The Sisterhood cast. Tara is the tallest woman, in the middle, and Ivy is directly to her right.
Ugh, you guys. This is why reality TV and real life should never mix. Mere days ago I was perfectly content to sit in my apartment with a glass of wine and my laptop, writing snarky posts about how crazypants the women of The Sisterhood were without knowing them at all. And now I’ve talked to a couple of them, and I feel like a first-class twatsicle, because they’re actually very nice. This is why bloggers should never come out of their dim little hobbit holes and greet the outside world, because the bright, friendly sun hurts our beady little eyes.
Let me give you a little back story. The Sisterhood is NOT a show about plural marriage, as first I suspected. It’s actually a show on TLC about ‘first ladies’ in Atlanta, which is the term that preachers’ wives use to describe themselves. I’d done a few recaps on the show, so when I put up my last post about The Sisterhood, so aptly titled TLC Sure Did Their Job Finding Crazies For The Sisterhood, imagine my surprise to receive a comment from someone claiming she was Tara Lewis, one of the first ladies I’d heaped an especial amount of scorn on. We got in touch with a producer at TLC, confirmed her identity, and set up an interview. And I was like…nervous. This is not a woman I’ve written very positive things about. You can see her in the clip below talking about the Christian bar mitzvah yup) that she wants her son to have, and I had a pretty fun time with that, and the fact that I think her husband Brian reads pretty gay. So I was understandably nervous to get her on the phone. Was she gonna rage at me for my opinions? Proselytize? Hang up on me?
Spoiler alert: nope, not at all, not even a little bit. I don’t have enough experience yet with reality TV stars outside of their show to realize what probably everyone else already knew: these are ordinary people, as weird as the rest of us, edited into fits of pique and whimsy for television consumption. Within the first few sentences of my phone conversation with Tara, she complimented me on my name, and said she had a 21-year old named Alexis. Ohhhh no. Now I have a human connection with you. What’s this feeling seeping into my cold, bitter heart? Sympathy? Nooooo! GET OUT OF ME. But it didn’t, and I didn’t get any of the crazylady outbursts I was hoping for in my secret heart of hearts. Whomp, whomp. What I did get was a good interview with Tara and a follow-up interview with Ivy Couch, both of which combine to give a great behind-the-scenes look at the filming of a TLC reality show from different perspectives, gentle reader. It’s all I could do, okay?!? These are real people, disappointingly enough.
The two women got involved with the show in very different ways. Steven Weinstock, one of the show’s producers, heard about Tara from someone and came to her house to interview her, at which point Tara says he said, “I can see you’re a woman of strong convictions. How do I get that on TV?” So she really got hunted down like the reality TV gem that she is, whereas Ivy had to go about it a more traditional way, by calling the casting office and going through an interview and audition process. She says she felt that god was calling her to do it, as she’s usually a very private person who only just got on Facebook. Which I’m assuming god also called her to do.
The show itself filmed for several months, with filming typically taking place multiple times a week, for hours at a time. Both women acknowledge that it was exhausting, with Ivy saying it was the hardest thing she’s ever done. But that’s preeeetty much where their agreements end, which doesn’t surprise me from watching the show. Tara really did not enjoy being on the show. She came on really hoping to find the sisterhood that’s referenced in the show’s title, and she was extremely disappointed not to find that. She feels the other women ganged up on her, and made her out to be someone that she’s not. She says she’d never watched reality shows before, other than home-makeovers, so she didn’t realize what a huge market there was for women excluding women, which is the basic plot-line for every show currently on television. When they filmed the first episode, the other women had already been filming for a few days, but Tara had only known them for about twelve hours, which does a little to explain how quick they were to band together and lash out at her. When I asked her if she thought they’d be told to target her, she says she has absolutely heard that from multiple sources, but that she’s never had official confirmation from anyone on the show.
“I don’t want to disparage them. I think they chose. Non one ever approached me to do or say anything that they knew I wouldn’t do. The women had a choice and I had a choice and I chose to be Tara, without fear of editing or manipulation.”
Unsurprisingly, although she admits that some of the things she’s said on the show have been ‘cringeworthy’, Ivy insists she was never told to be rude to anyone on the show. “It has happened, but on a very subtle level. I sleep well at night. The editing is what you sign up for, and there are bits and pieces of scenes that you don’t see. If it was a boring show, no one would be watching it.” These comments speak a little bit to Tara’s point and a little bit to Ivy’s point, which is that Tara isolated herself on the show. Apparently the other women tried to reach out to her, but she wouldn’t return phone calls off-camera. She would hang out with the women when filming was taking place, but during off-time she kept to herself. Which, again, kind of clicks with both womens’ stories. Tara mentioned to me that she was ‘hurt’ and ‘pained’ by her treatment on the show, so I can imagine her not wanting to see the other women after the cameras stopped rolling. But when I mentioned to Ivy what I’d heard from Tara, she, in her own words, “got more fired up than I’ve been in a long time”. She doesn’t think Tara came into the show searching for a sisterhood at all:
“She can’t put blame on everyone but herself. She had the choice to show up and Tara chooses not to show up. [As the season goes on] viewers will see that the choices that she made are not in line with saying that you came into this process to garner a sisterhood. She’s a lot more guarded than she wants to admit. I showed up with bells on when it was time to tape, and then I couldn’t get [Tara] on the phone. We would have these amazing conversations off-camera where we’d laugh, and we’d cry. And I’d be thinking I really bonded with her, then a week later, two weeks later — is this the same person? She dresses really outlandish, she casts judgement. There’s a saying in the Bible: ‘How do you look at the dust in your neighbor’s eye without taking the plank out of your own?’ The rest of us have a sisterhood, but I still have love for her. I’m really praying for her, because I think she has some wonderful qualities.”
Nice little use of Scripture, there, from a woman who criticized Tara for using Scripture so much that it made her ‘ineffective’. Did you catch that? I really never thought I’d say this, but I find myself siding with Tara. She was asked to be on the show instead of auditioning for it, spoke to me like a normal person even after the terribly snarky things I’d written about her, and is willing to open up her incredibly non-traditional beliefs on national television. And however she treated her fellow cast-members, these are women of god, and they’re supposed to accept and love everyone, right? I get a pass because I have to be a godless heathen to write the kinds of things I write, but these women preach compassion, so why didn’t we see any? In Tara’s words:
“When watching The Sisterhood, you have to ask yourself, is this a sisterhood, is this what it’s supposed to be? Who’s the outcast and where’s the problem lying? Is the problem bigger than what I see, or am I just taking it as it appears on television without taking the time to see.”
Bottom line, however I feel about their beliefs or their behaviors on television, I have to accept that these women are real people. They were both very polite to me on the phone, both frequently repeating my name and complimenting me on my questions. Even when Ivy got “more fired up than she’s been in a long time”, she didn’t raise her voice, only talked a little faster than she had been. They obviously love god a lot, and hope that the show brings their most honest selves to light. As much as they dislike each other and act like crazies on the show, they were both very nice on the phone. What a disappointment.