Las Vegas • Reality TV stars have a long, storied history of being looked down upon.
Snooki and the gang from “Jersey Shore.” Mama June, Sugar Bear and the whole Honey Boo Boo clan. Pretty much anyone who’s ever been under contract at Bravo.
But there’s an unusual type of venom directed at Las Vegas’ Brown family in the fourth season premiere of “Sister Wives.”
During a craft expo in St. George, where they’ve gone to sell jewelry from their My Sisterwife’s Closet line, interviews with other attendees yield adjectives such as “creepy,” “controlling” and “domineering” alongside the phrases “I have no respect for them whatsoever” and even “I hate them.”
They’re interspersed with scenes of patriarch Kody Brown opening up about his bitterness and frustration at the way he’s often judged for his polygamist lifestyle, leading up to the episode’s instant-classic line: “I know darn well that all the cool guys in the Old Testament were the ones who had more than one wife.”
“It was nice to finally (be able to) be angry about being a second-class citizen,” he reflects during a recent interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal alongside his wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn.
He hasn’t had nearly as much cause to be angry, though, since the family left Lehi, Utah, for Las Vegas in early 2011.
“It’s become so commonplace to me now,” second wife Janelle says of Las Vegans’ acceptance of their lifestyle. “I’ll go somewhere and I’ll run into a little bit of prejudice, and it sort of takes me back. We do get it once in a while. But everybody’s so open. ... It seems more common to be accepted now.”
Aside from missing their religious community in Utah, the Browns say the only downside to their relocation has been the physical separation. In Lehi, they shared two houses. During their first two years in the valley, the family was scattered among four rental homes within a mile of one another. Even in Las Vegas’ ruined housing market, that was as close as they could get.
Suddenly, the 17 kids — ranging in age from 19-year-old Logan to 20-month-old Solomon — were having to schedule play dates to see each other.
“The spontaneous interaction [was] definitely missing,” Janelle says, “and that’s been surprising the toll it’s taken.”
One of this season’s main storylines involves four adjacent homes under construction in a cul-de-sac in the northwest part of the Las Vegas valley and whether the Browns ultimately will be able to move into them.
Spoiler alert: They were.
The family spent 18 months looking for the right property. Then it was another six months before the homes were finished.
It was worth the wait.
“It’s been a lot of fun for the kids just to see the [other] kids all the time,” third wife Christine says. “There isn’t an evening that goes by that I only have my kids. All the kids come over all the time. It’s fantastic.”
As for how they’ll pay those four mortgages, the Browns are basically full-time entrepreneurs. Janelle and Christine sell real estate. They’re all involved in marketing ventures. And, they say, My Sisterwife’s Closet is doing much better than it was when they filmed upcoming episodes that show the business closer to splintering the family than bringing them closer as fourth wife Robyn hoped.
“There’s a lot of differences between the five of us. And, honestly, the five of us actually make up a really great business structure,” she says. “We all have talents we bring to the table, so as much as we may disagree, we also bring a very strong workforce together.”
There’s also the money they receive for appearing on “Sister Wives.” On this day, they’re being interviewed about the series during a break from being interviewed on the series.
That’s apparently quite a bit harder than it may sound.
“The most grueling part of any filming we do is the interview couch, when we’re sitting here,” Kody insists. “What you see is five minutes. What it took to get there was an eight-hour day on my butt. Holding still, trying to actually engage the interviewer.”
“It’s real work, because we really do a lot of emotional digging around on the couch,” Janelle says. “But it’s usually what makes it so that we become very honest on the couch.”
Kody does get frustrated at the thought of curiosity seekers who’ve already discovered their new homes.
“We have people trying to get into our cul-de-sac. We have them come through the gate. They sneak through. There’s people walking on our wall taking pictures. It’s ridiculous.”
But even with those intrusions, the Browns swear they don’t regret stepping out of the shadows.
“Going public was very, very scary for us. The vulnerability about going public,” Kody recalls. “We were a very private family in a very private community in a very private lifestyle. I think we were naive at going public and finding out how people would want to dig into more and more of the privacy.”
The benefits of no longer having to hide who they are, though, have outweighed those initial shocks.
“I know that for my sister wives, in the past before we were public, it was kind of rough,” says Meri, the original Mrs. Brown. “Because it was hard to be able to be out and be public and recognized as Kody’s wife in some situations.
“But being a first wife and being known as ‘the wife’ and having that freedom, but only having one of the many children that he has, on a different level, that was very difficult. Because when we’d start talking about kids, I mean, how do I refer to all of our family or all of Kody’s kids?”
That’s no longer an issue thanks to their recognizability. Aside from Warren Jeffs, the Browns have become the face of polygamy in America. Although Christine is quick to separate their beliefs from those of the imprisoned sex offender.
“Certainly, we represent a lot more people that live plural marriage rather than people that live the way Warren Jeffs does,” she says. “There’s a lot more of us like us out there.”
The Browns say they’ve been accepted in Las Vegas to such an extent that it’s gone from being awkward when they’re all in public as a unit to being awkward when one or more of them isn’t around.
“We’re not always together,” Kody says, “and it’s funny, when I’m out to dinner with one of my wives and somebody will see us and go, ‘Oh, you guys, it’s exciting to see you.’ And the first thing out of their mouth is always, ‘Where’s the rest of the wives?’
“So we’ve changed the concept from being the people who were hiding who we were to the people who now have to be who we are.”