Jacob Stockdale, who was charged with the heinous crime of killing his mother and younger brother, was just a teenager when he first graced our screens on the fourth season of the famous ABC program “Wife Swap” back in 2008.
The reality show followed mothers as they swapped families with mothers from a completely different region and cultural background. In the case of the conservative Stockdale family, the mother swapped places with the Tonkovic family, a care-free and liberal bunch from Illinois.
A Wholesome Family
Kathryn and Timothy Stockdale had four lovely boys whom they raised on their farm in Ohio. The kids were homeschooled and learned how to play several instruments, even forming their own “wholesome family bluegrass band.”
The line-up was as follows: Jacob played the fiddle, James played the upright bass, and the youngest two, Calvin and Charles, took on the mandolin and guitar, respectively. The brothers didn’t have a normal childhood and couldn’t watch TV or play video games, or use explicit language. They lived on an isolated farm, which their mom Kathryn said was her way of protecting “the boys from bad influences.”
Things Took a Dark Turn
As if living on an isolated farm wasn’t dark enough, things took a darker turn when years after the Stockdales appeared in the reality show “Wife Swap,” Jacob ended the lives of his mother and brother before pointing the gun at himself.
It happened in the summer of June 2017. A then-25-year-old Jacob pulled the trigger on his mother and brother at their home in Ohio. When the cops arrived at the crime scene, they found the bodies of Kathryn (aged 54) and James (aged 21) lying on the floor.
Jacob Was Still Alive
Police also found Jacob, who was still alive yet was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The dad, Timothy Stockdale, wasn’t at home when the incident happened. But he let out a heart-breaking statement:
“Kathy has been my beloved wife of 32 years and a wonderful mother to our four sons,” he wrote. “She loved nothing more than being a mother and grandmother.” Jacob’s brother, Calvin Stockdale, also discussed his deceased brother, saying…
“A Catalyst of Family Fun”
Calvin told The Mirror: “James, our youngest brother, has always been a catalyst of family fun. He leaves behind many friends and a family that loved him dearly.”
A year after this brutal and tragic incident, Jacob was charged with the crime. His lawyer insisted that he be evaluated by a doctor in order to ascertain whether he was even sane at the time of the killings.
Eventually, his defense team entered an insanity plea and suggested that the boy was not competent to stand trial. But no matter what they said, it wasn’t enough to convince the board and Jacob eventually did stand trial.
Thrown Into a Mental Hospital
Jacob Stockdale’s trial began more than two years after he committed the murders. After pleading not guilty (by reason of insanity), he was sent to a mental hospital for observation. He wasn’t happy with how things were unfolding and tried to escape twice during his stay at the hospital.
He tried fleeing once by hiding in large book stacks and then attempting to blend in with visitors who were exiting the hospital. But it didn’t work out. Jacob wasn’t charged with trying to escape, and eventually plead guilty to the murders a few days before his trial began. He was sentenced to 15 years for each murder.
Laurie Tonkovic Spoke Out
While the motive for the murder itself isn’t too clear yet, Laurie Tonkovic, the wife who swapped places with Kathryn on “Wife Swap,” believes that the reason Jacob snapped might have to do with his strict upbringing.
She told TMZ that when she swapped rules in the house and let them watch TV, Jacob ran outside crying and later explained that he was scared because watching TV would mean he would burn in hell. “God gives you free will — free will, they didn’t have,” Laurie Tonkovic explained. “They weren’t allowed to make choices. I think it just caught up to him.”
A Light-Hearted Premise
Moving on to the show. Laurie wasn’t the only wife who was shocked to confront the stark differences between cultures. For that reason, Wife Swap was an incredibly popular program when it first came out in 2004.
The show was based on a British reality program of the same name and premise. It tried to find families that were completely different from each other in order to create tense and dramatic scenes that would increase ratings.
Far from Real
But we all know that reality TV isn’t actually reality, right? In many cases, the things we see on TV are nothing like what is actually happening in real life, even though the show might claim otherwise. So, let’s begin dishing the dirt about this show.
Over the years, many former participants of the show have come forward to spill the beans on all the things the show’s creators don’t want us to know. Needless to say, the show’s creators were terribly upset by it.
Wife Swap is a reality show, right? Well, not exactly. For a show to be a “reality” show, its scenes need to unfold naturally, without any script. But in the case of Wife Swap, the scenes were interfered with by the show’s creators, who nudged the participants to act and say certain things.
Of course, not every single moment of Wife Swap was scripted, but a considerable amount of it was. Several former Wife Swap families have uncovered the baffling truth that the set of rules is normally created by the show’s producers in order to create drama. The participants are also told what to say and how to respond. Family members are forced to exaggerate their responses.
Most People Go on the Show to Become Famous
This won’t come as much of a surprise, but the majority of those participating in reality shows do so just to gain fame. But obviously, in front of the camera, most participants on Wife Swap said that they were there to represent their community or earn the money offered ($20,000).
Most of the participants don’t actually become famous. There are so many other reality shows, and a lot of competition out there. Some families became famous after the show ended, like the Heene family, that starred in 2008 and became famous in 2014 after claiming that their son had flown away in a massive balloon.
The cops instantly started the search for the small boy, who, eventually, was found hiding in the attic. The parents were put behind bars. At least they were famous for a while.
The Producers Did Some Blackmailing
In one episode of the show, Wife Swap’s producers decided to spice things up and swap one man’s wife with a gay man. The husband, Jeffrey Bedford, whose wife was replaced with a man, sued the show afterward and claimed that the producers had lied to him.
He threatened he wouldn’t participate in the show. The producers, in response, decided that if he didn’t star on the show, then they wouldn’t pay for his wife’s ticket home. Not only that, but they wouldn’t tell him where she was. They took things to the next level when they told him that his wife had decided to leave him and wasn’t returning at all. The poor guy was so stressed by this that he had to seek medical assistance.
An Inaccurate Portrayal of Contestants
The show tends to dramatize things, but in real life, the participants aren’t always as bad as they appear on the screen. The producers actually edit the footage in order to portray them inaccurately and make it seem like they’re some strict weirdos to garner more views.
Sean Lowe is a great example. He starred in the show with his wife Catherine who was swapped with Molly. When Molly arrived, she found a To-Do list in the kitchen with preposterous demands like ironing Sean’s socks. Later, he said it was completely false:
“[Catherine] would scratch my eyes out if I ever gave her a to-do list,” he admitted.
The Manuals Are Written by the Producers
At the beginning of every episode of the show, each wife writes a manual for the woman who will replace her. This manual includes all of the details regarding the house rules that the new wife will need to follow for a week.
But lo and behold, according to one former contestant, the wives aren’t the ones coming up with the rules; the producers are (no surprise there…). “The rules the moms come up with are not their own, the producers create the rules. And they obviously edit it in a way that makes it way more dramatic.”
They Even Tried Changing the Rules
The same former contestant also shared that the producers changed some of the rules. For example, she claimed that the producers tried to have one of her rules be “that the dog has to stay in a tiny cage.”
Such a ridiculous rule wasn’t going to fly with this contestant and she ended up threatening them by saying she would refuse to be on the show. Obviously, they caved and agreed to wipe it off their list of ridiculous rules.
Some Participants Sued the Show
If any of you watched the 2008 season, you might recall a 15-year-old girl named Alicia Guastaferro, who appeared in one of the episodes. Apparently, her appearance on Wife Swap messed with her mind so much that she ended up dropping out of high school.
As a result, a while later, she sued the show. So, what was the deal? Well, Alicia said several lines on the show weren’t viewed in a good light by her peers. Sentences like “I am the most popular girl in school” and “I do feel sorry for people that are not gorgeous people.”
They Asked Her to Say Those Things
Before you say that Alicia Guastaferro brought it on herself, let us tell you that it wasn’t her choice of words. Alicia appeared to the world as a spoiled brat, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It was the producers who encouraged her to act that way.
Encouraged may be an understatement; they practically forced her. Unfortunately, acting how the producers wanted her to act led to “incessant verbal and physical assaults from her peers.”
Not All Couples Were Real
This may come as a surprise, but some of the couples that appeared on Wife Swap weren’t actually together in real life! Yup, as preposterous as that may sound, the show went so far as to hire people who weren’t together anymore.
For example, the rapper Coolio. He starred on the show with his long-term girlfriend, Mimi. But Coolio and Mimi weren’t really together anymore due to Coolio’s horrid behavior on the show. When rumors of their breakup spread, Coolio said that he and Mimi were never actually a couple to begin with! He said: “Listen. It was all a setup. I’m nothing like that. I’m not even with Mimi. I never was. She’s a friend of mine. They tried to make me look bad. I don’t want to do that stuff again.”
They Were Forced to Adopt a Certain Persona
We all know that participating in a reality TV show can tarnish your reputation. It’s happened countless times. For example, Stephen Fowler, is, to this day, known by the show’s fans as the “worst husband in America.”
If you watch the episode starring him, it’s easy to see why. He was terribly rude on the show. He called the woman who replaced his wife a “dumb redneck,” “uneducated, over-opinionated and overweight.” Hmmm…
They Forced Him to Say Those Things
As was the case with Alicia Guastaferro, America’s worst husband also revealed that the show forced him into acting that way. They wanted him to play a certain persona in order to make the storyline more interesting and fuller of drama.
“They strongly encouraged me to be acerbic,” he told the press. “I was playing a character. I was playing a role… like Simon Cowell on steroids. I overreacted.” It’s safe to say that the things that were said on the show were far from being real.
It Ruined Lives
Reality shows not only tarnish reputations at time, but they can also ruin lives, Wife Swap included! Take for example, the Foster family. When Jane and Simon Foster appeared on the show (UK version), everyone thought that their marriage was quite…strange.
What was strange? The fact that both Jane and Simon had girlfriends. According to a source close to Simon, the episode embarrassed Simon because it appeared as if his wife, Jane, preferred to spend her time with her girlfriend than with him.
He Lost His Job
After the show wrapped up, Jane ended up leaving Simon and moving in with her girlfriend. Not only that, but Simon was also fired shortly after. He fell into a deep, deep depression and turned to the one thing he felt would help – drugs.
Several years after Simon starred on the show, he was discovered dead in his home. It’s believed that the cause of his death was the result of an overdose. But that’s just one hypothesis; some fans believe he committed suicide.
Tons of Editing
While Wife Swap’s camera crew follows the families around all day long, that doesn’t mean that every scene taken will land up in the final cut. The ones chosen are the ones that cause the most drama, something that obviously upset the former contestants.
One participant, Donna Adams, who starred in the UK version of the show said: “It was very realistic from my end, but it was like they’d twisted scenes. They made it look like our sons Lewis and Cory were laughing at Craig and only used one comment from them which made it look like they think Craig is like that all the time. Our family is very fun and flexible and they took away all of those scenes that showed us playing games together. We may be organized but we are not militant.”
They Manipulated Contestants
How do you get contestants to do what you want on reality shows? You manipulate them (obviously). If you watched the 2009 season of Wife Swap then you might remember the adorable yet unhealthy seven-year-old kid named King Curtis.
He would often say things like “Bacon is good for you!” It was recently revealed that the show’s producers often manipulated participants into saying such things by the form in which they asked the question. “If I ask you the same question in 20 different ways, I will eventually get what I’m looking for,” one contestant shared. “That’s probably one aspect in which they tried to make it more dramatic.”
The Final Cut Isn’t Really the Final Cut
Former participants of the show have also shared that Wife Swap’s producers used to trick them by showing them a final cut of the episode, which, as it turns out, wasn’t the final cut at all. One of the former contestants, Ashley Fine, explained:
She said that her family was shown the so-called final cut of the episode that aired which really showed the family in a positive light. However, she was shocked when she saw the actual episode they aired. “I was so excited and told everyone about it. We had a big viewing party. The thing that really bothered me was that they showed [us] the ‘final version’ before it aired. But it was completely different than the actual episode. We were totally confident about having a viewing party for the episode we saw, but the final cut that we all watched live was less favorable. That bugged me.”
They Leave Out Valuable Information
This might not surprise you (after reading the list up until now), but the producers also tend to leave out details about families that might ruin the image they are going for. One of the former participants, Nancy Cedarquist, shared how disappointed she was after seeing that the producers left out information.
Wife Swap said that Nancy and her family abandoned society to live in a tree house. They also said that only her father leaves the house to go to work. “Husband Keith is the only one who leaves the tree house on a daily basis, to work at the local paper mill,” they said. The show completely missed out on the fact that Nancy also worked 20 hours a week and that the family attends several after-school activities.
Just One Week
Apparently, producers don’t just lie about things that have to do with the show’s contestants, but also about things that have to do with the show itself. For example, one former contestant recently shared that while the producers claimed that the episode was shot over two weeks, it actually took one.
According to the former contestant, a lot of props are brought over to the participants’ house to make things unfold faster. It also doesn’t matter what time of the day it is. Night scenes can be shot during the day and vice versa. They blacken the windows to make it seem darker or use certain lights to make it seem like it’s daytime.
Participants Aren’t Actually Enjoying Themselves
Being in a reality show may look like fun from the outside, but according to Wife Swap’s contestants – it isn’t. Producers usually put the participants under huge amounts of stress in order to create the drama that will bring in the ratings.
When Anna Courtenay starred in the UK version of the show, she knew that it was going to involve some conflict and drama. But still, when she found herself in an eco-friendly family without electricity, she struggled. She thought she was going to have fun, but, instead, was stuck in “hell” for a week.
The Worst Mistake of Our Lives
Some of the youngsters who grew up in front of the cameras of Wife Swap truly hated their time on the show: in particular, influencer Heidi Mae. She posted a TikTok in 2021 that went viral, in which she said that being on the show was “the worst mistake of our lives.”
She instantly started sharing her experiences shooting the popular reality show. She first started filming when she was 20, and according to one magazine, producers used a psychiatric test to learn more about the cast members and use their insecurities against them.
The Swapped Mother Was Evil
Mae claimed that the wife who was swapped with her mother used whatever the show knew about her to her advantage. She tossed some of Mae’s traumatic experiences right in her face. Whether or not the producers asked her to do so is unclear.
“Growing up traveling full-time, I get really lonely sometimes, so when I feel alone, it makes me cry, it makes me really sad,” Mae said. “And I kid you not, the first, the first conversation with the ‘other mother,’ she … looks me dead in the f**king eyes and she says, ‘You are alone. Nobody cares about you. You have no friends. I don’t care about you.’ And I just f**king broke down.”
Celebrity Wife Swap
Initially, “Celebrity Wife Swap” appeared to be a great idea. A spin-off with celebs of an iconic show? What more could you possibly want? But in 2015, after just four seasons, the network gave up on the idea and pulled the plug for good.
While it lasted, the spin-off had some major celebrities on the show, including Gary Busey, Corey Feldman and Coolio. It followed them as they swapped wives and lived in a completely new environment with a different lifestyle.
It Had Low Ratings
Other celebs who appeared on the show were reality TV stars like Sean Lowe, Spencer Pratt, Heidi Montag and Kate Gosselin. Even though Celeb Wife Swap included many familiar faces, its ratings sucked.
The LA Times reported that the numbers for the show’s third season in 2014 received half the ratings than the previous season. The show was rated 1.0 (ouch) among viewers aged 18 to 49. Apparently, many people lost interest in the show.
In the early 2000s, Wife Swap was a hit. So understandably, producers wanted to keep things rolling and a reboot was crafted in the later 2010s. They assumed that fans would be happy to relive the glory days of this popular show.
CMT Network was originally on board and willing to air the reboot. They wanted to air 10 one-hour episodes with the same exact concept. However, Paramount Network took over the reboot and wanted to tweak it to be suitable for modern day norms, like same sex marriages and stay-at-home dads.
It Was Eventually Canceled
Everyone had super high hopes for the show’s reboot, but eventually, it was scrapped. In 2020, Paramount Network said they were going to change the direction, and that they had decided to give up on a lot of reality television shows that were in the works.
The goal of the network was now to focus on TV movies, instead of reality shows. “We’re doubling down on scripted but diversifying with made for TV movies, mini-series and blockbuster series with movie stars like ‘Yellowstone,'” Chris McCarthy, president of Viacom CBS, explained.
The Mother Who Always Works
To keep the show entertaining, some people who appeared in it were given roles to play (as mentioned before). In one episode, mom Christy Oeth, was described as someone who put her career before family life. The narrator of the show added that she was a “high achiever who ran her family like a business.”
Christy, who worked at an investment firm, told the media that she had stayed at home for five years to raise her children, but that she needed to get back to work after her husband quit his job. According to Christy, Wife Swap completely omitted those details. “There is a very big element of unreality to the way they pigeonholed me,” she explained.
They Search for Complete Opposites
The show has fabricated various details, like relationships and personalities, in order to keep the show rolling. But they also wanted to find families that were the exact opposite.
The spouses are always really different too, and that isn’t something that happens naturally. Rather, the show planned out everything, and having exact opposites on the show is a carefully thought-out plan.
It Takes Months of Research
According to the New York Times, each episode of Wife Swap takes months to release. The reason for that is that they have to do a lot of research before they actually start to film. During the planning phase of the show, the producers make a list of jobs they hope their participants will have.
For example, one episode had a rocket scientist while the other contestant was a tattoo artist. But before finding those people, those job descriptions were being jotted down by the show’s producers over at their NYC offices.
Some Enjoy the Fame
While the aftermath of starring on Wife Swap hasn’t always been a good experience for some of the contestants, one wife from “Wife Swap,” Tori Baur, said she loved all the admiration she received from fans of the show.
She mostly enjoyed the fan mail she got. “We’ve gotten lots of fan mail… Boys have written saying they think our daughters are beautiful and could they have our phone number.” Even though not all the feedback has been as pleasant, she said that most people were nice.
How Much Do They Get Paid?
We don’t really know exactly how much contestants earn for appearing on Wife Swap. But one casting notice from way back in the early ’00s showed that participants would get $20,000 for starring in an episode!
One message said that “families who apply consist of two parents that have at least two children, over the age of 5, living at home,” with $20,000 as an “honorarium fee.” When Wife Swap rebooted in 2019, they were offering $10,000 per family. They also offered a “finder’s fee” for whoever could help them find suitable families.
A Facebook post from the casting directors noted that all families could apply, writing: “Your family DOESN’T need to be a ‘traditional’ nuclear family.
A Relic of a Different Time
There are numerous reality TV shows that certainly wouldn’t pass today. For example, the terrible makeover contest called “The Swan,” which stood out for its glorification of unrealistic beauty standards.
While Wife Swap isn’t as offensive as The Swan, it’s still a show that probably wouldn’t sit well today. When some Reddit users answered a poll about “What show hasn’t aged well?” The answer was “Wife Swap.” And we get them. One user wrote: “My GOD there’s some racist, homophobic and judgmental people on there.”