Can We Believe Sister Wives and Their Money Woes?

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Let me start this post by saying that I am not a Sister Wives hater. In fact, I'm kind of a weird fan of the show. No, I'm not a polygamist, nor do I ever plan to be one. But as long as people have made their own choices and haven't been forced into anything, I think it's fine if they want to be polygamists.

I first got addicted to Sister Wives while home on winter break from college. There was no America's Next Top Model marathon happening – my usual choice for veg sessions on the couch after a long semester – so of course, I ended up on TLC. Because TLC always has things that are bizarre and delightful in a slightly terrifying way, like I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant and My Strange Addiction.

At first, I was totally judging the Kody Brown and his four wives – Meri, Christine, Janelle, and Robin. Why, as a woman, would you want to be part of a church in which it's ok for a man to take multiple wives but considered absolutely repulsive for a woman to have multiple husbands? Back in the first season, the Browns were bringing a new wife, Robyn, into the family. The other three wives were jealous of the new, younger wife, and they felt guilty about it. Duh, ladies, your husband is boning that woman! Of course you're jealous! That's natural, not something you should try and repress.

But after a while (read: a few hours on the couch and lots of chocolate) the Browns started growing on me. Sure, they live a strange lifestyle. But they seemed like a genuinely happy and loving family that had a lot of fun together. I was fascinated by them. And most of all, I was impressed by their fairly open-minded attitudes when it came to religious choices. Kody and his four wives are very serious about their religion, but they repeat over and over that their children are free to make their own choices once they become adults.

After last night's new season premiere, though, the Browns are starting to lose their credibility for me. The episode focused almost exclusively on the Browns' money woes, which have been a theme from the very beginning of the series. In Season 1, the Browns lived in a large house in Utah, with separate apartments for each wife. They all had their own space, but lived under the same roof. In Season 2, they had to leave Utah because the were facing possible criminal charges after “coming out” publicly as polygamists. The clan ended up in Las Vegas, where polygamist-style houses like their old one just don't exist. They've searched for four houses or lots right next to each other, and at the end of last season, it seemed like they had found exactly what they wanted. The season premiere episode focuses on all the drama surrounding financing for the four lots.

Robyn, who was married and divorced before she met Kody and their other wives, reveals she has awful credit from her divorce. Janelle is also in a rough place because she did most of the family's accounting for years, so a lot of the financial accountability is on her. And the thing I found most interesting: since Kody and Meri are the only legally married couple, they applied for a loan together. But the other ladies were on their own. Come on, doesn't that create some jealousy?! But it wasn't even addressed. The main issue was Robyn's dramatic past. Lots of tears here, folks.

But is it all a show? Maybe it's the recent sketchiness of reality shows (cough cough Breaking Amish cough), but I'm starting to doubt my favorite polygamists. Back in Season 1, I believed that the Browns were a family barely scraping by. Before they “came out” on TLC, they were a family with a whole lot of kids and only two real breadwinners – Kody and Janelle. There were rumors that the family was on welfare and food stamps to make ends meet. Then, they uprooted their lives, left behind their jobs, and moved to Vegas. Ok, that's a big upheaval and it had to be tough on the bank accounts.

But come on – aren't the Browns getting paid for this? I know TLC is no MTV, but the Browns have to be getting a pretty fat paycheck. Right? Four houses is a lot, but I would think that after years on the reality show and extra money from product endorsements and the like they should be making a pretty decent living. It's definitely possible that they haven't taken care of old debts and could still have bad credit. But I still just can't believe they're in such a rough spot.

Of course, at the end of the episode, all the home loans get approved. So all the drama and the tears and the excessive suspenseful commercial breaks were there to freak us out for nothing. As usual. And I know it's nothing new for things to get exaggerated in reality show editing rooms. But I liked the Browns! We're not talking about the Gorgas or the Giudices here. We're talking about people who have cute family birthday parties and and serious family meetings!

So are the Browns destined to let us down just like the last episode of The Hills? I still can't look away, so I'll let you know.

(Screenshot: TLC)