How Did Wife Swap, the 2000s Reality Show About Swapping Wives, Even Get Made?


There was once a period in history, before Mona Scott and Andy Cohen defined an entire genre, where reality television was only 10 percent script and 90 percent real humans doing real human things for the entertainment of other real people. One of the scions of this golden era of reality television was Wife Swap—not to be confused with its very similar cousin, Trading Spouses—a show in which wives and mothers swapped lives for two weeks.

During its heyday from 2004 to 2010, Wife Swap gave the people everything they could have possibly wanted in a non-competition-based reality show. Tears, drama, theatrics, realness, the full array of American accents, and most importantly the introduction of King Curtis, avid lover of chicken nuggets. For a show that was painfully of its time, Wife Swap’s level of “real” reality felt ahead of its time, with viewers so invested they’d make a game of choosing which family they’d want to be swapped with and which family was the bad one.

In 2019 the show had a brief revival on the Paramount Network, which failed to recapture the magic of the original. Did America grow out of its love for swapping wives or did the producers realize that Wife Swap’s archaic notion of wifely duties no longer had a place in the modern reality television landscape? Perhaps both. But we take comfort in knowing that one thing remains unchanged: Curtis’s lust for life and chicken nuggets.

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