If a couple’s home is their castle, then Jon and Kate Gosselin are going to need a bigger moat. The stars of TLC’s megafamily reality show Jon & Kate Plus Eight got fed up with all the looky-loos peering through the front windows of their old place in Elizabethtown, Pa., hoping to get a glimpse of their 8-year-old twin girls and 5-year-old sextuplets (three girls, three boys). So last October, they moved to a sprawling three-story home on 24 acres off a sleepy road in Berks County. Kate took comfort in the new property’s electric driveway gate: Finally, she and Jon would have the space to raise their kids, with no one watching…except the cadre of cameras taping their every move for the fifth season of their top-rated reality show, which premieres May 25.
But the seclusion didn’t last long. ”When we first visited this house, you could sit here and see a car an hour, maybe,” explains the sharp-tongued Kate, 34, taking a rare break from her brood in a sitting room off their massive new kitchen. But once people learned that the octoclan had moved in, their rural road became a major thoroughfare. ”One day we sat out and counted 157 cars drive past in about six hours,” says the ever-deadpan Jon, 32. And the probing eyes reach far beyond their curb. TLC supplies a security guard for the family when they leave home — which comes in handy now that the tabloids are stalking the couple: Jon was recently photographed out at night with 23-year-old Deanna Hummel (both Hummel and Jon say they’re just friends), while Kate is now dealing with a report that says she’s involved with a family bodyguard, Steve Neild. (”The allegations they’re making about me are disgusting, unthinkable, unfathomable,” she told People.com on May 12.) Then there’s the Web chatter from viewers tearing Kate apart for how she nitpicks her husband. ”People always say, ‘Has the show changed you?”’ says Kate. ”It has not changed us. It’s changed people’s perception of us.” Yes, they’re still just a normal family, albeit one with an eight-headed cottage industry and a mom who dreams of having her own talk show.
Nobody was banging on the family’s door before TLC came around. If so, the frantic and overmatched couple would have welcomed the help. When fertility drugs left nurse Kate pregnant with sextuplets in 2003, the deeply religious mom made the risky decision to carry them to term. The couple struggled until 2006, when Discovery shot two specials about them for its Health channel; a year later the series began and then moved to TLC. (The show pays the Gosselins an undisclosed salary and occasionally sets them up with free vacations, appliances, and household goods, courtesy of lucrative product-placement deals.) At the time, makeover shows like What Not to Wear dominated the lineup, and TLC president Eileen O’Neill thought the family could chart a new course for the struggling cabler. ”So much of the draw was how adorable those kids are and the fascination of organizing a supersized family,” says O’Neill. It typically takes the producers a few hours a day over three days to shoot one episode — and whether a kid is melting down on a flight or Kate is getting a tummy tuck, the cameras are rolling. Throughout the episodes, the couple are interviewed by a producer, who often brings the discussion back to their stormy union. Kate doesn’t mind having her snippier moments — yelling ”Don’t be a victim!” after Jon complained about her slapping him, for example — captured for posterity. ”I’ve got to take care of my kids and live my life and do 150,000 things. What they catch, they catch, and it does not bother me.”
Viewers were immediately hooked by the candid clan. Each season has logged double-digit growth over the previous year, and March’s season 4 finale attracted more than 4.6 million viewers, the show’s biggest audience ever. ”I was like, Okay, it’s just our family, which is wonderful, but I didn’t get why fans loved it,” says Kate. ”I did not assign myself to being a role model, but many girls say that to me, and that’s hard. I am far from perfect. I’m just a mom who’s doing her best.” Jon & Kate’s success inspired TLC to breed more big-family shows, including Table for 12 and 18 Kids and Counting — a wise move, given the public’s endless interest in oversize broods. Speaking of which, Kate is uncharacteristically reserved when it comes to that other famous multiple mother, Octomom Nadya Suleman, who is reportedly shopping a reality show: ”We just hope her kids will be happy and healthy.”