A jolt of reality
Thanks to their roles on Fox's 'Trading Spouses,' life won't be the same again for two local families
07:18 PM CDT on Monday, July 26, 2004
By ARIANA FALK / The Dallas Morning News
Reality TV shows delight in putting people in situations that make them uncomfortable and letting the audience watch them squirm.
"I'm just a person like anyone else," says Tammy Nakamura, a resident of Colleyville and one of the subjects of the new Fox show Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy. "Right now, I'm mostly just embarrassed."
Out of 5,000 families considered for the show, both of the families who ended up in the limelight live in the Dallas area. Trading Spouses' premise is simple: Two mothers swap families and subject their new families to their fears and foibles.
The twists are simple, too: Mrs. Nakamura is wealthy and white, while Al-Mela Biggins is not wealthy and black.
The Nakamuras live in a big house with a pool. Yuki Nakamura, Mrs. Nakamura's husband, is a plastic surgeon, and his wife owns a full-service car wash. The Bigginses live in South Oak Cliff, where Mrs. Biggins is a surgical technician and her husband, Anthony, is a hospital supervisor.
At first, both families thought the idea of being on a reality show was crazy. At an interview last week in Los Angeles, Mrs. Biggins told TV critics that two casting agents approached her at a dog show and asked if she might be interested in appearing on a reality show.
She thinks they may have noticed her because she and Anthony were with her three children and about seven other children of family members and friends, she says.
The agents later came out twice to her house in South Oak Cliff for interviews and finally told her the premise of Trading Spouses. After a long discussion, she and her husband agreed to be on the show.
"His biggest worries were where the lady was going to sleep," Mrs. Biggins says. "I told him, 'Well, I guess she'll take my daughter's room.' "
Mr. Nakamura was more reluctant to become a reality TV star than his wife and children were, he says. His medical colleagues will probably be taken aback to see him on the small screen.
"Sure, I worry about myself and my reputation getting into all this," he says. "But I wasn't going to be the one to stop them."
Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy
7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Fox (Channel 4). Monday repeats Part 1; Tuesday is the premiere of Part 2. 1 hr.
The actual filming took place over six days in June. "It's definitely weird to have a camera in your face and be expected to act like normal," says Donna Melotakis, a friend of the Nakamuras who attended a party in one episode.
The Nakamura family held a party to watch the first episode of the show. The guests cheered as they saw their friends on television for the first time. The premiere is full of surprises for Mrs. Biggins and Mrs. Nakamura, too, since they know nothing about the other family's experience. "OK, yes, that's what I look like at 6 in the morning," Mrs. Nakamura says with a laugh.
The atmosphere at the screening is lighthearted but nervous. The show is silly, but it also pokes at wealth and class, race and family – sensitive issues in America.
What's most revealing are the women's looks as they face the most unfamiliar aspects of their new homes. Mrs. Nakamura blanches at the bail bond shops and graffiti-covered walls of Oak Cliff. Mrs. Biggins' eyes widen at the Nakamuras' enormous walk-in closet and she grimaces after her first bite of sushi at an expensive dinner with the Nakamuras.
Trading Spouses paints a harsh picture of Mrs. Nakamura – she sometimes seems insensitive and unable to care for herself. She advises Chrishara Biggins, 13, on her eating habits and tells the family they ought to count carbs. "Well, I just hope the daughter just didn't take my advice the wrong way," she says after that scene.
The day after the premiere, Mrs. Nakamura sounds shaken and upset. She couldn't resist looking on the Internet to see what others said about her after the first episode, and the public wasn't kind.
But the portrait the show paints is skewed, she says. She became a scapegoat to heighten the drama and is anything but spoiled, she says. She grew up in Louisville, Ky., in a family with little money to spare, and she drove an 18-wheeler with her father for a year after college.
Living with a family who had to watch every dollar brings back painful and poignant memories for Mrs. Nakamura. Her eyes well up with tears when she remembers meeting Mrs. Biggins for the first time on the last episode of the show. "We stood together and cried," she says. "We will have a bond no matter what. They will always be wonderful soul mates for me."
Despite some scenes of on-screen tension, neither family harbors any hostility toward the other, Mrs. Biggins says. In fact, Mrs. Nakamura says her family plans to invite the Bigginses to their lake house after the show ends.
In the days after the show, strangers have come up to Mrs. Nakamura and asked if she's the mom from the show, and even asked for her autograph.
"I see what the poor movie stars go through!" she says.
Students at Grapevine High School ask Natalia Nakamura, 15, about the show, she says.
Mrs. Nakamura is done with reality television, but she's always imagined she might be a newscaster or a sportscaster. As for Mrs. Biggins, she'd be thrilled if her 15 minutes of reality-television fame weren't up.
"If I had the opportunity, I would do it. My family would just have to understand I'm a star," she says.
Mrs. Biggins had the chance to go to Hollywood and promote the show, and meeting Fox TV actors left her decidedly star-struck.
"This is a totally different experience," she says. "The familiar faces on TV – I can't believe I'm standing next to them. ... I am so in love with Omar Epps," who is cast in the new Fox medical series House . "He kissed me on my jaw!"
Staff critic Manuel Mendoza contributed to this report.