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In the past decade, the Wilson family of Yemassee rarely spent a night apart. Tracy and Darnell hadn't even taken a vacation without their two young children. Now, the matriarch was going to be gone for an entire week.
And the cameras were going to be rolling the entire time.
The Wilson family was one of several to play a role in the upcoming season of "The Week The Women Went" on Lifetime. The reality series premieres at 10 p.m. Aug. 14.
Based on a similar experiment that aired on the BBC, the show removed all of the Yemassee women for a week, leaving just the men to take care of family and business.
About a year ago, producers of the show chose Yemassee out of three finalist towns after an auditioning process that involved interviews with dozens of locals. Yemassee is a one-light town so small that what's left of its downtown just has a flashing caution signal. But producers were impressed with its colorful cast of characters, such as the 21-year-old fire chief whose mom still sets out his socks and shoes. And then there's the Wilson family.
The family already has garnered some fame from the televised preview of the show, in which 7-year-old Bailey wails, "I want my mommy," and an exacerbated Darnell responds, "I want your mommy, too!"
Darnell and Tracy, both born and raised in the Lowcountry, thought the show could be fun. They were a bit hesitant about putting themselves in the public eye, but figured it wouldn't get to the point of paparazzi hounding their home.
For Tracy, the worst part came when the 150 women were preparing to leave for their week on Amelia Island in Florida. Bailey had a break down as she walked away. Tracy talked to a producer. She didn't think she could do it. What if something went wrong? But the producer soothed her nerves. Tracy relied on her faith that her husband could take charge.
Meanwhile, Darnell wasn't sure how he was going to handle the week. He works long hours with CSX railroad, so he doesn't get the day-in, day-out perspective of staying at home with kids.
"I was really nervous," he said. "You really don't know everything that the other half does."
He brought in a friend, Doug Carroll, to help out for the week. But Carroll also has year-old twins, adding to the drama -- to the delight of the producers.
At first, the situation was almost overwhelming. It's hard enough caring for Bailey and Hunter, 10. But a cameraman, a producer and a sound technician were crowding their modest home. Cameras were placed in the house to capture what they crew couldn't. Errands had to be captured. Darnell took the family grocery shopping with the crew in tow.
"We'd have these cameras on us and the kids throwing fits and we'd get people looking at us like, 'What's going on?,' " Darnell said.
There was no script, he said. They did get put in certain situations, such as the beauty pageant Bailey had to enter. Mostly, the crew showed up and filmed. Slowly, they got used to it.
"By the end of the week, it was like they just faded into the background," he said.
All the while, Tracy just had to sit and wait.
"I was wondering what was going on, how demolished my house was going to be," she said.
Eventually, Mom did return home. You'll have to watch to see what happens, although it's fair to say the house wasn't destroyed -- just needed a bit more cleaning than usual.
Life since the filming has only changed slightly. Darnell does get recognized in public. A woman shouted his daughter's "I want my Mommy!" catchphrase at him in a gas station recently. The couple will get their first vacation alone in 13 years when they go on a publicity stop in New York City on the Fox New Channel morning show "Fox & Friends."
But the family is largely the same. After the cameras left, it was life as usual. They still spend day-in, day-out together. And maybe that's not so bad of a thing.
"You always think, 'Ugh, if I could just get away for a bit,' " Tracy said. "But once it happens you realize everything you're taking for granted."