One of the most successful reality shows ever on A&E, millions of people tuned in to follow the Robertson family and the hairy family’s controversial antics. Famous for their duck call gadget that has earned the family business millions of dollars, the Robertson’s projected firm Christian beliefs while causing endless debates with their rather right-wing perspectives. Despite its popularity, the series was dogged with controversy. But this scandal was so bad that it ultimately led to the show’s demise…
Despite becoming a huge star and earning himself a serious fortune, Phil certainly wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Growing up in a humble Louisiana home, Phil used to help his parents who grew their own food and raised livestock to feed themselves. In addition to the animals on the farm, the family used to hunt for their meat and, according to Phil”, lived like it was the 1850s”. Notwithstanding the hardships, he recalls his childhood as being a very happy time.
Even before the reality show made them famous, the Robertson’s had already established as a successful business. The family company, Duck Commander, reaped the rewards of their hard work and, in 1012, reported a $40 million income. Already comfortable, A&E paid the family generously to star in the reality show, making them seriously wealthy. But, as they say, money can’t buy you happiness and it wasn’t all plain sailing for the bearded clan, as you’ll soon find out. Some of the skeletons lurking in the Robertsons’ closet will shock you.
The popular reality show went behind the scenes of the Robertson family home, exposing their passionate Christianity and their complex family life. The show ran for five years, from 2012 onwards, and was watched by millions of viewers. It’s estimated that nearly 12 million people tuned in to watch the premiere of the fourth season, which made cable history. Never before had a non-fiction show pulled in such an enormous following and the scandals that were to come kept them glued to their TV sets.
Fame and Fiancé
Reed was just 18 years old when the show started, and the son of Jase and Missy Robertson wasn’t always comfortable with the fame. Fortunately for Reed, he found strength in his relationship with his high school girlfriend, Brighton Thompson, whom he married in October 2016. He proposed while the couple were on a trip to New York, presenting her with a diamond ring which she inherited from her family. Reed was so excited about his wedding, he posted on Instagram saying, “My fiancé is a babe in every way”.
Robertson’s Race Relations
Phil has some controversial views and has been slammed for making comments that have been perceived as both homophobic and racist. At the end of 2013, Phil expressed his opinion that things were better in the old days, under the so-called Jim Crow rules. According to Phil, everyone was happier back then: “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blue”. Unsurprisingly, Phil’s comments ruffled a few feathers, but this was nothing compared to some of the other scandals.
In addition to his provocative views on race, Phil hit the headlines after a video exposed some of his more scandalous opinions. Phil was filmed expressing the belief that girls should get married when they are still young teenagers. According to Phil, who started dating his wife when she was just 14, women make better wives if they are married at a younger age. In a clip, he said, “You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16. They’ll pick your ducks”.
Degrees of Design
Phil’s successful business is proof of his intelligence, but it still comes as a bit of a surprise to discover that, not only does he have an undergraduate degree in physical education, he also has a master’s degree in education. After completing his education, Phil invented the Duck Commander back in 1972 because he wanted a gadget that could perfectly reproduce the sound of a duck. After getting his invention patented, he established his own company, which is now run by his son, Willie, and makes millions of dollars.
Potential Football Star
Although most people would have leaped at the chance to become a star in NFL, Phil had other ideas. Despite being offered the opportunity to become a professional footballer, playing with the Washington Redskins, Phil decided he couldn’t make the necessary sacrifices to become a professional sportsman. Phil chose to spend his days chasing ducks instead and, it seems, he made the right decision, as well as making himself a fortune. Thanks to the television series, the family has earnt around $400 million from merchandise.
The Trump Card
A firm supporter of the Republican party, Phil initially endorsed Vance McAllister in the Presidential elections, endorsing him in a commercial. When McAllister dropped out, Phil turned his support to Donald Trump, along with other members of his family. Willie spoke out in support of Trump’s Presidential campaign, saying “If you’re looking for a job or trying to grow a business like I am, Donald Trump will have your back”. Not all members of the family agreed, however, with Willie’s wife, Korie, being quite adamantly anti-Trump.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Phil’s oldest son, Al, stands out from the rest with his clean-shaven face. Like the other members of his family, Al was a keen hunter and fisherman while he was growing up and was instrumental in building up the family business. Al left the company in the late Eighties to pursue his calling to become a minister. He later explained how his work helped him and his wife, Lisa, repair their relationship after her multiple affairs. “I believe there was something bigger than myself giving me assistance”, Al told Fox411.
Despite Alan’s firm religious commitment, the autobiographical book he co-wrote with his wife Lisa, revealed some scandalous events. In the book, entitled A New Season: A Robertson Family Love Story of Brokenness and Redemption, Alan reveals the details of his wilder years, including the drinking and drug-taking he indulged in as a teenager. The book also exposes the childhood humiliation that his future wife experienced when a male relative of hers molested her. She isn’t the only family member to have gone through such difficulties, as we’ll soon reveal.
What Willie Wants
The reality series pictures the Robertson family as an ordinary, down-to-earth group of people minding their own lucrative business but, in fact, Willie was as desperate for fame as he was for fortune. The family’s usually humble attitude was at odds with Willie’s desire for the limelight and it ended up causing problems within the household. The mastermind behind the hit show, Willie reportedly tried out for The Amazing Race but refused a place on Survivor. According to some, Willie orchestrated certain events to make the series more exciting.
While there are many so-called reality shows that are scripted and staged, the popularity of Duck Dynasty was due to the fact that many viewers believed it really was real. The family seemed genuine but, in 2014, an email was leaked that suggested the show’s producers were casting around for men to stand in for the real characters. The email asked for men with beards and long hair to send in their height and weight measurements if they wanted to be considered for a role.
Given some of the controversial statements by the star of the show, Phil Robertson, it’s understandable the producers were looking for replacements. After Phil’s interview appeared in the GQ magazine in 2013, the show’s star and father of the family was suspended from the show after he made anti-gay and racist comments. During the interview, Phil warned readers, “Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy…they won’t inherit the kingdom of God”. Phil was suspended as a result but reinstated nine days later.
Aftermath and Apologies
A year after his suspension, Phil decided it was time to set the records straight, so he went on Good Morning America to make an announcement. Phil admitted his mistake, saying “I’m as much of a homophobe as Jesus was. People who are participating in homosexual behavior, they need to know that I love them”. Phil went on to say, “There’s one race on this planet. It’s called the human race… We’re all the same”. But these scandals pale into insignificance compared to the next big revelation.
A Future in Jeopardy
Like his older brother, Al, Jep has revealed that he dabbled in drugs as a youngster, saying he “pretty much did anything that was put in front”. Jep clearly regrets some of his riskier adventures, including one night when he experienced a blackout. “I remember waking up [one night], I had one leg in my truck door, and it was on a gravel road and I was all skinned up”, Jep said. “And I drove somewhere that night… I hope I didn’t run over somebody. I don’t know”.
It’s no wonder Jep went off the rails when you consider that he was molested by an older female student while attending elementary school. In his book, Jep revealed that a girl he used to sit next to on the school bus did “strange things” to him. “She’d take my hands and push them up under her shirt and tell me I was tickling her”, Jep wrote. “Then she started making me pull down my pants… I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew something wasn’t right”.
As a result of his traumatic experiences, Jep tried to avoid school whenever he could: “I didn’t want to go to school. I had a lot of absences. … I think for a while I just tried to bury it so deep that I kind of forgot about it”. Jep believes God was challenging him, saying, “I think God put that on me for meeting someone like [my wife] Jessica who went through some hard times herself and I think it made our relationship stronger once we talked about it”.
Anti-Gay Worker Faces Dismissal
Despite the hardships facing the family, the American public were 100% behind the Robertson’s, to the extent that one Air Force worker risked his job expressing his support for Phil’s anti-gay perspectives. With his “I Support Phil” sticker brazenly displayed on his vehicle, the individual refused to back down. According to Alan Cooper of the local union chapter, the stickers could be seen as violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The workers kept their jobs when it was decided the tickers were protected under the First Amendment.
Friends in High Places
As the fame of the Robertson’s continued to soar, Willie and Korie were invited to attend the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in 2015. While they were there, the couple ended up having an impromptu meeting with Obama. Afterward, Willie revealed: “He said he loves the show and watches it on Air Force One”. Korie was also delighted by his response, saying, “I know the Obamas are very particular about what they let their girls watch on TV so if our show is one they find acceptable, that’s really great!”
Live and Let Live
Although Phil’s outspoken remarks about gay people made him unpopular in some sphere, the gossip magnate, Harvey Levin, decided to defend him on Twitter. Levin posted saying, “I’m gay and I don’t agree with Phil, but he has a right to his believes [sic]… it’s not hate-based … it’s religious… misdirected but his right”. Of course, anyone offended by his comments also has the option to not what the show or actively boycott it. There’s still more controversy to come so keep reading.
Producing the Evidence
Behind the scenes of Duck Dynasty, things were even more shocking than what was happening in front of the camera. The producers of the show, Deirdre and Scott Gurney, were fired and sued after it turned out they had established a new company simply to compete against the company they sold to ITV in 2012. The pair used their new company to inflate the rival’s net profits artificially. The Gurney’s were also charged with using their new company almost solely for covering their personal expenses.
It can be difficult growing up in the public eye and Sadie, Willie’s youngest daughter, did just that. Sadie was 15 years old when the first episode was aired and, as a result, some of the difficulties she faced as a teenager were broadcast across the nation, including her break-up with her long-time boyfriend, Blake Coward. The young beauty was refreshingly honest about the experience and sought to provide an example for other adolescents going through a similar experience. Sadie released a YouTube video that was candid and open.
Be Better, Not Bitter
In her video, Sadie encouraged other girls not to become resentful after a break-up, saying, “Instead of being bitter, instead of being jealous, instead of being angry, want what’s best for them. No matter what the outcome, take the things that you know you can work on, grow in that, and be better for the next person. Be better for the person that God has planned and prepared for you”. Sadie wasn’t single for long and soon hooked up with college football star Trevor Knight.
Lesser Spotted Short Hair
The Duck Dynasty stars take their duck hunting seriously and grow their hair and beards as a form of camouflage. The family kept their hairy appearance until the show ended and then both Jep and Jase decided it was time for a new look. In May last year, Jep cut off his hair live on Facebook, while Jase got his wife to film his transformation. While the ducks may not like it so much, it seems to have been a great decision as far as the fans were concerned.
The Winning Cup
There are very few scenes featuring Si where his famous blue plastic cup is not in evidence. The story goes that his mother sent Si the cup in a care package while he was serving time in Vietnam. “Somehow, Momma’s iced tea cup stayed with me all the way through Vietnam, and I’ve carried it in my back pocket ever since”, Si says. “I guess if it can make it through the napalm, mustard gas, and rice wine of Vietnam, I’ll probably take it to my grave”.
Freedom for Fowls
The anti-gay comments weren’t the only aspect of Phil’s GQ interview to cause controversy and the organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, also called for the show to be canceled. The organization declared that the “duck slaying” crew were “spewing hate speech” and were clearly “as anti-gay as they are anti-animal.” PETA went on to say, “What’s ‘sinful’ is hating people and animals. PETA asks everyone who considers themselves to be Christian to reject hate speech and call for this show’s cancellation”.
The Vice President on PETA, Dan Mathews, said the show made violence seem normal, saying, “Hunting programs teach kids that violence is somehow acceptable, and according to law-enforcement agencies, violent and aggressive criminals often start out as kids who were encouraged to disrespect and harm animals rather than understanding … them.” Phil’s perspective couldn’t be more different, and, in his defense, he says, “After the flood, that’s when he [God] made animals wild. Up until that time, everybody was vegetarian. After the flood, he said, ‘I’m giving you everything now”.
Taught to cook by her grandmother, Phil’s wife, Miss Kay, was already capable in the kitchen when she married Phil at the age of 16. Since then, she’s had plenty of opportunities to hone her skills, cooking for such a big family. Many of her recipes include unlikely ingredients, such as squirrels, frog legs, and crappies – a type of freshwater fish. Many fans of the show found themselves drooling over her creations, so she released a recipe book in 2013, entitled Miss Kay’s Duck Commander Kitchen.
Fiction and Falsehoods
According to TV critic, Neil Genzlingeri, the amount of reality in the reality series was about as much as can be expected in any show in this genre. The main difference is that the family were so open about how far from genuine it really was. When he visited the Robertson’s home in 2012, Genzlingeri said the stars referred to it as “guided reality” and admitted that the producers created scenarios which they then asked the family to live in front of the cameras.
Donald Trump has been worried about fake news, but he should have taken notes from the Duck Dynasty crew who were more than happy to create a reality that would appeal to their fans. Phil and his family members improvised seamlessly through the set-up scenarios, adding just enough hillbilly phrases to keep the audience engaged. At the end of the show, Rolling Stone magazine ran an article saying”, however, sincere they may or may not have been in real life, the Robertsons never failed to turn into show-biz frauds on screen”.
Out for a Duck
Many believe the Robertson’s political views and outspoken support for Trump hurt the show’s ratings and, certainly, after its first impressive seasons, viewership slumped dramatically. By the time the sixth season was being aired, viewer numbers had dropped to 4.6 million and by season 10 had fallen even further, with just 1.4 million people tuning in each week. It seems the family weren’t too disappointed, however, and took the opportunity to pursue different ventures with several of them writing books and Sadie Robertson taking part in Dancing with the Stars.
Phil certainly has some strange notions and, after it was revealed that producer Harvey Weinstein had used his Hollywood status to sexually assault female stars for years, Phil made some interesting observations. Appearing on a Catholic news network, Phil said he believed God was using AIDS to punish the entertainment industry, although he also acknowledged that God will forgive those who confess their sins. Phil went on to say, “I’ve been drunk and high and immoral with the worst of them”. Of course, Phil has since seen the light.
In the Woods
Since the termination of Duck Dynasty, Phil has kept himself busy with several different projects, including his web series, In the Woods With Phil. The Duck Dynasty dad continues to stir up trouble and, in January, decided to tackle the tricky issue of abortion on the 45th anniversary of the landmark case, Roe v. Wade. In his Facebook teaser, Phil wrote, “They’re out there hollering for abortion rights and then have the nerve to lecture us on animal rights?” His pronouncement has received as much criticism as it has support.
Gunning for it
Using social media platforms, Phil continues to speak openly and candidly on all sorts of subjects, including gun laws. In one of his most recent recordings, Phil is seated with his gun on one side and his Bible on the other. Speaking to the camera, he says, “So I have here an earthly weapon. It’s a firearm”. Picking up his Bible, he says, “This is another weapon. “It’s called a sword”. He goes on to assert, “You want to stop murder worldwide? You’re focusing on the wrong weapon”.