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Starting over — and out — on 'Sister Wives'

The decision to do the show appears to have changed the Browns’ lives, but the Browns themselves remain very much the same
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The second season of “Sister Wives” begins with the Brown family’s first trip to New York, where Kody and his four wives, Meri, Christine, Janelle and Robyn, came forward about their polygamist lifestyle on TODAY.

“There’s no going back anymore,” we hear Christine say of that visit in Sunday’s premiere episode of the new season. What an understatement. As fans of the show already know, since that September 2010 interview with Meredith Vieira, millions of people have tuned in to the TLC show, the Browns’ kids are now “out” as polygamists’ kids, Kody is a target of a bigamy investigation and the entire family has moved from Utah to Nevada.

The decision to do the show appears to have changed the Browns’ lives, but the Browns themselves remain very much the same since that first TODAY appearance, and my own first interview with the family. They still appear to have closer relationships with one another than traditional couples, and family comes first.

“The take home lesson is we stay close,” Kody said of what he’s learned from doing the show. “To stay connected as a family, forgiving all the time.”

“No matter how crazy it gets, we try so hard to make the family routine,” Christine, one of the more outspoken wives, points out. “We all have dinner together Friday night, we have lunch Sunday. For the kids’ sake we try to keep that normal routine going. No matter how crazy it is.”

And speaking of the kids — all 16 of them — they seem to be faring quite well despite the newfound attention turned toward their family. As Kody wisely points out in the premiere episode, “everybody knows your names now, but not everybody is your friend.”

“They’ve been able to be absolutely open. They’ve been able to be everything they want to be. They’re so upfront with their friends like I never dreamed I could be,” said Christine. “They’ve started jokes. When someone says, “your mama does ...” whatever, they say, ‘Which one?’”

Starting over in Nevada
One of the biggest differences between the first run of “Sister Wives” and the new season is that the Brown clan decides to put down roots in a town just outside Las Vegas. So after finally being able to be themselves at home, why start anew, in a community that doesn’t have polygamist families?

“There were a lot of reasons,” said Robyn, Kody’s newest wife. “I guess the biggest one is Kody’s been wanting to move to Vegas for years,” she joked.

To be serious, Kody points out that the Las Vegas area (they’re about 20 minutes outside) is “not all the strip,” and they’ve been on the receiving end of tremendous outreach. “It’s a great community. People have reached out to us, and they say ‘Hey, you’re just like everybody else, we like you.’ The kids are having a different experience. They miss their friends, but they also have total acceptance,” Kody said.

In addition to leaving friends behind in Utah, the Browns have also moved away from their church, but these are just recent stresses. Kody’s first wife, Meri, was the first to realize how high the stakes were when she was fired for her job in the mental health field, where she worked with at-risk kids.

“The sting of losing the job because of the lifestyle — that still stings. Having now moved to Las Vegas, it’s lightened that a bit,” she said. “It’s like, I couldn’t have kept the job anyway. But the fact that it happened is hard. I’ll be looking (for a new job). I want to get back into the same type of job. I love working with the kids. I was so excited to get that job,” Meri said, her voice trailing off.

Staying positive
Time and again, the Brown family has been asked about the downsides to their situation — jealousy, the logistics of sharing a husband, public scrutiny. In every case, they have a remarkable chin-up attitude about them, seeing the positive in every potential (or real) negative. This is no different.

“It’s reset us all,” Janelle says of the move. “We have a chance now to start, all of us, at ground zero.”

“There are no regrets today. Every day is a new day, and today’s a good day,” Christine said. And Janelle reminded us all what the point of the show really is.

“We’ve had so many blessings through this. We’ve had so many people reach out and say, ‘you’re not weird,’” she said. “I hope in the long run the show builds that tolerance. That’s really what we’re hoping for, is it’s another voice for tolerance.”

The Browns might not quite be America’s next modern family, but they’re gaining some ground in getting there.