If you’re a fan of docudrama style reality TV shows, you’ve probably come across Moonshiners. Millions of people have tuned into watch moonshiners in states like Tennessee, Virginia, and Louisiana produce their own brands of moonshine… illegally.
Whether they want to learn more about the history and culture of moonshine or are just entertained by the relationships the cast members have with one another, the viewership of Moonshiners has stayed pretty strong.
Of course, when you’re talking about a show that claims to portray illegal activity each week, there are bound to be a lot of secrets that are swept under the rug. Even a show that claims to be about people constantly on the run from the law doesn’t want too much trouble.
From cast members getting arrested to claims that the show isn’t even real, Moonshiners has its fair share of reality TV drama going on even when the cameras are off.
Which cast members have gotten in trouble with the law? Is the show as real as it claims to be? Find out with these 15 Behind-The-Scenes Secrets You Didn’t Know About Moonshiners.
15. Law enforcement threatened Tim off-camera
The show wants viewers to feel like they’re getting a real look into the experience of illegal moonshiners. Occasionally, the personalities on the show are stopped by law enforcement while cameras are rolling. They almost always are allowed to walk (or drive) away, but it does make for a good moment of tension during the show.
However, not every law enforcement interaction is caught by the Moonshiners cameras. In bonus footage, Tim Smith admitted that police officers tried to confront him about the show one evening when he was at home.
14. Special Agent Jesse Tate was misled about the show
If you watched season one of Moonshiners, you probably remember special agent Jesse Tate. He worked for the Virginia ABC Bureau and appeared regularly throughout the first season. If you pay attention, though, he never actually interacts with people like Tim and Tickle, the two of the main people on the series. Why?
It turns out that Tate was misled about the nature of the show. He had no idea that it was going to be depicting moonshine manufacturing or distribution — the Bureau had thought that Discovery was making a show about the history of moonshine and moonshine distribution in the state.
13. Virginia authorities condemned the show as fake
In the same press release where they claimed to be misled about the nature of the show, Virginia authorities slammed Discovery for airing a false, misleading show.
After viewers kept asking why the state was allowing a crime to take place, Virginia said that the show was not actually portraying illegal moonshine, but was actually just a dramatization. They asked Discovery Channel to add a disclaimer, but their request was “overlooked.”
Cast members of the show continue to say the opposite, though. They claim that the state is just mad that they haven’t been able to catch them. Since agents would have to catch the cast in the act of producing illegal moonshine to have a case — which they haven’t yet — they can keep making the show.
12. Tim’s day job as a Fire Chief caused problems
Once you’re on a reality TV show, you invite a certain amount of scrutiny into your life. Tim learned that quickly once viewers realized what he did during the day.
Illegal moonshining wasn’t the only source of income for Tim. When he wasn’t evading police offers to run secret stills, he worked as a Fire Chief of the Climax Volunteer Fire Department in Virginia.
Most people think of firemen as upstanding members of society, so some viewers had issues with Tim going from one on-the-level job to operating something that was potentially harmful. For the most part, though, his audience doesn’t seem to care what he does during the day as long as he keeps promoting the TV show.
11. Popcorn Sutton was arrested in 2008
Viewers who have been with the show since the first season probably remember the occasional clip of Popcorn Sutton. Sutton was one of the most famous moonshiners, so famous, in fact, that he even had a few documentaries made about him. (One of them won an Emmy.)
Sutton was lucky enough to mostly evade the law for decades, until he told an undercover officer that he had over nine hundred gallons of illegal moonshine that he was ready to sell.
They weren’t about to let that stand, of course, and ATF officers raided his property in March. He was charged with illegally distilling spirits (shocker) and possession of a handgun as a felon. Sutton pled guilty and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison the following January.
10. Virginia denied Tim a legal moonshine license
As long-time viewers of the show know, Tim no longer has to hide his moonshining. He is now proudly able to sell his moonshine legally, which he helps will aid him in his effort to preserve the traditions and culture surrounding moonshine.
Climax moonshine is produced in Virginia, but it very nearly wasn’t. As Tim was starting up his distillery, rumors flew that the Virginia ABC almost denied him a license to produce moonshine legally.
Whether they were angry that he’d evaded punishment for so long for “shining” illegally, or if they just didn’t think he had what it took, we’ll never know. However, whatever the issue was, it’s clearly been resolved since you can now order Tim’s moonshine online on the ABC website.
9. Tickle had political aspirations
The president isn’t the only reality TV star who had his eye on politics. Stephen Tickle, a fan favorite on the show, also admitted that he considered going into politics — long before Donald Trump ever threw his hat into the ring for president.
Back in 2013, Tickle said in an interview with a local paper that he was considering running for a state office in southern Virginia. He realized that the show was giving him a larger platform and wanted to use that to make a positive change.
8. Chico was allegedly arrested for a DUI
Popcorn Sutton wasn’t the only member of Moonshiners who had issues with the law for something other than the illegal moonshining the group is so notorious for. In 2015, Chico was allegedly arrested for a DUI in Knott County.
The report says that he drove his vehicle into a crowd, after which the officer made him take a field sobriety test…which he failed. No one was hurt, but the officer still said that Chico shouldn’t have been driving and ordered him to appear in court.
Unlike Popcorn Sutton, though, Chico didn’t get any jail time. His attorney was able to help him walk away with just a fine and court costs.
7. Josh Owens lost his trailer in a fire
Before he was a moonshiner, Josh Owens used to be a professional motorbike and motocross racer. He still rides his motorcycle on the show with his dog, Cutie Pie. Viewers might like Cutie Pie better than they like Josh, honestly.
He still loves motorcycles, and he was coming back from a motorcycle rally last August when he discovered that his trailer had caught on fire. It didn’t look like he’d be able to recover the trailer or any of his belongings, and his truck was damaged as well.
6. The show was supposed to be about legal moonshine
There’s one question that almost everyone has after watching an episode of Moonshiners: how on earth are they not caught? It seems like if you’re being filmed making illegal moonshine, you’d probably get in trouble for it.
The producers had the same thought, so the show was actually supposed to be about legal moonshine production. It seemed too risky to make a show about illegal moonshine production and not get everyone involved in trouble.
The original pitch to the network was about legal distilleries that exist. There was just one problem — they realized it was going to be boring. There was no way that they would have gotten the viewership numbers that they do now.
5. Moonshiners’ production company is known for creating deceptive content
Some people still aren’t convinced that everything that they watch on Moonshiners is real. If they pay attention to the production credits, the production company might be one reason why.
Moonshiners is produced by Magilla Entertainment, a company based in New York. They’re responsible for a lot of popular reality TV shows currently dominating the air waves — but they’re also behind a lot of deceptive “scripted reality” shows.
Long Island Medium is slammed for being fake almost every time it’s mentioned. Magilla also produces things like Lakefront Bargain Hunt, where some participants actually bought their home years before the show was taped, and Southie Rules, which was painfully scripted.
4. Tickle has been arrested at least three times
Poor Tickle hasn’t been able to catch a break.
He hasn’t just been arrested once, but at least three times. First, he was arrested for public intoxication. Then he was arrested for possession of a sawed-off handgun, which a police officer found in the front seat of his car. After that, he was arrested again for probation violation, after he admitted to drug use.
He was originally given a suspended three year sentence in July 2016 for the shotgun. After his probation violation, a judge revoked the original sentence but made him serve five months of active time.
3. Tim experienced his first raid at five years old
Although he’s been lucky enough to keep his criminal record clean, star Tim Smith is no stranger to law enforcement crackdowns, either. He learned the consequences of being caught early. He experienced his first raid at five years old, when police officers were investigating his father.
Smith explained in an interview that when the police showed up, he had to try and hide the illegal moonshine from the authorities. That’s a lot of responsibility to place on a five year old kid, and it left a big enough impression on him that he still talks about it to this day.
2. Sutton ended his life before the show premiered
Popcorn Sutton never did serve the months in prison that he was sentenced to. Casual viewers may not have realized that he ended his own life years before Moonshiners ever premiered. The clips that the show uses are from a documentary filmed in 2002 that cemented his place as a bootlegging legend.
Sutton wasn’t about to serve time in jail. His daughter told his wife that he had said in advance that he would rather die. Instead of reporting for his eighteen month sentence, he ended his own life via carbon monoxide poisoning just days before his sentence was supposed to begin.
While some people object to the show using Sutton’s likeness when he obviously wasn’t around to give permission, others think that it’s only right for him to be included since he was such a big figure in the moonshining community.
1. Discovery won’t say whether the show is true or not
Is everything that we see on Moonshiners real or is some of it staged for the cameras? Discovery isn’t talking.
Fans who are curious about what they’ve just watched might scan the credits for a small-print disclaimer admitting that everything is not as it seems. They wouldn’t find anything, though — Discovery refuses to put a disclaimer in the credits.
The cast isn’t about to say anything, either — mostly because they can’t. They’re contractually obligated not to get specific about what is or isn’t true on the show.
They’ll talk about how the show could be getting away with showing illegal activity, or say that they’re all illegal moonshiners in real life, but don’t outright confirm or deny that some scenes might be staged.
What do you think? Is Moonshiners a real look at moonshining, or is it mostly a dramatization? Let us know in the comments!
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