lap dances from a stripper during a sojourn to New York City.

The show's second season, Breaking Amish: Brave New World, debuts at 10 p.m. Sunday. It features the five stars spending time in Pinecraft, known as the "Amish Riviera" for its status as a winter vacation spot for Amish and Mennonites from Northern towns.

But some local residents already had heard about the show and its cousin, Discovery Channel's Amish Mafia, which is also produced by Evangelista's Hot Snakes Media and was filmed in Sarasota in January. They heard allegations the show was filled with people who weren't members of the culture anymore and were concocting stories for the cameras.

And they weren't necessarily happy to see them come to town.

"I asked (a location scout) 'What's the premise of the show?' " said Kathryn Graber, the co-owner of the Village Cupboard, an Amish grocery store in Pinecraft. "She said, 'It's a reality show; we come to the community, we stir up drama and film it.' I said 'We would want to be a part of this … why?' "

Katie Troyer, an 11-year resident, was born and raised Amish and retains respect for the culture though she doesn't belong to an Amish church. She also has assisted TV crews from PBS and NBC's Today show filming in the area.

Troyer said a crew from Breaking Amish was prevented from filming a bluegrass band performing for a crowd and asked to leave a park pavilion in mid February. She said producers filming for PBS had similar problems, because people assumed they were also from Hot Snakes Media.

"Most of the Amish people in Pinecraft never did like media producers, but they were tolerated," Troyer wrote in an email. "But when Breaking Amish came into Pinecraft, the Amish had reached their limit, because of what they heard but not seen on TV about Amish Mafia and Breaking Amish."

A local restaurant, Der Dutchman, saw enough backlash from allowing the group to film a meal there, that its parent company issued a statement emphasizing the corporate office didn't support the production.

"We don't approve of the shows and the way they distort the Amish way of life," said Vicki VanNatta, marketing manager for Der Dutchman owner Dutchman Hospitality Group, a chain of restaurants, inns and retails shops rooted in the history of Amish and Mennonite communities. She recalled one customer who worried after seeing an episode of Amish Mafia (which depicts a group of tough guys who supposedly act as unofficial police for an Amish community in Pennsylvania) if she would be safe visiting one of their establishments.

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"When you know nothing of the Amish and you see it on TV, I guess you believe it," VanNatta added.

The Amish seem easy targets, both for their reticence to speak with outsiders and cultural codes that often include living in homes without electricity or much technology. So they won't necessarily see the programs or muster much organized opposition (such TV productions can spend $15,000 to $60,000 a day in communities, according to the Sarasota County Film & Entertainment Office).

Breaking Amish has been criticized for exaggerating the period known as rumspringa, when adolescents can adopt more contemporary ways as they decide if they will live their adult life within the culture.

Critics online pointed to evidence that some cast members had left the culture long before the show and that one couple who was portrayed as meeting each other on the program may have known each other long before. Amish Mafia cast member Alvin Lantz was also arrested and convicted of driving under the influence in Sarasota; an incident shown on television.

"These are real stories," insisted Evangelista. "The Amish community, when you leave, they're hard on you. That's what's happened in Pinecraft. It's the same thing that's happened with their families."

So, if the cast is bound to be rejected by Amish, why set the second season in Pinecraft if not to gin up conflict?

"They like to be around the same people they grew up with," Evangelista said, noting that cast member Jeremiah Raber lives in Sarasota. "I think they didn't expect them to act that way."

The question left for Pinecraft: What to do if a second successful season of Breaking Amish brings more reality TV attention?