A lot of our favorite reality tv shows have come under fire at one point or another. Mel and Sue’s exit from the British Baking Show was due to producers attempting to make a “cruel show.” More recently, America’s Next Top Model alums have called out the show’s producers for mistreatment. Even The Biggest Loser is attempting to rebrand.
In short, reality shows have been in the headlines lately and many are being called out for the terrible treatment of their participants.
Now, a woman whose family was featured in an episode of Wife Swap is speaking out. She said agreeing to be on the show was “the worst mistake of our lives.” Her family was on Wife Swap around 10 years ago. However, the aftermath is still ongoing.
Why ‘Wife Swap’ Is Problematic
Wife Swap typically pits two families against one another. Sometimes, it’s a conservative family against a more progressive family. The families might be from different social classes or live polar opposite lifestyles. Some examples include, “a pampered housewife trades places with a down-home country mom.” Or, “a religious conservative mother swaps families with a punk-rock mom.” You get the idea.
The show used any difference they could find and really drove the point home that the families don’t get along. Typically, one family is portrayed as the “good family” and the other is the “bad family.” There are fights and drama–all the makings of a reality show.
Heidi Herrington was 20-years-old and still living with her parents when filming began for Wife Swap. Her conservative mother was swapped with a more laidback mother from Texas. Heidi went to TikTok to air her grievances with the show and ended up with four installments, each detailing her experience.
Heidi and her family were part of a traveling comedy show, known for their squeaky clean act. They were conservative and wholesome but disconnected. The other family was described as a family that “keeps it real” and “loves low-riding.” That family had an open communication style and was close-knit.
When they started the show, all parties had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, also known as an NDA. Heidi has since decided to voice her opinions on the show stating, “it’s been almost 10 years now, so I decided, f*** it.”
She said to be on the show you had to take a 700-question psychological evaluation. You also had to have an hour-long interview with a psychologist. She said that the show’s reasoning for the intense questioning was to make sure you were “mentally sound enough” to be on the show.
Manipulation, Exploitation, And PTSD
Heidi, however, believes that producers manipulated both families into fights and drama. Plus, she claimed they used their psych evaluations to add fuel to the fire. Heidi stated that when she was asked about what makes her sad, she told the interviewer that being “lonely” and “alone” were her biggest fears.
In her four-part video series, Heidi stated, “I kid you f-ing not, the first conversation with the other mother, it becomes a fight, and she looks me dead in the eyes and says ‘you are alone, nobody cares about you, you have no friends, and I don’t care about you.'” Heidi goes on to say that she “broke down” because that was her biggest trigger.
Heidi believes that producers used the psych eval to “find my pain, and then [they] exploited it for television.” However, Heidi said she holds no ill-will toward the other family or mother, saying that she thinks that producers also manipulated and exploited the other family. She doesn’t blame the mother but thinks that their reactions to being manipulated were different. Heidi said she had a “flight” mentality, while the mother had a “fight” mentality.
A big part of the formula for Wife Swap is that the new wife has to follow the “family’s rules” for a week. The following week the new wife instates new rules. Heidi said that the show’s producers actually write the “family rules” and then the family has to sign a contract and agree to follow the rules, or else they re-film.
She said the producers “love bombed” both families, telling them that the other family needed help. She also accused them of not allowing the families to leave (even to get food), having long shoot days (10-14 hours), and not being “allowed” to talk to the other mom after shooting stopped.
Heidi also said that trying to avoid fights or drama was useless. If you attempted to do this and filming was halted, producers would mention the paperwork the family signed. This paperwork stated the show could sue the family for one million dollars if they were unable to continue filming.
Overall, it seems that during filming, things were taken out of context. They were edited to tell a certain story, and producers pushed the participants to make a dramatic “reality” tv show.