Imagine, if you are a woman, leaving your home, husband and children, to move possibly clear across the country to be a wife, mother and home-maker to a completely different family. “Completely different” being the operative words here. For if you are white, your new family might be black. If you home-school your children your new family might be headed by a public school teacher. If you are urban born and bred your new home might be a working 100-acre farm.
When such changes are effected, the result is essentially the drama and lessons learned summed up tidily into a one-hour time frame every Monday at 8 p.m. on ABC. Of course there are rules and twists. All as part of the entertainment please understand.
Wife Swap is not a competition or a contest. It is a reality show unlike any other, where the battlegrounds are the kitchens and living rooms, child-rearing is a subject of intense and heated debate, and the outcome isn’t a cash prize, but a couple’s opportunity to re-discover why they love each other and decided to marry in the first place.
In the first week of the swap, the wives move in with their new family and adopt their very different lifestyle. They agree to follow a manual written by the departing wife that sets out the rules of their new household — how they parent, shop, do the house work, manage their budgets and their social life. But then, in the second week, everything changes. The new wives take charge. They introduce their own set of rules and get to run the new household their way. It’s a radical shock to both families. The results are explosive, enlightening and often very funny. This is a show about the things that really matter to families across America.
At the end of the show, the two couples meet for the first time. In a highly-charged exchange of views, both couples make a frank assessment of each other and talk about what they’ve learned from the experience.
As quoted above that’s pretty much exactly how it goes. The show that aired this past Monday, March 13, followed the above rather bland description. The reality was more dramatic and definitely more amusing.
The ladies who swapped lives in this show were about the same age. One was white – a Mrs. Stampers. The other was black – a Mrs. Haggerty. Beyond that their lives were also as different as, well black and white comes to mind. Mrs. Stampers and her family are seriously into something called medieval role-playing, an activity involving frilly costumes, swords and harps. Mrs. Haggerty is a public school teacher who also works part-time for a restaurant. Mrs. Stampers regards her husband, literally, as “the king”. Mrs. Haggerty has a devoted husband who does all the cooking.
Each wife had to spend one week in their new environment following the rules of the swapped wife. Which means that the happening public school teacher had to spend a week in medieval costume and in the isolation typical of the Stampers. Mrs. Stampers had to ditch her medieval garb for more normal clothes. She also had to teach Haggerty’s class. It is in this part of the show that the swapped wives gain an understanding of the lifestyle of their new family.
Throughout this week the swapped wives give camera vignettes when they describe their perceptions of their new families and their remedies for any dysfunction as each swapped wife perceives it.
Come the second week and each swapped wife gets to make her own rulebook for her new family. Mrs. Stampers decided that her new black family needed to get involved in some medieval role-playing. Mr. Haggerty, as Mrs. Stampers announced to his great glee, would now be king of his household.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Haggerty declares that Mr. Stampers is no longer king of the house and should help out with the children and running of the household. Each swapped wife decided their new families would reverse how their schooling had been obtained before the wife swap. The Haggerty children would be home-schooled and the Stampers children were signed up for public school.
The switching of households does have its comedic moments, especially with this urban-medieval swap. The Haggerty children looked . . . odd . . . in their medieval outfits. Mr. Haggerty declared he would not wear pantyhose.
The show ends with each family returning home to the enthusiastic greeting of their real family. Then there are the vignettes of the swapped families, their summation of their experience, the lessons they’ve learned, the changes they’ll make.
Obviously there must be some staging for this show. The wives swap for two whole weeks while the show spans but an hour. There is almost always one dramatic confrontation between the new families and the swapped wife. It’s hard to believe the camera was there prepped and running to catch the action as it happened. I suspect some writers pen the action and the swapped families learn their lines.
Wife Swap is, I say softly, essentially the same show repeated every week. The names, places and faces may change but there’s a pattern and it continues with no let-up. Which is not to say that the concept doesn’t have an intrigue that might spellbind. At least at the first viewing.
This is the sort of show I’d tune into on a bored whim. It’s not the type of show that I think will develop a strong viewer loyalty.
And hey, you can be on the show! From the application page for Wife Swap:
WE ARE SEARCHING FOR FAMILIES FOR OUR HIT SHOW WIFE SWAP
Wife Swap is the exciting new series that invites you behind the walls of America’s homes and lets you experience how families run their lives.
Each episode involves two families and a fun twist: the Moms of each household swap places for ten days!