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'Wife Swap' star is latest reality TV villain

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'Wife Swap' star is latest reality TV villain
  a.. Story Highlights
  b.. NEW: Stephen Fowler apologized for behavior, saying he acted like a "jerk"

  c.. Fowler had insulted "Wife Swap" wife, calling her a "dumb redneck," other things

  d.. Fowler follows in a long line of reality show villains

  e.. Next Article in Entertainment »
From Jack Hannah

(CNN) -- After his appearance on ABC's "Wife Swap," a reality television show in which wives from two different families switch places for two weeks, Stephen Fowler seems to have become the most hated man in America.
Stephen Fowler, left, with his children and Gayla Long, right, on ABC's "Wife Swap."

The wealthy, British-born environmental entrepreneur played husband to Gayla Long, a mother of four from a rural Missouri town and, during her stay, called her, among other things, "undereducated," a "dumb redneck" and made rude remarks about her weight.

Fowler's attitude on the show has made him television's newest reality show villain.

"The way he beat down on this woman on 'Wife Swap,' obviously it struck a chord with America," said the TV Guide Network's Chris Harrison. "You talk about your 15 minutes of fame. I don't think this is exactly what he probably wanted out of this, but, you know, hopefully he'll learn a little something about himself." Watch the outcry Fowler has caused »

Shortly after the episode aired on January 30, Fowler allegedly received death threats. His remarks inspired a hate Web site, [sign in to see URL], a derisive entry on [sign in to see URL], and dozens of YouTube postings from the show as well as response videos from angry viewers.

Fowler later apologized. Writing on his wife Renee Stephens' blog, Fowler said he acted "like a complete jerk" and that he has since stepped down from the board of two non-profit organizations.

Asked for comment, ABC referred CNN to "Wife Swap's" production company, which did not respond. However, Fowler's wife, Renee Stephens, had publicly criticized his behavior on her blog.

"I did not know he had been aggressively cruel and insulting on so many levels," she wrote. "This has been impossible for me to comprehend."

Fowler is not alone in his infamy. In fact, he joins a long line of reality show bad guys, from "Survivor's" Richard Hatch, whose notorious arrogance led him to win the show's first season, to Puck from "The Real World," who was kicked off for his aggressive behavior toward his roommates. All are real-life characters who America simply loves to hate.

"The camera doesn't make you a better person, it doesn't even change the person that you are, it just magnifies who you are," said Harrison. "If you're a tool, you come off like a gigantic tool. ... This guy [is] probably your garden-variety tool. But you put him on 'Wife Swap' in front of America and he looks like the biggest ass in the history of mankind."

Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, who was made out to be the villain on the first season of NBC's "The Apprentice," said she understood what Fowler must be going through.

"I can completely relate to his experience," she said. "I feel bad for him, because a lot of people get into that situation and receive a lot of criticism and don't know how to respond to it."

Omarosa -- famous enough to be recognized by her first name -- said Fowler's situation has a lot to do with the nature of reality television.

"When America looks at reality TV, they want entertainment," she said. "Once you enter the world of reality, and the cameras go off, unfortunately, America's expectation of you doesn't stop -- their expectation is for you to continue to entertain them."

In the six years since her appearance on "The Apprentice," Omarosa has made her mark on the television business, capitalizing on her persona on the show by appearing on several reality shows, including NBC's "Fear Factor" and VH1's "The Surreal Life."

"I think my longevity came from my work ethic. There is a ton of reality shows that I do, lots of work that I do, people are aware of how much work I do," she said.

 Harrison said Fowler would do well to change.
"Hopefully this guy has realized his character flaw and he's going to change," he said. "Whether it's good or bad, depending on how the experience goes, I think you do learn a little about yourself and a lot of people change."

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'Wife Swap': Voyeurism with a message (sometimes)

"Wife Swamp" participants Mayumi Heene, Sam Silver, Justin Silver and Andrew Silver.

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The name calling. The judgmental attitude. Besides entertainment, is there a point?
By Jon Caramanica
March 8, 2009
"Wife Swap" (ABC, 8 p.m. Friday) relies on a belief in the power of domestic diplomacy, an acknowledgment on the part of parents committed to their household customs that there may in fact be other options and that dialogue is better than resistance.

But like all negotiations between sovereign nations with competing ideals, goodwill is not always the prime motivator or the most effective one.

Take Myra Chi, martial arts mini-magnate, who on last week's "Wife Swap" embedded with the Edwards family, which runs a community theater group on a shoestring and which probably should have applied to be on "Clean House" too. After Myra pokes around in the Edwardses' refrigerator, she immediately runs to the sink and vomits.

Later, confronted with the stubbornness and lethargy of Phil, the Edwards paterfamilias, she boils over. "You are a failure, you lousy fat pig!" she tells him. "You're 44 years old, you don't own a home, you don't have a car!"

Hopefully Phil would receive consolation from the fact that, while he is being chewed out by Myra, his wife, Jackie, otherwise happy-go-lucky and uncontrolling, is informing Myra's husband, Charles, of his shortcomings as well. "Do you ever once give your children what they need?" she asks, screaming, purging. "They get food, and they get money thrown at them. Where is the love?"

Choosing to participate in "Wife Swap" must, initially, be rooted in deep narcissism, a faith that one's family strategy is the ideal one and a need to proselytize. Beneath that hubris, though, must reside a layer of doubt -- why else would you serve your family up for a filleting otherwise, if not to assuage deep-seated concerns?

Shrewdly, "Wife Swap" picks no favorites, preaches no strategies. Unlike most shows about the home, it is not proscriptive, believing more in the powers of moderation and in picking the most useful bits from several approaches -- a sort of home-life polytheism -- than in any dogma. Here, even though families are paired because of opposing traits -- working moms versus homemakers, rowdy kids versus well-trained bots, free spirits versus neat freaks -- any family can be sensible, and in turn, all families are.

The show's subtext, generally unspoken, is about transmission -- how we parent will affect how our children will eventually do the job and is reflective of how it was done to us. Our behavior is molded by accreted calluses and scars.

But given its unspoken pessimism about dysfunction across generations, "Wife Swap" believes that people can be malleable, that who you have been need not dictate who you become. It turns out that Charles, the work-focused martial arts instructor, is capable of dressing up like a pirate and encouraging his son's fertile imagination and that Phil is capable of putting his acting skills to work helping corporations train workers in public speaking. Call it "Extreme Makeover: Husband Edition."

Except when it's not. This week, for its 100th swap, two families that have already participated in the show were chosen by fan vote to have another go, presumably for reasons of entertainment, not charity -- after all, if last time was such a success, why would they need to try again?

The Heene family, with its three rowdy boys, is anchored by father Richard, whose anger arrives in sudden bolts between his fringe science projects. The Silvers, who have two quirky, artistically inclined sons, revolve around the mother, Sheree, who is a psychic and who initially fails to impress Richard. "Sheree's like a clogged drain, OK? Things aren't happening," he barks. "I'll bet you the heaviest thing she lifts is the fork to her mouth."

But deep down, these two are more alike than they pretend. It's their spouses who struggle most. Richard's wife, Mayumi, finding Sheree's "househusband," Sam Castiglia,to be "a very feminine husband" and finds it tough to even tolerate the quirks of the Silver children, who are so unlike her own, seeming less like a parent than a conspirator against the alien family. So much for learning.

At the end of each episode of "Wife Swap," the reunited couples face off to discuss the experience, encounters that over the years have ranged from catharsis to outright hostility. This week, in a gratuitous twist, the families' children face off as well. But distressingly, it's clear they haven't learned a thing.

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Mar/28/2009, 10:36 am Link to this post  

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