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Series / Wife Swap

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Series on ABC based on a programme of the same name from the United Kingdom whose premise involves two wildly-different families swapping wives for a two-week period. The series ended in August 2010 after 123 episodes, only to return in January 2012 as Celebrity Wife Swap, with another revival premiering in 2019 on Paramount Network.

This show provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • The Reimers were very enthusiastic about discipline and the husband was seething with rage because the Bittner mother had the audacity to let them have fun for 5 days and attend public school for not just education but so they can socialise with other kids. The Reimer patriarch also beat his children with a leather strap and was a complete control freak. It's really saying something that the Reiner children were practically glowing when the rules were lifted and were happy to attend public school, while also dreading that the rules were going to be brought back as soon as the mother returns to her own family.
    • Jennifer forces her children Elena and Alex to do all the chores to "pay them back", times their teeth brushing and refuses to spend time with Elena, leaving the poor girl neglected for five years before Melissa makes it so the family paints with her. She does improve after returning to her family, being nicer and spending time with her daughter.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Christopher Childs. He kept his family's twisted lifestyle unchanged despite the replacement wife's best efforts, while his actual wife "infected" the other (considerably more sane) family.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: "King Curtis" Holland of the Brown/Holland episode, who runs his house like a spoiled prince.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: At least two cases:
    • Chastity Hamilton, whose parents never told her "no," and who constantly went on shopping sprees for designer clothes with her mom, while Dad was forced to chauffeur them to the mall and carry their bags.
    • Alicia Gustafaro, a pageant "princess" who was obsessed with glamour and appearance. She was so spoiled, her parents kept up a Christmas tree year-round and gave her at least one present a day.
  • Celebrity Edition: Celebrity Wife Swap, obviously. Surprisingly, the drama on the celebrity edition seems to be toned down a bit compared to the regular version.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander:
    • One family had a psychic for a wife who believed that one of the other family's children was actually a reincarnated alien.
    • The Heenes, a family of extreme storm chasers who shovel snow with blowtorches. They're better known as the family behind the Balloon Boy hoax.
    • The Haigwoods, whose lifestyle included making their kids brush their teeth with butter and clay, and eat raw meat. They were so entrenched that one meal of cooked food made their daughter vomit.
    • Some of the moms come across like this even if their families don't necessarily fit the mold. Laura Sweaney-Ernst, for instance, "worships Mother Earth," prays to The Goddess, and talks to fairies, as does her family. But when compared to her husband and sons, Laura is far more dedicated to the lifestyle.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Many families, but special props to the family that promised to schedule spontaneity.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The Weiners are originally a seemingly emotionless fun hating family, but by the end, they have a lot more fun and the dad ends up being a lot more emotional, though given his background as an army veteran you can kind of see why he'd be emotionless.
  • House Husband: As noted above, the Double Standard involved in this trope was starkly illustrated on an episode where a conservative, very religious, "traditional" couple (husband worked, wife stayed home to run the house and care for the kids) switched with a non-religious, more liberal, "unconventional" couple (husband stayed home to run the house and care for the kids, wife worked). The "traditional" housewife almost immediately started berating the househusband (just as competent as her in taking care of a home) for being a "lazy deadbeat" and kept insisting that he "get a job". Surely, if anyone would know, she should have that staying at home and taking care of the kids is a job and anything but lazy.
  • It's All About Me: Several parents are shown to be self-absorbed and refuse to change their ways for the sake of their families. One family featured a swap between a family run by a woman who was lazy and refused to foster any sense of togetherness, and the other was a wife who while stern still knew the importance of a strong family bond. The first wife’s family actually enjoyed the time with the replacement wife, liking spending time and meals together and her more wholesome ways. When the episode ended and the first wife returned, she scoffed at any recommendation the second wife made and made a crappy dinner for herself, boasting that she wouldn’t change and her family would have to accept it.
  • Jerkass:
    • Some of the families that are more repressed have this trope, full stop. One such swap involved a normal housewife with a Wiccan family. During the rule-change the swapped wife from the 'normal' household berated the Wiccan kids for believing in magic and even broke one's wand in front of them. There's changing the rules and then there's being flat out mean.
    • Stephen of the Long/Stephen-Fowler episode. He made no secret that he believed his swapped wife Gina Long was inferior to him and was so verbally abusive toward her, she absconded to a hotel. Among other things, Stephen called Gina a "stupid redneck," laughed at the idea that she was literate, told her she couldn't be expected to know what terms like "99th percentile" meant, and made constant slams against her for being a Midwestern American.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Frequently, each side has some perfectly valid criticisms, but each side refuses to listen to each other (at least until a particular denouement).
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: While the Bittners were overly nice and spoiling their children with treats and a lack of discipline, they were considered a lesser evil in comparison to the Reiners, whose patriarch beat their children with a leather strap for simply acting their age.
  • Knight of Cerebus: A rare nonfiction example, but Christopher Childs certainly qualifies along with filling the Jerkass tropes. His family's episode caused things to, rather than be funny Bigot vs. Bigot comedy that's usually the standard, contain little to no laughter but considerably more tear-jerking and/or rage-inducing moments. First, he brainwashes (and admits to purposely doing it) his children into believing his crazy "Christian" lifestyle where women should Stay in the Kitchen and men rule. Dread sets in when halfway through, it becomes obvious that his replacement wife (Kim Beckman-Heskett) won't be able to fix his family while Lee-Ann Childs introduces rules that negatively impact the Beckman-Hesketts. One such rule included the Beckman-Hesketts' young daughters writing purity pledges. This rule caused great stress to the girls as they didn't fully understand what exactly they were pledging, only that they felt like they couldn't really stick to them. Christopher's real dark moment is after Kim tells his rebellious daughter Columbia to follow her dreams of becoming a successful woman (specifically, doctor) rather than a housewife. He takes Columbia away in his car (off-camera) and forces Kim to promise not to influence Columbia; when Columbia comes back, she's been brainwashed by Christopher into not only giving up her dreams and becoming a housewife, but also believe that Kim was trying to manipulate her. At the end, it's revealed that neither family learned anything (although the Beckman-Hesketts were nowhere near as screwed up as the Childses) and have come off worse as a result due to Lee-Ann's rules being horrible and Columbia being successfully brainwashed.
  • In Another Woman's Shoes — two wives change places in their respective families (although there was at least one Husband Swap).
  • Nonindicative Name: Infamous Christian Christopher Childs's first name holds the meaning of, "bearer of Christ."
  • Once an Episode:
    • The wives sit down to read the manual written by the other based on how their home is run.
    • The second half of the episode, in which the new rules are laid down.
    • The meeting of the two couples at the end, which sometimes but not always ends in a shouting match.
  • Parent Produced Project: Alicia Gustaferro's parents did all her homework for her.
  • Poe's Law: A lot of families are so extreme, they seem like parodies.
  • Reality Show Genre Blindness: Season 2 and onward. The first thing on the questionnaire must be "Have you seen Wife Swap prior to beginning this questionnaire? If yes, don't bother filling out the rest of the paperwork. And get the hell away from us."
  • Reset Button: In the Christopher Childs case, The Bad Guy Wins + Knight of Cerebus = this.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: The Stephen Fowler episode is a perfect example. British expat Fowler and his family live in an upscale neighborhood in San Francisco, and dedicate their lives to healthy eating, education and the fine arts. Meanwhile, kindhearted Midwestern mom Gayla Long and her family live a working class lifestyle, have a love for fast food, ride all-terrain vehicles, enjoy paintball and do not care much about education. The Long family is shown in a far more sympathetic light, as Fowler often berates Gayla, calling her "under-educated, over-opinionated, and overweight", bragging about scoring in the "99th percentile" on the GRE, and emotionally abuses Gayla in every way possible. He is also very cruel and strict with his children, not allowing them to have fun. He also dislikes Americans despite the fact that he chose to move to America.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: Localized variations sprouted in various countries including Sweden, Norway, Croatia, Australia, the Baltic States, and others.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: A staple of the show is that a mother from a free-wheeling family will admonish the father of a strict family for not showing his children enough affection/approval. Sometimes she has a point, sometimes it's just that he doesn't express those things in the way her husband does with her children.