What is “Wife Swap”?

“Wife Swap” was an American reality show that premiered on ABC in September 2004, and was based on the British series of the same name. In each episode, two families who normally came from different social classes or led wildly different lifestyles, would swap wives or husbands. John Schwab was the show’s narrator during its first six-year run, and provided plenty of entertaining commentary.

Almost every episode had some sort of drama or tension, because to make things more interesting, the two wives and their new families would usually be polar opposites. Social and cultural differences played an important role in the show’s storyline, as all parties involved had to adapt carefully to the situation.

The show’s best-known spin-off, “Celebrity Wife Swap”, first aired in January 2012 and lasted four seasons before being pulled. Meanwhile, the original series was cancelled in 2010 but was briefly brought back three years later. In 2018, new episodes were released using the show’s original format, and aired on Paramount Network in April 2019. Despite renewing the show for a 12th season, Paramount cancelled it in September 2020 to focus on films.

In “Wife Swap”, the first week was always the most challenging. Before leaving their homes, each wife would write a house manual detailing the household’s rules and routine. The replacement wife would then have to follow the rules to the best of her ability. Then, there was a rule changing ceremony where both wives would decide which rules to keep during the rest of the time with her new “family”.

During the second week, the tables turned as the new wives set their own rules which the rest of the household had to follow. The wives would also give the new family a sum of money to be spent as they saw fit. As is to be expected, most families found it hard to follow the new rules.

At the end of the two weeks, both couples would have their first group meeting and discuss the experience. These sit-down conversations would often turn violent, or at the very least verbally abusive, with each family insulting the other. Sometimes, however, they would find a middle ground and see things from the other family’s point of view. A few weeks after the experiment, cameras would return to each household to see if the families had made any long-lasting changes since the swap.

Wife Swap | Confetti Carnival

These wives had a lot to talk about after their swap!

Posted by Wife Swap on Thursday, May 21, 2020

Where Are They Now?

Many “Wife Swap” families enjoyed a fleeting taste of fame through their appearances in the series. Years after the show’s cancellation, some fans still wonder where their favorite cast members are now.

One such fan favorite was Tony Blackburn, who made his TV debut in a 2005 episode of “Wife Swap” and is now a composer and voiceover actor known as Buzz Blackburn. Buzz, who won an award at the 2018 Tennessee Music Awards in the Best Radio DJ of the Year category, has also done voiceover work for “Bloodwash” and other video games.

For years, Buzz was known for being the overweight young boy who butted heads with the gym-obsessed “mom” the show set the Blackburn family up with. However, he has now made a decent living for himself, and is currently leading a comfortable lifestyle.

The Beaver family were laughed at when they appeared in “Wife Swap”, especially the parents, due to their liberal views, dreadlocks, and unorthodox lifestyle. Some cruel viewers even called them tree-hugging hippies and other supposed derogatory names. Fast-forward to 2022, the family have hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok and other social media platforms, and use their online fame for good, helping promote their daughter Emily’s crochet apparel business.

During their episode, the Stockdales were portrayed as a strict and extremely religious bunch who all played in a bluegrass family band. Tragedy struck the strange family in 2017, when officers responded to a 911 call during which they heard a single gunshot before the line went dead. After rushing to the scene, they found that Jacob Stockdale, the second-youngest son, had shot and killed his mother and younger brother James before trying to kill himself.

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Jacob survived his self-inflicted gunshot wound, and was arrested in September 2018. In April 2021, he was sentenced to 15 years to life; due to his mental problems, the trial was delayed many times. Although Jacob’s trial didn’t garner much media attention, some “Wife Swap” viewers remembered the Stockdales and partly blamed the family patriarchs, Kathy and Timothy, for the horrifying incident.

The four Stockdale sons – Calvin, Charles, Jacob and James – lived in relative seclusion to protect them from bad influences, and had to work for small privileges such as listening to the radio. Kathy didn’t let their sons curse – which is reasonable enough – but didn’t let them date, either, saying: “…dating has physical dangers like pregnancy. It’s not worth it. It’s important we have control over their character and their education.”

No official motive for the murder was ever released, however, Laurie Tonkovic, Jacob’s temporary “mother” on the show, shed some light on his disturbing upbringing. “When I switched the rules and I was going to let them have fun, let them have a television and video games, and experience life a little bit, Jacob ran outside crying,” she told TMZ. “I asked him what was wrong, and he said that his mom and dad would tell him that he would ‘burn in hell.’”

Not all “Wife Swap” stories ended on a tragic note, however. In 2007, the Starling family appeared in the series, and many viewers were surprised at how much hard work the parents were putting in to ensure that their then-13-year-old son Justin could pursue his dream of being a professional motocross racer. From working two jobs to putting a dirt track in the family home’s backyard so Justin could practice, Justin’s parents did everything possible for their son – and their efforts paid off, as Justin was signed professionally five years later.

Viewers also remember that Justin cursed at his temporary mother, and locked her out of his room when she banned him for riding his bike for a week. Nevertheless, the professional racer has a large following these days, and is making his parents proud.

Another “Wife Swap” alum who regrets being on the show is Heidi Herrington, who claims that she and her family were exploited and made to look bad in their episode. Boasting pink hair and dark eye makeup, Heidi explained her side of the story in a riveting TikTok upload, claiming that the show’s producers had manipulated her father’s already fragile mental health.

These days, Heidi uses her TikTok following to promote mental health awareness, and has also discussed her father’s PTSD at length. In the 2010 episode, Heidi was in her early 20s, and she’s said of the experience: “They had already decided during filming that my family was the ‘bad family’ and the other lady’s family was the ‘good family’ and they would do whatever it took to make that point.”

Controversy

During its first run, “Wife Swap” found itself at the center of controversy on several occasions. In 2004, ABC announced “Trading Moms”, an American version of “Wife Swap”, having outbid Fox Network to attain the rights. In July of the same year, Fox released “Trading Spouses”, an almost identical program, while ABC broadcast its version in September 2004, and kept the English title.

In December 2004, RDF Media sued Fox Network for copyright infringement, claiming that the latter network had copied the show’s format without permission. After a lengthy legal battle, in 2008 FOX sold CMT rights to the show.

In November 2005, ABC was sued by a participant of the American “Wife Swap” after trading his wife for a gay man. The participant accused the network of refusing to pay for his wife’s return home, being dishonest, not letting him contact his wife, and refusing to tell him where his wife was when filming ended. A mere month later, he filed a $10 million lawsuit. According to a spokesman for the show, the contract clearly stated that the spouse could be male or female. It remains unclear if the case was thrown out of court, or if ABC quietly settled the matter.

In March 2010, a 2008 participant named Alicia Guastaferro sued ABC Network for an eye-watering $100 million. Alicia claimed that the public embarrassment after appearing in the show had led to her having panic attacks and suicidal thoughts; according to Alicia, she was asked by producers to act differently, and forced to participate in many staged scenes.

On the show, Alicia was presented as a spoilt beauty pageant kid who was given gifts by her parents every day, and insisted on having a Christmas tree in the house all year round. Looking back, it’s easy to believe that “Wife Swap” producers greatly exaggerated aspects of the Guastefarro family’s lifestyle. Perhaps to avoid details of the show’s production coming out, ABC settled the case out of court in the same year, and Alicia declined to give any further interviews about her experience.

Cancellation

When “Wife Swap” was abruptly cancelled, fans of the series were justifiably disappointed, and would spend years trying to figure out why their favorite show was pulled. Later on, participants would come out of the woodwork to complain about the reality show’s exaggerated aspects.

Christy Oeth is one such participant, who spoke to media outlets about her disappointing “Wife Swap” experience. On the show, she was portrayed as a cold-hearted workaholic who neglected her children, and many viewers considered her an unlikeable figure. However, producers failed to mention that Christy had stopped working for five years to raise her brood of children, and only returned to the office when her husband left his demanding job.

Nancy Cedarquist and her family were also turned into caricatures by the show’s producers. “Wife Swap” viewers side eyed the Cedarquists – who supposedly lived in a treehouse and barely had any contact with the outside world – for their supposedly unorthodox lifestyle. Although Nancy did homeschool her and her husband Keith’s six children, she also enrolled them in extracurricular activities such as basketball, band practice and ballet. They weren’t living in a treehouse, either, but rather a home with no cement foundation.

The Oeth-Cedarquist episode was full of tension behind the scenes. Just five days into filming, Nancy left the Oeth home and checked into a nearby hotel after clashing with Christy’s husband, Michael, and their children. Producers drove Nancy to and from the Oeth house until she had filmed all her scenes, and they also wrote the new rules which she put in place during the second week of filming.

Many children and adolescents who appeared in “Wife Swap” have also accused the show’s producers of using their insecurities against them, as they apparently had to fill in an in-depth psychiatric exam with 700 questions. However, the real root of the show’s cancellation has more to do with Paramount Network than anyone else. In 2020, the network moved away from reality shows such as “Ink Master” and “Battle of the Fittest Couples”, replacing them with miniseries, blockbuster series, and TV movies.

“Celebrity Wife Swap” was never a roaring success either, despite having a star-studded cast that included Corey Feldman, Coolio, and the controversial Heidi Montag. The episodes were criticized for being overtly scripted, which turned viewers off, as most of the participants were more interested in using their episode to promote their projects, than in enjoying and learning from the experience.

Audience figures plummeted in the disastrous season three premiere of the spin-off show, especially within its target demographic of adult viewers aged between 18 and 49. Producers were left clutching for straws in the show’s fourth season, but the writing was on the wall for “Celebrity Wife Swap”, and it was quietly cancelled due to a lack of interest.

For now, there’s no question of “Wife Swap” returning to any TV channel, in any way, shape, or form.

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