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News & Press
May 08

Behind the Scenes with WE’s “Marriage Boot Camp” – How Real Is It?

I started blogging WEtv’s “Marriage Boot Camp” for Monsters and Critics last season when Thinkfactory Media first began producing a television show about saving marriages. The fact that they used the REAL “Bridezillas” couples who we watched behave like demonic witches and psychotic bitches throughout their wedding festivities made it irresistible to me. I’m a wedding planner. I can’t help it.

Let’s face it – almost every episode of “Bridezillas” left us wondering the following:

1) Why the grooms married these women, and

2) How long the marriages would actually last.

Don’t even pretend that if you ever saw so much as one clip of “Bridezillas,” you didn’t seriously ask yourself “who are these people and where do they find them?” Or you might have said, “OMG, it looks like my family” (in which case you have my condolences).

Whatever your reaction, you never forgot those few moments that you saw and, like many of us, you might have watched Season One of “Marriage Boot Camp” and its table-flipping, name-calling antics just to see who was actually still married. That’s what I did. Morbid curiosity. I’ll admit it. And that’s why I’m sucked into the current season too.

Brilliant show idea by the production company or the network, right? But that’s not actually how the television show “Marriage Boot Camp” was created. I was wrong when I guessed they made it just to answer my burning “Bridezillas” questions. Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed’s messed up marriage gets the credit.

“Bridezillas” was produced by September Films for WEtv. A completely different television production company, Thinkfactory Media (www.thinkfactorymedia.com) made Seasons One and Two of “Marriage Boot Camp,” and is getting ready to launch “Celebrity Marriage Boot Camp” as Season Three on WEtv later this month. The teasers are outrageous and include some big name celebs like JWoww and the Braxtons. Anybody else see shades of “The Apprentice” in this formula? But back to how “Marriage Boot Camp was invented…

“In the middle of our sixth season, Gene and Shannon Tweed started to have very serious issues with their relationship and we were looking to get them help,” explains Adam Freeman, creative director of Thinkfactory Media and executive producer of “Marriage Boot Camp.”

“That search lead us to Jim and Elizabeth’s Marriage Boot Camp. We flew Jim and his team in to help Gene & Shannon but didn’t know what to expect.” Freeman, just fyi, is the guy who jumped in between Mark and the camera crew he was attacking in an earlier episode of (http://www.monstersandcritics.com/recap-wetv-marriage-boot-camp-glass-houses-edition/) “Marriage Boot Camp.” Great producer taking some punches for his team. Naughty talent getting violent with production. That’s against the rules with any show on any network. But I digress. Adam Freeman was explaining how the show was conceptualized.

“To this day, Gene & Shannon credit Jim with getting them to the altar. After witnessing that intense process we realized pretty quickly, ‘There is a show here,” Freeman explains.

THE Marriage Boot Camp (www.marriagebootcamp.com) was already a well-known, established, tried-and-true marital counseling program for almost 20 years before reality television approached them to make a television show out of it. In real life, the program is spiritually based, but that’s not featured in the television version because it’s not really highlighted in the curriculum.

Jim and Elizabeth Carroll, a married couple who are the real Marriage Boot Camp’s creators, have both been featured on high-level shows such as Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew as experts. Their program was well-established long before they were contacted by Thinkfactory to help on “Family Jewels.” They’re the real thing and so is their program.

Those viewers who have been watching “Marriage Boot Camp” have seen some total insanity over the first two seasons, although this current season has been fraught with far more violence (including on-screen domestic violence) and vitriolic hate speech than the first season. It’s exploded in the social media world – with the live-tweeting followers increasing during each of the nine episodes that have aired so far. Despite less than exciting ratings reported thus far, the viewers REALLY love this show. And they have firm opinions.

Television watchers believe they have bonded via social media with some of these couples and send them constant supportive messages via tweet. Even the most atrocious and unlikeable Bridezillas and Groomzillas have found a following – and some of their followers get really nasty with other tweeters who express negative opinions regarding their favorite campers.

It’s fascinating to sit back and watch it all play out. The show, the tweets, the reactions… it’s hard to keep up. In order to blog, I have to DVR and go back and re-watch it – several times. But that’s okay because just watching “Marriage Boot Camp” makes me feel better about my own relationship.

What’s interesting to read in social media is that viewers are genuinely concerned about these couples – really worried in some cases – and what’s going to happen to them after the show ends. Lots of us have asked the question: Is this television show doing more harm than good? So I asked that question of the show itself.

The premise of the program, as explained by the Carrolls in the first episode, is that to fix a marriage, you have to tear people down and build them back up. The problem is that with so much drama going on and only 40 or so minutes of airtime every week, we don’t see what they really do with these couples as far as intensive therapy is concerned.

I questioned the wisdom of this approach myself (http://www.monstersandcritics.com/recap-marriage-boot-camp-over-beveraged-and-divorce-court/) in an early blog after the boot camp exercise where one spouse had to disconnect the other from life support, and we learned that Bridezilla Gloria actually had to make that life or death decision in her first marriage.

It made me physically ill to watch. I got really upset about that exercise – I couldn’t believe they sent her in there to do that AGAIN. I know people who have had to make that decision and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Had it been me, I think I would have simply lost it. Gloria certainly did. And although I absolutely can’t stand her on the show (she’s got the #MeanGirl hashtag assigned by WEtv for a reason), my heart ached for her watching that whole scene.

I wanted to know what they did to take care of her after that. So I contacted “Marriage Boot Camp” director Elizabeth Carroll and asked. I felt a lot better when she responded and explained.

“We make sure that we don’t re-traumatize just for the sake of re-traumatizing. We debrief with the couples during the one-on-one sessions and have been asked to give special attention in situations like with Gloria,” Elizabeth explains. Apparently there are a LOT more one-on-one therapy sessions with each couple than we see on the show (only one or two per couple per season actually make it into the final cut).

“During a one-on-one that I had with Gloria,” Elizabeth further explains, “after she spent a good bit of time angry and venting and defensive, I said to her, ‘it must be very hard trying to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.’ I got to see past all the bluster and see her heart and she literally broke down and cried like a baby.”

While Bridezilla Gloria presents herself as a verbally and physically abusive harridan on the show, Elizabeth explains that there is a back-story to this woman that we didn’t get to see. Again, we have to remember there are only 10 episodes, adding up to about 400 minutes total, for the season. And Thinkfactory Media and WEtv are trying to show us all the best, must-see parts.

Let’s face it, would you rather watch Gloria cry or see Groomzilla Shaun Sulligan getting wasted, tearing off his shirt, and smashing things? Truth, the violence makes for much better television. But that doesn’t mean we’re not curious.

“[Gloria] said she doesn’t know any other way to do life,” Elizabeth says. “She had to grow up very quickly and was living independently by the time she was 14 years old. She never experienced an adult looking out for her best interests and it has made her a fighter. Growing up the way she did could have destroyed her, but she has enough raw intelligence and street sense that she made her way in the world despite the fact that she had a lot of strikes against her.”

Clearly, Elizabeth Carroll is the right woman for this job because I’d be standing there saying “stop this silly shit” and “pull up your big girl panties.” You can’t let your adulthood and your children be destroyed by your bad childhood. But that’s why I’m a wedding planner and they use real therapists on “Marriage Boot Camp.”

The show’s executive producer at Thinkfactory credits the show’s success to Jim and Elizabeth’s existing program protocol.

“I feel the reason that ‘Marriage Boot Camp’ is so successful is that it is all born out of their tried-and-true program of 20 years,” Freeman says. “This is not the case of a production company coming up with a format and then looking for hosts to drop in. I met Jim first, then created the show around [Jim] and Elizabeth. It is 100 percent organic to who they are. You couldn’t produce this show with anyone else at its center.”

But really, I had to ask, do you seriously make people get into caskets and pretend to be hooked up to life support in the real Marriage Boot Camp program? I have trouble picturing hotels shutting off the pool areas during a conference so that campers can pretend to be jumping off the Titanic at night. Just sayin.

“The Marriage Boot Camp does not alter any of its content, but we do create big visuals for emphasis,” Elizabeth admits. Hey, what do we expect, this is for television, right? So in other words, they follow their standard boot camp plan but it gets goosed up so it’s interesting to watch. I’m okay with that.

After noticing that most of the really ugly stuff happens late at night (frequently when campers have been drinking), I asked whether the “Marriage Boot Camp” directors actually had to live in the house through the whole production. I mean, seriously, no amount of fame or money in the world would make that worth it.

To answer that burning question, NO – the boot camp directors don’t live in the mansion (thank God). Although they’ve occasionally been called in late night to intervene when things were out of control. At the end of the day, Thinkfactory and WEtv are trying to SAVE marriages with this show, not let a homicide happen on camera. And by the way, in the real Marriage Boot Camp, participants agree not to drink at all during the four-day program. Good call!

“We also cannot control anything that happens when we aren’t there but we can use the real-time blow ups to teach, to help them grow, and to help them heal,” Elizabeth says. “Often the messes they create behind the scenes are unconscious reenactments of things that have happened in their lives before. There are several drills that we do to help people deal with old wounds or times when they have been victimized.”

“We don’t tweak them but you don’t get to see everything,” Elizabeth defends the production process. “There are some things that are so deep and personal that it wouldn’t be therapeutic for the person going through to show it.” Just knowing that should make a lot of viewers feel better. Lots of tweeters think it’s mean to show the really low, lows. I enjoy them. They make my blogs more interesting. #sorrynotsorry

So, to recap, here’s what I learned with all my research:

  • The “Marriage Boot Camp” television show mirrors the real therapy program that has existed for years, except it’s pumped up with visuals to make the exercises more interesting for us viewing it (yeah, watching a bunch of people taking quizzes would be lame) and they keep a stocked bar in the mansion to make life even more interesting.
  • There is a LOT more therapy going on than anybody ever sees on the actual show. Maybe if they weren’t getting drunk, hitting each other, up-ending furniture, and attacking the camera crew, we’d see more actual counseling. But math prevents it. If you’ve got 400 minutes for the whole season and campers acting like jackasses for 300 minutes of footage – what would you rather see? I’ve been assured there is significant after-care given to all of the couples after the emotional exercises even though it ends up on the cutting room floor.
  • Not all of the “stars” of this season’s “Marriage Boot Camp” are handling their fame and notoriety very well. Having been the target of one really angry camper who swore up and down that production and the network were editing things to make him look bad, we’ve learned in more recent episodes that he’s full of it and his behavior is just as bad in the finale as it was in the season premiere.

This leads me to my final point about this show – I’m AMAZED at the enthusiastic and continuous social media push that’s going on by the talent. Thinkfactory told me they do not actually give the campers any social media guidance, although the network might have (I didn’t have that info at the time I wrote this blog).

Despite the fact that LOTS of live-tweeting going on is mean and nasty (I’ve been guilty of the occasional #meantweet myself – I’m human!) during the show, with the exception of one couple (Shaun and Sofia) who went out and hired a publicity firm to improve their images after a nasty sex tape scandal broke about Shaun, the vast majority of the cast has been bright, cheerful and fun to tweet with and about.

Blanca and Mai-Lee get busted on constantly, but they keep on retweeting and thanking people. Methinks somebody gave them some media training and Shaun and Sofia were absent that day. Gloria might have missed part of that class too – she’s nasty to anybody who makes her mad – she does tweet nicely with her actual fans. And believe it or not, she has them. Or at least she did.

WEtv teased the finale during a marathon I accidentally caught part of over the weekend and we see Gloria going into the kitchen and grabbing butcher knife in the middle of a big house fight. I don’t know who she’s going after, but it’s likely Shaun or her own husband. Or Blanca. Or Mai-Lee. Gloria hates a lot of people. But there’s that domestic violence rearing its ugly head again. I thought we’d be seeing Mr. Roid-Rage being led out in handcuffs, but it looks like Gloria is the one with intent to assault someone with a deadly weapon. No really, I saw it on WEtv’s teaser. She’s freakin nuts.

Based on that scene alone (not counting the death of the furniture or previous WWE smack downs between spouses), I just wonder what the security budget is for this show in general. They have to protect the spouses from each other, the couples from each other, and the camera crew from the talent. That’s a lot of protecting to do while you’re trying to make a television show. Ay Dios Mio!

So all those viewers who are worried about these couples can rest a bit more easily now knowing that the campers do receive a lot of counseling and I know for a fact that the directors have stayed in touch with most of them. I have a feeling that Jim and Elizabeth are probably nicer than me and let their clients/patients text them if they’re in trouble after the show.

I’ve also noticed quite a lot of Twitter promotion from some of last season’s campers too – a tribute to the production company and the network that they’ve got such loyalty. Everyone raves about the boot camp directors and Thinkfactory Media. That’s not common in reality television.

So here we are now, at the end of Season Two, with only the knife-wielding finale and reunion still to go (and I hear that is gonna be a doozy), and I only have the answer to one of the two big questions I mentioned in the beginning.

First, why did these men marry these “Bridezillas?” Easy, because they were madly, deeply in love with them (except for maybe Jeff who appears unable to truly feel madly or deeply about anything). I also learned that at least half of these husbands would have made excellent candidates for a “Groomzillas” show. It’s definitely not a boot camp show about badly-behaved wives – it goes both ways.

Second, I don’t know yet whether these couples actually stay together and it’s making me crazy. I predict gloom and doom for Jeff and Tasha (but heck, they filed for divorce before they agreed to do the show, so it was an uphill battle before they arrived). All the rest of the couples appear to have stayed together, at least according to the way they tweet. With that said, I think Sofia is desperate if she’s still with a man who scares her that much. And let’s face it, he scares all of us.

Although I couldn’t find out EVERYTHING the viewers wanted to know, I definitely got some real answers to some serious questions from fans. We’ll all have to wait and see how the Friday finale plays out to find out which, if any, of the couples refuse to re-commit themselves and renew their vows.

Only Thinkfactory and WEtv know what’s going to happen… and they wouldn’t tell me!

– See more at: http://www.monstersandcritics.com/behind-the-scenes-with-wes-marriage-boot-camp-how-real-is-it/#sthash.vXYKiWBQ.dpuf

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