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Swapped wife won't hold back: Reality stinks

Published Nov. 24, 2004|Updated Aug. 29, 2005

(ran Beach, West, South, Seminole editions)

When Dawne Smith learned that her family had been selected for a new reality TV show, Wife Swap, she was thrilled.

"Of course, it's flattering that someone in the media thinks you are interesting enough to be on TV," the 40-year-old homemaker said.

Now, after filming the show and seeing a clip of the episode before it aired earlier this month on ABC, Smith says her family was misled and exploited and will be falsely portrayed as a slothful, unfit group of couch potatoes who eat nothing but junk food.

"Yes, you can call me overweight. Yes, you can say I give my children fast food from time to time. But don't call me lazy," she said.

Now she said she wants to blow the lid off reality TV.

"We're supposed to spin that we loved this and had a great time, but I'm not going to lie for the show," she said.

Smith said some scenes were staged, participants were coached and goaded into fighting, and it's more of an acting gig than reality.

An ABC publicist said someone else at the network would have to address Smith's descriptions of the show, but no one else from ABC responded to a reporter's request for comment.

The other wife in the swap, 42-year-old Dena Weiner of Mission Viejo, Calif., said she enjoyed doing the show.

"Anyone who wants to learn about themselves and learn about their family I would highly recommend this to," an upbeat Weiner said in a telephone interview.

Dawne Smith said her odyssey into the world of reality TV started when she received an e-mail from a friend about producers who were seeking families for a show. Smith, who had applied to be on Survivor, thought her sons, Shane, 13, and Jesse, 10, had star potential.

She filled out the application and sent in a video.

Then she got a call from a producer in London, where the show originated.

The premise seemed innocent enough: Two women with different values accept a 10-day challenge to exchange husbands, children and lives (but not bedrooms). During the first week, the wives live by the rules of their new household. The second week, they turn the tables and do things their own way.

Originally, Smith thought she would fly to England to do a swap with an English mom. At the last minute, she found out she would be going to California.

When she arrived at the upscale Mission Viejo home in July, she realized it wasn't the plum trade she had envisioned. She did not get along with her temporary "husband," Keith Weiner, whom she described as a rude, unemotional "control freak."

Dena Weiner acknowledged that everybody in her family has a Type A personality. Her husband, a Navy fighter pilot turned financial planner, is "very analytical" and "very strict," she said.

Smith also learned that Dena Weiner is a mortgage company owner and professional fitness competitor who works out for two hours a day and has a personal trainer and nutritionist.

Smith feared that her own family was being set up for two weeks of mean-spirited, humiliating stunts.

She was bound by a contract to stick it out.

"It was heart-wrenching," she said. "I cried a lot and felt emotionally drained. I didn't feel welcomed in this stranger's house and I worried about my family."

Smith said she is an active mother who does water aerobics and her own housecleaning. She volunteers at her sons' schools _ Coachman and Tarpon Springs fundamental _ and shuttles them to various activities, including swim team, karate practice and church.

"My mom never sits around," Jesse said. "She's always doing something."

When she arrived at the home in California, she said she tried to be friendly and supportive but that wasn't what the film crew wanted.

They would provoke the "cast" into arguing with lines like "Are you going to take that?" and "Why is he picking on you?" Smith said.

At one point, tension ran so high, Smith moved out of the house and stayed at a nearby hotel.

She said her sons are well-rounded, healthy boys who have been involved in sports like soccer, swimming and flag football since they were 6. Shane takes guitar lessons and Jesse takes violin. During filming of the show, the boys were introduced to karate, and Jesse has continued with it.

Some of the scenes were staged, the Smiths said.

For instance, to depict how new mom Dena Weiner was whipping them into shape, the Palm Harbor family was supposed to take a bike ride to Sunset Beach in Tarpon Springs. But according to the Smiths, the film crew shot them riding bikes in their neighborhood, then packed everyone into vans and traveled to Sunset Beach, where they sprayed them with water bottles to simulate perspiration and resumed filming.

Dena Weiner said riding bikes to the beach to play volleyball was her favorite thing she did with the Smith family.

For her part, Weiner said her hard-charging teenagers ended up liking Smith "because she was very, very mellow."

"They learned to slow down while she was here," Weiner said.

The families received no prize money, just compensation for food, increased electrical bills and other expenses.

Jeff Smith, 46, who is a sales manager for JohnsonDiversey and travels throughout the Caribbean four days a week, spoke by phone.

"Knowing what I know now, I would have never subjected the children to this," he said. "We thought this was going to be some documentary-style show."

Still, the family tuned in.

"Are we sorry?" ask Dawne Smith. "Yes."

"But who knew?"

Staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report.

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