There was something about MTV’s Siesta Key that intrigued me from the very first season.
Perhaps it was because I felt personally invalidated by the show. Here were young, wealthy, beautiful 20-somethings allegedly living a life in Sarasota that felt very much out of reach for the rest of us. I was 22 and working as a reporter when the show's first season aired, jetting from community events to protests and running back to the office to write it all down. But when I turned on my TV, I was flummoxed to see the cast of Siesta Key spending most of their time at the bar of Casey Key Fish House.
Now, four years later, the show wrapped its fourth season in early August and the cast has aged. One member recently announced her pregnancy. Two have competing bathing suit lines—a major plot point on the show this season. And some have even left or been asked to leave the entire enterprise.
Yet when I watch each new episode, I feel like the cast is frozen in amber. I think of what I’ve done in the last four years—moved jobs, moved cities, started my own business. And I think how different the cast's lives are from the general trajectories expected of people in their early- to mid-20s. These are the years we find ourselves, find our passions, find our relationships. For the cast of Siesta Key, the North Star they’ve returned to is this reality show. I wonder whether this experience has changed their lives or paralyzed them. But the answer, of course, can be both.
While the cast may return to their old relationship dynamics each season, one thing has changed while Siesta Key remains the same: Sarasota. The city and region are not the place they were when the show first started, and that’s reflected in many of the backdrops used in filming. Siesta Beach and the Ringling Bridge Causeway Park are two stalwart favorites for their sweeping views of the water and lush tropical atmosphere. But other popular spots have creeped into recent seasons, including the Rosemary District’s trendy Overton.
A representative for the show did not respond to a request for comment regarding how many locations Siesta Key has used and its favorites.
At Visit Sarasota County, officials at the local tourism agency have not noticed many general questions from Sarasota travelers about the show and the cast’s haunts.
“I’m sure many visitors are aware of the show and its location, but typically not interested in covering that or what some of the cast may be doing while here,” said Nate Sweetman, the communications and public relations coordinator for Visit Sarasota County.
Still, for the people who do watch, debating the cast’s relationship squabbles and poring over their social media accounts is a matter of serious business. A Facebook group about the show boasts more than 30,000 members who wonder almost daily whether two cast members are still together or why one chose to malign another in such a way.
Thirty-two-year-old Rebecca Blanton is one of those avid fans. She grew up in Connecticut but visited her grandparents in Sarasota growing up. She started watching Siesta Key because she was intrigued by its location and enjoyed reality TV. How would they portray Sarasota, she wondered?
“The show makes it seem very ritzy and glamorous with beautiful beaches,” she said. “It is like that for the most part, but I feel like the show doesn’t fully reflect all of Sarasota. It’s more of a real place with more diversity than the show might reflect.”
Blanton is one of the only Siesta Key fans she knows. When she tells her friends about the show, they look at her incredulously. In her early 30s, she wonders if she’s too old to watch a program about twenty-somethings living from party to party. But she still does. (And there’s no such thing as too old for any TV show.)
Through the course of the show’s four seasons, Blanton herself has made some serious life changes. She spent the last seven years of her life in Manhattan but never really loved the big city life or the cold weather. Six months after the start of Covid, she came down to Florida with plans to stay through the winter and help her 92-year-old grandmother. She thought she’d be back in New York by February or March, but she eventually got a job as a hospice social worker and things started to fall into place. She now lives here permanently.
For her, Siesta Key now serves a different kind of function. Instead of a nostalgic look at fond memories from her childhood, Blanton sees a reminder of the joys of her new life reflected in each episode.
“I’ll look at the scenery of the beaches and the restaurants and I’m really glad I’m in Sarasota,” she said. “It does remind me of how pretty it is.”