Wife Swap was a popular reality show that entered the American television world in 2004. It’s based on a British show of the same name, and follows two families as they switch wives/moms for two weeks. Drama, tension, and comedy usually ensue as the families experience new surroundings, new lives, and a purposefully juxtaposed lifestyle.
The show made it a point to find families that were as far apart as possible. In theory, this would provide the most entertainment for the viewer as the new wives were taken aback by their families. Every episode undoubtedly contained a heartwarming moment or a blood-boiling villain that had the viewers either crying or screaming at their television.
With most reality shows, though, there are two sides to every story. There’s what we see on television, then there’s what the “contestants” have to say about their experiences on the show. In Wife Swap’s case, these accounts are far from similar.
Most of the people who appeared on the show seem to regret their performance. Many that spoke about their experience (after the contractual NDA ended) talked about producers who set up drama and script interactions. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to many – a lot of reality shows face the same criticism. On top of these allegations, though, there are some darker elements to Wife Swap. It’s ruined lives, ruined families, and may even have a few deaths on its hands.
Here are 15 Dark Secrets From Wife Swap You Had No Idea About.
15. Gay Swap Lawsuit
In a story which no one comes out looking good, one of the husbands set to be depicted on a US Wife Swap episode, Jeffrey Bedford, sued the show for throwing a curve-ball at him by switching his wife with a gay man. He accused the show of being dishonest, and said that he was going to call-off his appearance. Sure, it would probably have been better for Bedford to welcome the experience with an open mind, but what the show allegedly did in response is sickening.
Instead of rationally discussing the situation with Bedford, the producers reportedly told him that if he didn’t continue filming, they wouldn’t pay for his wife’s trip home or even tell him where she was. They even went so far as to tell Bedford that his wife was leaving him, and that she didn’t want to be found.
14. Dark end for the Stockdale family
Apart from the episode that lead to one man’s downward spiral and eventual death, this story takes the cake for the darkest “where are they now?” associated with Wife Swap. Jacob Stockdale, who appeared with his family on a 2008 episode of the program, shot and killed his mother and brother before turning the gun on himself. Jacob survived, and was airlifted to the hospital.
In the episode, the family was characterized as extremely religious. Now, people are wondering why the young man decided to kill most of the members of his family. His father wasn’t home at the time, and police needed to stop him at the end of his street to tell him what had happened.
13. Devil’s in the details
Wife Swap stands on a flimsy foundation that is “reality” TV. Most of the shows that follow this format are at least 60% fake or fabricated, and so it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that Wife Swap uses devised narratives to keep the viewer interested. Part of this process is excluding any detail that would go against the narrative that the show is trying to create.
Multiple former Wife Swap contestants have come forward to say they were completely misrepresented in the show’s filming. One person who appeared on the show, Kate Martinez, says that the show purposefully left out multiple details that made her and her husband look like bad parents. When one of their kids had an allergic reaction, they cut all the scenes of the family caring for the boy and only showed a shot of him sitting alone, implying that no one cared about him.
12. Balloon Boy
A lot of people remember the “balloon boy” hoax from a few years ago – when a family pretended their young son had float away in a hot air balloon – but not many people realize that this wasn’t the family’s first grasp at fame.
The Heene family made not one, but two appearances on Wife Swap over the course of the show’s run. In the show, it’s revealed that Richard Heene, the family patriarch, is an avid UFO-enthusiast who believes that humanity is descended from a lost alien race. He also believes that the world is visited by aliens on a regular basis.
Heene’s fascination with UFOs is well documented, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when they launched a massive UFO-style balloon into the air. Of course, it would still be a bit alarming to know that there was a kid inside, but that claim later proved false when Falcon Heene was located in the family’s attic.
The Heene kids ran wild in their appearance on the show, causing a headache for the alleged psychic who shared their home. After their infamy, though, it’s likely the show would want everyone to forget their part this story.
11. Assault Allegations
The UK version of Wife Swap has faced its share of controversy surrounding production. One such instanced occurred in 2006, when one of the women on the show claimed she was sexually assaulted by one of her host husband’s friends.
At the time, the woman was swapping lives with 36-year-old Noeile Klineberg. Her husband, Robin Goforth, was a millionaire living a lavish lifestyle in Doncaster. There weren’t too many details of the alleged assault, but the show was forced to halt production while they sorted things out. Goforth didn’t seem to believe the allegations, but it was enough to end the show – at least for a while.
10. Alicia Guastaferro Lawsuit
Former teen beauty queen Alicia Gustaferro had a rough time after her appearance on Wife Swap. When she turned 18, she actually sued the show for $100 million for intentionally misrepresenting her as a spoiled brat for their own gain.
According to her, she faced incessant ridicule after the show aired, and said that it effectively ruined her life. Gustaferro claims that most of the encounters were scripted, a claim that others who appeared on the show seem to have corroborated.
What’s more, since Gustaferro was underage, the show paid her parents but she didn’t get any money herself. Nothing came of the lawsuit, but it shows just how infuriated some people get after they see themselves depicted in such a way.
9. Stabbing argument
One of the more bizarre stories surrounding Wife Swap has to do with Jamie Czerniawski and her husband, Charles, who appeared in an episode of the 2006 season. In 2009, three years after their episode aired, they were back in the news because Jamie allegedly stabbed her husband with a kitchen knife during an argument.
It was later revealed that Jamie was texting with a New York firefighter. According to her, the two were never physically involved, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have some steamy text conversations.
It’s unclear what the argument was about, but it was supposedly about another man – possible the firefighter in question. Jamie was arrested for the incident but the charges were dismissed in 2010. After a lengthy and messy divorce, the two went their separate ways.
8. Pushed Too Far
When TV presenter Anna Courtenay accepted a role in the UK’s version of Wife Swap, she had an idea what she was getting into. She knew the business, and knew that interest and ratings were dependent on conflict and tension. Hamming it up – so to speak – was nothing new for Courtenay, but she never expected how far the show would push her in the name of interesting content.
Courtenay went to live with an eco-friendly family who lived in a tugboat. They didn’t have any electricity or running water, and when Courtenay realized she forgot her towel, she found that the family only had one between the parents and the three kids. She wanted to walk, but felt pressured by the looming threat of being billed for the lost recording time.
When it was her turn to implement some rules, she asked for eco-friendly cleaning products. What the producers brought was air freshener, which was explicitly against the host family’s beliefs. Courtenay thought the show would be lighthearted and fun, but ended up experiencing the worst week of her life.
7. Downward Spiral
Simon Foster holds the most tragic story of people who were affected by their appearance on Wife Swap. He appeared on the UK version of the show with his wife Jane. The couple was shown to have an “unconventional” relationship, as the two both had girlfriends. According to a friend, the show humiliated Foster. He became a laughing stock because his wife seemed happier with her girlfriend than she did with him.
After the show aired, Foster’s life deteriorated. His wife left him and moved in with her lesbian lover. He lost his job, and became extremely depressed. Eventually, Foster turned to drugs to dull the pain.
In 2008, only a few years after his episode hit the airwaves, Foster was found dead in his home from an apparent drug overdose. His friends assume the overdose was accidental, but due to his mental condition they haven’t ruled out suicide.
6. Celebrity Wife Swap
According to a few of the celebrities who took part in the show, the producers cause even more fake drama than they do to “normal” couples who make an appearance.
One such account was given by Bachelor stars Sean and Catherine Lowe. They swapped lives with another bachelor couple, and when Molly Mesnick woke up on her first day in the house, she found a to-do list waiting for her. One of the highlights of the list was ironing Sean’s socks for the day. Fans were outraged by the behavior, but Sean turned to twitter for a response. He told his fans that it’s only TV, and he’d never give his real-life wife such a preposterous list of tasks – or a list at all.
When the episode finished, he took a picture of his dog watching herself on TV with the caption: “Yeah… so that whole Wife Swap thing made me look like a complete jackass but I guess that’s the risk you run when you agree to take part in something like this. Thanks to those who saw through it all and offered words of support.”
5. “The Worst Husband in the World”
Nearly a decade after his episode of Wife Swap aired, Stephen Fowler is still known as the “worst husband in America.” He knew he was skewered after only ten minutes in when he started receiving phone calls and Facebook messages that threatened to break his phone. His antics on the show were over-the-top, to be sure, but Fowler maintains that the producers of the show continuously told him to take things further after the first couple days of filming felt dull.
Fowler says that he was playing a character – one devised by the producers of Wife Swap. He later called the character “Simon Cowell on steroids.” Fowler lost his teaching job because of the show, and it almost cost him his relationship as well.
4. It’s Scripted
In the age of the internet, it’s become common knowledge that most of the “reality” shows we see are fake. Sure, there are some reality shows that rely on natural drama to keep viewers engaged, but the majority of the reality shows on television have a fair bit of writing assistance to keep them interesting. It’s too hard to rely on real people to make a show engaging, and Wife Swap is one that ensures viewers will be shocked by adding a bit of writing to the mix.
Not every moment in every episode is fully scripted, but multiple former Wife Swap families have come forward and told their side of the story.
According to a few Reddit AMA’s and tell-all blogs, most (if not all) of the rules of the families are manufactured by the producers to create tension. They tell people what to say and how to react in some instances, and even have the families dramatize some scenes for the camera.
3. Timeline trickery
It’s not just the moments that are scripted – it’s the entirety of the experience. Multiple Wife Swap “stars” have come forward to divulge the behind-the-scenes workings of the show, and the truth is far from what the producers would like us to think. Although they say the show is shot over two weeks, it’s really only shot over one. On top of that, they bring props to the house to convey whatever story-line they find most interesting.
“Night” scenes are often shot during the day, and producers will black-out the windows to make it seem as though the scene is taking place after dark. If they want to shoot a “day” scene when it’s dark, the producers will bring massive lights to light the yard as if it were daytime.
2. Creating Villains
As we’ve established, Wife Swap mostly relies on manufactured drama to keep the audience interested in the characters. They script a lot of the interactions, and use props and set dressings to get their point across. These tactics are no different when it comes to presenting the families themselves.
Families are often designated “roles” in the narrative. As is the case with any show, there are characters the audience is meant to root for and against. Through tricky editing, the Wife Swap producers are able to manipulate the audience into feeling a certain way about each character. The characterization doesn’t even have to be accurate to what happened.
According to at least one Wife Swap tell-all, the producers often choose the least agreeable person in the show to be the “bad guy.” This means that the person who doesn’t play along with the producers’ manufactured drama is often the best candidate for the hated villain of the episode.
1. A Child’s Death
This story is one of the saddest in the list – though not the most shocking. It appeared to have nothing to do with the filming of the episode, but one of the families depicted on the UK version of the show lost their child shortly after filming. Fourteen-year-old Daniel Boughey tragically died in his sleep after the family’s episode wrapped.
According to the family, Daniel went up to his room to watch TV one evening. He went to sleep, and when his brother went to wake him the next day he had already passed. It is believed that Daniel died of natural causes, and no one was charged with any criminal behavior.
The story is a sad one, and can’t really be held against the show, but remains one of many marks on Wife Swap’s long list of moments they want the viewers to forget.
Do you have any secrets to share from Wife Swap? Leave them in the comments!
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