Siesta Key Is Leaving Sarasota Behind, But It Never Got Our City Right Anyway
It’s been five years since MTV’s Siesta Key first graced our screens and, at the time, we—or at least I—had few expectations for the series. The premise of eight beautiful young people exploring the glimmer of young adulthood in a stunning Florida seaside town promised to recall MTV’s reality TV golden age. There was a time when Laguna Beach and The Hills were genuine phenomena, when dissecting the mascara tear and "You know what you did" were to the late 2000s what debating a new Taylor Swift album is to our times.
By 2017, when Siesta Key debuted, that era had passed, but the show offered something completely different than its more famous predecessors—it was a boondoggle. It had a wealthy benefactor: 1-800-ASK-GARY’s Gary Kompothecras, who was none other than the father of the original protagonist. Kompothecras paid for the pilot, inspired by the “hell of a lifestyle” led by his son and his friends, quickly clarifying in an interview that they were nevertheless “good kids.”
Still, the show had one thing we could all hold onto: It was ours. It may not have reflected the Siesta Key or the Sarasota we knew, but those aerial shots showed our city, our beaches, our place. We could squint at the screen as the cast met for an afternoon coffee or weekend morning mimosa—was that The Overton or the Sarasota Modern? We’d been there just last week, even if there was no camera crew trailing our every move.
But now, with a sudden announcement and name change, MTV has taken even that small joy away from us. The show is now as far removed from its founder as it could possibly be. It retains only a vestige of its past in its absurd title: Siesta Key: Miami Moves.
Miami Moves is the whopping fifth season of the series, and it seems like it will take place almost entirely in South Florida. Each cast member has their stated reasons for “leaving the nest,” as MTV puts it. Brandon wants to boost his music career, Chloe is toasting the start of married life and Juliette has big dreams for her swimwear line.
But it’s clear from the publicity photo of the cast whose dreams come first. There is Juliette in a glittering sequin dress in the foreground, flanked by her castmates a few steps back. She is clearly the lead singer who has outgrown her band, mere minutes away from embarking on her solo project. MTV appears to be the manager, not quite ready to let go just yet.
On its face, the decision makes sense. In fact, if the show delved into the reality of living in Sarasota with any nuance, it might be able to make a point here: The city remains a hard place for young people, even wealthy ones, to make a life. It takes a special kind of person to make young adulthood work in Sarasota, a person who is willing to make sacrifices—less diversity, culture and entertainment—for some distinct advantages: beautiful beaches and a peaceful lifestyle. I myself couldn’t do it for long.
But MTV’s Siesta Key has never wanted to wade into the real flaws of living here. This is a show that insisted on calling every place “the Key,” regardless of the fact that the bulk of Sarasota is not on Siesta Key.
The move to Miami is being portrayed as a flight into adulthood, but what has always stumped me about this cast is that they are already adults. They have just never been forced to see themselves that way, spending much of their young adulthood shrouded in the world that Siesta Key created. That comes with downsides, like unwarranted online criticism on just about every part of their lives, but it also comes with a clear upside: a motivation to act young and chaotic for as long as possible. After all, that’s the best way to keep people watching.
Still, the cast appears ready to grow up, whatever that might mean. Juliette implied in an interview that she could not have made this move any younger—25 was the right age. It’s important to put this in perspective: This cast is in their mid- to late 20s, wealthy and moving with childhood friends to a city roughly three and a half hours by car from their hometown. There’s very little chance of the group experiencing the kind of real failure that plagues struggling 20-somethings.
All this is to say that Siesta Key has never tried to answer any of the hard questions. The show has never even really posed them. A search for any kind of real depth is fruitless.
Whether Miami Moves is the beginning of the end for the show or just a change of scenery that allows it to veer in a different direction remains to be seen. But Juliette, our lead, has already made one thing clear: She’s not going back to “small town” Sarasota. If MTV ever wants to return to the show’s namesake locale, she says, they’ll likely be filming without her.