Episode Recap, 11/15/04 - Puritan Strangers With Candy
Rise and shine, and sing out your glory glory! Religion has hit Trading Spouses, and much like a water balloon filled with mucus launched from a freeway overpass, it hits with a loud, nauseating splat. Lord Almighty, this episode stank to high heaven. In fact, they could only show us one hour’s worth of traded time instead of the usual two-part cliffhanger. Turns out religious warfare isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Submitted For Your Approval
Meet the Doverspikes, a conservative, born-again Christian family from Brea, California. Ann Marie and Dave have two children: Jessica, 17 and Elizabeth, 10. Ann Marie is quick to cover herself in labels: she’s a homemaker, a Bible study teacher, a staunch Republican, a very devout Christian. She likes to bless people and give them the gift of Christ. That sounds like a mouthful, but that was only about half of what she said. We can also glean right off the bat that Ann Marie is quite a talker.
This isn’t your garden variety church-on-Sundays type of family, they are infused with religion. Every aspect of the day is met with prayer, from the usual grace before meals to praying while preparing them. As Ann Marie puts it, “You pray, then you pray, and then you think you’ve prayed enough and then you pray again.” As a family, they are on a prayer team together, so if you could have muscles for praying, these guys would look like mini-Schwarzeneggers. As it is, they just exude white breadiness.
Father Dave (looking a bit like Ed Begley Jr., so that most of what he says sounds like parody to my Hollywood-jaded ears) describes his clan as a “fifties family living in the new millennium.” But I have to wonder: did anyone in any decade ever live like this? Mother Ann Marie is the happiest homemaker you could imagine, cleaning with a spring in her step and chopping vegetables with gusto as she prepares yet another healthy meal from scratch. She walks the kids to school every morning, bakes cookies and
coddles supports her man. “She’s the mom, and she fits the mom’s role,” Dad tells us. We can take that to mean he can leave his underwear on the bathroom floor as much as he wants and it will magically be taken care of with nary a complaint. Believe me, if everyone had been this perky fifty years ago the women’s movement would never have happened.
There’s one more thing to learn about the Doverspikes: they talk about sex with their daughters all the time. This might seem incongruous for a family whose hobbies include “being on the prayer team together“, but it makes sense if you re-arrange the sentence this way: they preach abstinence to their chaste progeny with manic frequency. If they could strap them into iron chastity belts and throw away the keys, they would. Instead, they rely on the power of a “purity ring”, which 17-year-old Jessica proudly wears to show that she has promised not to have sex until her wedding night.
Ann Marie tells us she has discussed all the repercussions of pre-marital sex with Jessica. I assume she covered the basics, like the risk of unplanned pregnancies and STD’s. But she also includes the far-reaching complications. What if you “do it with someone fabulous,” she ponders, then end up with someone who‘s not so fabulous in the sack? You’ll always be thinking about that fabulous person you can’t have any more (Elton John?). I’m sure she was speaking hypothetically, don’t you think? She wonders if her attitude is “un-Christianlike.” You tell me, Ann Marie. You’re the one sharing. Me, I’m really not caring.
Now we meet the Eglys, a liberal, Jewish family from Poolesville, MD. Mother Stephanie and father John have four kids: Shaina, 19; Jessica, 16; Samantha, 15; and Sidney, 11. Unlike the suburban cookie cutter houses in Brea, the Eglys live on a plot of land spacious enough to keep seven horses, two dogs and a “zillion“ cats. Stephanie describes herself as a tough mom when it comes to making sure her kids do what‘s expected of them. Her husband describes her with such loving terms as “independent“ and “opinionated”; then he just admits that he goes along with whatever she says. In contrast to the scenes of the Doverspikes holding hands and praying together, we see Stephanie ordering everyone around in their various chores. She’s not an ogre or anything, but she can sure delegate.
This Part is the Same In Every Episode
The mothers get ready to depart at some god-awful hour. Ann Marie is tearful at the thought of being separated from her prayer circle - family, that is. Even though it’s hours before dawn, her family is up and blessing her right out the door. In contrast, Stephanie has the advantage of being in an Eastern time zone, and doesn’t have to get up before the sun. But she does get up before her son. *guffaw* Meaning that none of her children wake up to tell her goodbye. She barks out some last-minute orders about the horses to her husband, then hops in the taxi.
Let me guess: no one knows what to expect, so they’re nervous with anticipation. I was right. Multiply that times four and you have all the voiceovers for the next five minutes. Except that John Egly hopes he gets a good-looking woman for his week of wife swapping. Considering what’s in store for him, I suspect he’s barking up the wrong tree.
Heathen on Board
As they drive to the Doverspikes, Stephanie has time to form some impressions of her surroundings. The weather is warm, and she doesn’t like it. The houses don’t have any yard, and it looks everyone is all squished together. She falls back on the old safe standby that everything looks “different.” You know, what people say when they want to say “stupid” but think they might come off looking a little harsh on national television.
She tours the house, and comes up with more neutral praise, such as, “[This] looks like a regular room.” Privately, she tells us that Ann Marie has an affinity for pink and she couldn’t imagine living that way. But you’re standing in the eleven-year-old’s room, Stephanie. Surely eleven-year-olds can cling to pink for a little longer?
Dave wastes no time in inviting Stephanie to Bible study. Stephanie points out that since she’s Jewish, she might be uncomfortable attending his wife’s class. Dave looks mortally concerned at the news, but can only bleat a “yeah” of agreement before turning back nervously to his sandwich. Is he contemplating a happy conversion, or wishing he’d been sent one of the flock?
Enter the Goyeh
Ann Marie prattles excitedly about the beautiful countryside as they near the Egly household. But the conversation quickly turns (as it always seems to with this woman) to religion. When she learns that the Eglys are Jewish, Ann Marie clutches John’s arm and tells him the show producers have really set them up, since she’s a born-again Christian. At least she can laugh about it…until John doesn’t know what “born-again” means. Ann Marie launches into a lengthy explanation, and I can feel a witnessing coming on, but he cuts her off, wanting to know what “religion” that is. He means denomination, but doesn‘t really know enough about those people to have their terminology memorized. Or maybe it’s just that someone outside of Christianity doesn’t give a fig for the rainbow of flavors in the Christian candy dish. Taste the rainbow, John, because Ann Marie will have you educated before the week is up. Meanwhile, his off-the-cuff description of born-again-Christians as the type to sit down and read the Bible instead of Newsweek is spot on.
Ann Marie doesn’t just enter a room, she gushes about every detail in the room from the hardwood floors to the wall-papered ceiling. She quizzes the girls on color choice and the art hanging in the room, to which the girls react like most teenagers - like they’d never noticed before and could care less. Jessica calls her “Martha-Stewarty and peppy and positive.” Ann Marie tells us she wants to give the family a lot of grace - you know, “bless their socks off.” Oy, meshugeneh! That comment actually frightened me. Just a little.
Praise the Lord and Pass the Pancakes
Stephanie comes down the stairs in the morning to find her new house filled with teenagers, hell-bent on…praying. The occasion? A pancake breakfast for the church youth group. Daughter Jessica makes the comment that Stephanie didn’t seem to be getting into the whole pancake/prayer gathering. I think it would be more accurate to say she was speechless at the sight of several teens holding hands and bowing heads while one of them says, “Hey God, thanks for this morning and the chance to gather and eat some pancakes, some of them with chocolate chips and some without.” One thing is clear: if this is all they have to pray about, they are blessed.
Stephanie says she put on a happy face (cut to close up of Stephanie, looking disturbed) but was secretly thinking, “This is so freaking weird.” She will change her mind once she tastes a prayed-over chocolate chip pancake. Their appeal is universal.
In the midst of the pancake confusion, Stephanie decides (no doubt poked with a stick by a producer) that she needs to play along with this spouse...trade...whatchamacall it, and tells Dave she will attend the Bible study class. The camera must have been expecting her, as we see the teacher starting the class at 9:00 a.m. Stephanie arrives at around 10:30, while class is in mid-swing. How long is Bible study, anyway? I’ve had college classes that were shorter. After introducing Stephanie to the class, the teacher turns and explains what in particular they are discussing - but Stephanie cuts the description short by saying she will just listen, since she’s Jewish. Works for the teacher, who busily resumes class.
It’s not long before Stephanie is shifting in her seat, rubbing her eyes, putting on lipstick - in short, looking extremely bored. Twenty seven minutes later, she’s had enough. She slips out of the room with a little wave to the teacher, telling us she couldn’t wait to get out of there. When she’s gone, the teacher leads the group is a prayer of thanks for everyone “involved in the show…the editors especially, Lord.” Pray for FOX, people. [subliminal]The Simple Life is coming back - pray for an end to the madness![/subliminal]
Back at home, Dave asks how the day went, and Stephanie says she felt like a Stepford wife. She admits to feeling out of place at the Bible study, and wants to know if there’s a synagogue in the area she can visit on Saturday. Dave proposes an interesting idea - how about attending church with him, and he will go to temple with her? Her answer illustrates why we’re only getting a one hour episode on this switch - Stephanie’s not interested in visiting Dave‘s church. She’s not all emotional about it, she just wants to pass on the opportunity. But Stephanie…you can’t just cop out of religious warfare. That’s so anti-FOX.
Stephanie’s explanation is that she lives in a world surrounded by Christians, and doesn’t feel the need to further her exploration of Christian culture. Whatever she thinks she knows, if the prayer over the chocolate chip pancakes is any indication, she’s barely scraped the surface of the Doverspike religious life. But we’ll never know for sure. So far this episode is shaping up to be a dud.
It’s a new day, and Ann Marie is excited. She’s looking forward to spending some time with her new family. So much so, that she’s down in the kitchen at 6:15 a.m., wondering where everyone is. When you consider that she’s three hours ahead of the Pacific time zone, you get the feeling that Ann Marie’s metabolism runs on equal parts of caffeine and adrenalin. And all that coffee she drinks waiting for the family to get up is just adding fuel to the fire.
Ann Marie dutifully waits in the kitchen with her coffee, ready to perk up and burst into song at the first sign of life from the Egly family. But does she really strike you as the type to sit patiently while the day is slipping away? Ann Marie gives them until 9:15, then heads upstairs to wake the kids with a rousing chorus of that song about Noah’s Ark that they teach you in Vacation Bible School. Hey, it’s Old Testament, so what’s the problem?
Surly teenagers - that’s what. Ann Marie threatens to tickle them awake, while all we can see are a few dark-haired mops huddling in their beds. When Ann Marie pulls out her “tickle fingers” for real, the editors thankfully pull us out of the situation (but not without putting up the theme from Psycho for our edificiation). We do not have to witness the horror of a teenage ticklefest.
Chocolate Covered Cherries
It’s a gorgeous day on the family farm. The camera pans along the sloping lawns to a lovely view of a few Egly horses grazing peacefully. Next, the camera zooms in tight on a beautiful flower with a bee violating its dusty, sultry pistils. Well, that was weird. We went from the beauty of nature to the mechanics of flower reproduction in one fell swoop.
John and Ann Marie sit on the porch in rocking chairs, and they, well, rock. Surely this is the most boring episode of Trading Spouses I have ever recapped. Ann Marie makes a comment about the weather. Then she makes the suggestion that fathers should talk to their daughters about keeping their purity. Wait a sec…did she mean what I thought she meant? Hell, yes! She proceeds to lecture John on the importance of teaching “purity” to his daughters, while he sits stony-faced with shock and embarrassment. Holy moley, now I understand why they didn’t just trash this episode entirely!
Ann Marie describes a teaching tool she gives parents - especially fathers - to enable them to talk to their daughters about sex. Are you ready to put on your learning caps? Good. First, take a candy bar, and remove its wrapper so that we can savor it’s chocolatey goodness. The candy bar is perfectly molded, unmelted, and oh-so-tempting. Now, take the candy bar and pass it around the room. (Oh, first: make sure you have some people in the room, okay? People who like to participate in chocolate metaphors about virginity.) Have each person fondle the candy bar, maybe squeeze it a bit, maybe wipe their nose on the candy bar. Then, when the candy bar comes back to you, display it with scorn. Look at the nasty, disgusting, used candy bar that has no moral fiber! Then, just when everyone is worked into a frenzy of hatred for the slutty chocolate, pull a fresh Baby Ruth out of your pocket. Show everyone how precious and pure it is. Then floor your audience with the question, which would you rather give your husband on your wedding night? Chocolate goo or chocolate perfection? Teenage girls will see the light and dump their groping boyfriends faster than you can say, “Thanks for nothing, Butterfinger!”
John listens politely, but thinks the use of visual aids is, well, weird. It’s possible that he’s thinking his daughters are past the age of the birds-and-bees talk. In any case, I agree with him when he says he doesn’t want to think about it any more. Unfortunately, as Ann Marie says, the value of the exercise is that they’ll never forget it, and neither will John (nor will I). Ann Marie pats herself on the back after the chat, telling us that she feels like “she confided some wonderful things.” Wonderful, inappropriately intimate things.
The Eglys take Stephanie to Washington D.C., and she’s thrilled beyond words. Actually, I only wish she was beyond words, because she natters merrily about the sites while the three teenage girls stare in disbelief at her from the back seat. Outside the White House, she’s moved to confess that she “loves [her] president.” I can understand someone voting for their candidate, but I wish political groupies would keep their confessions of love to themselves. It really ruins my enjoyment of the State of the Union address.
While in D.C., Ann Marie discovers that vendors sell t-shirts with political endorsements, and goes into a flurry of Bush/Cheney campaign kitsch buying. She eagerly snaps up the t-shirts, buttons and bumper stickers. Apparently, you can’t find Bush shirts in women’s sizes, she tells us. You don’t say.
Meanwhile, the Egly teens are in a word, bored. They have long passed the age where a t-shirt vendor is exciting entertainment. Furthermore, as children of lifelong Democrats, they are sick of all the Republican love coming from Ann Marie. But Ann Marie is too caught up in the magic to notice. She spots another t-shirt vendor across a large field, and marches toward it. The teenagers grudgingly follow.
Back in California, the Doverspikes take Stephanie to a historical farm where life in 1775 is re-enacted by volunteers in tricorn hats. Dave tells us that this farm is a family favorite, and helps them celebrate being American. We watch Jessica, Elizabeth and Dave eagerly participating in the activities. Dave manfully attempts to throw an axe into a woodpile. The kids grab apples and stand in line for the privilege of adding them to some sort of apparatus that has to be hand cranked. Nearby, one of the costumed staff gives a jaunty “That’s it, lad!” in an English accent when Dave takes his turn at the crank. They left out the part about most of the population being drunk in those times. I guess that was a colonial apple juicer, not a cider press.
Stephanie stands apart from the apple party, bored. She is not thrilled with the field trip, and finds it “freaking weird” to participate in fake militia men marches, complete with her own musket. The family heads over to a raised wooden platform, and we hear her muttering that she hopes there won’t be any dancing. Surprise! Everyone else is there to learn how to groove, 18th century style, to the tune of Yankee Doodle.
Stephanie points out that there isn’t anything out west that dates back to 1775, so it seems odd to see re-enactors with their phony accents smack dab in the middle of the Southern California chapparal. One of the tricorned men tries to chat Stephanie up, but it comes to a screeching halt when she tests his knowledge of Revolutionary War history in Leesburg, MD. The hapless re-enactor finds an excuse to walk away. As the afternoon wears on, Stephanie lolls around in the grass, utterly bored and unwilling to fake interest.
Ann Marie doesn’t like it when people talk negatively. I can believe it. She’s a little on the perky , positive-if-it-kills-me side. So when the Egly children (especially those three sisters who are only a few years apart) show their propensity to bicker and whine at each other, Ann Marie formulates a plan. Now personally, the Egly siblings sounded a lot like me and my sibs growing up. You can’t shove them all into a car together for a long drive and expect them to compliment each other’s earrings all day. But it sounds like the Doverspike kids only communicate in loving tones about happy stuff. Ann Marie (whose face is beginning to look exactly like a generic smiley the more I see it) doesn‘t like hearing the Egly teens speak to each other like they‘re annoyed and mad all the time. Put on a happy face, kids!
Ann Marie dives into a bicker fest to ask one of the Egly kids to fetch a tube of toothpaste. Thus beginneth the lesson. She asks the sixteen-year-old to squeeze some of the toothpaste into a spoon. When she does, Ann Marie tells her to put it back in the tube. The girl waits a beat, then states the obvious: she can’t. Ann Marie agrees, then says that she has noticed the kids bicker a lot. “But the bummer is, your words are like that toothpaste. You can’t take them back.” The kids look unimpressed, and Ann Marie prods them to agree, looking mighty pleased with herself. I say we revoke the citizenship of anyone over thirty who uses the word “bummer.”
Maybe they’re quiet now, but when Shaina (the oldest) has the camera to herself, she confesses that she can’t stand Ann Marie. In fact, she calls her a “cold-hearted, harsh bitch.” But Shaina, can’t you tell that she “relates” with teens?
After The Toothpaste
It’s later in the week, and Ann Marie is busily telling the camera that she feels she has really made a difference in the Egly family. She feels that they are treating each other differently, and the negative bickering has disappeared. This family swap has been condensed to one hour, so no time is wasted in lowering the ironic smack down. *whap*
The Eglys are at dinner, eating peacefully, when one of the sisters accuses another of having “attitude.” All the Eglys dive into the conversation, and just like that, we have a bickerfest. Ann Marie is annoyed and homesick.
In California, we are treated to the Trading Spouses patented Party O’Awkwardness [TM]. Stephanie, we are told by Dave, wants traditional Jewish food catered for the party, which he thinks is “fantastic.” If you were looking down at your keyboard, Dave sounded supportive and sincere. But if you were watching, Dave smiled briefly at the word “fantastic”, then his face dropped all expression and he stared eerily into the camera for a few seconds. What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks was that? Did his Stepford Husband chip falter for a second? He looked like a ventriloquist’s dummy as his master’s hand was being removed.
Stephanie mingles with the party guests, but she suspects that none of them have ever met a Jewish person before, which makes her uncomfortable. We see party guests who have never heard of lox, much less enjoyed it on a bagel, while the kids react poorly to bowls of matzo ball soup. Stephanie feels like an outsider with these people who don’t share her values, her beliefs, or even her diet. Dave is also not enjoying the party. He seems put out with the crowds of people daring to eat in the same vicinity as his white furniture and carpets. He frets and fusses as much life out of the party as he can.
Back in Maryland, Ann Marie is writing in her journal on the front porch while the teenage girls talk with their father in the dining room. He starts a conversation with the girls by asking, “How are you feeling?” They laugh and tease him for “hanging out with Ann Marie too long.” They mock Ann-Marie’s toothpaste speech, and remind their dad they are on the East coast, not West. Outside, Ann Marie has heard, and she quietly weeps. She‘s not thanking her maker for her good hearing at the moment. Ann Marie tells us what her hidden agenda has been for the week: to give this family the “great gift of being positive.” But she complains bitterly that “it didn’t seem that they were interested at all.” Ah, well, I’m sure her wounded soul will be soon be soothed by a great big mound of cash.
Queens of the Castle
Ann Marie says she gave her heart to the Eglys, and it wasn’t reciprocated. She is excited at the prospect of meeting Stephanie, though, and hopes (pleaseohplease) that Stephanie likes her.
Stephanie, we learn, is happy to be leaving. She’s not really interested in meeting Ann Marie - well, only if Ann Marie is gagged or otherwise prevented from talking. Stephanie doesn’t want to have one more blasted conversation about God. Good work on converting the heathen there, guys.
When the moms meet, it’s about what you’d expect, except for taking place in the replica of a medieval castle. Ann Marie chatters, and Stephanie replies politely. After a bit, Ann Marie gets down to specific questions, and Stephanie is faltering a bit. How does one get up the courage to say to the perky woman, I think your family is insane? Or how about, I spent the week learning that I’m going to Hell; how do you think I liked it? Stephanie hems and haws, then startles me by flat-out lying. “We had a blast,” she says. Even Ann Marie doesn’t believe it at first, until Stephanie swears to God. Ann Marie melts in a puddle of joy, but not before hugging and rubbing Stephanie as much as she can. In fact, she tells us later that the conversation “blessed [her] socks off.” I’m going to Hell too, because I laughed heartily at the whole conversation.
Ann Marie admits that her week may not have run as smoothly. She feels that John wanted to scream at her to stop crying (for what it’s worth, I think so, too). She praises Stephanie for being so level headed, telling her she’s a strong woman. “No, I’m not,” replies Stephanie, “I just don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.” Nevertheless, Ann Marie seems worshipful of Stephanie, predicting a cross country friendship will blossom.
But wait, not so fast. Stephanie sums up the meeting by saying she doesn’t tolerate fools well. Considering that she lied her way through the meeting in an attempt to make it end faster, I’d say she’s right. Stephanie explains that she didn’t want to hurt Ann Marie’s feelings because she’s heard that “she cries a lot.” Her overall impression of Ann Marie is that she’s “exhausting.” Ann Marie, on the other hand, leaves the conversation with her arm around Stephanie’s waist, thrilled at the way Stephanie “seemed to like [her].” How can two people leave a meeting with such utterly different impressions?
After the Leavin‘
Ann Marie is home, and right away senses a few changes. God forbid someone should put fresh flowers in her house instead of her usual display of artificial perfection. No really, I think Ann Marie wishes God did forbid it, because the house was filled with fresh flowers for the party, and she does not like seeing bright floral displays on her counter. “What a mess!” she cries. I squinted, but all I could see was a tall vase of fresh snapdragons - hardly a mess. Ann Marie complains that the flowers are “contributing to [her] stress” and she orders them removed. It will take days to re-establish control over the rebels in her household. Flowers, begone!
The horror of the plant invasion forces Ann Marie to face the ugly truth: Stephanie didn’t seem to be curious about her faith. She’s deeply disappointed that Stephanie didn’t attend church. We never heard church mentioned at the Eglys, possibly due to editing, but I didn’t hear Ann Marie volunteering to go to temple, either.
Stephanie shares the experience with her family, and explains that she didn’t need to go to their church to see how different she was from the Doverspikes. She says that going from one situation to the next having to identify herself right away as the only non-Christian in the group “gets a little old.” Especially when said groups are meeting to pray over every pancake to be consumed. Talk about exhausting.
Money, The Great Communicator
Stephanie gets ready to read the letter from Ann Marie, but none of the Eglys think that Ann Marie can be trusted to spend the money wisely. The letter starts off with the cheery thought that Ann Marie felt the Eglys bickered non-stop, which wore her down. What a plucky little gal, so free with her feelings. By this point, no one cares, Ann Marie. She divvies the cash as follows:
- $500 for each child
- $2,500 for a new stove
- $5,000 towards a trip to Hawaii
- $5,000 towards a winter vacation in California - which she hopes they will use to visit the Doverspikes
- $15,500 whatever they want
- $5,000 per child for college
The Eglys are pleasantly surprised, and are happy with Ann Marie’s decisions. As for Stephanie’s division of the money, it doesn’t add up to a full fifty thousand dollars, but we are told she divided the money as follows:
- $30,000 for a new car for Dave
- $10,000 home improvements
- $6,000 to go to Europe
Ann Marie looks pained, wondering why she didn’t allocate any college money. She’s not happy about the amount of money left for the new car, but you can’t deny that Dave looks pretty thrilled. “Oh, rats,” says Ann Marie. The family prays, then goes to sleep.
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