DUNEDIN — She knows what she is saying sounds as phony as a $3 bill.
Kirsten Stiff Walker insists that she had good reasons for joining husband Seth Walker on We tv's new bluntly named series Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas, less than a year after admitting appearances on several past "reality TV" shows were some of the worst decisions in her life.
There were two goals: first, to pay for therapy helping their daughter Karsen Stella, a 2-year-old struggling with developmental issues as she toddles, wide-eyed around their small, ranch-style home. Second, they might offer an example to other couples with strained marriages caring for special-needs children.
But a look at tonight's first Boot Camp episode, in which five couples from past Bridezilla episodes face intensive marriage counseling, reveals a different reality. Kirsten is shown drinking steadily and clashing with other couples. Her high-pitched voice is lampooned for comedic effect.
Even for a woman who admits playing an exaggerated 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," she said, acknowledging that sounds naive. "I went in there hoping I'd be the mommy of the house, not the most hated one. But it didn't work out like that."
Since their 2009 wedding on Bridezillas, the Walkers have appeared in update segments and on two other so-called "reality TV" shows: fighting with their wedding band on Judge Jeanine Pirro and arguing on Divorce Court, in a performance they agree now was largely a lie to earn a free trip to Los Angeles.
Last year, she told another Tampa Bay Times reporter she was so bothered by fan reaction that she dyed her hair black so strangers wouldn't recognize her.
Now, the Dunedin couple admit they have become serial reality TV participants — he 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," she said. "But when they called about Marriage Boot Camp, my daughter's therapy bills were extreme. … 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. Highlighting the most demanding and petulant brides, the program has featured women threatening to assault their future husbands and generally behaving like unhinged drama queens.
Marriage Boot Camp unfolds as a sort of all-star edition, placing the couples inside a home together for three weeks. "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 flutes of champagne after arriving in the house, clashing with another wife who asked, "Is that your real voice?"
She has been associated with We tv since her 2007 appearance on American Princess, a competition in which young women are trained in etiquette and style. An actor, singer and voiceover talent who coaches performers at a local Catholic school, she is intensely energetic — the kind of personality tailor-made for a drama-fueled reality show.
Her performing background also raises questions. During their Divorce Court appearance, she supposedly revealed to her husband on camera that she was pregnant. He now says Karsen 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 going to go up. Marriage Boot Camp was presented as therapeutic, and it was very helpful. But it's also a TV show."
Which raises the question: Would the Walkers do another reality series?
"I would probably not do a house show ever again," she said. "I came home and I had nightmares about the show.
"Finally, I just realized I have to let it go. It is what it is and my marriage is better for it."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.