Matt Bristol in TLC's "Breaking Amish: Los Angeles." (DCL )
With his hair tousled and aviator sunglasses resting on a table, Matt Bristol seemed like your typical Angeleno on a recent afternoon for lunch in Brentwood.
But Bristol is a cast member on the TLC series “Breaking Amish: Los Angeles,” which dropped him in Venice Beach, a long way — literally and figuratively — from his home in Lancaster County, Penn., where he lives as a Mennonite.
“Breaking Amish: Los Angeles” premiered on July 21 to about 2 million viewers. The series is a spinoff from "Breaking Amish: New York,” which followed five young adults (four Amish, one Mennonite) as they left their traditional communities to explore life in the big city.
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“This whole experience actually drew me closer to God. Being on the show made me realize how important my beliefs are,” Bristol says. “I grew a lot by doing this [the show], finding out about who I am and where I want to go.”
Bristol was working at a general store in his hometown when he unwittingly struck up a conversation with a casting agent. Months later he found himself in a much different world.
Like many young people who come to Los Angeles, Bristol was chasing a dream. He has a passion for fashion design, one that he feels he acquired from a childhood chore of sewing. “My mom had to teach me something to keep me out of trouble” says Bristol, one of seven children.
In fact the shirt he was wearing at lunch, a short-sleeved, blue-striped button-down, is one of his own creations. He hopes to design a line of urban-inspired men’s clothing that retains the modesty of his upbringing.
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“If you ask people from small towns where they want to visit, they all know the big cities like Los Angeles and New York,” says executive producer Eric Evangelista. Evangelista noted that casting the show is challenging because it can take up to five months to find young Amish adults who not only want to leave their communities but want to do so on national television.
Bristol’s family became Mennonite when he was 7, and they moved to Lancaster County when he was 12. Lancaster is regarded as the hub for the Amish and Mennonite of the United States.
Bristol is the black sheep in the already unique cast of “Breaking Amish: L.A.” because he is the only Mennonite. “It’s really the same beliefs, they just practice it differently,” Bristol says.
Both branch from the Antabaptist church, but the Amish don’t use modern technologies. Mennonites aren't so strict and use electricity and even cellphones.
In Sunday’s episode, Bristol found himself at odds with his housemates when he suggested new rules that he called the 10 "ComMattments.” Bristol's ideas included maintaining celibacy and a ban on speaking Pennsylvania-Dutch, an Amish dialect that Bristol doesn’t speak but the rest of the cast does.
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(Meanwhile, on the same episode, Bristol was seen downing shots at Hollywood’s Playhouse nightclub and sleeping in the bed of fellow male cast member Devon.)
For now, Bristol is back in Pennsylvania working on a turkey farm, which is the job he had before “Breaking Amish: Los Angeles” and one that he’s kept for almost nine years. During the holiday season Bristol slaughters up to 1,700 turkeys in a day, a far cry from window-shopping on Rodeo Drive.
Bristol is trying to decide where to go next and whether he takes the plunge and moves to Los Angeles to pursue a fashion career or stays closer to home. "I enjoyed the beach and the people I met and, of course, the fashion," he says.
But on Sundays, Bristol, who hasn't seen the final product, tunes in to relive the experience, "I have to watch like everyone else," he says.
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