Heidi, now 36, said she was 20 years old when her family appeared on the sixth season of the American adaptation of Wife Swap, a reality show that follows the “swapping” of two wives from “very different families” for two weeks. In the first week, the wife follows the rules of the host family, and during the second week, the host family must follow her rules.
‘Exploited it for television’
Ahead of her appearance on the show, Heidi says she had to take a 700-question psychiatric evaluation and speak with a psychologist one-on-one for an hour to make sure she was “mentally sound enough to be on the show.”
Though the episode aired back in 2010, Heidi says she vividly remembers one question they asked her: “What really makes you sad?”
“Growing up traveling, I get really lonely sometimes,” she recalls responding. “When I feel alone, it makes me cry. It makes me really sad.”
“I kid you f***ing not, she looked me dead in the eyes and said, ‘You are alone. Nobody cares about you. You have no friends. I don’t care about you,'” Heidi alleged. “And I just f***ing broke down … They used the psych eval to find my pain and then exploited it for television.”
In an interview with the Daily Dot, Heidi said that the other family was “just as manipulated” as her family.
“Before every scene, the producer would take [the other mother] into a back room and talk to her. Then [when] she came out, it would be a fight. It wasn’t until she broke the rule of never talking to us when the cameras stopped rolling that we found out the producers were telling her lies about my mom and what was happening to her family,” she claimed. “They wanted her angry, and they knew that triggering her protective nature would do the trick.”
Wife Swap, which aired from 2004 to 2010, reportedly faced a lawsuit unrelated to Heidi’s story in its final year. A teenager who appeared on the show alleged that producers “purposefully, intentionally and knowingly caused [her] severe emotional and psychological harm.” It’s not clear what became of the lawsuit.
‘It can get really gross on some shows’
The reality TV industry has long faced accusations of “blurry ethics” and pushing contestants to the brink of despair in the interest of juicier storylines.
A reality TV show producer who asked to remain anonymous told In The Know that the situation Heidi described seems believable.
“I’ve heard the psych evals referred to … The producers get some wind of it,” they claimed. “The [executive in charge of production] keeps it in their office.”
They recalled a specific incident during production of another show in which producers were instructed to “pay attention” to a cast member who was “sensitive to an upcoming challenge,” as revealed by their psychiatric evaluation.
“I’ve seen some unscrupulous stuff occur,” the producer said. “I really always had [inner] turmoil about some of the methods employed to make reality content … It can get really gross on some shows.”
‘They’re so heartless’
Heidi is now part of a growing trend in which TikTok users call out reality TV show producers for allegedly pushing contestants to share information that they can exploit.
In a video titled “How American Idol screwed me over,” LIV claimed the producers pushed her to give them more information about her personal life, but she didn’t have any trauma to share. Instead, she “crushed” her audition in front of the judges — but she implied that their prompts told them to turn her down because she was “too young.”
LIV alleged that producers set both her and her family up to assume she would make it to the next round, then followed her down the hallway as she was unexpectedly rejected and crying.
“Those talent shows are so toxic … I get they’re trying to make good TV, but geez, they’re so heartless,” one fan commented.
However, what comes out of reality TV is not always negative. For instance, the TikTok-famous former Wife Swap couple Amy and Jeff Beaver made the show surge on Google after one user resurfaced their iconic appearance in a 2004 episode of the series.
Things turned out all right for the Beaver family, but these recent social media revelations may have aspiring reality TV stars questioning whether 15 minutes of fame is worth a potential lifetime of trauma.
If you found this story interesting, read more about how a forum dedicated to former reality TV stars is helping people unpack the effects of purity culture.
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