"You guys saw me at my worst first, and then I just kind of reversed in front of your eyes. It was nothing amazing, it was just...when you met me, who was that person?"
So Kate Gosselin told E! News in 2015. The reality TV star may have been talking about her physical appearance at the time, but she has said that she doesn't recognize anything about the person she was 10 years ago, when—initially just to create a better life for their eight children—she and then-husband Jon Gosselin signed on to do a whole series revolving around their family for TLC.
A smaller audience had met the Gosselins on Home Delivery and their two Surviving Sextuplets specials, but when Jon & Kate Plus 8 premiered on April 10, 2007, a star was born.
The star, that is, being a not brand-new but still largely untapped genre of reality TV—it even preceded Keeping Up With the Kardashians by six months—that first was owned by TLC but would soon spill all over basic cable: "ordinary" families just doing their thing.
Episode one of Jon & Kate Plus 8 featured Jon and Kate, at the time having been married for eight years after first meeting at a picnic in 1997, taking their kids to a pumpkin patch, the most innocuous of family outings. The general rhythm of the show was this: Kate doled out the discipline, made most of the decisions (including the unpopular ones), the kids played and bickered and were usually pretty cute, and Jon was...there. Usually the more outwardly likable of the two parents, thanks in part to the editing and in part to Kate's severity, and sometimes playing the uncredited role of Child No. 9.
The show was a huge hit for, first Discovery Health, which aired the show's first two seasons in 2007, and then TLC, which took over in January 2008.
The fourth-season finale on March 23, 2009, was the most-watched episode of the series yet, attracting 4.6 million viewers and beating NBC, CBS, Fox and The CW among women ages 18 to 34. And as reports noted at the time, Jon & Kate Plus 8's big number helped out the new show in the next time slot—Table for 12, about a New Jersey couple with two sets of twins and sextuplets.
In fact, buoyed by the success of both the Gosselins and Little People, Big World, TLC's branding tagline had become "Life surprises," and the network became the home of 17 Kids and Counting (before 18 and 19 arrived), The Little Couple, Toddlers & Tiaras, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, My 600-Lb Life and Sister Wives.
But storm clouds were already starting to gather over TLC's marquee family.
In February 2009, a report claimed that Jon—whom Kate had once called "my balance, my strength, my stability"—had been partying with college students, first at a bar and then at a house party, a few hours away from their new $1.3 million Pennsylvania home, and not only tried to kiss a few girls, but was overheard telling one of them he was getting divorced. In March, the New York Post quoted a source saying that Jon and Kate were working on their marriage and had taken some alone time after shooting on season four wrapped.
Not long after the season four finale aired in March, the May 2009 issue of Ladies Home Journal came out (in April), featuring an interview with Jon that was reportedly given on the day the co-ed report popped up.
"This struggle has definitely put some tension in our marriage," he told the magazine, per Reality TV World. "But I never cheated on Kate. Kate and I are together."
He also admitted, however, that life had taken an unforeseen turn, what with having eight kids and being on TV. "I always thought I'd be, like, 54-years-old and marry a 19-year-old or something," he said. (Like, for real, he was quoted as saying that.)
Kate told the magazine that, even though fame had its drawbacks, she "wouldn't return to those days" before their sextuplets were born. "It's a lot of work. It's the best thing and it's the hardest thing I think that's ever happened, just our show in general," Kate said in the episode. "I personally have the ideal job. I love what I'm doing at this time. But it has gone through phases for all of us. Jon feels frustrated."
"It is hard being on this side of the camera, and not just sitting here, that's the easy part, but just going out in the world and trying to live your life," Jon added. "People see your life as episodes and you see it as a date on the calendar. We don't have privacy at all. If I go out, people know I go out and photograph it and do everything they gotta do...That's tough for me. I can't be Jon, I have to be 'Jon and Kate Plus 8,' which is a real hard thing for me. I still haven't come to grips with it."
It doesn't take a lot of hindsight to sense that this interview was foreshadowing a marital disaster of epic proportions.
While Kate Gosselin was on a book tour promoting Eight Little Faces, Us Weekly reported on May 5 the story that would make the cover of its latest issue: Jon Gosselin had been having an affair for three months with a grade-school teacher named Deanna Hummel.
Prior to the tawdry revelation, the National Enquirer had reported that Gosselin was seen kissing a woman who wasn't his wife outside a local hotel. He had also been photographed with an as-yet unidentified Hummel leaving a bar in Reading, Pa., on April 18, his wedding ring nowhere in site. When Us called him on it, the father of eight told the mag, "Yes, I have female friends—but that is all she is. I'm not going to end my friendships just because I'm on TV.
"However, being out with them late at night, showed poor judgement on my part. What makes me sick, is that my careless behavior has put my family in this uncomfortable position. My family is the most important thing in my life and it kills me that these allegations have hurt them."
But Us ID'd Hummel and, though both she and Jon denied that they were having an affair, her brother (and roommate) Jason Hummel told a sordid story to the magazine about being able to overhear the two getting it on (though he did say his sister was a "nice girl" and Jon was the jerk).
"My brother is making this all up. I can't even stomach the lies he's saying about me," Deanna told People at the time.
A few days later, Kate Gosselin went ahead with a scheduled Today appearance to promote her book, telling Meredith Vieira, "We just need to weather this storm, just like all the other storms that we've been through." There was no clarification as to whether she meant previous storms of the same nature as this one, or just storms in general. Then still a relative fame newbie, Kate did express surprise at how virulent the coverage was.
"It is so public," she remarked. "It's one of the things we did not envision when we started our show. It's one of the things that comes with it—the tabloid stuff. To be very honest, I'm very hesitant to believe any of it. It comes with the territory. We're dealing with it just like everybody else does."
But, she added, "Tabloids pay thousands of dollars for stories. The juicier the story, the more the payment. When you pick up those sort of magazines, is it believable? Ask yourself. People are being paid to talk."
"I don't know that we're in the same place anymore, that we want the same thing," Kate also told People at the time. "I've been struggling with the question of 'Who is this person?' for a while. I remember where I was the first time I heard [Deanna's] name. It's one of those things where you can try to make it go away, but there's blaring, red flashing lights."
Days later, Kate was back on the horn with People, denying a report that she had an affair with her family's married bodyguard, Steve Neild. "The next story coming out from the animals that stalk us is about our security person and his family," she said. "Already the allegations they're making about me are disgusting, unthinkable, unfathomable, and I am horrified."
And it only got worse. Jon & Kate Plus 8's sixth season premiered on May 25, hitting a new ratings high (the hungry masses are only human, right?) and Us continued to report salacious new details about Jon and Deanna's purported relationship.
Even the decision to divorce after 10 years of marriage—an extraordinarily sad development, considering eight children were involved—did nothing to stop the interest in the show. In fact, their June 22 episode, their last show before a brief hiatus—in which they revealed they were separating and though living together had in fact been leading largely separate lives for two years—attracted more than 10 million viewers. "I don't really want to be alone," Kate said in the episode confessional. "I don't want to do this alone."
Jon asked for the divorce, Kate told People. "I curled up in a ball and I sobbed. I couldn't breathe; I was hyperventilating. I was scaring people who were calling to check on me because I couldn't even talk."
Kate, however, was the first to file for divorce, doing so on Monday, June 22, 2009, in Montgomery County, Pa., before the separation episode aired that night. In a statement, she said Jon's unspecified "activities" over the weekend left her with "no choice but to file legal procedures in order to protect myself and our children."
"To be honest, I was hurt by Kate's statement about the divorce," Jon said in his own statement the next day. "I have always done everything I can to protect our family. This weekend, I was home with the kids for four days, just being a dad. No nannies, just the kids and me."
And then, almost incomprehensibly at the time, Jon & Kate Plus 8 returned to TLC on Aug. 3, with Kate and kids going their separate way on a beach vacation and Jon staying home to oversee a kitchen remodel. Ensuing episodes continued the "Kate and Jon go it alone" theme.
Despite the record viewership for their separation episode, it was clear that people had Gosselin scandal fatigue by August, and their Aug. 10 episode attracted only 3.4 million viewers, with 3 million returning for the Aug. 17 installment. (Still more than glorious Mad Men's 2.8 million on Aug. 16, but there's never been any accounting for cable tastes.)
But while many had soured on the show, the Gosselin divorce didn't stop the flood of stories about Jon's surprisingly eventful love life, extramarital and otherwise—and people were still eating those up.
In August 2009, Jon denied that he dated Kate Major, who had claimed to have had a relationship with Jon (and would later marry Michael Lohan) after meeting him while on assignment for Star magazine. "I think she fell for me, but I knew my heart was with Hailey," Jon told In Touch Weekly.
"Hailey" being Hailey Glassman, the daughter of the plastic surgeon who gave Kate Gosselin a tummy tuck. Jon had been staying with the Glassmans after he and Kate separated, and when Hailey came home from college, she and the recently separated 32-year-old hit it off.
Jon told In Touch, "She is the polar opposite of Kate [Gosselin]. It's really different. I feel good about myself and people see my good qualities. I'm not being put down. If I want to go out with my friends, Hailey says, 'Oh, go out.' Sometimes I ask Hailey permission, like I used to do with Kate, and she says, 'You don't have to ask permission.' I was used to living like that, and now it's like a breath of fresh air. You can have a balanced relationship but also spend time with your friends."
When In Touch Weekly reported in September 2009 that Jon had also stepped out on Kate with one of their babysitters, and then asked the sitter and her mother to lie to his current girlfriend about the affair, Hailey was reportedly none too happy about that article.
Jon's lawyer told Us Weekly, "The content of the story is shocking, especially in light of the fact that a non-disclosure agreement purportedly prepared by the production company had been signed by the nanny before she started working with the Gosselin family." (Not a denial, last time we checked.)
Despite Jon's seeming confidence in his new relationship, in November 2009 he and Hailey had a fight during an interview for Entertainment Tonight, at the end of which she turned to him and said, "Don't you want [your kids] to look up to you and say, 'My daddy's honest?'" Jon stormed out, saying, "I'm not talking about this."
Seriously, though, where did Jon and Kate Gosselin come from?! For a couple of reluctant reality TV stars, they've made for more drama than a Lifetime Movie marathon.
Speaking of which, Glassman told Access Hollywood in 2012—ahead of her appearance on the show My Life Is a Lifetime Movie—that she was still talking about her relatively brief relationship with Jon, which ended in 2010, "because honestly, I wanted to help others and I feel this is good for women's empowerment."
After they started dating, "next thing I know there's a million reporters up at Indiana, and they're doing everything they can to paint me as Jon's trashy party girl mistress, because no one knows that Jon and his wife have been separated for almost a year."
Not surprisingly, especially given Jon's stated ambivalence about having ever done the show, Nov. 23, 2009, marked the series finale of Jon & Kate Plus 8 in its original incarnation—though by then it was a cautionary tale of what happens when two people, already under more stress than you can imagine, let cameras into their home. The opportunity afforded them a lifestyle they wouldn't have been able to give their eight children otherwise, but you ended up wondering how Jon and Kate ever ended up together in the first place.
"I really would have thought he'd have been here for the long haul. The weirdest thing is that overnight he became a different person," Kate told People last summer, recalling those dark days leading up to her divorce. (Jon had revealed in 2008 that he wasn't even sure he wanted more kids after the twins, but Kate underwent IVF because she wanted one more and they ended up with six.)
But while Jon left a Jon-shaped hole in the door, Kate still felt that TV money gave her kids the best life possible—and TLC still saw the value in continuing with their journey—so Kate Plus 8 was born on Aug. 30, 2010.
Jon let it be known he didn't want his kids on TV anymore, and he even tried to halt the divorce proceedings in order to, as he put it, "try to regain control over the future of our family. So Kate and I could join on a cooperative course that would benefit our family—not destroy it."
The divorce was still finalized in December 2009.
After a four-episode first season, a 16-episode second season of Kate Plus 8, kicking off with the no-nonsense mom and her brood in Australia and New Zealand, aired in 2011. TLC did decide, however, that in the face of steadily dwindling ratings (barely 1 million for an Aug. 8, 2011, ep) that would be it for the famous and famously controversial family; it announced in August that the show was canceled, though the network promised to check in on the Gosselins' journey in the future (which it would, eventually).
Kate pressed on, an established reality-TV personality. Having accepted that her run on Dancing With the Stars in 2010 was more cringe-worthy than anything else (she even spoofed herself at the Emmys that year), she co-hosted The View a few times, appeared on an episode of Celebrity Wife Swap in 2013 and was a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice in 2015. TLC also aired a two-part Kate Plus 8 special marking the sextuplets' 10th birthdays in 2014.
Meanwhile, if Jon had just been some guy, one who had never been on TV, then his post-TLC trajectory of every-guy jobs wouldn't have raised any eyebrows. But since he had been on TV, he made headlines wherever he ended up. In 2008, Jon described himself on Today as a web developer who was conveniently able to work from home. Kate had been a nurse before the sextuplets were born, but neither parent's day job, or lack thereof, ever took up much time on their show.
After the divorce, Jon briefly moved to New York and was in demand for a while to make appearances in Las Vegas and like-minded environs. By 2011, he was back in Pennsylvania installing solar panels for Green Pointe Energy. The red carpets grew fewer and farther in between. In 2013, he was living in a cabin in the woods with no Internet access and waiting tables in Beckersville, Pa., when Entertainment Tonight caught up with him.
At first I was nervous because I was like 'How are people going to react?'" he said of his new job (one that was hard enough to get, his notoriety making him not the ideal employee for many businesses). "But then I'm thinking, 'Well it's fun and I get to talk to people.' And they technically already know me...They're like, 'Are you the guy?' I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm the guy.'"
The guy said that he and his ex-wife, who in interviews always—practically without fail—referred to herself as a single mom, had "no relationship."
"Text and email," Jon continued. "That's it." When he would get to Kate's house to pick up the children for visits, "the nanny comes out and I exchange the kids at her gate or at the bus stop. I don't physically see her."
He didn't pay child support, he admitted; rather, "we both support [the children] financially because [Kate] takes care of school and all that stuff, but I take care of the exact same things she takes care of. I buy their own groceries. They have their own groceries at my house, their own bedrooms, their own stuff. It's doubled."
Perhaps Jon's string of jobs (and girlfriends) was his own desperate stab at normality—an overcompensation of average as a way of thumbing his nose at the road Kate went down with twins Mady and Cara and sextuplets, Alexis, Hannah, Aaden, Collin, Leah, and Joel.
He told Oprah Winfrey on an episode of OWN's Where Are They Now? in 2013, "Yes, [the kids] got to travel the world, and yes, they got these fabulous things, and yes, they have trust funds, and they're taken care of educationally. Great. But developmentally, they have problems with their peers, and they have problems with talking to other people, and they have problems with wants and needs and manners and morals and what's right and what's wrong. I think more so than someone who grows up off TV."
As for the show's lasting effect on him, he told Oprah, "The most common misperception [is] that I cheated on my wife, that I left my family, that I'm a party boy. But my family knows the truth."
After breaking up with Hailey Glassman, Jon continued to account for his fair share of Gosselin tabloid coverage. He met Morgan Christie while snowboarding in Park City, Utah, and, despite denouncing reality TV, appeared on VH1's Couples Therapy in 2014 with Liz Ganetta—where they admitted to cheating on each other.
He also obviously still had a bone to pick with Kate, saying on the show, "I think I'll just take some of my money, and go back to court for primary custody for the ones who want to live with me and just f--king figure the whole thing out." He railed against his ex's "narcissistic bulls--t behavior" and suggested she "eat s--t and die."
Revived rumors in 2014 about Kate and the same married bodyguard were almost welcome, considering all the action Jon was apparently getting. (Almost, that is.)
Eyewitnesses claimed to have seen Kate and Steve holding hands at a Demi Lovato concert (Mady and Cara were there too), and then he was reportedly spotted with Kate in Chicago just last year. Both denied that anything romantic was going on and Kate has always maintained they were nothing more than friends.
Kate, who also has frequently insisted in interviews that it would take a man of titanium to be able to handle dating her, considering her domestic situation, went out with millionaire businessman Jeff Prescott in 2015—but she never confirmed the relationship. Even when it was reported that they broke up, she cried foul and tweeted, "There was no breakup recently/at all. Gotta b in a relationship in order 2 'break up'!"
Kate Plus 8 also returned to TLC in 2015, meanwhile, and its fifth season finale just aired in January. The Gosselin sextuplets will be turning 13 on May 10—meaning Jon and Kate will be the parents of eight teenagers.
After Jon said last fall that he hadn't seen son Collin in a year and a half, Kate revealed to ABC News that the boy had special needs and, on the advice of doctors, was enrolled at a place that could better help with his educational and social issues (Jon's lawyer insisted the whole story was not being told). The 12-year-old popped up unexpectedly in a January episode, sitting alongside brothers Joel and Aaden as they talked about a family game night.
So, suffice it to say, Kate's life has continued to be quite the roller coaster.
But something that has never changed, only wavering between bad and worse, is Jon and Kate's non-relationship since the divorce.
"I give the kids… some of the kids visit and some don't and I keep the peace," she said at a Television Critics Association panel in January 2015. "That's what I've always done. It's best for the kids."
She added, "I wish that things were better for the kids. It's very clear by now that I'm just trying to preserve what relationship he has with them. I do think it's best for them, but, you know, divorce is hard, period. But it's really difficult when one parent is in the sabotaging mode. That's been difficult."
Just a couple of months away from their sweet sixteens at the time, Mady and Cara also told People last summer that they didn't have much use for their father, either.
"This year I'm going to turn 16. I'm going to be learning to drive, taking the PSATs, thinking about college," Mady said. "So much is going on in my life. And the last thing I have time for is a toxic relationship."
Jon has been dating Colleen Conrad—ironically, a registered nurse and mother of two—since 2015, and his random chain of employment continues.
He worked at TGI Fridays, had a run as a DJ, and then he just made headlines once again with a one-off appearance in Atlantic City at Dusk Nightclub with the "Untamed Male Revue," a male stripper show, on April 1, his 40th birthday.
Happily—for his girlfriend, his kids, anyone who's ever cared for him, the world—his clothes stayed on.
"I never said I was going to strip!" he told E! News after his relatively tame performance, which did include a few pants-on lap dances.
"Everyone wants to know why I did this," Jon said in a video posted on Facebook later that night. "I've been under media scrutiny for a good part of my life, 10 years." He added, "I wanted to give myself the best 40th birthday present ever. I wanted my family and my friends to be there, and why not have a huge party with an amazing venue?"
A portion of the proceeds from his appearance would be donated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, he added.
Jon concluded, "What started as a great social experiment turned out to be an incredible experience, and I'm glad planet Earth still cares about me."
And to think, it all started with another social experiment 10 years ago—one that didn't turn out quite as well, but still ensured that the planet will follow Jon to the ends of the earth. Or at least to a cabin in Pennsylvania.