I'm not a fan of reality shows but this one is consistently interesting, is great for gossip and is also a bit of a 'car crash' classic
Two couples are selected each week and the partners separated without contact for a week. The wives exchange places and, for the first half of the week try to live by the rules and habits of their new family. Having lived this time and seen things they like/dislike in their new set up, the wives then get to set the rule for the next week in order to 'improve' the things that they don't like. After the wives are reunited with their real spouse, the two couples get together to talk over what they have learnt or what they think of one another things rarely go smoothly but sometimes people can see the error of their ways.
I dislike many reality shows even though I have given many of the bigger ones a chance I have watched Big Brother and found it addictive but pretty poor television, but I have never bothered to get involved in fly-on-the-wall stuff like Airport etc. However I have dipped into Wife Swap and, while I have not been taken by it to the same degree as some of my friends (who will curse you if you call them while it is on) I must admit that I have found much to like about it. On the whole it succeeds because often it is interesting the two couples have good stuff and bad stuff and I find myself agreeing with a bit of each and hoping that they can pick up on these things and better themselves. The show does this well and it is part of the reason that I like it however lets not pretend that the series is all about helping people it isn't, this still manages to be car crash TV as well!
The couples could just be normal people but most of the time they are not quite often they will throw in someone totally off the wall, usually white trash who would even drive Jesus to despair if they lived with him! For example the first show in the newest series saw a strict mother with well behaved children be swapped with total white trash who allows her children to 'express themselves' (ie swear, eat junk and stay up late) I watched open mouthed and I look forward to being robbed by her children in years to come! Even when 'normal' reasonable people are mixed together, generally they are very different people and sparks are guaranteed. However at several points the couples became national news; for example the trash who sit on the dole claiming a fortune in benefits and seemed to revel in their laziness and ignorance. In a way the show makes me despair that trashiness is something these people seem to look on as being good (as they scoff those who try and work or get educated) but, like a car crash, sometimes I just cannot look away. The reason I suspect it has been so popular in England is down to the English obsession with the class system (whether politicians believe it exists or not). English are into class in the same way that us Northern Irish obsess over religion, or Scots absurdly try to be their own country or the Welsh hilariously try to keep a dead language alive! For this reason, many of the couples come from different classes and the show loves to show up the white trash (or chavs as they are called) and have us all laughing at how thick they are and gaze amazed at their trashy, awful lives. Heck, even the celebrity version mixed snobs (Major Charles Ingram) with dumb chavs (Jade from Big Brother)!
The celebrity versions cheapen the formula a little bit and show that the show is not really much different from any other reality shows but I still enjoy it. It is hard to describe its appeal but it is effective on many levels. More than anything it is great conversation material and it is hard not to learn from it yourself I'm sure not everyone does this but I have seen myself in many people in this show and have caught myself pointing out their failings only to realize that I am just the same. Overall, reality shows are generally not the sort of thing I like and, if the world was cleared of them I would not mourn their loss but this is one of the better ones. Sure it trades on the same 'OMG look at them' ticket as the other shows do but it is also actually interesting and the people involved in it occasionally do learn from it and get more from the experience than just 15 minutes of fame and some tabloid headlines. If you have to watch a reality show then this should be the one you try.
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