It's the fantasy of many a spouse: Trade your current model for a sleeker, more sophisticated version, maybe one who whips up gourmet meals, turns the house into a designer showcase, and grooms the children into bright, delightful offspring, all while looking like the glossy cover of "Vogue."
Dream on, guys. As with 16-cylinder sports cars, some fantasies are better left on the lot. The broad-daylight realities can be quite jolting, as two husbands on ABC's new "Wife Swap" quickly discovered.
"I thought it would be fun, entertaining, an out-of-the-ordinary thing to do," said Steve Spolansky, the Manhattan-dwelling businessman whose shop-aholic wife Jody traded places with Lynn from rural New Jersey. "But we got more than we expected."
"It was the worst 10 days of my life," said Brad Bradley, husband of Lynn, a woman who drives a school bus and chops wood six hours a day. "I was absolutely miserable."
Both husbands on the first episode thought their roles in the show would be simpler -- as Brad said, "Ten lazy days of filming." But the men were an integral part of the process. "It opened my eyes to TV and being in front of a camera, but I wouldn't do it again," said Steve, who is less than happy about how he appears in the show.
Each episode of the half-hour program features two couples with contrasting lifestyles, whose wives trade places. Neither couple knows anything about the other's circumstances.
The women pack their suitcases, sans cell phones, and are transported to the other home, while the husbands and kids stay behind to live with the "new" wife.
Brad and Steve were persuaded to participate in the program by their wives.
"I was the one who didn't want to in the first place but I couldn't be the flat tire on the wheel," Brad said. "I had to go along. I hoped it would be fun, having another wife come in and you help her do your own wife's jobs."
Brad, who runs a tree removal service, said the show's director asked what he hoped to get out of the project. "I kept telling him, nothing. My wife and kids wanted to see how a TV show is made. And then it turned around and bit me."
Brad's misery began with the arrival of Jody and her seven suitcases, "one full of all makeup. It did stun me," he said.
Jody, a former schoolteacher, lives in a spacious Manhattan apartment with Steve and their three young children. Their home is staffed by three nannies and a housekeeper. Her days are filled with shopping, visits to the gym and what she calls "me time."
"You hear about those kind of people who are so rich and their kids are raised by nannies," said Brad. "You almost think of it as a bygone era, in colonial France. Knowing this is a reality show, it's always in the back of your mind that they're going to send actors who are playing a big trick on us. That's almost what I thought at first. I have never known anyone like Jody."
In Lynn's home, Jody was expected to handle all of Lynn's chores, including running a wood-splitter six hours a day and looking after two daughters. The reality left Jody in tears, and Brad was certain that "the husbands have it worse. You have a strange woman coming in to run your family and your house."
Across the river in Manhattan, Steve was bothered by Lynn's attitude about the New York lifestyle. "Walking into this experience, I would have thought somebody from a different existence would have embraced it all," he said. "I tried to get through to her about the opportunities in New York City, but she thought I was a workaholic, and I thought she was being shallow and close-minded."
With quick cuts and natural sound, the show shuttles between the two households. Camera crews record every word and action for about 15 hours a day in each home.
"Initially it took time to get adjusted but by the third day, they were part of the wall," said Steve. "There is a nice confrontation, all caught on TV, all very real."
The experiment begins with each woman's adjustment to the other's lifestyle, followed by a week of new rules set forth by the visiting wife -- rules the spouses and kids are expected to obey.
In Steve's case, the rule change was much more than he anticipated. Lynn fired the nannies and "wanted me to be home by a certain time and have dinner with her and the kids. That was unrealistic," he said.
"I'm in a growing business I have to attend to, and you could say it's at the expense of my kids. But when it comes to work, I put that ahead of breaking bread with them during the week. Lynn and I had words on that, and it got a little ugly."
Brad, who said the worst part about the experience was lack of contact with his wife, said he went along with Jody's rules, which had him cleaning the bathroom. "I kinda took offense, but I did everything," he said. "That was what you signed up to do."
The show "made us more aware that it's a nice thing to spend more time as a family," Steve said, while Brad admitted, "It made me fall in love with my wife all over again."
Despite their differences, the couples maintained contact after the cameras went away. Steve and Jody's kids camped in Brad and Lynn's back yard; Lynn and her daughters visited Manhattan to see Jody.
Both couples will watch the premiere -- separately -- with friends in local restaurants, even as Steve frets over his portrayal.
"They call it reality but it's all about how they edit it," he said. "They have a lot to work with and they can portray you as a nice guy or an SOB and they chose the SOB in me. I am not the least bit condescending, but in this I don't come across that way. So my biggest fear is walking down the street after it airs. Am I moving to another country? I don't even know if Iraq will take me."
Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC