How Mama June Managed to Bring Her Family's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo Fame Back From the Brink After Scandal

The tarnished reality star's 300-pound weight loss was just the beginning of a massive comeback

By Natalie Finn Aug 08, 2017 12:00 PMTags
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Mama June: From Not To HotTLC; WE Tv

It's time to redneckognize the truth: Mama June and her family are back—and they aren't going anywhere.

Almost three years after a skin-crawling scandal prompted TLC to cancel Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, one of the network's most popular shows, WE tv has seized on the makeover story of the year—June Shannon's 300-pound weight loss—and adopted the family into the fold. And now, five years to the day since the premiere of their original TLC show, Mama June & Co. are once again sittin' pretty on top of the reality TV ratings.

And as it turns out, June's transformation was only the beginning. WE tv announced yesterday that June's daughter Lauryn "Pumpkin" Shannon  is pregnant with her first child—which will make for a key plot point when Mama June: From Not to Hot returns for a second season early next year.

Mama June's Weight Loss Transformation

Now, you would've been forgiven for thinking that, after what happened in 2014, you were never going to see hide nor hair of this family again, minus the countless memes dotting the Internet for posterity.

Just weeks after Mama June and her now ex-husband, fan favorite Mike "Sugar Bear" Thompson, had announced they were separated, TMZ reported in October 2014 that Mama June had a new man in her life, a convicted child molester who had just been released from prison and was registered as a sex offender in Georgia. Immediately TLC announced that the network was "concerned" and "reassessing the future of the series," which had some unaired episodes in the can but wasn't in production at that moment.

The show was canceled the next day, much to the relief of both those who were freaked out by the news and those who thought the show was an exploitative travesty in the first place, even in "happier" times. But the story only got more disturbing as it turned out there was more to it than an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Mama June's eldest daughter Anna Marie Cardwell (née Shannon), aka "Chickadee," told People the day after the cancellation that the man, Mark McDaniel, was actually her mother's ex-boyfriend who had molested her when she was 8 years old, a decade before she and her family became reality TV stars thanks to the spin-off appeal displayed by Honey Boo Boo on TLC's Toddlers and Tiaras.

Discovery Channel

"I'm just confused," said Cardwell, then 20. "I'm hearing one story from Mama and another one from someone else."

"Mama said the story isn't true and she said she hasn't seen Mark since he's been out of jail," Cardwell, also a mom by then, continued. "My whole body believes that she is telling the truth," she continues, "but my mind is going back and forth from—you know, hey, she's telling the truth or she's not telling the truth, but most of me believes her."

Soon after, she told E! News' Catt Sadler, "Mama can be very selfish. She ain't tell me she love me in a long time." Cardwell also claimed that there was less than $18 left in the account set aside for her with a $30,000 cut of the family's earnings from Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. She speculated that Mama June had bought a car or other items for McDaniel.

"Not true," June denied that to E! News. "I have never brought a car for him and all her money is there, beside the money I have given her to live on—$400 every month and pay her $475 each month for cell phone bills for the last two years. That's the only money I have taken out of there." She also denied via social media that she and McDaniel were dating again, writing, "My kids r #1 priority over anything else and I would never put them in danger period over this or anything else they r my life this is my past I left him 10 yrs ago for it and I wouldn't go back."

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But the Shannon-Thompson family was done on TLC. The production crew cleared out of the house within days, with Honey Boo Boo cheerfully helping carry pieces of equipment to the porch.

Legal experts weighed in and, though speculation mounted that Mama June was in danger of losing custody of her three minor children, the family was never separated after Sugar Bear agreed to temporarily move back in so the kids would have another adult in the house (who wasn't being investigated by social services) with them.

And so life went on, with the morbid fascination surrounding the family seemingly wearing off for a time. Some positive things happened in the meantime, such as Mama June's second-eldest daughter, Jessica "Chubbs" Shannon, becoming the first in the family to graduate from high school. The whole family, including Anna and her daughter, Kaitlyn, attended the 2015 ceremony.

Meanwhile, Mama June reportedly threatened to sue TLC for wiping her show from the schedule while they continued to show episodes of 19 Kids and Counting in the wake of the revelation that Josh Duggar had molested two of his sisters when he was a teenager, long before the sprawling family was on TV. TLC did end up airing Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: "The Lost Episodes" this past April.

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: OMG Moments!

But the decision to again feature the family on the network wasn't made until Mama June had already made a splash further down the dial on WE tv.

Mama June: From Not to Hot premiered in February, chronicling the story of the once 460-pound mother of four's massive slimdown. The journey started with June undergoing gastric-sleeve surgery to get her bing-eating habit under control, after which she had follow-up surgeries to remove almost 10 pounds of loose skin. Nearly 1.5 million viewers tuned into the premiere and, tempted with the promise of weekly weight loss progression and catch-up sessions with Honey Boo Boo, viewership never dipped below 1 million. Season one finished strong and on an up note after Mama June suffered some setbacks, but fans of course knew that she was by then OK in real life.

At the end of the day, anchoring this once-unthinkable comeback are two of America's favorite things: makeovers and the promise of redemption.

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"I've worked my ass off working out, getting healthy," Mama June on the March 31 episode. "Now I feel like becoming the person on the outside that I always felt like on the inside."

This family never wore out its 15 minutes because millions of people apparently agreed that Mama June wasn't the ghoul that her critics painted her to be. The need for subtitles and glossaries decoding the phrases the ladies cooked up endeared them to the folks who caught the fact that, at the heart of this kooky enterprise, there was a "normal" family (including a mom who loves her kids) just trying to get by. Their way isn't everybody's way, but those are the families reality TV is made of.

Of course, at the same time, a lot of people love a trainwreck, which certainly accounted for at least some of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo's original audience. Months after the show was canceled, Alana's weight and their overall eating habits were a topic of conversation on The Doctors, which staged a "health intervention" for the family in 2015.

Why the Lives of the Teen Moms, Mama Junes, Duggars and Gosselins of the Reality TV World Continue to Fascinate So Much

"Something that I've learned in the emergency department is the common culprit in a lot of these things is what you're eating," Dr. Travis Stork said. "And when I look in your fridge, Mama June, I'm sorry I didn't see anything in that fridge that's going to either improve Alana's weight or decrease inflammation in her body."

The online reaction was harsh—but largely out of concern for the child's health. Having gotten to know Alana over the past four years on TV and talk shows, no one wanted to see her suffer. They were rooting for her, in fact.

Now 11, Alana excitedly told ABC News in April, "I have a new mom. Well, it's not like a new mom, it's just she has a new body ... It's like they cut off her head and then put it on another body."

And Mama June isn't the only one doing things a little differently around the house.

"The food has changed," her daughter said. "Every once in a while she will bring in something unhealthy but mostly the food in our house is healthy."

And that's because the family matriarch has committed to staying healthy this time. If you were expecting Mama June, or much less her youngest daughter, to give a flying cheese ball what anyone outside of their house thinks about their lifestyle, you've picked the wrong family.

WE tv, meanwhile, is betting that it's picked exactly the right family. Five years after Here Comes Honey Boo Boo took center stage, Mama June: From Not to Hot is in the running for the title of Comeback Queen.