• "Seeking Sister Wife" is a TLC reality show that follows polygamous families.
• Cast members come from Mormon or secular backgrounds and the show has been criticized for its sexist undertones.
• "Sister Wives" is another TLC show that follows the Brown family and their 19 children.
• "Escaping Polygamy" follows three sisters who left a Utah-based polygamous group and help their friends and family escape.
• Polygamy is accepted, rejected, or encouraged in different societies depending on country, socioeconomic status, and religion.
What is “Seeking Sister Wife”?
If the name wasn’t enough of a clue, “Seeking Sister Wife” is a TLC reality show that first aired in January 2018, and in which polygamous families either seek out a new wife or help her adjust to the family. Most of the cast members are from Mormon or secular backgrounds.
The controversial show has been slammed for its sexist undertones, wondering why the husbands were always looking for new wives but never the other way around, but viewing figures have been mostly positive during its four-year run; season four aired from June to August 2022, and it’s believed that the fifth season will be confirmed soon.
Shows based on polygamist couples are all the rage lately, so naturally, the fresh faces in season four stirred up a lot of curiosity.
Relative newcomers include the Jones couple, comprised of Sidian and Tosha and their potential addition Arielle. Although Arielle may just be the perfect fit for Joneses, Sidian is concerned and feels that the former beauty pageant contestant is out of his league. The Joneses were introduced to “Seeking Sister Wife” in its third season, but didn’t mesh well enough with Alexandra.
The Davis throuple – consisting of Nick, Jennifer, and April – have also recently joined the show. Jennifer and April are legally married to each other, and the three share a tight-knit bond. Making things even more interesting is that the Davises are one of the few interracial trios to appear in the show so far: Nick is African-American, whereas his two “wives” are Caucasian.
Steve and Brenda Foley, a seasoned polygamist couple, are also new to the series. This time around, they hope to find a permanent addition to their unconventional family unit and are looking for a younger wife.
Former cast members include the Briney family, which had not one but three wives; the Alldredge family which had two wives and was looking for a third; and the Snowdens, who bowed out after three seasons – and are currently entrenched in a legal battle with one of their former potential sister wives, Christeline, who filed for a restraining order and claimed that she had suffered domestic abuse at the hands of Dimitri Snowden. Dimitri and his legal wife Ashley also broke up in July 2021.
Bernie and Paige McGee were “Seeking Sister Wife” cast members during its second season. The couple were middle-aged and had children of their own but were courting a potential sister wife named Brandy – but things went wrong when Bernie and Brandy began getting too close by going on dates alone.
Disillusioned and jealous, Paige told Bernie she wanted out of the polygamist lifestyle, and an argument ensued. She was clearly against taking things with Brandy to the next level, and Paige and Bernie’s children weren’t particularly thrilled about the news either, especially their teenage son John.
We’ll never know what could have been between Paige, Bernie, and Brandy, because Bernie died in summer 2019 at the untimely age of 41. The network released a statement saying: “Our hearts go out to the McGee family following the loss of husband and father Bernie McGee. Our thoughts are with them during this difficult time.”
Paige confirmed to TLC that her husband had died of a heart attack and heat stroke while out on a bike ride. He passed away in a local hospital surrounded by his family and loved ones; the plot thickened when the seemingly impoverished McGees set up a GoFundMe page to cover his funeral expenses.
It turns out that the couple had recently lost everything in a house fire, so Bernie’s death came at the worst possible moment when they were just getting back on their feet. Bernie had called Paige during his bike ride and told her he was feeling unwell; unfortunately, he had already passed away by the time she reached him.
As it happens, the McGees wanted to find up to four sister wives after, and not before, the house fire. It would appear that they wished to pool resources with these women, and be able to purchase land on which to build a house or cabin. Paige was also unable to have any more children after a difficult pregnancy and miscarriage, so the sister wives would not only be expected to cough up the cash to rebuild the McGees’ lifestyle, but carry Bernie’s children too. Given their lack of stability, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they didn’t find any serious contenders.
If you’re in the mood to binge-watch polygamy shows, there are a few to choose from. The first and most well-known is “Sister Wives”, which premiered on TLC in September 2010, and boasts 16 seasons and counting. The stars of the show are Kody Brown, his wives Janelle, Meri, Robyn and Christine, and their huge brood of almost 20 children.
The family originally lived in Utah but moved to Las Vegas in 2011, relocating once again in 2018 and settling down in Arizona. Kody and his wives claim to participate in the show to raise awareness and combat prejudices; the family patriarch also says that it is a legal arrangement, as he is only legally married to Robyn, while “spiritually” married to Janelle, Meri and Christine.
In the show’s sixteenth season, Kody and Robyn began living a monogamous lifestyle after over a decade, buying a house together, while Janelle and Meri rented separate properties. Christine announced her (spiritual) divorce from Kody in 2021, and relocated to Utah to spend more time with her older children.
The first season got off to a jampacked start, as Kody courted and married Robyn, the first new wife to enter the fold in over a decade and a half. The show aired at the best possible moment, given the popularity of “Big Love”, a fictional series based on the polygamist Bill Henrickson and his three sister wives.
With that said, not all publicity is good publicity. The media attention “Sister Wives” attracted after its first season led to Kody being compared to a cult leader, and called a lawbreaker, although the sister wives themselves were praised for their closeness, and the show was generally well-received due to its frankness. TLC was also criticized for down-playing the Brown family’s religious convictions and giving them a show in the first place.
Next up is “My Five Ways”, another TLC offering that lasted just two seasons, and followed the Williams, made up of Brady Williams, his five wives Paulie, Robyn, Rosemary, Nonie and Rhonda, and their 25 children. Due to fear of prosecution, the family didn’t disclose where they lived, but were believed to reside near Salt Lake City, Utah. Viewers speculate that the show was cancelled due to it not being interesting enough, or because it was too similar to “Sister Wives”.
In 2018, Brady gave a rare interview in which he suggested that polygamists don’t marry for love, but religious purposes – explaining that members of the fundamentalist sect he and the Browns both belonged to at one time believed that a man would be more powerful in the afterlife depending on how many wives he had.
This is, perhaps, not an uncommon phenomenon. One of Kody Brown’s many children called Robyn, his fourth wife, his soulmate and claimed that she was the only woman his father had married for love. Given that Kody has previously admitted to not being in love with his second wife Janelle, that he and his first wife Meri are mere acquaintances, and that his third wife Christine had left him emotionally drained with her needs, it’s unsurprising that he is practically living a monogamous lifestyle with Robyn these days.
We are overwhelmed by the tremendous outpouring of love and support for #EscapingPolygamy. 😊 We are so blessed to be able to produce such an eye opening show that changes lives. Please share that same love with @Lifetimetv and let them hear your support as well. 💕👊 pic.twitter.com/bRo5DzorqS
— Escaping Polygamy (@EscapePolygamy) April 23, 2019
The last show is “Escaping Polygamy”: the documentary series premiered on LMN in December 2014 and is currently available to watch on Lifetime and Tubi. Showing the darker side of plural marriage, the series follows three sisters who left a Utah-based polygamous group known as The Order, and now devote themselves to helping their friends and family ditch the practice.
Previously, they also helped people escape from the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) and Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) churches. If the first church sounds familiar, it may be because Kody Brown, Brady Williams, and their wives were members.
One of the main cast members, Jessica Christensen, previously said that she would not film a fifth season of the show, and that if the network wanted to renew, they’d need to find new people. Unable to find a replacement, Lifetime seems to have quietly cancelled “Escaping Polygamy”.
Polygamy is defined as the practice of marrying multiple spouses, and can be divided into two specific terms: polyandry, when women are married to more than one man, and polygyny, where men are married to more than one woman. However, the word is also applied to relationships not recognized by the state. In zoology and biology, polygamy means any form of multiple mating.
Depending on the country, society either abhors, accepts, or encourages polygamy. The great majority of societies that accept polygyny are less than welcoming towards polyandry; the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook claims that out of over 1,200 societies studied, polyandry was only practiced in four. Socioeconomic status also plays a huge part in the prevalence of polygamy.
Bigamous marriages aren’t recognized in many countries, so the newest addition to polygamous couples often have no legal rights. Spiritual marriages and other practices are common amongst polygamists; the countries with the highest rates of polygamy in the world are Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, and Niger. In fact, so many Western and Central African countries are accepting of the practice that it’s called the “polygamy belt”.
Of course, religion also plays a huge part in the acceptance of polygamy. For example, although Buddhism doesn’t regard marriage as a sacrament, it is stated in the Parabhava Sutta that “a man who is not satisfied with one woman and seeks out other women is on the path to decline”. This means that although polygamy isn’t outright banned, it isn’t celebrated either, but merely tolerated.
Until 1935, polygamy was legally recognized in Thailand. It was also legal in the Sri Lankan kingdom of Kandy, until it was conquered by the British in 1815. Polyandry and polygyny alike were accepted in Tibet, and fraternal polyandry – where two or more male siblings share a wife – is common amongst Buddhists in the Indian subcontinent.
Christian theologians argue that certain passages of the Bible state that men should only take one wife, but the Augustinian friar and German priest Martin Luther argued marrying several wives did not contradict the Bible. Polygamy is currently rejected by the majority of Christian groups; nevertheless, the subject is a grey area given the New Testament’s vagueness on the matter.
In 1988, the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion ruled that it was a permissible practice in certain circumstances. However, any polygamist wishing to join the Anglican Church could only be baptized into the faith on the following conditions: that he promised not to marry again as long as any of his wives lived, that the local Anglican community accepted his baptism, and that he remained married to his wives so they should not suffer social deprivation in case of separation.
Plural marriage was and remains popular amongst Mormons and members of the Latter Day Saints movement; Muslim men are also permitted up to four wives. A 2020 Pew Research Center report stated that polygamy rates were on the decline, with the practice confined to a few regions around the world, such as the aforementioned polygamy belt. It was most common in Sub-Saharan Africa, but only about 2% of the global population was living in polygamous households.
Of course, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and other groups aim to abolish polygamy entirely, claiming that it violates the dignity of women. This is another grey area, given that in many countries, marriages are governed by customary or religious law, leaving the matter in hands of clerics or community leaders.