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A New Reality Show Showcases the State Fair of Texas’s Deep-Fried Drama

A&E’s “Deep Fried Dynasty” premieres tonight

Johnna McKee and Cristi Erpillo who run Fernie’s Funnel Cakes and more State Fair of Texas booths
A&E’s reality show “Deep Fried Dynasty” follows several food vendors at the State Fair of Texas, including sisters Johnna McKee and Cristi Erpillo of Fernie’s Funnel Cakes

Fried toffee coffee crunch cake, fried s’mores, and deep-fried butter are the stars of a new reality series — along with the State Fair of Texas concessionaires who dream up wacky battered and deep-fried delicacies each year. A&E’s series “Deep Fried Dynasty” premieres tonight, Tuesday, March 8 at 10 p.m. ET, with episodes following several food vendors, many of them family-run small business, throughout the run of the State Fair of Texas.

A&E’s promo material describes the show’s premise as the “American Dream, deep-fried, chocolate covered, and wrapped in bacon.” For sisters Johnna McKee and Christi Erpillo, operators of iconic Fernie’s Funnel Cakes and multiple other booths who are chronicled in “Deep Fried Dynasty,” it’s a profession that easily lends itself to a reality show.

“This is the greatest show on earth out there for 24 days. Everyone just needs to be a fly on the wall and this gives them the opportunity to see what goes on,” Erpillo tells Eater. “We are proud being concessionaires at the State Fair of Texas. Some people may say we are carnies, that’s ok with me. I love it. I embrace my inner carnie.”

The time constraints of the fair naturally leads to drama. “You have basically 300 hours to make your living for the year. You don’t get 301 hours, you don’t get 305 hours. There is just a lot packed into those 24 days,” Erpillo says. The two sisters didn’t want to spoil the surprises, but the show include plenty of emotion. “I couldn’t imagine I’d be crying on TV saying I can’t believe I’m crying about funnel cakes,” McKee jokes.

Then there’s the friendly competition between the vendors. “We love each other dearly and we would give each other the shirt off the back,” Erpillo says, but notes that it can turn into a “food fight” as competition heats up for the annual Big Tex Choice Awards.

The show also touches on the family dynamics. This marked the first fair that McKee and Erpillo took on running their five stands without their beloved mother and State Fair of Texas fixture Fernie, who first started working at the State Fair with her husband in 1967 and was the first stand to bring funnel cakes to the fair. Wanda ‘Fernie’ Winter passed away in 2021 at the age of 95, and fair customers paid Fernie tribute by bringing in flowers to her stand.

“There were times that someone would come in and we’d be bawling and crying and there’d be times that we’d be supporting our guests who came in and they were crying. There were a lot of emotions this year at the fair,” Erpillo says.

What would Fernie think of her daughters becoming reality show stars?

“Her vest buttons would be popping,” Erpillo joked. “Any time we would do a tv show, she would always say, ‘Those our my girls, I taught them everything I know.’”

McKee added: “Mom and Dad have got to be so proud. We want to keep it going. We want to give it to the next generation.”