Dunedin couple to appear tonight on Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas
She knows what’s she's saying sounds phony as a $3 bill.
But Kirsten Stiff Walker insists she and husband Seth Walker had good reasons for appearing on We tv’s bluntly-named Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas show, despite telling a reporter less than a year ago doing such "reality TV" series was one of the worst decisions in her life.
There were two goals: to earn money for therapy aiding their daughter Karsen Stella, an active 2 year old struggling with developmental issues. And to somehow inspire other couples who might see their marriage founder while caring for a special needs child.
But a look at tonight's first episode -- with five couples from past Bridezillas episodes stuck in a house with marriage counselors -- reveals a different reality. The show’s four other couples already had made fun of the Walkers before they arrived. Kirsten is shown drinking steadily, clashing with one wife in particular. And her high-pitched voice is lampooned for comedic effect.
Even for a woman who admits playing an exgerrated version of herself on Bridezillas in 2009, this was new territory.
“We went there with the understanding that it would be about helping our marriage and not so much about the craziness between the Bridezillas,” said Kirsten Walker, laughing as she acknowledges how naïve that sounds now. “I went in there hoping I’d be the mommy of the house, not the most hated one in the house. But it didn’t work out like that.”
Since their 2009 wedding on Bridezillas, the Walkers have appeared in Bridezilla update segments and two other so-called “reality TV” shows – fighting with their wedding band on Judge Jeanine Pirro and arguing on Divorce Court, offering a performance they agree now was largely a lie to earn a free trip to Los Angeles.
Last year, Kirsten Walker told another Tampa Bay Times reporter the reality show appearances were “bad decisions” because people assumed the persona she presented on television was who she really was. She talked of dying her hair black so strangers wouldn’t recognize her.
Now, the couple admit they have becoem serial reality TV participants -- Seth Walker called it “a weird hobby” -- allowing them to occasionally appear on national television while earning money or perks.
“I never thought we would do another reality show,” Kirsten Walker said. “But when they called about Marriage Boot Camp, my daughter’s therapy bills are extreme. We’re in therapy five days and week…and my marriage was in trouble…Yes, I’m an actress; sometimes I act and sometimes I didn’t. And those moments, I think, will be pretty obvious to the audience.”
But given their past admissions about exaggerating and lying on past shows, can viewers believe them now?
Bridezillas seems an unusual series for a cable TV channel focused on women. Aimed at highlighting the most aggressive, demanding, self-centered and arrogant brides they can wedge in front of a camera, the program has featured women threatening to assault their future husbands, fighting with their wedding band, and generally behaving like unhinged drama queens.
Marriage Boot Camp unfolds as a sort of all-star edition of Bridezillas, placing the couples inside a home for three weeks. Viewers meet one bride, Porsha, shown bullying her husband with threats of violence; several women refuse to help their husbands carry their bags inside the mansion where they all will live.
In the first episode, participants are encouraged to confront each other in a boxing ring and confessional videos they recorded in private are shown to the entire group in a home theater. The Walkers say the isolated conditions and complicated production put nerves on edge.
“I had not had anything to drink pretty much in two years, so I…made a mistake,” said Kirsten Walker, 34, who is shown steadily drinking alcohol after arriving in the house, clashing with another wife who asked “is that your real voice?” “This first night I will regret for the rest of my life, because it shows the American public something that isn’t me.”
She's been associated with We tv since 2007, when she was cast on American Princess, a competition in which young women are trained in etiquette and style. An actress, singer and voiceover talent who coaches performers at a local Catholic school, she is intensely energetic; the kind of personality which seems tailor made for a reality show fueled by emotional drama.
But that performing background also raises questions. During their Divorce Court appearance, Kirsten Walker supposedly revealed she was pregnant to her husband on camera; Seth Walker now says Karsten Stella wasn’t conceived until a week after their appearance.
“If you put a camera on anyone, basically their personality goes up or down,” said Seth Walker, 40, a filmmaker and cameraman. “And with a performer, you know, it’s gonna go up a bit. Marriage Boot Camp was presented as therapeutic..and it was very helpful. But it’s also a TV show.”
Look across standard cable reality shows and you can see a host of couples like the Walkers; average-looking families willing to endure embarrassing circumstances for fame, a few perks, a chance at their own show or more (Kirsten Walker said several couples on the Boot Camp show seemed to be angling for a show of their own).
At times, viewers seem in on the hustle, cynically trading messages online over who might be faking what.
Which raises the question: Would the Walkers do another reality series?
“I would probably not do a house show ever again…I came home and I had nightmares about the show,” said Kirsten Walker, who said she had turned down calls from casting agents for other shows before Marriage Boot Camp. “Finally, I just realized I have to let it go. It is what it is and my marriage is better for it.”
Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas airs at 9 tonight on We tv.