Let us say, theoretically, that there are an infinite number of personality types among the human race. Add to that the also infinite combinations of personalities between couples. Multiply that by two, and you realize – this show could go on FOREVER. I want to believe that someday the producers will be standing in some family’s backyard in Sedona and look at each other and say, “Hey, we already swapped a Buddhist transsexual vegan polygamist wife with an asexual Baptist drill-sergeant wife who hunts and kills all her family’s food. It’s all been done. Pack it up, boys, we’re off the air.” But sadly, the producers don’t expect that to happen anytime soon – they’ve picked up this show for, like, a gazillion episodes. We’ll see how long I last.
Anyway, this week our swap is, of course, between two of the most opposite families ever conceived. The Weiners of California are fitness freaks; mom Dena is up at 5:30 every morning to work out for two hours, along with hubby Keith, and their three sons seem to play every sport known to man. The youngest one, incidentally, looks like a Hansen brother. Keith appears to have been doing leg curls when they were handing out senses of humor, and he also uses the terms “sensitivity” and “depression” interchangeably, having no patience for either. The Weiners live according to a very regimented schedule, the sons and Keith do most of the household chores, and they eat only organic food. Dena hopes Keith will learn some patience during the swap.
Dena will be swapping places with Dawn Smith, of Florida. The Smiths are anti-fitness – they subsist largely on food from the freezer section, and while dad Jeff would like to see his sons playing sports, the two Smith boys prefer to watch TV or play guitar. Dawn places a lot of value on sensitivity, and the family has a nightly circle in which they tell each other nice things. “Nice is underrated in our society,” Dawn says. Her sons and husband do not do household chores, she takes care of it all. Dawn hopes the swap will teach her menfolk to appreciate how much she does for them.
As always, the two women will swap lives for two weeks, living by the house rules the first week and imposing their own in the second week. They each get some time alone in the new house to adjust, before meeting the families.
Dawn enters the Weiner household and quickly pronounces Dena “the perfect woman” – which is exactly the sort of woman that Dawn was afraid of. Trophies and pictures from Dena’s body-building competition days are scattered (in a very orderly way) around the house. “I’ve never seen an ass that firm,” Dawn marvels. She’s amazed at how fit and small Dena is; she pulls a dress out of Dena’s closet and says the entire dress would maybe cover one of her own breasts. Dawn, who is admittedly plus-sized, is intimidated by the ghost of Dena. “It would be foolish to say my husband wants me a plus-sized model,” she says sadly.
Dawn wouldn’t feel any better if she could hear what Dena is saying in Dawn’s house. Dena looks at pictures and notes the Smith family is quite a bit bigger – and we’re not talking the number of people – than her own. She also pulls a dress out of the closet, and says she hopes to never be that big. Dena is appalled at the lack of vegetables in the refrigerator.
I Guess They Don’t Make Organic Cheesy Poofs
Both women left behind a manual to describe their daily lives. Dawn’s eyes bug out as she reads that Dena gets up at 5:30 every morning – except when she sleeps in until 5:40 – to be at the gym by 6. Dena has written down her training routine in excruciating detail, and Dawn notes – probably rightly – that they’d better have a medic on hand if she’s going to attempt Dena’s punishing schedule.
Dena, meanwhile, is amazed at how much Dawn cleans, and freaks out at the processed food the Smith family eats. Dawn has written that Jeff isn’t home much, and Dena is moved to tears. “I can see how she’s crying for help,” she says.
Having had some time alone to freak out, it’s time for both women to meet the new families. Both meetings seem to go well, although Weiners on both ends question the various members of the Smith family about whether they do sports or any physical activity. That’s really not my first question when I meet someone, and I’m starting to think these Weiners are a bit obsessed. I mean, do they have any other hobbies than to compete or work on their bodies? These are the kind of people who would run a triathalon as vacation.
Dawn has decided that perfect bodies do not make a perfect family. She says the Weiners are too regimented. And she thinks it’s a tad strange that Keith does the cleaning. Actually, Keith cleans OCD-style – we see a lot of shots of him wiping off the kitchen counter. Is it that filthy? Is it one shot spliced up different ways? Or is he a cold, heartless clean freak? You be the judge.
In Florida, Dena is trying to be open to new experiences, such as eating curly fries. I’ll tell you right now, if she has banned curly fries from her diet, she has taken this whole thing too far. Fresh out of the deep fryer and seasoned properly, they are divine. But poor, deluded Dena dangles one potato curl from her finger, announces that she doesn’t usually eat food shaped like that, and bravely pops it in her mouth. While she’s doing this, she’s chatting with one of the Smith boys – Shane? Something like that – and she thinks he is looking to her as a “role model.” I guess she should have left “role” out of it, as we cut straight to Shane telling us “she’s hot.”
No Pain, No… Pain
It’s the first day, and Dawn doesn’t like having to wake up the Weiner boys. “They have their whole life to be structured,” she says. But soon enough Dawn loses all thought of the Weiner children, because living life as Dena not easy. Dawn must go put in Dena’s regular two hours at the gym, and while Dena might find that workout relaxing, Dawn looks like she’s about to expire on the spot. And as if that wasn’t enough, the whole family goes off on an hour-long mountain bike ride afterwards. Dena winds up pushing her bike, and her splotchily red face suggests to me that someone with an ambulance had better be close by.
While Dawn may be pooped, the Weiner men are still going strong; the boys have sporting events to go to, and it’s her job to drive them around. Dawn says that all this working-out and chauffeuring leaves no time for the Weiners to develop a family life together. Which, you know, might be the Weiners’ point.
Meanwhile, Dena’s not having an easy time of it either. She’s up before any of the Smiths. Finally her inability to sit still and relax gets the better of her, and she wakes up Shane, the kid, proving that she has never met a normal teenage boy, or she would know that you don’t try to talk to them before noon, and even then you probably won’t like what they’re going to say. He lies in bed, groggy, as Sporty Spice starts asking about his physical activities. Aghast, he begs her to postpone the lecture until he’s fully conscious.
Sadly for Dena, once all the Smith men are awake, it’s time to exercise one thing – the arm reaching for the waffles. They head off to Sunday breakfast at a local greasy-spoon diner. Dena is horrified at the fried concoctions the boys are heaping on their plates. “What’s lacking here is the children’s health,” she says.
Luckily for Dena, she gets a chance to work off whatever she ate at the diner – probably she just ate Splenda or something – by doing three hours of housework. Dena doesn’t do the chores at home, and she thinks the Smith boys need to help Dawn more.
In Which I Get Bored and Start Telling Personal Stories
Out in California, Dawn is having some trouble with Dena’s angelic family. Keith seems to think she has an attitude problem, and notes that HIS wife is never cranky, HIS wife has a positive attitude, and Dawn needs to adjust HER attitude. I’d point out that HIS wife is probably a cyborg.
Dawn is not pleased with Keith, but we move on to the gym. She and Keith work out side by side, and he says something else a bit snotty, probably about how an out-of-shape woman should easily be able to last two hours on a bike machine without being at all winded if it just weren’t for her attitude. Dawn’s had enough. “I’m not talking to you,” she snaps, in between pants. “You drove me here.” It’s not a far leap from pissed to crying, and Dawn makes the leap pretty quickly. She says she’s tired of being compared to perfect Dena, that she’s not like Dena, and that she can’t keep up with Dena’s routine. Honey, NO ONE can keep up with Dena’s routine. I’m mildly fit and Dena and her routine scare me. Then again, I am a total klutz on gym equipment. I once fell OFF a treadmill because I had turned my head and was talking to a friend on the next machine, and accidentally stepped on a part that wasn’t moving, and the rest of me quickly moved off the back of the treadmill. My friend had to stop her own treadmill because she was laughing, and perfect strangers came by to ask if I was ok. The lesson here is that those belts are mighty narrow if you’re not paying attention.
Ahem. Anyway, while Dawn’s bawling on the stairmaster, Dena and the Smiths are having a family barbecue. By this point, Dena’s frantically gung-ho attitude has gotten her on the bad side of the Smiths. “We’ve had enough of all her rip-roaring rah-rah,” Jeff says, waving some barbecue tongs to illustrate his point. He says Dena is always talking up the wonders of California, and that he’s from California himself, and that people like Dena are the reason other people don’t LIKE California.
People like Keith are the reason people like Dawn don’t like California. Dawn is frying chicken for stir-fry and Keith swoops in to tell her to grill it. Because heaven forbid anything fried should interfere with the organic baby peas, or something. His terse way of telling Dawn this upsets her, and she stays upset for at least an hour while Keith, blissfully unaware of the presence of an emotion in the room, wipes the counter happily. Until Dawn finally speaks up. Keith says he’s just not used to someone being upset and depressed. I have trouble believing even Dena is happy and upbeat all the time. If she is, well, that’s just more proof that she’s a cyborg. But evidently she hides any unhappy feelings from Keith. Dawn is upset that Keith seems to blatantly disregard her feelings, and they both say they feel like they’re walking on pins and needles around each other. Dawn fumes to the camera that Keith lacks emotion.
You’re Not the Boss of Me
Finally, we are at the point in the swap when the women lay down their own rules. Dena has ordered equipment and turned the Smiths’ garage into a home gym. She tells Jeff and the boys that they’ll be working out, and she’ll be their personal trainer. She has enrolled the boys at soccer camp, and they are to do chores. She also rids the fridge of all its unhealthy food, and says Jeff will wake the boys up at 6:30 a.m. with a whistle. Easy there, Captain von Trapp. One of the boys takes mighty offense to being called with a whistle, and to chores in general, and yells that she isn’t the boss of him and he’ll just lock his door in the morning. He later gets to take out some angst on the boxing dummy thingy.
Dawn’s rules begin with eliminating the boys’ sports schedule. They’re all too obsessed with competition, she says, and need to know that life is not all about winning. “Find your inner beauty,” Dawn advises, beatifically, while the boys look alarmed. Dawn also decrees that she won’t be doing any more cooking – they’ll eat what they can order out or heat up. Keith will be fined a hefty $10 for every time he’s caught cleaning or doing home improvement projects; Dawn thinks he should be spending more time with his sons. The sons, by the way, are to be allowed to sleep in. Keith is not happy with the new regime, particularly the rule banning sports. He says that’s taking something away from his kids that they enjoy.
Muscles, Abs and Chicks
With the new rules in force, Dena starts the next morning by blowing her whistle, throwing out junk food, and serving oatmeal for breakfast. The Smiths are not happy to wave goodbye to their waffles.
In California, the Weiner boys are still asleep at 9 a.m., as is Dawn, while Keith is breaking the rules by cleaning. Dawn finally wakes up and catches him, but before she can say much he orders her to leave him alone. Dawn is furious. She admits she’s intimidated by Keith, and isn’t used to being around such a cold person. Later on, Dawn confronts him, saying that he was rude and disrespectful and that he’s not even attempting to abide by her rules.
Rebellion is afoot at the Smiths’ as well. One of the kids won’t come out of his room, and the other has a hidden stash of strudels. Dena is frustrated and feels like everything is a fight. Because of her rule against junk food, Jeff makes the one kid dump his black-market strudel.
Eventually Dena gets the Smith men out in her new little gym, where the sons start to see the benefits of exercise. Shane wants muscles, abs and chicks, and flexes his plump little arm for the camera in hopes of seeing a bicep. Jeff, who was a bit sportier in his youth and always wanted the same for his sons, is proud.
Switching back to California, Keith has conveniently decided to remember the rule about not cleaning when the dog poops in the yard. Dawn has no choice but to clean it up, although she’s sure she didn’t get it clean enough to please Keith. Nor does she particularly care.
Keith is an Ass
Two weeks with Dena have made Jeff realize why Dawn is tired after a day of housework. He and the boys have been doing laundry and other chores, and Jeff says his family needs to work as a team. Surprisingly, the Smith boys seem to enjoy working out; one has gotten very into karate, they all go bike-riding, and I think there’s even some tossing-a-ball-in-the-park. Jeff can hardly contain his joy.
Speaking of teams, Keith has decided his sons miss theirs, and he sneaks them out to sports practice, a rule-breaking he justifies by saying that their missing practice can affect them all year because one of them is trying to make the basketball team, or something. Dawn is furious. She tells Keith – when he returns – that HER sons are stepping out of their comfort zone out of respect for HIS wife, and she would expect the same in return. He mutters something that I don’t seem to have written down, but Dawn terms it “bull****” and says he is being disrespectful, while her kids aren’t. I guess she’ll regret that statement when she sees the tape of her kid locking his door in the morning, but whatever. For now it’s working – Keith says he’s learning to look at himself, and wonder what he’s done to make Dawn feel this way. His look of slight discomfort makes Dawn hug him and kiss his head, an act Keith endures stoically.
The Incident of the Funky Chicken
I’m sorry. These people have all been pretty boring, and thus this recap has been boring. To make up for that, I will now relate another gym-related incident from my past. When I said “mildly fit” earlier, I meant, “lazy.” I’m not so opposed to working out, I just don’t like to sweat or to be out of breath. So I thought I found the perfect solution – water aerobics. Not too hard, and all that nice cool water. Perfect.
I hadn’t banked on the instructor. Here we are, nine or ten people bobbing happily in the shallow end, and along comes this tiny, wizened, old woman. She looked so innocent, but she flogged us along like a drill sergeant. She would count down how long we had to keep doing jumping jacks or whatever, and would stick on one number, yelling, “FIVE! FOUR! THREE! THREE! THREE! OH, I LOVE ME SOME THREE!” Then, she made us do the funky chicken. In the water. As an exercise. And she was not satisfied with any half-hearted efforts at funk. No, she wanted the full funk. The full chicken. We’re flapping our arms as best one can in four feet of water, and this woman is yelling, “C’MON! FUNKY CHICKEN! GET FUNKY! FUUUUNKY!! OH, Y’ALL GETTING IT! YA’LL GETTING FUNKY! Y’ALL MAKING ME HUNGRY! Y’ALL MAKING ME WANT SOME CHICKEN!! FUNKY CHICKEN! FUNKY CHIIIIICCCKKKEEN!!!”
I swear, it was exhausting just listening to her.
I’m Getting a Bad Attitude Myself
Ok, while I am not actually out of gym-injury stories, I’m getting tired of typing and I’m sure you’re getting tired of reading. Luckily for all of us, the end is in sight.
It’s time for the women to return home and for everyone to wax poetic about the lessons they’ve learned. Dena thinks Jeff has learned that his wife needs help around the house; Jeff says he has learned that the family needs Dawn and her influence. He gets weepy. Awwww.
Everyone takes limos to some random parking lot to reunite. For reasons not touched on at all, the limos park several dozen yards away from each other, forcing the couples to run – or not, in Keith’s case – to each other. The Smiths reunite in a hugging, crying, happy mess. Dena runs and hugs, and Keith does not look as forbidding as usual, which might mean he’s happy.
As always, the two couples sit down together to rehash the experience. Dawn says the rule changes were hard on Keith. Keith fights back, saying Dawn was struggling with the routine – in the house or in the gym, I don’t know which – and that it’s still “all about attitude.”
Dawn retorts that Keith had the bad attitude, and could have tried to be more sensitive. Keith says he and his wife don’t live by rules, which seems to me like he has no concept of the extremely rule-driven way in which his house seems to be run. Dawn asks why, if he didn’t want to play by rules, did he even bother doing the show?
Anyway, those two will just have to agree to disagree. Jeff says he appreciates what Dawn does and that he’ll be a better disciplinarian. He cries, Dawn appreciates that he’s not afraid to cry, they hug. Dena looks away and wipes a tear from her eye, then tells Keith she loves him.
“We’re Closer as a Family, Blah Blah Blah”
We catch back up with the families a few weeks later to see if anything’s changed. The Weiners appear to be relaxing around their pool (clearly a staged shot, as they’re sitting down and not playing any athletic games at ALL). Dena says the family is closer and more appreciative of her, and that Keith has learned some patience and is also more affectionate. Keith says he has learned how much he relies on Dena.
The Smiths are trying to eat better and exercise more. They’ve kept the garage gym, and the boy who liked karate is going for his yellow belt. Jeff is taking a more active role with the boys and around the house. One son says he feels closer to his dad, and the other says he appreciates Dawn more now.
A strict disciplinarian versus an anti-disciplinarian. Gee, how exciting that sounds. Good thing I kept some gym stories in reserve. Wait, where are you going?
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