If there is one show on TLC that reins its viewers in season after season, it’s Sister Wives. The unscripted reality television show follows the polygamous marriage of Kody Brown and his wives — Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn — their children, their shared lives together, and all the drama and heartache that comes with it. For many viewers, Sister Wives is the first glimpse they’ve ever had into what a plural marriage looks like. For some, it’s enlightening, and for others, it’s pure joy and entertainment. But how does Kody, the man at the center of it all, feel about the show and his life on camera after ten seasons? What has life been like for him since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic? What is the status of his relationship with his wife Meri, who got caught up in a catfishing scandal that caused some complications in their marriage? There were so many questions, so we asked them.
In an exclusive interview with The List, Kody answered all of our questions and then some. He was forthcoming about his relationships, how he navigates them all, what his life has been like during the pandemic, and what the cameras miss while the family is filming Sister Wives. Despite the family’s fame, there is still so much to learn about Kody and his wives.
Kody Brown reflects on Sister Wives' 10 seasons
I first wanted to start with asking you to reflect on your experience on the show as a whole, really what it’s been like to have so many of your intimate relationships and your family life documented for so long and what that’s been like?
Well, boy, it’s been exhilarating, humbling, and humiliating. I’m at a loss for words. It’s been an experience. I look at it in this way. Very few people have an opportunity like this. And so, you have to take it as a blessing. It’s life-changing. Not necessarily in all of the good ways, but yet it’s extremely rewarding in cases. On social media, we got a lot of kickback. But in general, most people are inspired in spite of the fact that they see us, our inner struggle. Honestly, they see us just raw. The interesting thing, the feeling that I’ve had about the entire experience is it’s like any kind of relationship of trust.
We’ve taken a long time to let you, the viewer, closer and closer and closer. Some of us in the family have been more shy, and some of us like me, my tendency is to let it all hang out. Everybody’s trying to reel me in because I’m a little too candid and it comes across as cruel. I’m just being honest.
The experience has been a journey, so to speak. There were a lot of things that we believed in that… Oh, I guess I could make it this simple. We’re a plural family. The plural marriage aspect, the polygamy was such a bad word in society, I guess, culturally an evil. As a family, we just said, we have the chance to change the world. Or at least a worldview. I used to kind of kid around that I was a social justice warrior. Anymore, I don’t feel like that. I’m just a equal rights… I just want everybody to enjoy… But it’s been an exciting journey to be able to be part of opening people’s minds.
Kody Brown on how Sister Wives breaks down prejudices against plural marriages
Do you feel like you’ve gotten the opportunity to break down some prejudices that people may have had?
Once in a while, in a side business that I have, I go to trade shows. A gentleman at this trade show came up to me one time, and he shook my hand and he says, “I want to thank you. I want to thank you for the sacrifice you’ve made. I don’t care how hard it has been for you. You have done me so much good in that you have changed my mind, and now I pull people in to watch this.” Basically, he was admitting that he had a completely closed mind and was thanking me for doing something that changed his life, his world view. That was a while ago. That was about three years, four years ago. But I made an impact in my life to go, oh, that’s… and it was the man. To be honest with you, it’s really a show I think that’s very woman-centric. It’s very… women like the show. They like the sister wives.
Kody Brown reveals the best and worst aspects of Sister Wives
What’s been one of the best aspects of your time on the show, one of the worst, and how that’s impacted the family as a whole?
Well, it’s a mixed bag. The experience has been a double-edged sword in that we’re trying to expose our family and be totally honest. And yet, we’re not the world’s most functional family. There are so many struggles to communicate that it almost gets embarrassing. There’s five big personalities in this. The tendency is for humankind to pick sides, to take sides. They don’t understand that me and my wives are on the same team and we’re working out some struggles. There’s a tendency for people to polarize, pick a favorite wife, pick a side between me and a wife. Where we’ve struggled through just normal marriage type of stuff to be a united family, the public, it feels like sometimes wants to pick sides instead of being Team Brown Family. I frequently get social media people reaching out, saying, “Why don’t you just… these ladies should all just leave you here.” That’s kind of a different world.
I believe in the phrase that what you think about me is none of my business. And yet, when you’re in this position, you’re trying to connect with the public, with people. When you’re trying to make a connection, it’s really tough to sit there and not let them share their opinion of you. It’s even harder to stop from let… And it’s been really, honestly, a hell of a ride. I smile about it mostly. Every once in a while, I just want to say to my wives, don’t you like what we’re doing here? I’m an optimist. I just always have to say the good outweighs the bad.
What is it like for Kody Brown to watch himself back on Sister Wives?
What’s that experience like for you to be able to reflect on things that have happened in a viewer capacity? Does it influence your approach to your marriages moving forward?
Well, one thing about it is, we sort of have this experience where we sit down, the five of us, on this couch and sort of hash out what our experience has been and so… opportunity to reflect. Yeah. It’s sort of that kind of thing where you can critique yourself and go, whoa, I should really improve my behavior. There’s some kind of weird hypnosis that happens when that camera turns on you and you sort of get stupid about how honest you’re supposed to be. You’re supposed to be totally honest. And so, the whole phrase, do these pants make my butt look fat, when that camera rolls, no smart man would ever answer that question. You say, “Of course. You look so good, baby.” To avoid lying, a man would say just, “Oh, you look so good, baby. I like how you look.” That kind of stuff. Well, that camera’s on. I am just using this as a cliché because… Do these pants make my butt look fat is a cliché in our society, right? … When that camera’s on, you’re like a deer in the headlights and you’re confused and you suddenly go, “Yes, it does.”
Kody Brown talks about the accuracy of Sister Wives
Do you think that the show gives viewers a true glimpse into your lives? Or is it kind of curtailed in a way?
It’d be unfair and disingenuous to say it’s not a true glimpse into our lives. But you have to take our lives and the percentage of what is basically documented, and then the percentage of that that is shared with you, and you know that the process requires you to do the most exciting thing or show the most exciting thing. And so, it’s real. It really happened. We don’t script. All we do is make a plan as a family on what we’re going to do. And sometimes we film the planning. So it’s real, but it’s distilled. That alcohol has gone from a mild barley drink right down to hardcore liquor. It’s Jack Daniels now. Instead of getting a 3 percent beer like you would in Utah, you get Jack Daniels. That’s how I would sort of describe – and by the way, just so you know, I’ve never drank ever in my life.
I’ve never tasted Jack Daniels. I’m not a big drinker. I got to admit, I have a confession. I sort of liked the taste of beer, but I’m not a big alcohol drinker. Jack Daniels has never crossed my lips.
Kody Brown talks COVID-19 and the struggles his family has faced
I’d love for you to take us through your relationships as they are right now, and give us an update on all four of your wives, as well as your kids.
Well, right now in this moment, that’s a tough one because it would be… Let me see what I can do without spoiling things. No spoilers.
Man, I think COVID-19 and the lockdown has had an impact on us. I think it’s been in some ways… I don’t know how to compare it to the rest of America because I’m not getting exposure to regular life in America anymore. Just like all of us. If you are feeling like you’ve been locked down in your house and you get to walk to the beach and back but you’re not able to connect with anybody. Okay, so it’s unfair to say my challenge has been tougher. We’ve got four homes, four mothers who basically, because they’re running their household, who are kind of in charge of their household.
Big struggle for me, whether that’s from bad leadership or whether that’s bad choices, or I don’t even know what. But it’s been a struggle for us to get on the same page on how we behave regarding COVID-19. What that does is if I’m… when you’re trying to prevent COVID-19 from just tearing like a wildfire through your family, I can’t be going to each house if each household is basically abiding by the same COVID protocols, if you will. And so, that has been a real struggle because different mothers have a different opinion about how to behave about it. Some days we get it all dialed in and we’re a united team, and other days we don’t.
It becomes personal because I don’t know if you’ve talked to a lot of people, but everybody has their own personal opinion about what COVID-19 is and whether the news media is right, whether the president’s right, whether Dr. Fauci is right, whether your doctor is right. “Why don’t you get a second opinion?” This type of stuff.
I’ve spoken with our physician and basically been guided by our physician on how to make the family rules. I got a second opinion from a person who was basically my family physician before being in Arizona. Basically, I’ve got two physicians’ opinions, which are matching. But they both went to the same school. Both my physicians, one that’s an old family friend and my new physician who is now a family friend, both of them went to the same school.
They basically have given me both the same line, and a lot of the family doesn’t like the rules. That’s probably because we’ve got a lot of young people in our family and we got mothers in the family that want to accommodate the kids. And so, it’s been a real struggle. I’m just going to tell you, we have had a COVID struggle that I don’t want to diminish other people’s struggle with this, especially if they’ve had real terrible illness or a death. But for our family, it’s shown us our weaknesses.
Kody Brown reflects on the "weaknesses" that COVID-19 revealed about his family
How has COVID impacted your life both onscreen and off? Is there a differentiation between that, would you say?
Okay. So just COVID-19 has only revealed sort of our weaknesses as a family, I feel like. But we’re at a point now where we’re not holding back. Here’s the funny thing, my whole experience with being on a reality TV show has been that every single season, every single time we’ve worked, I feel like I’m being more and more and more and more open. And yet in the moment, 10 years ago, I thought I was an open book, but I’ve realized gradually I’m more and more, more open. So I’ll be honest with you right now, two years from now, I might say that, “Oh, we’re more open now,” but in the moment that I’m sitting here with you, we’re such an open book that it’s an embarrassment of exposure. It’s like decent people shouldn’t be sharing this much about their personal lives, and we’re just spilling our guts about it. My opinion of the situation is you’re getting it all. You’re not getting in my bedroom, and that’s it. You’re getting everything else.
But there’s so much limitation on what you’re able to see because my life is 365 days a year, and you get to see 12 one-hour episodes. You’re only seeing the experiences being filmed or shot, and you’re only seeing… So there’s a whole variety of personal experiences that I’m having that are separate from the show. But the personality of our family and stuff like that, I think still shows. It’s not like we’re holding back. It’s just, you can’t be here all the time. That’d be just overkill anyway.
Kody Brown on being as open as possible on Sister Wives
Do you feel a certain sense of obligation to continue not only being open, but to progress that openness with every season?
I think it’s just a matter of an emotional tolerance because I feel like I’m constantly being… I don’t feel like there’s anything I’m holding back. The only thing that I’m doing is I’m trying. I’ve got a circuit that’s broken in me and that’s the stop gap between my brain and my mouth. I try to practice discretion, but it’s almost… there’s a nature there. So every single year, I feel like I’m spilling my guts more and more and more. I’m just trying to find a courteous way to say those words without being defeatist or mean or insulting.
When you’re being frank… how do I [say this]? If you’re just really saying how it is, you’re not really censoring yourself. I’m trying to make the words right. I’m trying to make the words kind. I’m trying to be honest and kind at the same time, and it’s a tough place to be.
I think all my wives feel the same way, and some of us are better than others at it. As a result, you get some opinions more than others. This is the interesting thing. There’s five of us and then our children, and we don’t all see eye to eye. We’re trying to be united as a family, but there’s a lot of liberty in this family, a lot of freedom. We’re all basically sort of social anarchists, not in the bad sense of the word, but nobody obeys the rules because there are little rules because these are relationships. You have to be sensitive to how you are with each other, and it’s a challenge.
How do Kody Brown's marriages impact each other?
In what ways would you say your marriages impact each other? Not only your relationships specifically, but their relationships with each other?
Yeah, no. That one’s an easy one to answer because we’ve been doing this for so long. The closer we live together, the more impact that our lives, that everybody’s life… For instance, there’s a tendency for me to never be in trouble with just one wife. If a wife feels like I’m out of line, there’s a tendency for them to sort of rally. The closer we are together, the more interaction we have that way. It’s a strange place because… do you have the time for me to dive deep on this one? I’ll give you something really deep.
When I choose to marry… Okay, so this has all been in the past. All of my wives that I’ve chosen to marry, they’ve chosen to be in the family, was essentially an agreement between me and that wife, like 75 percent and maybe 80 percent. The agreement that she has with the other wives is like 20 percent, 25 percent of that maybe. This is at least the way I view it. Because her and I are making a contract with each other, and she’s making a secondary contract with her sister wives. In a sense, the important relationship is the one between the husband and wife. And yet, I think that that’s not a big enough commitment. That 25 percent, that 20 percent commitment to the sister wife isn’t enough. So we’ve gone all these years in plural marriage where trying to be individuals and individualistic and respecting individual opinions and rights and stuff like that has been a challenge.
We’ve worked really hard to do that. And so, the group becomes a harder challenge because we’re sitting here accommodating everybody, but everybody sort of wants something different. And so, it’s been a struggle.
Kody Brown reflects on the opinions that Sister Wives viewers have
[On what Sister Wives viewers see]
Okay, so the fan base or the viewers… I don’t want to call it a fan base. The viewers, how do I… the word I’m looking for is… the feedback from the viewers since we moved to Flagstaff, Arizona has been a criticism that we moved away from Las Vegas, because look at what it’s done to our family. That’s where I say, “Well, … the problem is you’re not seeing every day of my life or every moment of my life.” Because all of the problems that we have in Flagstaff originated long before we ever got here. A struggle our family has in Flagstaff, Arizona is a struggle that comes from years before we even got here. For some of us, before we were in Utah, for some of us, before we were even in Las Vegas.
[We’ve been] criticized for making a big mistake, moving to Arizona. And the actual fact is, is you’re only getting to see the struggle that is manifesting from years past. So one of my biggest struggles this season, and you’ll probably see it over the next couple of episodes, is that in a reflection of the discussion that I had with my wives about building one home for all of us, I ended up digging deep into feedback about why that doesn’t work for us. What is stopping us from being in one house? You don’t get to see this on the episodes, but it manifests into the episodes about going back and finding out what kind of struggles we had 10, 15 and 20 years ago. And there’s this thing that the viewer says, “Oh, you guys were fine Las Vegas.”
Kody Brown reveals the status of his relationship with his wife Meri
I know that there is going to be some aired tension between you and Meri, and I’m wondering, without any spoilers, if you can give us an update as to how your relationship with her is progressing currently.
Our relationship currently is the same. Well, actually our relationship currently is actually better. I believe that it’s better than it was when we were in Las Vegas. I can only say it this way. It’s not where Meri was hoping it would be. It’s just, we discuss a lot of our struggle that we’ve had, and the two of us aren’t really on the same page about our relationship.
Can you maybe give us a little bit of insight as to how that might wrap up or what we could expect to see?
I actually got to admit that I don’t believe anything’s going to change between me and Meri. I think we’re going to continue on with an amicable relationship into the future. There’s no spoiler in the idea that there’s nothing to be spoiled. It’s a matter of just understanding. The most important thing you have in a relationship is understanding, and Meri and I are dialing in the understanding we have between each other, and that’s still going to take some time.
What Kody Brown wants viewers to take away from Sister Wives
I have one final question for you. I know you touched upon it a little bit at the beginning, but I just wanted to circle back to it and ask, 10 seasons later, what are you really hoping viewers will take away from the show and from witnessing your relationships unfold like they have?
Well, I’ll be honest with you. I think the same message that we wanted to share with the public when we were sort of a quiet secret plural family clear back in 2010 is the same message we have now, and that’s that everybody is in this relationship by choice. They can be in it or out of it by choice. That’s the only message. It’s the same message we always had from the beginning. We’re a fairly normal family with our normal struggles, and we just have multipliers. As the show continues to go over the next however many years, however long it goes, I don’t know, I think that the viewer will more and more see that we are nothing like stereotypical polygamous in the sense that people have no freedom of choice, no freedom of movement, no freedom of choosing to be in or out of a relationship. As we continue to, I believe that more and more people will basically, they’ll have criticism for what I do, for my behavior, maybe. But they won’t be able to criticize the lifestyle regarding it being a prison or an oppressing society of sorts.
Sister Wives airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT on TLC.
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