The former Super-Sweet-Sixteener dishes what really happened on her 16th birthday and how she rose above the harsh backlash.
by Julia Morpurgo
On August 15, 2005, Sophie Mitchell and her mother sat back in the plush seating of P. Diddy’s luxurious New York Dream Hotel, watching the video of Mitchell’s 16th birthday party. This wasn’t a typical home video, and it certainly wasn’t a typical sweet 16. No, this was a nationally televised, $180,000 birthday extravaganza—complete with can-can dancers, a fleet of stretch limousines, a $1,500 cake, and MTV’s hawking camera crew. As the second season of “My Super Sweet 16” premiered, Mitchell watched as cameras documented her reaction to the 30-minute cut of the five-week filming process.
“My mom and I just laughed because we knew what was real and what wasn’t,” Mitchell said. “It was hilarious because it was so ridiculous. I knew it didn’t make me look good, but I didn’t care—at the time.”
Before the credits rolled, Mitchell was out the door and in a live national radio interview. “Right after I watched it, I didn’t get to concentrate on the responses from my friends and family,” Mitchell said. “Instead, I was concentrating on the responses from America. And, um, they weren’t good.”
To watch the preview of Mitchell’s “My Super Sweet Sixteen” episode, click here.
From 2005 to 2008, 61 affluent teens let MTV document, instigate and air the happenings of their milestone birthday bashes. By documenting the over-the-top parties and dramatic lives of these often-spoiled teens, “My Super Sweet Sixteen” gained much notoriety, but also received harsh criticisms.
In a 2006 article titled “Sweet 16 and Spoiled Rotten,” a Time magazine columnist, Ana Marie Cox, wrote of the MTV series: “Their blingy flings are not celebrations of accomplishment; they’re celebrations of self. What used to mark the end of childhood now seems only an excuse to prolong the whiny, self-centered greediness that gives infantile a bad name.”
Mitchell, now 22 and about to graduate from college, doesn’t argue with that assessment of the show or blame selective editing or manipulated story lines for her on-screen depiction. She freely admits that she intentionally played up her on-camera role. “I knew what they wanted,” Mitchell said. “So I took on this personality of the horrible rich bitch and they just loved it. They thought it was hilarious.”
MTV found Mitchell in early 2005 after asking party planners—from caterers, venue managers and entertainers—for names of girls planning over-the-top birthday bashes. Mitchell’s party planner offered her mother a discounted rate in exchange for the much-anticipated publicity he expected to receive through the show.
At 15, Mitchell was living in the oceanfront town of Jupiter, Florida with her mother, Dale, and brother, David. A sophomore at a private high school, she sported designer duds—Tiffany’s necklaces, Louis Vuitton purses and Juicy Couture—when she wasn’t in her school uniform.
Mitchell said she was hesitant when first approached by MTV, fearing she’d be poorly depicted on screen. But she quickly agreed, excited for the perks of her televised, Moulin-Rouge-themed birthday party—including a $10,000 stylist, chauffeured Rolls Royce, and new white Audi A4.
Within weeks, two cameramen and an MTV producer arrived in Mitchell’s hometown, and from that moment, Mitchell said every step of the filming and party planning was contrived. “My producers were very conniving and instigated situations that would piss anyone off,” Mitchell said. “I was already acting and they were just making it even more ridiculous.” This included staged temper tantrums with her mother to instigated drama with friends. While Mitchell acknowledged that nothing was formally scripted, she also said her mother and party planner were as clued-in on the drama plotting as the producers were. “It was very much contrived by everybody involved.”
An infamous on-screen catfight with former-best friend, Maggie Regan, was what Mitchell admits to be the only real drama in the episode. She acknowledges Regan got the brunt of her built-up anger with producers and filming in general, but “I don’t really regret it. She deserved it because she was being a dumb bitch. It’s not exactly my proudest moment, but I knew it was going to end up in the episode because it’s good T.V.”
But that’s not all the ended up airing on the Pepsi-sponsored, commercial-free episode. Mitchell came off as a self-centered, spoiled princess who got her way and refused to tolerate anything else. She was repeatedly obnoxious towards her mother, (“Mom, can you shut up for like 10 seconds?”), dissatisfied with the party planning, (“It’s a bit cheesy”) and whining until she got her way, (“Sophie gets what Sophie wants and Sophie is always right”). In the episode, she also volunteered a self-description: “A lot of people don’t like me ‘cause I’m a bitch. But a lot of people want to be me because I’m blessed.”
For these actions, harsh criticism exploded in the blogosphere after the episode aired, and six years later, a Google-search of “Sophie on My Super Sweet Sixteen” still yields links to criticisms on D-Listed, MTV’s open forum and countless viewers’ rants against Mitchell. Blogs, like TheBosh.com, headlined their stories “Cringeworthy: Super Bitch Sophie Mitchell,” while an August 15, 2005 D-Listed post called Mitchell “seriously disgusting.”
The night of the premiere, Mitchell visited her MySpace account to find fairly extreme reactions. “No joke, I had 50 pages of friend requests and 50 pages of messages about how awful of a person I was,” Mitchell said. “My feelings were pretty hurt by the things people said, and after so much negative feedback, I just spent time reminding myself who I was and trying to move on with my life.”
But moving on right away proved nearly impossible. Mitchell’s face was plastered across national television—and on countless reruns—and she was recognized everywhere she went. “For months I would get everything from ‘Ohmigod! You’re on my Super Sweet 16, I love you’ to having ‘You’re such a bitch!’ screamed at me from across the mall,” Mitchell said.
Not surprisingly, Mitchell struggled with taking the harsh criticisms to heart. “I had a serious identity crisis. After taking on the personality while we were shooting, I had become that person they wanted me to be, and I couldn’t get out of that because MTV still wanted me to return for more.” For months, the network flew her to New York for weekends to host “TRL,” attend “My Super Sweet Sixteen” reunions, and host MTV’s “Super Sweet 16 Blingest Bash Marathon Countdown.” In so doing, Mitchell earned $235 a filming session and made upwards of $2,000 for attending televised MTV parties. Happy to be wined and dined, Mitchell admits it wasn’t without a price. “For a whole year afterwards, I still had to be that character, but I was also trying my best to be me.”
Identity crisis aside, there were other negative repercussions from the televised experience. The Benjamin School, Mitchell’s private school for 13 years, tried to expel her twice for poorly representing the community in her uniform throughout the episode. As a rising junior, she was stripped of all leadership responsibilities, and was no longer allowed to cheer on her varsity squad or participate in the drama club. The constant negativity was too much and just four weeks before completing her junior year, Mitchell dropped out, finishing her credits through a local private tutoring center. She then applied to boarding schools, deciding on TASIS, The American School in Switzerland’s campus outside of London, England. Although Mitchell joked she only chose the England campus because of her obsession with Harry Potter, she did make good use of her time abroad—becoming captain of the cheerleading squad and jet setting across Europe.
Although her peers were familiar with her show and reputation, Mitchell said in most cases it actually helped her make friends. “Going off to England just opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me,” Mitchell said. “And it, like, completely changed me as a person.”
After her graduation in 2007, Mitchell was exhausted from the events of the two previous years, and reluctant to go to college. She took 10 months off and made a few appearances on the MTV network as a “Sweet Sixteen All Star.” Mitchell also seriously considered returning for an MTV “Super Sweet Sixteen” spinoff, “Exiled.” “I was going to do it, but I backed out at the last minute,” Mitchell said. “I knew they didn’t want me to look good and I’d already been there and gone through that whole backlash. I just felt like, ‘What’s the point?’”
In early 2008, Mitchell enrolled at The Evergreen State College in Washington State, attracted by the alternative teaching style that allows students to design their own major and be evaluated without formal grades. “I just needed to get as far away from Florida as possible,” Mitchell joked. “So I put the entire country of space between us.”
Mitchell now majors in English, philosophy and cultural studies and will be graduating this June. “I’m finishing school in three years exactly, so that’s kind of a feat,” Mitchell said. “I’m pretty proud of myself, because I started late and I’m still finishing on time. But after that, I have no idea what I’ll be doing.”
MTV recently approached Mitchell, yet again, hoping she will return for an upcoming “Where Are They Now?” reunion series. “I’m still debating if I’ll do it, but my question is basically, ‘How much longer do I want to be that girl?’” While it sounds like the former drama-queen is drawn to the media’s attention and has a hard time walking away from her T.V. persona, she insists, “I have a lot of things going on, I have a new life, and I don’t know anymore if there’s room for MTV in it.”
*Since publication, Mitchell agreed to return for MTV’s “Where Are They Now?” reunion episode, which will be filmed in the coming months.