On Tuesday, March 24, A&E premiered new reality series Surviving Marriage, which is like what a drunken post-prom hookup between Dr. Phil and Survivor in the back of a Ford Econoline van would produce as offspring.
Couples on the brink of divorce (who probably shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place) go to a South Pacific island together and go through a series of challenges that are supposed to help them determine if their unions are worth saving — because SCIENCE proves there’s no better way to work out serious marital problems than to put them on television. Here’s how A&E describes it:
With their relationships on the rocks, each week one couple takes the plunge to spend five days together on a secluded island deep in the South Pacific to try to rectify their marital issues. Left alone with no modern conveniences and limited access to food and water, these pairs have only each other to rely on as they navigate the challenging and treacherous conditions on the island. The couples must complete a series of physical and emotional exercises specifically designed by marriage experts to solve the serious issues tearing them apart. Guiding viewers through the experience are Dr. Colleen Long, licensed clinical psychologist, and Tom Kersting, family therapist, who help navigate the couples’ often volatile journeys, where a simple act can unearth years of pent up aggression, regret and pain.
The premiere episode introduces us to our first contestants, Cleburn and April. So here’s their deal. April says, “I got married at 17, and my parents had to sign me over to him. And we ended up getting pregnant about six months after.” April in her younger days had a Kendra Wilkinson before Hank Baskett wrecked her vibe going on. She’s now 28 and has had five children, and she’s still pretty fit. Her husband of 11 years, Cleburn, was a Marine on leave when he saw April with some other chicks on the back of a truck and decided that April was the pick of the jailbait. After serving in the Corps, he tried his hand at MMA fighting, but his career in the ring was derailed by the fact that he and April were breeding like mink.
Actually, they have a nice house, and their children are clothed and appear to be well fed. Cleburn now works in a fracking oil field. He’s usually home for a week and then heads off to work for two weeks.
So why are they here? Well, one of the times when April was seven months pregnant, Cleburn confessed to having an affair. April took it all in stride. She went out and cheated on Cleburn with five guys over a six-month span. Then she up and joined the Air Force for some reason. So there’s that. April is insecure and has trust issues. Cleburn has anger and control issues. Also, based on what I know about Jungian psychology, Cleburn is just an insufferable prick.
And here are the lovebirds:
After doing some Googling, it looks like Cleburn may be Cleburn “The Spartan” Walker. Looks like him, down to the USMC tattoo. In these old interviews, “The Spartan” talks about being a single father. So, yeah, if true, there’s a lot this show isn’t telling us. If it pleases you, watch The Spartan get kicked in the face.
So, uh, on with the show.
After getting dropped off by helicopter, April and Cleburn have to hike to their campsite with backpacks full of rocks that represent the weight of all their issues and the heavy symbolism that the show has just dropped on all the viewers. Cleburn starts early with the bitching. “What does it say that being lost and hungry and tired and rained on in the jungle and the dark is still about 90 times easier than 30 minutes home with all the kids?” Cleburn speaks truth, though. I have two young children, and I often wish someone would drop me off alone in the Sahara to fight scorpions and cobras and stuff. I’d have a better chance of surviving.
They arrive at the “campsite” to find that it consists of nothing but a sleeping bag. Cleburn is not happy with the accommodations, and he wishes to express his displeasure to the innkeeper. “I kind of want to go punch somebody in the f*cking face, whoever thought of this shit,” Cleburn says. Wait. Dude. Were you not in the United States Marines? Were you not one of the Few? Were you not one of the Proud? It’s fortunate that the brave boys who stormed Iwo Jima didn’t have this toddler in tow.
“I love that my husband talks to me like this, calls me stupid, cusses at me. I mean, I love it. It’s what I want.” April says, with the slightest hint of sarcasm. Cleburn snaps back with, “This is how I talk to my friends, when we’re going to talk about business stuff.” Oof. He must be a real hit at cocktail parties.
The rocks, by the way, have things like RESPECT, INFIDELITY and JACKASSERY painted on them. OK, the jackassery one I made up, but it totally should have been there.
Now comes the terrible part when we have to listen to them work out their issues. As you might expect, Cleburn employs tact and sensitivity. “If we were to keep an infidelity count, she definitely would’ve won on that score.”
At some point, Cleburn starts crying, talking about his promising fight career and how he’s harbored resentment against April having to give it up. “I feel like you had a big hand in it not working out,” he says, failing to understand the very basics of human reproduction.
“In a lot of ways, they’re still teenagers. Rash, impulsive and emotionally raw,” says Dr. Long, a Beverly Hills/L.A. area clinical psychologist who could probably tell some pretty f’d-up stories if given enough peach Schnapps.
The next challenge is that they have to navigate a corn maze in the dark, and Cleburn wants nothing to do with this because he’s seen the movie Signs. “There’s got to be a better trust-building exercise because I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to go walking through the woods in the dark with no light whatsoever,” he says. “F*ck all of you guys’ shit.” Semper Fi, bro. Sleep on it. Maybe you’ll think differently in the morning.
“Our entire routine of life has been thrown down the toilet and we’re getting pretty fed up with this whole gig, is where we’re at,” Cleburn says in the morning. He’s always this way until he gets that first cup of coffee.
The next task is to haul the rocks and their gear up a steep, treacherous hill. “We’re hoping that this physical activity will keep his anger at bay,” says Kersting, AMERICA’S RELATIONSHIP & WELLNESS EXPERT. This is the sort of therapy prescribed for hyperactive 6-year-olds or chimpanzees in captivity. “I was a Marine, so this kind of stuff is really up my alley,” Cleburn says. The rest of the Pacific island experience? Not so much. This is the first time that Cleburn actually helps April out and cooperates with her instead of being a raging dickhead.
At the top of the hill they get to break those rocks of resentment with a big sledgehammer. Shouldn’t they be wearing safety goggles for this? That’s a lost eye and a lawsuit waiting to happen. “It was pretty fun smashing those rocks with the hammer,” Cleburn says. “It was just nice to break those motherf*ckers.”
“Honestly, I should’ve left him a long time ago,” April says, realizing that her “Maybe He’ll Change If We Have Another Baby” strategy may have backfired. In the morning, Cleburn disappears.
“Off camera during interviews, Cleburn becomes enraged,” Kersting says, “and he takes all his frustrations out on a tree, and then goes running into the jungle.”
“Clearly, they don’t give a f*ck what’s best for us,” Cleburn tells April, referring to either the therapists or the production crew. “I’m not staying here another f*cking night. I’m not going to play your f*cking games all day.”
One of the show’s producers decides it’s time to poke the beehive with a stick and asks Cleburn, “Why are you so angry?” To which Cleburn replies, “Who the f*ck do you think you’re talking to? Look me in my f*cking eyes! Who the f*ck do you think you’re talking to to question my manhood?” He answered a question with a question! Not fair!
Cleburn mellows out enough for them to proceed to the next challenge. The instruction card reads: “April, tie Cleburn to this tree. Once he’s tied up, read the next card.” Should not have pissed off the trees, Cleburn.
April ties Cleburn to the tree. April is free to walk away whenever she wants. She’s probably also free to take that sledge to his kneecaps, but she’s going to take the high road yet again. April is thoughtful and considerate.
Cleburn is a hot-headed asshat. “I have no other f*cking way to tell you what I’m thinking. Maybe it’s because I’m a dumb shit and I don’t have a big enough f*cking vocabulary. I mean, I speak four f*cking languages. You’d think I’d have enough f*cking words rattling around in there to f*cking tell you what I’m thinking.” Being able to say “f*ck” in a language does not constitute fluency, my friend.
For their last night on the island, April and Cleburn have to sleep in separate camps. April’s card reads, “Use your solitude and decide if you can continue to be in a marriage filled with anger, hatred and resentment.” You know, most marriages don’t get to the “anger, hatred and resentment” phase until 30 years in. April and Cleburn are way ahead of the curve, y’all!
“I’m already not enjoying this time away from her,” Cleburn tells the camera. He’s so lonely out there all by himself with no one to bully, demean and humiliate.
“If he can’t get over all this anger that he has, I’m going to leave,” April says for the 4,015th straight day.
They meet the following morning, where they read some junk they wrote and yadda, yadda, yadda, they’re staying together.
And then this:
“Since returning home, Cleburn and April are opening their own gym, where Cleburn will train MMA fighters. To help finance their dream, April plans to become a surrogate mother.”
They were made for each other.