Wife Swap (2005)

Wife Swap is a reality television program that was first broadcast in the UK in 2003. Since  2004, a U.S. version has been broadcast on ABC.

Two families, usually from vastly different social classes and lifestyles, swap wives/mothers — and sometimes husbands — for two weeks. (Couples participating in the show do not share a bed with the “swapped” spouse while “swapping” homes.)

During the first week, each new wife must adhere exactly to the rules and lifestyle of the wife she is replacing. During the second week, the new wives are allowed to establish their own rules, to which their new families must adhere. 

At the end of the two weeks, both families meet for the first time and discuss how they felt about the past two weeks. More often than not, the two families reach toward a middle ground and express what they have learned from the experience. 

In their own words:

Elaine My swap was unusual in that I traded places with a single mother of three daughters, ages 9, 14, and 17. I think the producers of the show expected that I would be shocked by the foul language and lack of rules and discipline that characterized the household. I think they also expected that a Princeton graduate might balk at waiting tables at a Bob’s Big Boy. Actually, my first job as a teenager was as hotel housekeeper! 

One thing I found unbelievable and completely foreign was that there wasn’t a single piece of printed material (book, magazine, newspaper), writing implement, or paper in the house. The folks were literate, but communication by written word just was not a part of their daily life.

A lesson that was reinforced for me was that choices people make have a terrific impact on life outcomes. The mother and oldest daughter from the family both had dropped out of high school. Their options were pretty limited after that. 

I enjoyed the experience. I like to put myself outside my comfort zone every now and again.

Moose: It was surprising to have our everyday, routine activities suddenly become of interest to what ultimately would be an audience of 8 million viewers.

I knew I lived a privileged life. Michelle, my “swap wife,” did not attend college, and she worked as a waitress. While this could have been a story of rich and poor, she pointed out that we were the same age, ethnicity, and could relate well to each other. What made us different were our experiences and choices. 

In my home, the show was about my needing to “loosen up” and have fun with my children. I now understand that there is a spectrum that we exist on as parents, with absolute best friend on one extreme and jail keeper on the other. My lesson learned is that you move along this spectrum depending on the situation you are in with your children. I also now assign a new level of importance to the opportunities that Elaine and I give our children. Seeing certain opportunities missing from Michelle’s life made me value the opportunities my family has to a greater extent.

I would definitely do it again. Of all the people who view the show, those who kind of know me — and now think they know me well — are the strangest to interact with. That guy you see at the gym and know by only his first name comes up and says, “Hey, you must keep a pretty clean house, huh?” The answer requires more than a yes or a no.

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