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Jon’s mother was of Korean descent, adding bi-raciality to the couple’s appeal in the dawning age of Obama.

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“And yet part of the sick appeal is, I think, every single person who’s married can admit there’s a little bit of Kate Gosselin lurking in them.”In the show’s fourth season, in 2008, Jon seemed to experience what Gail Collins has cleverly identified as the “feminine ‘problem that has no name’ that Betty Friedan wrote about in 1963.” He had been working again, this time as an I. analyst in the governor of Pennsylvania’s office in Harrisburg, but then he quit.“He said he ‘just wanted to be Jon,’” Kate says disdainfully. “I remember Jon and I having a conversation some time in 2007,” Kate says, “to the effect of ‘We’re in this, and we can never go back,’ and I kind of secretly had a little grip of fear.” When they renewed their vows, in Hawaii, in the summer of 2008, she says, it was the first time they were “paparazzi’d.”“I think Jon lost his identity,” says someone who works for the show. This is a classic story of people growing apart.”A reality star was born.

She got a tummy tuck and a trainer and a new hairdo, which she traveled 90 miles, each way, to have styled. They also had a new house, a $1.3 million, 6,200-square-foot, five-bedroom, seven-bathroom Mc Mansion on 36 acres in Berks County, Pennsylvania, a rural area with a lot of affluence. The paparazzi follow—on bikes, in cars, weaving in and out of traffic, turning back and pointing their cameras at Kate.

Kate yelled at Jon; she ordered him around, made fun of him. He now says he felt “abused.” Once, as Jon served the mounds of pancakes Kate was making for the kids, she quipped, “I’m the cook, he’s the waitress.” “Waiter,” Jon corrected her in his desultory fashion.

And this was another aspect of the show that seemed to whip up -ian winds: in an era of confusion about gender roles in marriage—not to mention an era obsessed with mommy culture—Kate was unapologetically wearing the pants.“I think part of the intrigue was that Kate was behaving in a way you don’t expect mothers to behave,” says Janice Min, the former editor of who put Jon and Kate on the cover an unprecedented seven times in a row. And Kate was like, It’s funny, I hated the fame and now I’m liking it. Jon acknowledged on the show that she was the one who had the writing, the books, the career.

Since March, they have appeared on the cover of the major celebrity weeklies more than 50 times—more than any other celebrity, including Brad and Angelina. That was the story that broke the rumor of an affair between Kate and her bodyguard, Steve Neild—an allegation Kate has called “disgusting and unthinkable.” A spokesman for Neild deems the rumors without “any merit whatsoever.”Neild, a dashing, salt-and-pepper-haired former counter-terrorism cop from New Zealand (also married), is in the hotel room with us now. “I think it’s too risky,” he tells Kate, who just shrugs, blandly conceding, resembling not at all the self-described control freak who bossed and bullied Jon through the first four seasons of their reality show (once barking at him in a store, “Come! It’s an image that’ll play well in the media: Kate buying toys for the kids while Jon is on the cover of announced), Kate says they have hounded her “every single single single single single single single day of my life. I hate it so much.”I say you can almost feel sympathy for the celebrities who lose their tempers around photographers. ” Kate asks archly.“I’m waiting for the call,” Goldberg says, laughing.“I’m actually there to keep the paparazzi safe,” Neild jokes.“Shut up,” Kate tells them sharply, frowning.

And most of this frenzy of coverage has not been at all flattering to Kate, her image, or her fledgling “brand,” which already includes books, DVDs, product endorsements, speaking engagements, and plans for a children’s-clothing line and a talk show of her own.“I’m running a business—hello? ” “You yelled at me like I’m a frickkin’ dog,” Jon whined). “Now that’s where I draw the line.”How did Kate Gosselin become a reality superstar?

But Laurie Goldberg, senior vice president of communications at the Learning Channel, which airs “I am so emotionally spent” (from her husband’s behavior, which has included philandering with the daughter of the plastic surgeon who gave Kate her tummy tuck), and so it might not look good for her to be out enjoying herself at a hot spot.“You’re like a prisoner,” Kate says of her newfound fame, annoyed. She and her estranged husband, Jon, are churning around at the center of a multi-media tsunami focused on their split and impending divorce. Kate out in medialand, and the media is squarely on Team Jon.

two years ago, appeared on-screen as a dowdy, sweatpants-wearing mama hen, is now looking very much the celebrity—from her tanned, trained body to her curiously asymmetrical blond hairdo, now so iconic as to be the model for a popular Halloween wig. “Oh, it’s Kelly”—Ripa, of —Kate says, holding up a French-manicured finger, signaling for us all to be silent. They are the subject of gossipy talk-show talk—a frequent “Hot Topic” on —and the target of thousands of disapproving blogs (Gosselins Without Pity being the most insane). “In news focus groups,” says Richard Spencer, editor of which has put Jon and Kate on its cover 15 times, “it was amazing to me that readers were actually on Jon’s side. I don’t blame him for having an affair.’”“Mom to Monster,” cried the cover of in May. “Bit of a nerd.” Neild travels with Kate; he accompanied her on the book tours for her best-selling Neild doesn’t think going to Nobu is such a good idea, either.

“Watching a woman push a wagonful of kids up the street is just not interesting to me.

But then when it started to unravel, it became interesting in a different way.”“It became a show that was completely suited to a multi-platform world,” says Ginia Bellafante, TV critic at became unintentionally brilliant because it demanded so much other consumption to find out what was ‘real.’”From its inception, the show was like a petri dish of American culture. Eileen O’Neill, president of TLC—herself a twin—was looking for stories about multiples when, in 2006, she approached Bill Hayes, head of the North Carolina–based Figure 8 Films, which had specialized in programming about unusual families and medical miracles ().

Figure 8 found Jon and Kate—a laid-back, laid-off I. specialist and an uptight pediatric nurse with a set of twins, age five, and sextuplets, age two—in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg.

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