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Strict Mom Takes On Spoiled Home for TV

The women were given only one day's notice of their departure. "We didn't know where we were going or anything about the family," Elliott said.

"They told me to pack pretty much everything I had -- to be prepared for hot weather and very cold weather," Burkhalter said.


Shelley Elliott, with son Javier, said the swap was fun but exhausting, in part because the television cameras were ever-present. (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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Elliott, who is black, said she got her first inkling she was headed to the deep South after the airplane landed in Baton Rouge and she was whisked away by limousine through some very impoverished areas and then into a neighborhood of restored plantations and elegant homes. Burkhalter, who flew into Reagan National Airport, said her luggage was stolen on the tarmac, and producers replaced her designer clothes with items from Wal-Mart and Target.

Burkhalter, who is white, said she was impressed with the Elliott's middle class, predominantly black neighborhood. "There aren't any neighborhoods like that in Natchez," Burkhalter said. "It was very nice. They had a barbecue and I got to meet their friends. People were very nice."

For the first five days, each woman followed the rules of the household. Each also kept a journal for the other outlining her way of handling the home. Elliott initially cooked and cleaned and walked the Burkhalter's three dogs. In Mitchellville, Burkhalter watched disapprovingly as Justine and Javier did all the chores.

Then came "Rule Change Day": Elliott made Laura Beth do laundry, while Nancy had to get a job. Jeff Burkhalter, 47, vice president of a gas and oil company, had to walk the dogs. A cookie jar depicting the mammy image of a heavy-set black woman was put away. That prompted a wave of tears from Laura Beth, who felt Elliott was judging her. "I am sick of being called a racist because I live in Mississippi," she declared.

In Mitchellville, Justine and Javier were liberated from chores and bedtime, as Burkhalter brought in a maid to clean house. Justine, who wants to be model, was treated to a glamorous photo shoot and allowed to have friends over on weekdays. Javier bought video games and toys. Tension rose when Burkhalter assigned Carl, a doorman at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, to do all of the children's household chores.

"You'll see some expressions on my face about that," Carl Elliott said of his reaction on the show. "I was not happy with that. Especially later on when I found out that her own husband doesn't do chores."

Both women said they enjoyed the experience but wouldn't do it again. "I can understand how people on reality shows act so crazy--its because of the exhaustion," said Elliott, who said they were constantly accompanied by producers and filmed from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. each day. "They were there for everything. You'd say something and look around and there was a camera in your face."


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