Wife Swap: 11 Things That Were Totally Fake (And 6 That Were Real)
In today’s world of media entertainment, it’s not uncommon for reality TV shows to either be scripted or completely fabricated – Wife Swap is no different. Based off a similar show in the U.K., Wife Swap aired on ABC in 2004 and was an instant hit in America.
The show lasted six years on ABC then took a two-year hiatus before returning to ABC in 2012 for a single season. The concept of the show was found so entertaining that the producers decided to up the stakes and made a spin-off show – this time with big-name celebrities such as Flavor Flav, Terrell Owens, Coolio and even Alan Thicke!
However, like most reality TV shows out there, Wife Swap comes with its own behind-the-scenes revelations that sometimes make viewers question the validity of the content they’re watching. From hiring actors to play the roles within the families to fabricating dramatic situations out of nowhere, the producers of Wife Swap have had to get creative in order to make compelling episodes. Besides the harmless insider secrets that help create interesting situations on screen, there are a handful of shady incidents that the showrunners would like to keep quiet.
While the creators may have never intended to cause any harm or trouble for the families, a handful of them has experienced family break-ups, loss and other tragic events due to the nature of how the show was made.
17. FAKE: THE FAMILIES ARE GIVEN “ROLES” TO PLAY IN EACH EPISODE
Every family has its own quirks and personality, while some are as plain as vanilla ice cream. The same goes for some families that have appeared on Wife Swap over the years, which has enabled producers to take a more creative approach when it comes to each episode.
To create a more interesting dynamic for the viewers, some families are given ‘roles’ or even classic stereotypes to help ramp up the drama for the visiting wives to endure during the episodes.
While this isn’t the case for every family, it has been confirmed by previous guest stars on the show, as well as people involved in the development, that in some episodes certain families have been given such roles such as being extremely health conscious (almost to a fault), over-the-top religious, or even extremely messy and dysfunctional.
It comes as no surprise – swapping wives into a carbon copy of their own family wouldn’t make for a very interesting episode, so to spice it up why not create some personas to help create tension!
16. FAKE: THE PRODUCERS MANIPULATE THE CHILDREN TO MANUFACTURE DRAMA
Kids are a never-ending source of entertainment on television.
Things can get dull during the filming of episodes which will motivate the producers to go to the kids first to help flare up tensions or make for more interesting drama within the show. One way to get the contestants to act out is by the showrunners to sit with the kids and ask them the same question over and over until the kids react the way they want – usually in a negative way. With how impressionable kids are, it’s no mystery that they would be manipulated to help steer the show in the direction the producers want.
If you watched the show then you can remember a handful of kids who displayed all sorts of personalities, with one of the highlights being “King Curtis”. This young boy spent the majority of the show expressing his belief that bacon and chicken nuggets were the golden ticket to a healthy lifestyle and even further, he made his parents refer to him as “King Curtis!”
This act was all thanks to the crew who gave the boy a role to play – which he played perfectly!
15. REAL: BALLOON BOY
The Heene family is now a Wife Swap legend after being on the show twice! Before appearing on Wife Swap, the Heene family had a moment of fame when they pretended that their son, Falcon, was inside a balloon filled with helium and floated away. Surprise – they were lying.
Their time on Wife Swap was as equally weird as they required no false family stories or actors – they only needed to show their usual weirdness. The father, Richard Heene, is a devout UFO enthusiast and is convinced that Earth is not only visited by aliens on a regular basis, but that humanity itself is descended from a strange alien race that once came to the planet a millenia ago.
Their unique personality made for an extremely interesting and entertaining pair of episodes – especially when they had to share their home with a pyschic who did not mesh well at all with them. Whether or not the Heene family is truly as whacky as they seem, they made a big enough impression to be invited back!
Seems at the very least the Heene family was good for ratings!
14. FAKE: THE MANUALS THE PARENTS READ ARE TOTALLY FAKE
In every episode of Wife Swap, the new wife shows up to their temporary families home and they are given a manual with all the necessary information about the family they are about to live with – a manual that the show says the original wife wrote. False.
Turns out, those manuals are not only fake but they are written by the producers of the show. It’s definitely the most convenient way for them to change the way the families are portrayed, as well as being a good reference guide for the families themselves for their new personas. The new wives are given these manuals before they even meet the families so it’s the perfect avenue to help create these false first impressions as well as for the viewers to create certain bias’ and judgments before they even interact.
It has even added an extra element of humor at times when a very health conscious and goal oriented mother reads that her new families are slobs and inactive people. Sometimes watching their reactions as they read can give the viewers the hint that things may not bode well for them!
13. FAKE: THE PRODUCERS LEAVE OUT IMPORTANT INFORMATION ON PURPOSE
A lot of editing goes into making TV shows. If they showed all the content they filmed each, episode would take hours to watch and would make it be way more different.
A clever technique that is used during development is for the showrunners to leave out certain information, not only to help make the families personas more convincing but also in some cases to change the dynamic of the families entirely
It comes as no surprise at this point, especially given all the other examples of how the show is twisted to suit the needs of the producers. One perfect example of this was in an episode where the family was portrayed to live secluded from the world in a treehouse. They also made it apparent that the father was the only one allowed to venture in to town to get the supplies needed for their survival. Turns out that was not the case at all, as the mother had a full-time job and all the kids even attended the local public school!
All of this came to light after the show aired when the family didn’t like the way they were shown on TV and came forward with the truth!
12. REAL: TOO REAL FOR ANNA COURTENAY
Contracts can keep people stuck in some nasty situations.
Anna Courtenay, a TV presenter in the U.K., came to this realization too little, too late and ended up regretting it entirely. Courtenay had a familiarity with the reality TV business and knew there would be some catch to her being on the show, however, she had no idea what the producers had planned for her.
In the episode, Anna was sent to live with an environment-friendly family who lived on a tugboat without electricity or even running water! What made her experience even worse was when she found out she forgot the most basic of necessities – a towel for bathing. To her horror, she found out that the family she was staying with one owned one towel that was a shared towel between every family member. When the time came for her to implement her own rules, she asked for cleaning supplies and was only given air freshener, which conflicted with the family’s rules entirely.
If it hadn’t been for the contract she had signed and the likelihood of losing her compensation, she would have walked away from production. The week would later be described as “the worst week of her life.”
11. FAKE: ONE WIFE WAS REPLACED WITH A MAN
Wife Swap has had its fair share of scandals. One of the highlights of these was one that created a lot of controversy for the show when one of the wives was replaced with a man – making both of the husbands appear to be in a homosexual relationship.
At first, everything seemed to be normal for the wives when they traveled to their destinations, only until one of the wives reached her hotel and was told to stay put until the development was finished.
In her place, the producers sent a gay man to play her role and when the husband refused to play along, the show refused to disclose his wife’s location and as wouldn’t pay for her to return until production was complete. The husband grudgingly went along in the end and played his new role as a gay husband and father.
Of course, after the show aired, the family attempted to sue the show, to no avail. They were able to spread the truth about the events in hopes of preventing the same kind of manipulation from happening to other families. These reality shows are very well backed legally, which gives very little chance to the everyman.
10. FAKE: RULE CHANGES AREN’T NATURAL
One way Wife Swap likes to shake things up is by implementing rule changes during the episode.
Turns out – like many other aspects of the show – the rule changes are actually just another scam. The way it works on air is that about a week in, the new wives are told that they can add their own rules to the household that their new families must adhere to. Of course to help create drama and as much controversy as possible, the rules the new wives add to the house are generally opposites of the ones already in place.
However, behind-the-scenes, the rules are actually created by the producers in an effort to spike tensions and create some entertaining drama for the viewers. Some examples of these rule changes would be no eating meat in a family that is big into hunting or a strictly regimented schedule for a very laissez-faire family. In some cases, the producers implement rules that they know the families won’t abide by, all to create some Jerry Springer Show type situations.
Why the producers even bothered with the facade – who knows. What is clear, however, is that they are not afraid to mislead the viewers any way they can!
9. REAL: STEPHEN FOWLER LOST EVERYTHING
Believe it or not, Wife Swap has hurt not only lives, but careers as well.
Stephen Fowler is a victim of both of these, unfortunately, who was later given the nickname “the worst husband in America“. During the episode, he was instructed by the producers to play the role of an uptight and extremely tough to love husband and father, which he did perfectly. Before the show was even finished premiering on TV, he started receiving threatening phone calls, e-mails, and Facebook messages that started his unfortunate downfall.
According to him, when the filming became dull a few days in, the producers began to instruct him to take things further and be as over-the-top as possible to help create drama for the show. It ended up being a big mistake on his part, as it would later end up costing him not only his relationship with his real wife but also his career as a teacher. Fowler described the character he portrayed in the episode as a “Simon Cowell on steroids”, which the public did not receive well at all.
This is just one of a handful of tragic endings for the families involved in Wife Swap.
8. FAKE: THE SPOUSES OCCUPATIONS AREN’T WHAT THEY SEEM
From fake family members to fake situations, most of what viewers see on Wife Swap is somewhat fabricated – including the occupations of the couples!
It comes as no surprise that the producers would go to such lengths as to adapt jobs for the adults to embody, especially after everything else they come up with.
Of course, it comes with a purpose as they choose certain occupations in order to make them seem uptight and professional or crazy and out of their minds. It makes sense, especially if their true occupations are simple everyday jobs. Why not spice up the story by making the father a successful car dealer instead? Or on the other end of the spectrum to make him a logging foreman whose job always puts him in danger? It undoubtedly would add an element of excitement to each episode that would be easy to pull off.
Next time you catch an episode of Wife Swap, look up the adults on the internet and you may be surprised (or not) to find out they live a somewhat different life altogether!
7. FAKE: THEY USE BASIC SET MANIPULATION TO RECREATE DAY AND NIGHT
There is a lot more going on behind-the-scenes of Wife Swap than just manipulating the actors and the lives they pretend to live.
Besides coming up with altered occupations, fake drama, and tense situations, the production crew had to also create a false sense of reality by creating artificial sunlight and darkness when needing to film scenes in daylight and at nighttime. Due to their long rigorous filming schedule, sometimes when they would be filming at night, they would need to reshoot daytime scenes and vice versa. To achieve this effect they would use simple studio techniques such as setting up many powerful lights outside windows to mimic sunlight and when they needed more nighttime shots they would simply black out all the windows to create a false sense of darkness.
It’s not an uncommon practice throughout Hollywood, especially inside studios where it’s easy to create instant darkness and supplement it with lights. This practice goes to show that there truly isn’t very many real things about the show at all – which after all the numerous other revelations regarding the production of the show – does not come as a surprise at all.
6. REAL: A GIRL ACTUALLY SUED THE SHOW FOR $100 MILLION
Not everyone left Wife Swap having a good experience. One stand out is Alicia Guastaferro, who felt she was represented in such a bad and false light on air that she ended up suing the show for $100 million!
Alicia was underage at the time of the episode’s premiere, meaning that her parents were the only ones to receive compensation – not her. On top of that, she claimed that after starring on the show she was harassed and bullied badly, which ruined her life and even pushed her to the point of harming herself. According to her, the show made her out to be some sort of spoiled and entitled 15-year-old girl who had to have her way and made her parents lives a living hell.
The lawsuit was settled in 2011 with an undisclosed amount presumably given to Alicia. Since then she’s had an interesting story, with phases of prostitution and drug possession to most recently becoming an actress.
Her current net worth stands at $16 million dollars so looks like she’s on the up and up!
5. FAKE: CELEBRITY WIFE SWAP
Turns out that even celebrities aren’t spared from being given the “lifestyle makeover” that comes with being on Wife Swap or Celebrity Wife Swap.
In fact, according to some of the celebrities who have appeared on the show, they are “directed” even more than the usual families. Some celebrities aren’t used to being told how to act when playing themselves on TV, so it must have come as a rough transition for them – especially the more famous ones, who may not take well to being ordered around. However, once the contract is signed, they are legally obliged to follow through or potentially face a lawsuit.
One prime example of a Celebrity Wife Swap gone wrong is the episode that starred Sean Lowe and his wife Catherine. Sean’s replacement wife was surprised on the first day to receive a “to-do” list from Sean (actually from the producers) that had some over-the-top requests that made his wife look more like a maid than a life partner. After the episode aired, Sean Lowe took to the internet to combat the animosity he gained from the episode by telling the public that it was all a hoax and he never gives his wife a list at all.
4. FAKE: TIMELINE EDITING
The producers of Wife Swap keep a lot of tricks up their sleeves to manipulate the show.
Besides finding ways to steer certain scenes and interactions in the directions they want, they also edit the overall timeline of filming in order to suit their needs. The show claims that the filming takes place over the course of a few weeks, but in reality, it usually doesn’t take any longer than a week to get all of their scenes captured – which is an obvious sign that there is very little of the show that is actually real.
They rearrange scenes to add different angles of drama, trick the viewers into thinking it’s day or night when it’s really not and even brings their own array of props to further fool the viewers – all in order to complete the narrative for the families that they decide on before the production even starts. It’s also pretty common for the production crew to just film the families until some sort of drama happens – which they can then plug into the episode wherever they want.
As more of these insider revelations come to light it makes the show appear much more like a mid-day soap opera than a reality TV show.
3. REAL: UNFORTUNATE TURN OF EVENTS
Wife Swap has seen its fair share of crazy families. When it came to the Stockdale family, they didn’t realize what kind of darkness dwelled within some of the family members.
The Stockdale family appeared to be an average family with a devoutly religious background and even played together in their own band: The Stockdale Family Band. They did have some strict household rules such as no video games or TV at all – which seemed pretty normal for a family with their style. However, it turns out all the safeguarding the parents did for the kids wasn’t enough.
Jacob Stockdale, one of the sons, began to deal with severe ridicule and bullying in the time after the show aired. Everyone who knew him had always said that he was a very happy young man.
Eventually, all the harassment and bullying mentally broke Jacob. One day he shot his mother and brother, killing them. Afterwards he shot himself nad now has severe brain damage but is still alive.
Stockdale will likely face murder or aggravated murder charges and it could be a capital case.
It is easily one of the most tragic stories regarding the families involved with Wife Swap.
2. FAKE: THE FAMILIES ARE SHOWN A “FAKE FAMILY CUT”
Nobody likes being represented in a bad light – especially on television.
Most families that have been on Wife Swap have said that if they knew how they were going to be portrayed on the show, they would have never agreed to go on at all. The producers are aware of this and to avoid risking losing their investments, they have been confirmed to show certain families an entirely different cut of the episodes that is nothing like what the final cut shows on TV.
This is a sure fire way to create a temporary satisfaction for the families so the show can go on, so to speak.
Apparently, this is a common practice for the showrunners and they have even had lawsuits filed against them – which never amounted to anything for the families involved since they could never actually prove that they were shown a “fake cut” to keep them happy. It’s undoubtedly not the best way of doing business but Wife Swap would more than likely have a lot of back-outs before the episodes air – making a world of trouble for the producers and the investors!
This goes to show to always read the fine print and document everything!
1. REAL: THE FOSTERS
Like the U.S. version, U.K. Wife Swap has also had its fair share of broken lives and families due to the backlash from the episodes.
Simon Foster is at the top of the list. He and his wife Jane decided to appear on the show, only not alone. Their non-traditional relationship also included a girlfriend for the both of them, who also both decided to star on the show. However, the way they portrayed their open relationship really humiliated Simon. The episode made it quite clear that Jane was much happier with her own girlfriend than Simon was with his – and even Jane too.
Later on, after the show premiered, Simon and Jane eventually split up and Jane pursued a private relationship with her girlfriend. Simon spiraled downhill from there, struggling with substance abuse and dealing with severe depression. In 2008, Simon was found in his home, having sadly taken his own life. Whether or not it was accidental was never known. Some of his close friends had stated that they wouldn’t ever rule out anything due to his mental state at that time.
This almost takes the cake for the most tragic story regarding Wife Swap.