The advent of reality television brought real-life faces into the homes of millions of viewers, replacing trained actors with people unaccustomed to the entertainment industry, with varying results.
For one Montgomery County family being featured on nationwide television this evening, participating in a reality TV show resulted in a stronger appreciation for each other.
It all started out with an e-mail Sandi McCaslin got from ABC Television. Producers of the network’s “Wife Swap” program were looking for a woman who was into weightlifting.
“Wife Swap” brings cameras into the homes of families that can be considered “different” in a variety of ways.
Participating in the program meant Sandi and Zane McCaslin, powerlifters who own the Iron Asylum Gym, had to be separated from each other for two weeks.
Sandi McCaslin went to live with the Deekens family in Virginia, while Donna Deekens came up to Montgomery County to live with Zane and the McCaslin children.
According to ABC, the Deekens family lives on a quiet street in Virginia, where Donna Deekens presents tea parties as part of her mission to help keep alive the femininity and etiquette she believes are ladylike qualities.
Sandi McCaslin can bench press more than 340 pounds, Zane benches some 600 pounds. Their children — Sarah, 16, and Kerri, 12 — hold powerlifting records as well.
The show will air tonight, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the McCaslins.
On Saturday, they’re hosting their annual powerlifting competition, “Asylum Power,” expected to draw some 70 people from all over the state and beyond.
Many will attend a viewing at the Best Value Inn in Amsterdam.
For Zane, a bear of a man with palms of leather, it was clear two weeks without his wife was a challenge in and of itself.
Zane said Thursday that when it was over, he couldn’t let go of Sandi’s hand when the two families got together for an end-of-show chat at the kitchen table.
He said he and his wife shared a hug that lasted six or seven hours.
Zane said when he agreed to participate, he realized his wife would be doing the traveling, so he decided to let her decide for the family.
Sandi said she didn’t realize her love for her family could grow bigger than it was before the show.
“I have always appreciated my family, and I never thought that I would be the one thinking ‘My goodness, I take my family for granted,’ ” Sandi said.
“I actually did, when I came home, I just never realized what an amazing family I have,” Sandi said.
“What the show really brought home was that they expected this powerlifting family to be vulgar and hardcore. What they got was something that none of them shared and that was the tightness of a family unit and having a family there to support you,” Sandi said.
Efforts to contact the Deekenses were unsuccessful late Thursday.
Sandi said she got the impression that through the show, the Deekenses found an element of life they may have been missing: not barbells, but a warm and supportive home life.
“When that woman came up here and my family showed her what we were all about, it brought her to tears. She never had anyone treat her like that,” Sandi said.
She said she believes the Deekens family is embracing family companionship to a greater degree following the program.
It’s clear Sandi was a “good sport” about the whole show.
At one point, she had to put on a pink princess dress and host a tea party.
“It was an absolutely awesome adventure. I really did live the woman’s life. I jumped in with both feet and I gave it 100 percent,” Sandi said.
“This is a very different show. My family did amazing. There’s not a lot of dysfunctional name-calling or whatnot; it’s a lot about human compassion,” Sandi said.
The Deekens-McCaslin “Wife Swap” will air at 8 p.m. on ABC this evening.
Prior to that, the McCaslins will be featured on the Rachael Ray show, which airs at 3 p.m. today on NBC.