Celebrity Wife Swap: spouses, not celebs, steal the fascinating show

Wife Swap was reborn Monday as Celebrity Wife Swap, and while it features the exact same celebrities who always appear on these shows, the first two episodes turned out pretty decent. (Contrast that to, say, Sunday’s Food Network debut of Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off, a true embarrassment of a series.)

Although Wife Swap is contrived and set up from start to finish, it works because what happens in those contexts is very interesting. It’s similar to Survivor in that way, proving that shows in artificial contexts can host a lot of real-life drama. In this case, it’s about observation, analysis, and sometimes even introspection. The show ends up revealing a lot about how people live and how they interact with those they live with.

The Gary Busey and Ted Haggard episode contrasted two pretty extreme religious perspectives, from Gary’s typically crazy-sounding babble about his past lives to the Haggards’ evangelical Christianity and how they’ve used that to rationalize the gay hustler/crystal meth scandal. But perhaps because we already know them, they were far less interesting than their spouses, whose experience allowed us to see the others in new light.

Gary Busey’s wife/fiancee challenging Ted Haggard on his interaction with his children was both touching and emotionally difficult, but perhaps not as difficult as Carnie Wilson’s pretty awful husband’s detachment (how sad was it when she said, “I want that?” about Tracey and her husband’s relationship?). Tracey Gold did an excellent job of highlighting that with her new rules, illustrated perfectly when he called it “frustrating” that she wanted him to eat dinner with the family. But like Carnie Wilson forcing Tracey Gold’s kids to have messy fun, the family members tend to come around when faced with new perspectives on their lives.

The final meeting when they share what they learned is, as in the original show, the best part because of the honesty that hopefully gives way to learning. And that makes the show not just entertaining, but worthwhile.

Watch Monday’s episode:

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.