What is “Blended Bunch”?

“Blended Bunch” was a short-lived reality show that aired on TLC, and followed the blended Shemwell-Means family, made up of Spencer, Erica and their 11 children. Spencer was born in February 1988, and Erica in May 1987; the widower and widow married in January 2019 and were immediately approached by production companies who were interested in showcasing their lives.

The Shemwell clan turned the offers down for months, but finally agreed in September 2019. The show, which intended to shed light on the realities of blended families and grief, finished airing in April 2021, as it wasn’t renewed for a second season. Erica confirmed in her blog that the network didn’t give any specific reasons regarding its decision, but added that they were all grateful for the opportunity.

Despite their brief reality TV tenure, the Shemwells faced plenty of criticism after season one of the show aired. One irate Reddit user said: “Those kids don’t need to be on TV grieving while their parents force them into a new family situation… Those kids lost then parents, and then basically had to reinvent their entire lives while being filmed. It is borderline abuse.” Surprisingly, hundreds of fellow netizens agreed, with others pointing out that the show was just to “feed” Erica and Spencer’s egos.

The Shemwells

After Aimee’s death, Spencer and his family relocated to Utah from Virginia so he could obtain his general contractors license and attend church more. He met Erica through an online support group for widows and widowers, and they hit it off immediately, walking down the aisle after a whirlwind romance of just 13 months.

According to Spencer, both sets of children were supportive of the families blending together; however, clips of the show demonstrate that some of Aimee’s kids didn’t want to take Spencer’s surname, although they eventually did. Both adopted the other’s children, but they are encouraged to talk about and remember their deceased parents.

There has been much curiosity regarding the fate of Spencer and Erica’s first spouses. Spencer’s first wife, Aimee, was born in September 1988, the oldest of seven children. In September 2017, a month shy of her and Spencer’s 10-year wedding anniversary, he ran a red light and crashed his car, resulting in the instant deaths of Aimee and her unborn child. The tragic incident had a long-lasting impact on Spencer and his brood, but he was lucky enough to find love with Erica.

Erica’s first husband, Tony, was born in late December 1984, and had various maternal and paternal siblings. He and Erica married in June 2007; Tony suffered from a rare hereditary disorder called LFS – Li-Fraumeni syndrome – which increased his chances of developing cancer to almost 100%. Tony was diagnosed with the disease in December 2008, but he and Erica continued having children despite knowing that they had a 50% chance of passing the disorder on – as they already had to their only child, Landon.

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Over the years, Tony underwent various surgical operations, but began suffering from seizures and muscle spasms in September 2015. In November 2016, he was taken off medication as it was no longer effective: he died two days later, while Erica was heavily pregnant.

The Shemwells and the Means were both believed to be religious couples who didn’t use much, if any, birth control, given their total of 11 children who were all born between 2008 and 2017. Spencer and Aimee’s children are Brayden Michael, born in June 2008; Harper Lynn in April 2012; Avery James in April 2014; and Bexley William in April 2016.

Erica and Tony’s children are: Daryl London, who was born in April 2008 and is positive for LFS; Emma Alysse born in August 2009 and is also LFS-positive; Lily Kendall in March 2011; Sophie Mae in May 2012 and also a carrier of the genetic condition; Tanner Fielding in November 2013; Amelia Rose in December 2015; and finally, Caleb Anthony, born in March 2017 after his father’s death, and the couple’s fourth LFS-positive child.

It’s important to note that the Shemwell blog hasn’t been updated in a few years, so there’s little public information available about the numerous family members.

Similar Shows

TLC is a network that loves exploring the uniqueness of human relationships: from sisters who share clothes, make-up and even boyfriends, to established couples seeking out sister wives, no topic is off-limits. The reasoning behind “Blended Bunch” being cancelled remains unclear, but there are quite a few shows featuring large and eccentric families for viewers to satisfy themselves with, although none exactly as the Shemwells.

First on the list is “Bringing Up Bates”: Gil and Kelly, with their 19 children, are awfully similar to the disgraced Duggars, and as it happens the two families are close friends. The Bates and TLC’s relationship goes back over a decade, with their first show, “United Bates of America”, airing in 2012. Their second show debuted in January 2015 and had a good 10-season run prior to its cancellation in January 2022.

The Bates are practicing evangelical Christians with almost half a million Instagram followers; some family members appeared in “19 Kids and Counting” as friends of the Duggars. Just like their close friends, the Bates follow the Institute in Basic Life Principles teaching and its accompanying homeschooling program, the Advanced Training Institute. Gil and the Duggars are presumed to have met at an IBLP conference in the early 2000s.

The controversial institute aims to introduce people to Jesus and follow God’s principles to achieve success. If this sounds vague and somewhat concerning, that’s because it is: several women have sued IBLP to date, claiming that staffers have been sexually abused and harassed since the early 1990s, and nothing has been done about it. Gil clearly isn’t worried about the lawsuits, given that he joined the institute’s board of directors in 2013.

Gil and Kelly, despite both studying at public schools in their childhood, decided to homeschool their sizeable brood with a faith and character-based curriculum. Kelly and the older children are in charge of most of the homeschooling, with Gil participating in the character traits training and nothing else.

The Bates matriarch claims to use different homeschooling methods depending on her children’s individual learning styles; a few of the kids are currently studying at Crown College of the Bible, having completed their homeschooling studies.

A quirky but heartwarming aspect of the Bates’ home life is their buddy system, in which each older child is assigned a younger sibling to help with everyday chores. Rather less heartwarming is how they refer to son, Lawson, as “the bank financier”. Why? In Kelly’s own words: “…because he is always lending to siblings, or lending to us, or he’s the one that always has money in the account, when the rest of us don’t.”

Lawson’s hard-earned cash is a result of the lawn mowing business he painstakingly created during his adolescence. Although Gil and Kelly have been trying to lead a debt-free life since attending a financial freedom seminar, they’ve clearly been less than successful to date, despite having been big reality stars with six-figure salaries for years.

The second-generation Bates also believe in family values, and those who have married have, for the most part, sought out like-minded partners. Zach, the eldest son, is a retired law enforcement officer who is married to Whitney Perkins, co-owner of Bates Sisters Boutique. They share four children, and previously suffered a miscarriage.

Posted by Fans of Brandon and Michaela Keilen on Saturday, November 24, 2018

Michaela, the eldest daughter, married an IBLP videographer named Brandon. She herself holds a nursing degree, and runs an online store selling Brandon’s books and her homemade products. Erin, the thirdborn, is a former co-owner of Bates Sisters Boutique who had five children in quick succession after suffering three heartbreaking miscarriages in 2014. Her husband is the co-owner of a construction business.

Lawson – the so-called bank financier – is rather less traditional than his cookie-cutter siblings, as his wife Tiffany is an actress, and he works a number of odd jobs. It’s believed that Lawson isn’t as close to his family these days, and that he and Tiffany are making their own way in life and away from the Bates.

Nathan is Director of Operations at MEDIC Corps, which he co-founded with no other than John-David Duggar. The multitalented Bates son is also a rescue specialist, commercial fixed wing and helicopter pilot, and a certified flight instructor. He’s served in emergency services as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, and first responder. His young spouse, Esther, was born in 1997 and is a housewife.

Katie, Josie, Carlin, Trace, Tori and Alyssa Bates are also married and have another ten or twelve children between them, with others on the way. Not all of the second-generation Bates feature in the show anymore, but most of them make cameos from time to time.

Similar Shows: Part Two

“Welcome to Plathville” features another blonde, religious, and seemingly wholesome family. The TLC series premiered in late 2019 and follows the Plath family – parents Barry and Kim, Ethan, Micah, Moriah, Lydia, and four younger siblings. Hosanna, the oldest daughter, has chosen not to participate in the show.

Amongst the Plath family’s many peculiarities is that soda is forbidden, as is pop culture: they don’t watch TV, and don’t even know who Spiderman is. Barry and Kim raise their brood on a sprawling 55-acre farm in beautiful rural Georgia. The first season started off well enough with all the single children living at home; Ethan’s wife, Olivia, also made frequent appearances.

Things began going awry in season two, when Micah and Moriah moved out into a rental house as roommates, and Ethan and Olivia cut ties with the Plath patriarchs and the children still living at home. The Plaths decided to move out of the family farm and into a new property; fans of the show weren’t exactly shocked at these tumultuous changes, given that tensions had been brewing under the surface for a long time.

Ethan and Olivia – a businesswoman and destination wedding photographer – married young in October 2018. From the jump, the Plaths were critical of Olivia, and in the first season she bluntly stated: “I have felt very negative about Kim… Literally every time I get in my car to go over there, my stomach is in knots.”

Apparently, Olivia was criticized for just about everything – her clothes, diet, and even the toothpaste she used. Kim herself said: “She [Olivia] thinks I’m too controlling… There were things, when they were engaged, that I know she thinks that I disapproved of, but I really didn’t. And the thing is, she never asked me.”

In season two, Ethan had finally had enough and confronted his parents. Ugly words were exchanged, and the couple refuse to communicate with Kim and Barry to this day, even if this means they can’t talk to the younger siblings until they turn 18. In 2021, the couple moved away from Cairo, Georgia, and began working on their mental health and emotional issues before trying for children. Olivia, who was traumatized from her exceedingly conservative upbringing, is currently in therapy, and has suffered from suicidal thoughts in the past.

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Meanwhile, Micah signed to a modelling agency, Select Model Management Miami. “It’s not a rebellion against my parents,” he said. “It’s coming to terms with myself and feeling what I want to do.” Micah and Moriah are happily living together but are also coming to terms with their sudden change of lifestyle and newfound freedom.

Not much is known about the rest of the Plaths, but the tragic death of Joshua Samuel has hung over the family like a dark cloud. Born in April 2007, he died almost a year and a half later when he was run over by his mother, Kim. The death was ruled an accident by an investigator who claimed that Kim was moving the vehicle forward while the kids were outside playing. According to the investigator, “[Kim] thought everyone was accounted for, moved the vehicle forward and discovered she’d run over the youngest.”

The future of the show remains uncertain, as Kim and Barry announced their separation in 2022, after over two decades of apparently not-so-happy union. Some viewers speculate that the drama was scripted, while others think that the show merely magnified the problems that were already bubbling under the surface. The release of season three has yet to be confirmed by TLC.

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