A Baltimore family relishes its 'Wife Swap' discoveries

Sure, it plays the race card, toys with gender issues and even sounds a little bit dirty. But ABC's Wife Swap is a neat experience, say the Brays, a Baltimore family who should know.

Eric and LaShelle Bray, featured on Wife Swap tomorrow night at 10 (WMAR, Channel 2), say that real good came out of their time spent in separate households and before the cameras. By observing how the other half lives, Eric, 34, says he learned how hard his wife works caring for him and their five children. And LaShelle, 27, gained renewed appreciation for her husband's warm and easygoing nature.


And she's extremely proud of how her kids handled the whole thing.

"The best thing was seeing how my children responded to another adult when I wasn't there," LaShelle Bray says. "They did what [the other mother] told them to do, and were polite, and treated her very well."


Despite the titillation inherent in the title, Wife Swap is something of a kinder, gentler reality show. There are no knockdown, drag-out brawls. No one eats any insects (not even the Bray family dog, Foxy, at least not on camera). There is no back-stabbing. And there is absolutely no bedroom-swapping. The worst that happens tomorrow night are a few tears and hurt feelings.

In Wife Swap, two families with different values -- slobs vs. neatniks, for instance, or permissives vs. disciplinarians -- swap wives and mothers for two weeks. It's part social experiment, part pure entertainment. During the first week, the wives live according to the rules of their adopted families. But in the second week, the women get to change the rules. Families are not paid to participate.

The families featured tomorrow -- the Brays and the Flummerfelts of suburban Detroit -- appear to have just one thing in common: Both are interracial.

LaShelle Bray is white and her Ghana-born husband, Eric, is black. The couple met when she was 17, and he was 24, and married the following year in opposition to her family's wishes. This evangelical Christian family has five children: Kyra, 9; Kiana, 8; Kalea, 5, Eric Jr., 4, and Mia, 3. LaShelle Bray home-schools the kids in their Gardenville home, while Eric works as a telephone technician.

LaShelle Bray is described on ABC's Web site as a "subservient" stay-at-home mom who never has worked full time outside the home.

But she says that she thinks the man should be the head of the family and that she submits to Eric's wishes.

But spend five minutes with LaShelle Bray, and it becomes apparent that she is no doormat, though Doreen Flummerfelt -- self-proclaimed "queen" of her own household -- makes the mistake of describing her as one on tomorrow's episode. Bright and articulate, LaShelle Bray began preparing herself as a young girl for the life she now leads.

"I always knew, since I was 11 or 12, that I wanted to be a stay-at-home wife and mother," she says.


The Brays auditioned last year for Wife Swap after one daughter -- the Brays don't remember which -- wondered out loud what it would be like to have a different mother. Three days after submitting their application, the family was notified that they were being seriously considered for the show, and formal acceptance followed in the fall. But ABC offered no particulars about the family with whom they would swap, or even what city LaShelle Bray would be visiting until they checked into the airport.

This is what she found out, although not right away:

Guy Flummerfelt is white, and his wife, Doreen, is black. The couple have been married seven years and met through a newspaper advertisement. Doreen Flummerfelt was married twice before and says on the episode that white men treat their women better than African-American men -- a statement that causes considerable friction with Eric. Doreen works full time as a marketing specialist. The couple live with her two sons, Marques, 16, and Rashad, 12. And she says maternal instincts are overrated.

The episode depicts the families' typical routine: When Doreen Flummerfelt, 37, gets home from work, she goes to bed and watches soap operas, which she has taped. Guy Flummerfelt, 46, who also works full time, cooks dinner for his wife and serves her in bed. He and the boys do all the cleaning and chores.

When Doreen wants something, such as a glass of wine, she calls for her younger son to fetch it, and the show's producers have a lot of fun showing Doreen's brassy tones seemingly shaking the very foundations while she yells first, "Rashad!" and then, after the swap, "Eric!"

If the show plays the race card, it pushes gender stereotypes nearly as hard. At one point, Doreen Flummerfelt accuses Eric Bray of being a "male chauvinist pig" while LaShelle Bray tells Guy Flummerfelt that he isn't a good role model for Marques and Rashad.


"I thought they exaggerated that a little bit," Eric Bray says. "They picked the one moment I was sitting in my chair while everyone else was doing something to make it seem that I'm not involved with my family. Usually, when I get home from work, the kids climb all over me."

While neither of the Brays was enamored of the temporary spouses, both women fell hard for their adoptive children.

Doreen Flummerfelt called yesterday to say that she has just mailed Christmas gifts to the Bray children. (OK, it's nearly March, but it's the thought that counts.) And LaShelle Bray says that Marques and Rashad still call her every few weeks just to say hello.

"Both the boys are wonderful," she says. "I just love her kids."

In the end, it seems this reality stunt was really good for everybody. Isn't that a switch?

Wife Swap


When: Tomorrow night at 10

Where: ABC (WMAR, Channel 2)

In brief: A Baltimore couple sees how the other half lives.