Wife Swap – Queen of Clean vs Car-Lover
Apologies for the late recap of what appears to be the final episode in the first Wife Swap Australia series. According to the schedule, it’s Wife Swap USA tonight, but LifestyleYOU is recruiting for next series. Click here if you think you’re up for the challenge!
Anyway, the blurb for this episode struggles to set up the usual polarities, describing Christina Kuhn as the “Queen of Clean” who is swapping with Leesa Marshall, “a car-lover who lives in an outback shed”. Since when was “car-lover” the opposite of “Queen of Clean”? Have we really run out of easily reducible married archetypes so quickly? The narrator’s introduction sets up Christina’s fanatical cleanliness and “compliant husband” who is like a “fourth child” against Leesa’s lack of prioritising cleaning, so I guess battle lines have been drawn. Oh, and did he mention that Leesa lives in a shed? Yes? Twice? Got it.
“I have an awful fucking temper!” “I will not jeopardise our marriage just to do something for a TV show.” “You didn’t learn a thing.” As usual, the preview snippets promise fireworks. What’s the bet that, in context, these comments are less combative than they seem?
Christina is a “former promotional model now stay-at-home-mum” who describes herself as a “slight control freak”. Is there such a thing as a “slight” control freak? I wouldn’t have thought so. She cleans. It’s what she does, saying that she can have up to seven loads of washing a day. How is that even possible? Is she taking laundry in for the entire community? Perhaps Wife Swap Australia really is, as I have suspected, a subliminal campaign to send people back to the Magic Faraway Tree. She is even Dame Washalot when it comes to her kids, who each have two baths a day despite not being allowed to play outside where they might get dirty. Props to the sound editors for the abrupt ceasing of the soundtrack at the “I think that’s normal” comment. Hope you’ve been nominated for a Logie!
By contrast – and this show is all about the stark contrast – Leesa doesn’t like superficial people. 17 year old daughter Shannon notes that a person visiting for the first time might be put off by the way the house looks from the outside. But it’s all about appearances and the cameras zoom in on a less-than-sparkly bathroom. Actually, a lot of it turns out to be about water conservation, as the property relies on tank water. The real conflict that needs to be resolved here is the distance between Darren and Leesa’s understanding of what “romantic” means. Hands up those of you who agree with Darren that cuddling up in front of the footy for six months of the year qualifies. Anybody?
First impressions are important to Christina and her reaction upon seeing the shed is “it’s a shed. Oh, God”. Stating the obvious is also key, here. Leesa is welcomed by a “please remove your shoes” sign. Christina notes that the Marshalls “obviously” re-use towels, so I’m guessing she’s the type who insists on a full housekeeping service daily in hotels. After exploring, both women seem ready to call it quits.
“I can’t think of anything worse than being boxed in a small suburban house” reads Christina from Leesa’s manual. She seems to appreciate the irony – clearly misery really does love company, even at a remove.
Meeting the family
Leesa is immediately judged “really cool” by oldest Kuhn daughter Lily and, in return, judges the family to be nice people. Shannon describes Christina as a “fashionista”, whilst Darren makes sure she won’t die waiting for a tea or coffee to be brought to her. Not, I hasten to add, by offering her one, but by telling her that she’ll have to fend for herself in that regard.
Leesa questions the point of daily cleaning as she gets stuck into the vacuuming at the Kuhn house, and Shannon helps Christina get ready for dinner over at the Marshall house. Darren thinks having someone to talk “girly stuff” with will be of benefit to Shannon, and the two do seem to hit it off. Leesa has dinner on the couch, with David and Scarlett sitting on the floor and Lily and Star in the kitchen, which is the Kuhn’s way, whilst the Marshalls and Christina seem to have a relaxed dinner.
The morning routine sees Leesa getting the kids off to school, the first of many loads of washing on, and then hitting the gym before returning home to get the rest of the cleaning done. Christina is enjoying a more relaxed pace in her swapped life. She even has time to discuss the purpose of the swap with Darren and it seems as though she is trying to nut out what Christina might be hoping for so that she can make it happen. The same conversation is happening over at the Kuhn house. Don’t these people realise that they are meant to selfishly impose an alien way of life on the other family, not try to be a catalyst for positive change? Sheesh, where’s the drama?
On David’s day off, he takes over the housework whilst Christina gets her beauty treatments, so this is Leesa’s lot for the day. She’s not a fan of the tan, but is enjoying the pampering of the makeover and the hair styling. The girls welcome her home with “you look pretty!”. Christina has fun on the dirt bikes with the Marshalls and realises that she could do that with David. Bike day is also cleaning day, and the narrator snarks “perhaps cleaning loses its gloss when there’s actual dirt involved”.
- Darren to help out more
- a romantic gesture every night
- some pampering for Shannon
- folding up the sofa bed
- artwork by the kids to decorate the house
- family meals at the table
- computer games and TV banned
- no cleaning at all (which brings Lily to tears, as she seems to believe that a couple of cleaning-free days will have her being woken up by cockroaches)
- David to visit the family with the kids
Darren agrees to the rules but notes that Christina wrote “wash OWN clothes” instead of “all” clothes. This brings the “I have an awful fucking temper” moment, which is a lot less confrontational in context than it appeared in the previews. Who’da thunk it? Well, probably all of us. Shannon gets some makeover time and Christina, Darren and Shannon go out for dinner. It’s all very friendly and, despite stirring Christina up with the promise that the following night’s “romantic” gesture will be her doing the dishes, Darren does put in some effort the next day with his alfresco cheese platter.
The Kuhns visit a farm and the girls enjoy playing with the animals. The Kuhn girls seem to have fun getting all messy with the paints and the family dinner at the table goes really well. David interviews that it would be something he’d like to keep. Oh, and David’s “I will not jeopardise…” comment from the previews? Also eminently reasonable in context. David’s examination of the finances shows up a lot of money spent on water consumption and is starting to see where changes can be made.
The table meeting is as congenial as you’d expect, given that the wives really did seem focussed on using their swap time to make positive changes for their counterparts. There is some tension in the discussion about the Kuhn finances, with Christina immediately pouncing on the fact that David spends money on cigarettes, but the Marshalls act as guidance counsellors here, with Darren suggesting cutting back, not cutting out, as a way to save.
Christina shuts down the suggestion that they discuss the issues with her in-laws and I’m conflicted over this. David did the right thing by not taking the kids to his parents while the swap was on, but he offered discussing it at the table meeting as a compromise. The voyeur in me wanted to get some insight into the issue, but Christina clearly wasn’t comfortable putting it out there and so it would have been uncomfortable viewing had it been pursued. Bring on the family shit-fights in Wife Swap USA, though!
Darren says he won’t keep any of the rule changes, but will “try to be a bit more romantic if I can fit it in”.
Christina is happy with some of the changes, or so the narrator tells us. In reality, we see her crossing off all the “no cleaning, dishes stack up, only one bath, visit parents” rules.
Leesa thinks Christina’s rules are “not bad”, but she banishes the couch covers. Darren unfolds the sofa bed immediately.
Christina interviews that it took “about a week” to get on top of the couple of days of missed cleaning. Wow. She has kept the rule about eating together as a family, and the girls are doing more non-screen activities.
Leesa and Darren still divide the work between indoor responsibilities and outdoor, but we see Darren offering to make her a cuppa. Awwwww.