First published on Sunday the 9th of June, 2019, this piece comes in at number 12 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2019.
A 2019 kiwi remake of the 2004 American classic Wife Swap has arrived on our screens, you may have seen the giant digital billboards strewn across Auckland. Another reality show, just what the doctor ordered…
Of course, I rolled my eyes at the Wife Swap New Zealand billboards, and of course, I sat down to watch the first episode of the show, popcorn in hand. Because I contain multitudes, okay!
The show achieved what it was supposed to, I guess. It provided a lot of squirmy, cringe-worthy moments and threw in a few laugh-out-loud ones, too. And honestly, it was pretty good viewing for a group of friends who want to yell at a TV together but don’t care about rugby very much.
It struck me as we were watching it, though, that Wife Swap is just not something that should be produced or watched in the year 2019.
The concept, format and content of the show are embarrassingly regressive.
It’s not the husbands that are swapped, because, of course not. The women are exchanged like chattels, so that they can clean someone else’s house, take care of someone else’s children and ultimately, learn something about how lucky they are to have the lazy husband and children that they’ve got? Gilead, anyone?
The first episode of Wife Swap New Zealand featured two families with very different home lives (yes, I have managed to grasp the general concept of this show).
In the Miao family, the husband, Jackie, does the majority of the cooking and cleaning, while, according to him, his wife Lei does the “important jobs” in the house. The Somerfield family, on the other hand, are a lot more traditional. Emma, the wife, gets up at quarter to five every morning to clean the house and make breakfast and lunch for her teenage sons, despite having a full-time job that she has to go to at 6:30am, because that’s just the way it goes folks!
The Miaos came across as very goofy and fun, they love to play music and eat big meals together, while the Somerfields admitted that they barely have time to spend together as a family. Different home lives, check. Commence the swapping of wives!
Emma had the time of her life in the Miao household. She was stunned by how kind and polite the children were, how nice it was to have a partner who shared the load of household work, and the value of doing things for yourself every once in a while. I’ve never seen anything more depressing, and I’ve watched every episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Meanwhile, Lei wasn’t received so well by Emma’s husband, Paul. Paul was outraged by the fact that Lei didn’t do all the chores in her household, he described her as “spoiled,” was infuriated to wake up to laundry that hadn’t been washed yet and tried to rewrite the format of the show just because Lei didn’t want to cook him dinner every night.
At the end of the episode, when the two couples met, Paul told Jackie that he does “way too much and Lei doesn’t do much at all, and she’s treated like a bit of a princess” before accidentally letting slip what he’s really angry about, which is that Lei “doesn’t want to be a slave.”
Which I guess is how he sees his own wife? Cool to know, right, Emma? Right?!
Wrong! There was no retribution, of course.
The episode ends with Lei reassuring Paul that she has learnt something from staying with his family, and that she will start to do more work around her house.
Is that really the point of this show? Women who are in equal, respectful partnerships learning that other wives are treated like slaves by their husbands so they should count themselves lucky and start doing some more work around the house?
Paul certainly didn’t learn anything. He didn’t look at how much fun his wife had in someone else’s house and feel like maybe he should do his own laundry once in a while. No one confronted Paul’s opinions, or told him that he was the one who was spoiled, and I was left screaming at my TV, but in a very unsatisfying way. Like, I would have preferred to be watching rugby.
Does reality TV really make that much money that we need to be regurgitating these long dead shows from the early 2000s? Does Wife Swap really need to be thrown into the mix of Married at First Sight, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Heartbreak Island, Love Island, and every other regressive, heteronormative, patriarchal show that’s currently being shoved down our throats?
The entertainment value is definitely there, I can’t deny that, but is it really worth it?Support Villainesse