Let’s face it: trading your spouse is seasonal. No one wants to give up a cuddlebunny in the harsh cold of winter; that’s a hot weather pastime. Sadly, it appears that winter has caught up with the taping of this show. We’ll have to look elsewhere for tales of wanderlustin’ wives, since this episode is the season finale. Don’t make me guffaw in mock disbelief. What season ends mid-February? Well, we have no choice but to take what we’ve seen over the past months and file it away in a dusty corner of our psyches. At least we can take comfort in the knowledge that they always save the best episodes for last. FOX loves to go out on a bang. I can’t help but notice that this is a one-parter, though. The condensed footage must be extra great, then - each minute should be packed with twice the trading spousal goodness. Right?
The episode begins with a shot of a lone RV hitting the highway on a cold winter morning. Inhabiting the blocky vehicle is the O’Brien family, who tour the country as a family musical troupe. Traveling more than 25,000 miles in a year, the O’Briens are modern gypsies, covering eighty live audiences in a year. Well, except that instead of luring in folks for a palm reading, they play bluegrass. The group features the yodeling stylings of the youngest family member, Maura, aged 11, and the hot-as-picante-sauce fiddling of her older brother Kyle, 14. Tiny and bespectacled, Maura can nevertheless yodel loud enough to summon goats in three counties. Janette, their mother, is described by her husband Dan as a “salty bass player” - and he means it as a compliment. A former teacher, she has homeschooled Maura and Kyle for their entire lives.
Now we meet the Shackelford family, who are rooted conventionally in one spot, the lovely colonial town of Smithfield, Virginia. The camera pulls up to a tasteful brick house, but are the occupants inside as lovely as the exterior? We meet Michelle, who tells us right off the bat that they are a perfect family. Call me a cynic, but if there is a perfect family somewhere in the world they don’t waste their time with cheesy reality shows. But it is enlightening to see how Michelle describes her world. She’s one of these superlative types.
She seems concerned about what everyone thinks about her family based on their expensive-looking house and hulking SUVs. She figures everyone dismisses them as wealthy snobs who are stuck on material goods, obsessed with their careers, and obsessed with money. I’m not sure why she went on about this point so much, and she never actually refutes any of these perceptions that we might have of her. Instead, she tells us defiantly that she’s proud of their accomplishments. Again, I’m not sure what the ‘tude is all about, but way to pat yourself on the back, Michelle.
We meet the rest of this blended family. The oldest daughter, Tasha, is 17 going on 25, and is Michelle’s stepdaughter. The younger two daughters are Michelle’s - Devin, 10, and Holly, 7. Craig and Michelle have been married all of four months, which makes the earlier talk of family accomplishments even more puzzling. Michelle will miss her family, and she could have left it at that, but instead says that being apart from Craig for one week will be difficult since she will miss the sex. Newlyweds are nauseatingly cute, aren’t they? Nauseating, at least.
Michelle says her family is populated by a group of headstrong, stubborn souls; she admits that Craig can come down hard on the girls at times. The youngest two seem to spend a lot of time calling each other such timeworn classics as “stupidhead” and “dimwit.” Tasha, the oldest, is looking forward to her 18th birthday, a landmark not only for her but for any father. Craig handles it by reminding Tasha she’ll be legally old enough to go to jail for her actions. So far Craig isn’t shaping up to be much of a cuddly carebear, but my guess is that most fathers of teenage daughters are under intense stress.
The Shackelfords are Republicans, we learn; perhaps this will be a politically tense episode. I suspect it was included so we could see the Shackelford children “discussing the issues” as their mother lovingly describes it by calling each other “butthead” and sticking out their tongues. Michelle insists that the children have studied the issues by themselves and decided on their own to be Republicans. Those name-calling skills could come in handy some day, now that I think about it.
As for the swap, Michelle doesn’t care where she’s sent, as long as she’s not bored. *echoing eerily into the distance* not bored...not bored...
The two women bid goodbye to their families. Kids and parents alike seem to bid adieu fondly; there’s no drama queen being sent off.
Virginia is For Lovers - But Not This Week
Meeting Janette at the airport, Craig is visibly nervous; Janette breaks the ice by telling Craig what Michelle is finding on the other end - a family living out of their RV. Craig tries not to laugh out loud, but he’s amused (and probably grateful he’s on his home turf). We cut to Michelle meeting her new family, and she catches on quick when the kids are directly outside the terminal doors, sitting on top of an RV holding a sign reading, “Welcome to Your New Family.” Michelle gushes that they are so lucky, she’s always wanted an RV! It’s not clear if she realizes that the bulky vehicle will be where she will spend the week fighting over the cramped bathroom yet.
Michelle takes the grand tour, and learns she will be sleeping in the master suite. If you ask me, if everyone has to traipse through your room to get to the restroom calling it a suite is a wild exaggeration. Still, with the living room, hallway, and postage stamp-sized kitchen, there’s all the comforts of home. Michelle is gamely taking it all in. Dan worries that she doesn’t know what she’s getting into. A tiny, cramped, shoebox of a home filled with strangers, Dan; anyone can see that!
In Virginia, Janette is duly impressed by the tony neighborhood of manicured lawns and colonial architecture. It’s a very pleasant neighborhood - not so rich that the houses are mansions surrounded by electrified fences and guard dogs, and yet you get the feeling that your neighbors won’t be embarrassing you by putting up vinyl siding any time soon. Janette comments that she lives in an RV, and she feels a bit like she’s out of her league. Still, she’s charmed by the Shackelford children greeting her with a vase of picked flowers.
Janette comes down to find the dogs licking food off the kitchen counters and the youngest daughters struggling to make their school lunches without the help of their dad, who sits nearby, but is busy reading the paper. While Janette asks the kids about their routine, Craig steps out for a cigarette break. She learns that the bus is coming in five minutes as the girls are sleepily eating pastries and milk - the same pastries the dogs were licking a few minute ago. The girls finish up and are gone before Craig finishes his cigarette, and Janette wonders why he didn’t pay them an ounce of attention.
Janette figures that Craig just needs a dose of family time to straighten him out, and sentences everyone to a family talent show. The girls take turns singing, but Craig cannot be persuaded to participate. He watches from the couch as Holly sing-songs her way through a ditty she wrote about her mother (aww) and Janette herself blunders her way through a country ballad. She can’t remember most of the words, but soon she’s done. Craig looks half-asleep.
Tasha gets up to contribute, and stop the presses, Tasha has an incredible voice! I want to dial up and vote for her fifty times on my speed dial. While the rest of us are enjoying her sweet voice, Craig looks bored, and slips out to smoke a cigarette before the applause has stopped. Tasha doesn’t look surprised at his reaction, but Janette tactfully reproaches him to the camera, saying he didn’t appear to appreciate Tasha’s music.
Elsewhere, on the highways of this great nation, life comes to a halt in the RV. Just as I suspected, it’s not because of bad traffic, but because there is only one shower and four people. The bathroom with the coveted shower is in Michelle’s room, and the kids are hovering at her door, anxious to use it first thing in the morning. There seems to be a second bathroom, but they want to use Michelle’s. She looks a little unnerved to be looking for underwear in her suitcase while the fourteen-year-old boy hovers in the doorway, trying not to watch. Maura gives up on using the bathroom to change her clothes and pops into her sleeping bag. Soon everyone is ready to hit the road, and we learn the O’Brien’s are headed for Kansas.
It’s time for Michelle to ruminate about her experience, much like a live journal, only spoken over a montage of the RV driving endlessly. They are aimlessly travelling around, she thinks, and yet, they are going with a purpose, to play a concert “at the end of this journey.” Apparently FOX hired a confused cartographer to chart the journey for us, as a red line is shown on a map so that we can follow their meandering route. First they’re leaving Texas, crossing Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, now very quickly speeding eastward. Holy smokes, was that Chesapeake Bay where they turned around? Now they’re heading back west, up the Mississippi to Illinois, whoops, now they’re magically back in Colorado. They’re going to South Park! No, no, they appear to have gone thirty miles from where they were before. I hope I don’t have to point out to any of you readers that the cartographer covered about 5,000 miles in detours there. Geography teachers all over America are shaking their fists in rage. That wily FOX!
Janette gets Craig to join her for breakfast at a local coffee shop. On the menu? Parental judgement, or more specifically, why Craig sucks. With a side of oat-bran muffins and coffee.
Craig wants specific examples of his failure to communicate, as Janette terms it. Janette brings up that Tasha feels like he wasn’t interested in her singing the other night. Craig seems open to discussing matter, and begins to argue that Janette is only seeing a snapshot of what their life is like. She goes on to press her point, but Craig turns to the waiter to order more coffee as she is in mid-sentence. Janette seems to run out of steam at this point, and heaves a big sigh when Craig doesn’t even notice she hasn’t finished her thought. Craig turns the conversation around on her, asking what she’s seen that she can take back to her family. His “riddle-me-this” expression makes the question hostile, and Janette can only come up with that she wishes she had a dog. What were you expecting, Craig, that she wished for a husband who ignored her children?
Somewhere in America, the RV has been parked for the night. Dan invites Michelle to sing with the group at their gig at the local Fun Barn, and she reacts with panic. Dan wants her to have an experience to talk about for years to come, but Michelle is adamant - she hates to sing.
We enter the Quail Valley Fun Barn, where fans of the O’Briens have assembled for a night of musical magic. Kyle signs autographs, and quite a few folks have showed up to join the fun. Michelle eyes the audience nervously, getting more ratchety as the barn fills with folks, but when the moment comes, she forces herself to join them on stage, lyric sheet in hand. At first she can barely move her mouth, but pretty soon she’s singing along with the rest and enjoying the applause. “Now I get what this family is all about,” she tells us warmly.
In Virginia, the Shackelfords are hosting a party to introduce Janette to the neighborhood. Except that we’re not shown Craig introducing Janette to anyone. As the party progresses, she sips her beer surrounded by people chatting in clusters with their backs to her. Craig notices, and tells Janette she just has to jump in and join the conversation - after all, that’s what he does. Thanks a lot, Rico Suave. Craig’s friends actually laugh at his attempt to talk to her, and he defends her by saying she’s “alright.” Unlike his rude friends who laugh about people when they’re standing five feet away from them.
Janette spies Tasha tinkering with a guitar, and gets an idea - here’s a venue where Craig will be forced to listen to his daughter, and in fact, look supportive in front of the neighbors. Tasha is a little nervous, but performs her song (which she wrote) for the party guests. Once again, her voice is amazing - heck, it must have been good because magically an accompanying orchestra springs from nowhere, just like when Snow White sings, minus the woodland creatures. When she finishes, Craig goes over and hugs Tasha, praising her in front of all his friends. Janette is thrilled to see this positive change in their relationship, feeling she’s had an impact.
The magic bus/RV has arrived in Colorado at the O’Brien’s home - hey, what’s this? It turns out they do have a place to hang their hats. No sooner have they arrived then Michelle is speeding away in a purple taxi. Not that Michelle left on angry terms or anything...you get the feeling that these one-hour episodes skip over a bit. Having said that, soon Tasha is telling us she enjoyed Janette’s stay and she, too, is speeding away in her taxi, drama-free. It’s refreshing to a jaded Trading Spouses viewer, actually.
When the moms meet, Michelle tells Janette that Dan was lost without her. She tells Janette that her kids are amazing musicians, and in general gushes about the experience. Janette gulps visibly because she has brought some criticism to the table and didn’t expect Michelle to say such nice things about her family. Taking a deep breath, she dives in: Craig could be a better parent, she tells Michelle, and advises her to guide him to take part in the kids’ interests. Michelle interrupts, and you can see that Janette is worried she will lash out for being criticized...but instead, she agrees with Janette, saying that the week with her family has taught her what was missing from her own family life - being close with the children. Janette looks relieved that Michelle didn’t want to rip her head off, and Michelle tells us that she thinks she can be a better mother now. It’s the most positive meeting of mothers we’ve seen on the show - the result of two normal women being able to appreciate the other family’s strengths. They eagerly trade envelopes and continue their journey home.
Do the Money Twist
We’re rushed through the process, so we cut right to the chase. How did Michelle spend the O’Brien’s $50,000?
Janette is encouraged that Michelle funded activities her children will enjoy, which bodes well for her and Craig getting more involved in their own kids’ lives. Overall, they are pleased, and Janette hints that she did something similar for the Shackelford family. How did she spend their cut of the loot?
- $2,000 for Kyle to attend Disney’s Art and Cartoon school (Kyle looks thrilled)
- $2,000 for Maura to attend NASA’s astronaut space camp (Maura cheers and bounces around in excitement)
- $2,000 for a romantic trip while the kids are at camp (“I like that!” Dan exclaims.)
- The rest for “continuing to decorate your beautiful home.” Does that mean the RV or the one on solid ground, I wonder?
Janette has some very kind words to say about Tasha, calling her a “capable and healthy young woman” whose quest to become a singer/songwriter she hopes to support. Therefore, she leaves:
Craig tells us that he is not offended at all by the suggestion that he needs to take a parenting seminar. He says that he feels like he has already tried to improve his parenting after having the talk with Janette, and looks forward to learning more. Son of a gun, it’s happiness and smiles all around! We see Craig tucking all of his daughters in for the night, spreading hugs and kisses and general parental sappiness. The episode ends with the O’Briens singing together in their living room, while Janette tells us that life is an adventure; and the journey is more important than the destination. She wouldn’t be so blase if she’d been forced on that 5,000 mile detour, though. It looked like a doozie.
- $2,000 on a new Taylor brand guitar for Tasha so that she can sing for the world (Tasha is, naturally, thrilled to the gills)
- $1,000 for the Shackelfords to travel to their favorite destination in an RV (a few puzzled “oh”s at that)
- $41,840 for credit card debt (mom and dad share a happy look)
- funds for Craig and Janette to attend a parenting seminar
And so ends the saga of the Trading Spouses where everyone got along, played nice, and went to bed with smiles on their faces. Fare thee well, happy traders.
Begging scraps from the table of marital bliss is one firstname.lastname@example.org