In the beginning, there was “Survivor” Richard Hatch. Then came “The Apprentice’s” Omarosa and “American Idol’s” “She Bangs” man William Hung. Now meet Marguerite Perrin, a.k.a. “God Warrior,” whose screaming meltdown on Fox TV’s “Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy” this month has made her the next instant reality TV star.
In fact, Perrin, the swapped wife on the season premiere of “Trading Spouses,” is on her way to achieving her own unique brand of reality TV stardom. No other bobbleheads of reality contestants have ever been auctioned on EBay except for Perrin’s. Not to mention the T-shirts, bracelet charms, bumper stickers, magnets and pins.
Sure, there have been plenty of other televised tantrums on reality shows since “Survivor” premiered in the summer of 2000. But when the overweight Louisiana mother and grandmother, with missing front teeth and wild hair, suffered the mother of all meltdowns and declared herself a “God Warrior” fighting against the “dark side,” it sparked the kind of national phenomenon you might expect from some other desperate housewives.
Bloggers went berserk, someone wrote a song infused with her rant, and a Florida real estate agent with some time on his hands sculpted her bobblehead from polymer clay and put it up for sale. At press time, the God Warrior Bobble, which cost $10 to make, was going for $750. (The auction ends today at 3:48 p.m.).
Fox ran clips of Perrin’s rant frequently to promote the show during the weeks her episodes aired -- at 9 p.m. on consecutive Wednesdays, Nov. 2 and 9 -- though the network has since stopped running them. Perrin, who feels the clips of her as a “Psycho Mom” don’t depict her true character, has since appeared on “Access Hollywood” and radio interviews.
Perrin, who is back with her family in Ponchatoula, La., thought her bobble was so funny, she signed a photograph and sent it to 24-year-old John Hill of Orlando, Fla., the real estate agent and mortgage broker who made it. The wobbly doll, which is dressed in a “moo moo black dress and shirt” and is adorned with a beaded necklace and silver medallion like the one Perrin wore during her breakdown, comes replete with her sound bites from the show: “Everything’s un-Godly! She was tampering in dark-sided stuff! I give it up to God. I’m a God Warrior!”
But Perrin has only recently started smiling about her televised fiasco. Since the two-part episode aired, strangers have been calling her house at all hours, yelling “Gargoyles” and “God Warrior!” when she answers, and showing up at her house in the middle of the night. Twice she has had to call the police.
“I’ve been staying a lot inside lately,” Perrin, 44, said during a telephone interview this week. “I’m not one of those kinds of people who is unrecognizable. With the gap [in her mouth] and the way I look, I’m not one of these people that can rob a bank and not be the person that everybody knows did it.”
To this day, Perrin said she does not understand what went so wrong that she kicked a camera crew out of her Louisiana house and broke down. A devout Christian who owns a dance studio with her 24-year-old daughter, Ashley, Perrin traded homes with Jeanne D’Amico-Flisher, a 47-year-old hypnotist and pressure healer from Boxborough, Mass., who reads tarot cards and has a syndicated radio program called “Love Talk USA” with her husband, Chris.
According to “Trading Spouses” rules, two spouses (typically wives) spend six days with each other’s family, living the counterpart’s life. At the end, each contestant receives $50,000 and instructions from the other on how to spend it.
During Perrin’s visit in Boxborough, Chris Flisher hosted a summer solstice celebration and invited her to his radio program when a Christian astrologer was a guest. At Perrin’s home in Louisiana, Jeanne Flisher performed hypnotherapy on Perrin’s daughter to help her with her weight loss and went to church with the family.
Perrin said she had never watched “Trading Spouses,” but a friend sent in an application pretending to be her, and the producers called. Figuring that participating on the show might give her the money to pay for a gastric bypass operation she has been wanting for five years, Perrin agreed to be interviewed.
“My family put themselves out there because they knew I wanted this,” she said. “I have such a wonderful charismatic family. I just thought, goodness, once people get past the initial shock of the weight and the way I look and my quirkiness, surely they would just like me. But it wasn’t a good experience for me. Not that I didn’t like the family because they were trying in their own way, but it was that their belief systems were totally different and that made me uncomfortable.”
By the time Perrin returned to Louisiana, she was frustrated and tired and wanted only to be with her family. Learning that her daughter was hypnotized and that her husband had been discussing the zodiac with her replacement, she said, sent her “to the edge.”
And over it. Perrin declared herself a “God Warrior” and said the Flishers were “ungodly.” She then tore up Flisher’s “tainted letter” and refused to accept the “tainted money.” Since then she has called producers to ask for her share.
“I’m Italian, I talk loud and I’m flamboyant,” she said. “I talk with my hands. I can hardly drive without talking with my hands. That’s my personality. Do I yell? Yes, I yell. I’m in the country. We yell across the street at our neighbors. Have I ever been that mad in my life? No.
“And you know what?” she continued. “When my family watched the show this last week, instead of seeing the humor that everybody else saw and all the Psycho Mom, they cried. I didn’t cry at my party but I cried when I got in my bed because it was very sad to me to see me so upset. It was very sad for the world not to see Marguerite Perrin happy because my friends and family know me like that.”
As tough as it might have been for her to watch herself totally lose control in front of a national TV audience (the episodes averaged 8 million viewers, about 1 million more than this week’s audience; the meltdown episode aired Nov. 9), “Trading Spouses” executive producer Jean Michel says he thinks the show depicted fairly what transpired over those six days in July when the episodes were filmed.
“Actually, I think she’s quite lovely,” Michel said. “This is just who she is. This is what she feels and I do believe she feels it deeply. I think we kept to the spirit of what she felt. It didn’t make me feel any different about her or why we put her in the show. But I never could have predicted the ending and certainly didn’t predict where she would go.”
Where she went was all over the radio and the Internet, and an “Access Hollywood” interview that included a makeover “where they changed my hair color to red to match my temper, they say.”
Then came the blogs, which screamed “Crazy Lady!” in bold letters. A Google search for Marguerite Perrin yields 358,000 hits, which led Hill, who recently became an EBay entrepreneur, to come up with the bobblehead.
“That show has caused such a commotion,” he said. “I got a big kick out of it. I was laughing hysterically. I’m no lawyer but I’m sure she could sue me for something and I’m very grateful that she hasn’t and she’s taken it so well.”
Perrin -- who said viewers “got me raw. I wasn’t calculating in this whole thing. I was just being me” -- placed a $70 bid for her own doll.
“But guess what? Now she’s out of my budget. I can’t afford her. He did it all with good humor and good for him. We are all about Southern hospitality here. I am not as closed-minded as everyone thinks.”
To Michel, Perrin proved to be a perfect season opener for “Trading Spouses” because she demonstrates the point of the 2-year-old show.
“She has a point of view and the idea is that you trade with someone who has another point of view,” he said in an interview this week. “When you do that, you get a sense of how people think and how this country is.
“Everybody has different points of view and if you put them in contrast then maybe you can embrace the humanity of it all.”