Wife Swap looking for one good Mennonite family

This is not satire. Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

This past week, the producers of the Television show “Wife Swap” sent out an email soliciting a Mennonite family to participate in their show. The email, with the subject line “Seeking Strong Families with Strong Morals” says “we are hoping to reach a Mennonite family that would be willing to share their lifestyle and views with another family.”*

Wife Swap is a reality television show that has been on the air since 2003. As the title suggests, the premise is that two women swap households. During the first week, the visiting woman must follow the rules and habits of her host family, which always includes a father and at least one child over seven. The wikipedia article on Wife Swap says, “In fact, the show will usually deliberately swap wives with extreme polar opposite lifestyles, such as a dramatically messy wife swapping with a fastidiously neat one.”

It’s not too hard to imagine who the Wife Swap producers would imagine as polar opposites of a Mennonite family. The email says, “…we are interested in Mennonite families because of their views on peace and their hopeful outlook towards the world.

Anabaptists have been the subject of reality television shows before. You may remember the controversy around “Amish in the City,” a show that took five Amish teenagers and put them in an apartment in the city with “worldy” roommates. Over 50 members of congress wrote UPN to protest the show, which went ahead anyway. It was recieved with skepticism by Mennonite scholars and a luke warm reception from audiences. See the Mennonite Weekly Review article for more: Good reviews, skepticism greet debut of Amish show

It’s not surprising then that the email from the Wife Swap producers takes a defensive tone. It says, “This email is not meant to be offensive in any way, nor am I looking to exploit anyone. I am simply hoping to find a great family with strong views and strong morals.”
What can the family who volunteers expect? The Winter 2007 issue of the Communities Magazine includes an article by Melanie Rios entitled “A ‘Wife-Swapping’ adventure: There’s more then one way an ecovillager can influence wider culture”. Rios tells the inside story of her experience as a participant in the Wife Swap reality show.  Her experience is not as negative as she expected, nor as good as she hoped.

As a resident of an eco-village, Rios was paired with a family into hummers and pampered pet dogs. She hoped to get the word out to a broader audience about global warming, Peak Oil and other serious socioeconomic issues. Not surprisingly she reported that most of her discussion of these issues was cut out of the show when it aired. Yet some part of her story and her communities story was included. Given the choice, she reported that she would do it over again:

It’s way more work than one would imagine. But if you are passionate about sharing your ideas with others, and you believe you can stay calm under stressful conditions, I’d say go ahead. Participating in the show allows one to reach a broader audience then normal because the producers make the shows entertaining, while including people from a wide variety of lifestyles.

Will a Mennonite family step forward and take the producers of Wife Swap up on their offer? Is this a great opportunity to tell the world about peacemaking and simple living? Or is it another crass attempt to exploit Anabaptists? I look forward to reading your comments.

*The email from the producers of wife swap in its entirety:

Subject: Seeking Strong Families with Strong Morals
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2009 2:35 PM

I am a Casting Producer from the television show Wife Swap. Here at Wife Swap we are hoping to reach a Mennonite family that would be willing to share their lifestyle and views with another family. The basis of our show is to give two families a once in a lifetime opportunity to switch lives for a week.

This unique premise was created in hopes that families would be able to learn about new and different lifestyles while getting to know themselves a bit better. While the term “reality television” is full of negative connotations, we never try to make people look bad or encourage negativity. Wife Swap was designed to simply remove people from their element in hopes that they will become more open-minded and learn valuable lessons to share with the entire family.

Each week on Wife Swap, the mothers from two families with different values and belief systems will exchange lives. It’s an amazing family experience and opportunity to learn how others really lead their lives. Half of the week, mom lives the life of the family she is staying with. After making her observations, she introduces several “rule changes,” where she implements rules and activities that are important to her family. It’s a positive experience for people to not only learn but teach about other families and other ways of life. Wife Swap airs on Disney owned ABC television on Fridays at 8 pm- the family hour!

If you are a two-parent family with at least one child over the age of 7 living at home, and you think your family would be interested in being a part of this groundbreaking show please let me know.

Currently we are interested in Mennonite families because of their views on peace and their hopeful outlook towards the world. This email is not meant to be offensive in any way, nor am I looking to exploit anyone. I am simply hoping to find a great family with strong views and strong morals.

Please contact me at [email removed] for more information, or the recommendation of a great family you may know.

Comments (18)

  1. TimN

    Whoops, I forgot to thank jdaniel for passing on the email to me.

  2. Tim Baer

    I have to say that I disagree with the producer’s comments that they never try to make people look bad or promote negativity. I fully believe that Wife Swap chooses participants who not only meet the requirements of being drastically different, but I also believe they choose at least one family using personality profiling such as DiSC in order to locate people who are…well, bossy. The contestants are never easy going and laid back, rather, most seem to desire control and are prone to loud, violent outbursts.

    My wife used to watch Wife Swap religiously and the show was never without people behaving irrationally, violently, or desiring the utmost control of those around them. In the end the two families sit at a table discussing their experiences and, nine times out of ten, scream profanities at one another.

    Mennonite families might insist on peace and justice but one thing is for sure, Wife Swap is all about conflict.

  3. ST

    This is kinda funny. But I already saw this ad somewhere else and it is “not real.”

  4. Rini

    A Quaker preacher from Indiana took part in this show in the past… they paired her with a pageant family.
    They ended up editing out a lot of the dialogue between the Friend wife and the daughter where they discussed and worked on her self-esteem… (found Indy CBS6)

    My roommate actually told me about this particular email… One of our friends back in Goshen working at a church there received an email from the show looking for families to participate.

  5. Adam

    Our church received the invite as well; the casting director’s name checks out, so it seems real enough to me.

  6. TimN (Post author)

    I emailed the casting producer at the email provided and here was her response:

    Hi Tim,

    I am a Casting Producer from Wife Swap and I would be happy to answer any questions you might have for me — and yes, we are hoping to find a Mennonite family. Please feel free to call me at any time [number removed]. Thanks so much and have a great day!


    It looks like it’s real, unless someone’s gone so far as to create a fake domain name, phone number and email address for the casting company.

  7. TimN (Post author)

    Interesting, I wonder if they plan to match up the Mennonite family with a family into fencing (dueling, not farming):

    http://www.theswap.com/forum/Blah.pl?m-1228983412/s-15/ (posted about a month before the email above)

    If your kids are the ultimate fencers in town and you’re a die hard fencing mom (or dad!) who makes practice and competition priorities in your family, we want to hear from you!

  8. ST

    Whoa. it is real. Weird. Good luck to whomever.

  9. Skylark

    Other possible pairings:

    A military family, especially one living on a military base.

    A “big corporate” family with every gadget in existence.

    A re-enactment family big into RenFaires, Civil War balls and productions, and gladiator-type shows.

    A raw vegan family.

    An Old Order Amish family. I’m starting to think the sparks would fly more in that setting than in any of the others… at least in part because the camera crews would have to be invisible.

  10. Tim Baer

    I think it would be a great joke if we could get someone on there to convince the public things about mennonites that are not true. We could go on and spread all sorts of untruths. Things that are normally weird, but with an added dimension of unbelievability. Some of the ones I would like:

    Mennonites have more than one wife but we only sleep with one of them. The others remain lifelong virgins.

    Although Mennonites are pacifists, we like chicken fights…but only with chickens that show a natural propensity toward violence.

    Mennonites like to make their own pies but cannot make cherry pies because cherries are not native to our Swiss homeland. (Today is national pie day, BTW)

    Mennonites briefly sided with Nazi Germany, not because we agreed with their ideas of global domination and ethnic genocide, but because the tune to their national anthem, Die Fahne Hoch, was originally a mennonite hymn and we’d just never had a #1 hit before.

    While our brothers, the Amish, sometimes participate in puppy mills, the mennonites abhor this type of breeding. Mostly because it conjors up the recent “Milling of the puppies” fiasco of 1923 in which a group of mennonites ground up puppies and sold them as a delicacy.

    Mennonite women sometimes wear headcoverings. But this is not due to religious belief, as most assume, but because Menno Simmon’s wife, Geertruydt, was actually bald.

    Post some of your own Mennonite untruths we should spread.

  11. TimN (Post author)

    Tim B,

    How dare you mention the Puppy Milling Fiasco of 1923! To merely speak of that incident is an embarrassment. It isn’t the fault of our noble ancestors that something was lost in the German translation of “hot dog”.

    But seriously, truth is stranger then fiction. One terrorist sect of our Anabaptists were famous for having stabbed to death 125 infidel cows in one sitting. Note that they were eventually “absorbed” into the local Mennonite community. Got Frieslander ancestors? You may be descended from cow stabbers.

  12. chadthepotter

    I’m a pastor at a Mennonite church and have received this inquiry at least twice in the last few months.

    I keep thinking it would be great to get, say, a gay or lesbian couple from my congregation to agree to this. What would they do with that?

  13. Skylark

    Well… if the couple are pacifists and has at least one child over the age of 7, then it sounds like they might technically qualify, Chad. I’m thinking they’d have to be lesbians since Wife Swap is pretty woman-wife-female specific.

    I would imagine a gay or lesbian couple in the Mennonite church would have to have a higher-than-average sense of optimism and hope for the future… since much of the Mennonite church is so anti-gay. If so, that’d fit right in with what the show’s producer is seeking.

  14. Tim Baer

    “I keep thinking it would be great to get, say, a gay or lesbian couple from my congregation to agree to this. What would they do with that?”


    Oh wait…you’re not kidding, are you?

    I think the show is probably looking for a more traditional menno family. I’d apply but we are far from traditional.

  15. Adam

    That’s the question, isn’t it: what defines a Mennonite family as “traditional”? Is it tied to ethnicity and cultural traditions, or is it adherence to ‘traditional’ Mennonite ideals of peace, community, and Christ-following?

  16. ST

    You found an unresolved one there, Adam. Maybe all of the above? However, being traditional is not necessarily better than being non-traditional, of course.

    My cousins are Friesens. Maybe their ancestors stabbed cows. They participate in 4H now though, and win lots of ribbons for having beautiful animals.

  17. RP

    Tim Baer, you are my new hero! I like how you think. Monkey wrenching at it’s finest.

  18. Jfirefly

    I am a mennonite and think that everyone makes a big deal of us and think it is very rude

Comments are closed.