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“They already think that,” he joked. “It kind of makes country folks look a little bad, but it’s done in fun.”

Some people who stopped by a gas station convenience store to pick up a burger or barbecue for lunch said they didn’t want to discuss it, while others blasted the family’s behavior. But in this close-knit community where most people know each other at least a little bit and word travels fast, none of those with strong negative opinions were willing to give their names.

Since the show premiered last month, online criticism has focused on the family’s behavior, weight and diet _ which often includes junk food and sometimes a mixture of Mountain Dew and Red Bull they call “go-go juice.” Many online commenters liken it to a train wreck they can’t stop watching because they’re shocked and horrified.

When the show began, Shannon said she was concerned about online criticism of her family and the way she parents, but she said she doesn’t go online much these days unless one of her friends or a fan alerts her to a particular story. She said she also knows opinions in town are mixed.

“It’s small town living,” she said. “I don’t have any trouble with anybody here or whatever, but people are going to have opinions. I mean, that’s everyday life.”

Executive producer Lauren Lexton rejects accusations that the show is exploiting the family or playing on stereotypes. The show has been so popular, she said, because the family members clearly love each other and strike a chord with the audience.

“They seem outrageous, but then once you get to know them, you really relate to them and like them,” she said.

Shannon declined to disclose how much TLC is paying them for each episode, saying only, “We are very well compensated.” But the money isn’t going toward lavish purchases and is instead divided into equal trusts for each of the four kids, she said. The family still lives on the money Shannon’s partner, Mike “Sugar Bear” Thompson, makes from his job in the nearby chalk mines and has no plans to move from the modest house they lived in before the show, Shannon said.

The show’s one-hour season finale is Sept. 26. TLC isn’t saying yet whether it will do a second season of the hit show, but Shannon isn’t concerned.

“Life is all about experiences,” Shannon said, “and this is one of the experiences on the journey of life, and if it continues, fine, and if it doesn’t, then we move on to be the same people we were before the show even started.”




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