‘Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets’ Recap & Ending, Explained

If you were one to watch 19 Kids And Counting, then you’re in for something hugely shocking with Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets. If you would like to know how the series is, read our full review here. “I read The Handmaid’s Tale and realized this is my life,” says one of the many victims of the case-in-point of this show, and that should be enough to tell you how intense and brutal this show can be. Primarily about the reality super-star family, the Duggars, the series follows the fourth-born daughter Jill, who, with her husband, takes us one step towards the massive pool that is the IBLP. Let’s go straight into the four-part series that is a perfect weekend binge-watch. 


Spoilers Ahead

Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Show? 

Jim Bob Duggar and Michelle Duggar are household names in America. The two became celebrities after their series “19 Kids And Counting” on TLC became a mega-hit across the world. Over the long span of 7 years, where the show began at 17 kids, moved on to 18, and finished at 19, we got to see what a perfect home they lived in with their children. This all began in 1997 when there was a pro-life march that opened the doorway of possibilities for Jim Bob. Their oldest son Josh happened to be just as outspoken as Jim Bob and decided to do some campaigning of his own from a young age. Jim Bob even tried to stand for the US Senate but lost. This ordeal, though, gave the press an opportunity to photograph him and his entire family of multiple kids, which piqued people’s interest. Their picture became what we can call viral now back then and gave Jim Bob a myriad of opportunities that he was quick to grab. At the time, the Discovery Channel showcased medical procedures, and the Duggars happened to be an experiment for them. An hour-long documentary about the family aired on national television and became a hit, and from then on, it just went up for Jim Bob, until it didn’t. 


When the TV series began airing in 2008, the most popular parts of the series were the child-bearing moments, literally when Michelle was having her babies, which were filmed and aired across the globe. This is just a sneak peek at the kind of thing that people are interested in watching. A pattern began to form, and soon there were a dozen reality shows on a million channels because of their cheap production value and they were all doing super well. The Duggar show was most popular though because people couldn’t understand how a family with so many kids could survive with a beautiful, clean house, no fighting and perfect children. Of course, after a long day of work, if you come back home to watch a family’s biggest conflict being deciding on portions for dinner, it makes sense to enjoy it and even relax. 

Apart from Jill, we also hear from her husband Dillon and her cousin Amy King. Amy was a huge part of the Duggar TV show and loved her cousins very much, but there was a lot about them she didn’t understand, moreover, she wasn’t brought up like them at all. The kids were homeschooled and taught entirely different subjects from Amy, still, she didn’t really go into any of that as a young girl. We also hear from Jim Bob’s friend Jim Holt and his wife Bobye, and this is where things started to come together. The two Jims had visited a talk by Minister Bill Gothard, the founder of the IBLP or the Institute of Basic Life Principles when they were back in high school. For young impressionable boys, Bill was a god himself and the words he used were the gospel truth to followers of the IBLP. Bill Gothard himself came from an “Evangelical dynasty”, as one of the victims mentions in the show. Bill’s teachings were a moment of solace for young white Christian families and he took full advantage of this to build his empire with the IBLP which later expanded globally.  


While the IBLP teachings contain about 7 basic principles, the most important thing that people learned from Gothard was authoritarianism. To say that humans are capable of treating fellow humans in such a manner, never mind it’s your own family, is appalling would be an understatement. According to Gothard, there is an umbrella of authority under which God protects us all. He is the highest authority followed by the man of the family, followed by the mother and then the children who come right at the bottom, meaning the man can essentially do anything in his power to make his wife and children listen to him. Added to this, a woman has to obey her father until his authority transfers to her husband when she gets married. This is where Bill, who himself is wifeless and childless, relays his misogynistic ideas that children are blessings, and you should have as many as you possibly can because that is God’s will. This is a clear indication of why the Duggars had 19 kids and stopped only because Michelle lost the 20th.

In 1984, Bill launched a training program called the Advanced Training Institute or the ATI (they’re starting to sound like STDs at this point) which essentially gave out booklets known as the wisdom booklets to teach children at home, so that they remain pure and good kids. The Duggars became Bill’s poster children to promote the IBLP across the world. The Duggars on the other hand, were only able to take care of their 19 children by using their older children to look after the younger ones. Specifically, the girls would feed, bathe, clothe, and essentially become mothers to their younger siblings. But how will these 11-13-15-year-old girls grow if they spent their time taking care of other kids? It doesn’t matter, because that’s all they’re meant for. 


The reason the Duggar family image shattered was that the oldest son Josh, who was previously accused of child molestation, later was caught in the possession of Child Sexual Abuse Material. What Josh’s arrest did was open up the world to the nasty teachings and the incessant abuse that was involved in the IBLP, which eventually gave rise to predators. Such institutions protect predators and teach victims to become “perfect victims”, so, things such as domestic abuse and child abuse become prevalent. Allegedly, Josh touched his sister inappropriately in the early years and he confessed it to his parents. It was Jim Holt who got Jim Bob to take Josh to the police, but it was all treated matter of factly and Josh was set free with no consequences. In fact, his sisters had to go talk about it on the Megyn Kelly show to show they “forgive” their brother. 

The training programs that Bill was so proud to put out in the world were, in truth, booklets of nonsense claiming to be able to educate your children to the levels of pre-law or pre-medical degrees. According to the many victims on the show, the IBLP was promoting methods of spanking, hitting and other forms of violent abuse to train children to be meek and proper. Ironically and unfortunately, Jim Bob was able to hide all of this from the TLC and the camera crew which was in their home day in and day out for years. Added to this if the child is learning nothing much from the outside world, with homeschooling, no TVs and other such medieval practices, it was sure to cause damage. Kids couldn’t even wear what they like, especially girls who had rules to follow, or they would be shamed by the rest of the community. The kids were abused with rods even, and something called the blanket method was used on meer babies. Bill also began centres for kids to be sent to learn and come back and these were essentially labour camps with 15-hour work days for young kids who would build entire offices for Bill for free. If Josh’s story hadn’t come out to the public, Bill’s army of homeschooled kids would still be training to one day help him dominate the world. 


Once we realize that the Duggars must’ve used these methods to bring up their children it really proves the fact that TV is TV and not reality. Jill and her sister Jessa, had to continue the show on TLC by order of their father because they had blindly signed contracts with him. The show was called “Jill And Jessa Counting On” and the girls were further exploited and forced to follow in the steps of their mother and give birth on national television . But, when Jill and Jessa and their families were putting in all this hard work, they weren’t getting a single penny in return. Jim Bob was the authoritative figure, so he was the one who earned all the money accumulated from the series over the years.

We already know that Bill was teaching kids his misogynistic ideologies, but his own brother was a predator himself. That still didn’t change anything for Bill, who in fact provided his brother with more “resources,” for the lack of a better word, and a fantastic location to carry on as he is. Because Bill himself was of this nature, after many many years, women began coming out and making statements against Bill and his sins at the “headquarters” of the IBLP. We have to remember it is very difficult to unlearn any of the things you’ve been conditioned to perform all your life, for these women, they would’ve been disobeying God by telling such truths, so it was extremely courageous of them. A victim named Emily gives a detailed report on her devastating encounter with Bill in headquarters. But she was only one of many underaged girls that Bill had abused for years. Through a Facebook group, the women were able to get together and fight Bill in court. While they initially failed, Bill filed against them, but the judge supported them, and they were victorious. 


With Bill out of the picture, who would take his place and the huge responsibility of spreading the IBLP ideology? Jim Bob of course. In 2019, Josh was arrested for possession of Child Sexual Abuse Material and it was very clear that he was guilty as charged, but his father would not even acknowledge his own daughter’s abuse to save face. Bill even decided to stand for the Senate while having a son on trial. 

Where Is The IBLP Now? And What Is Next For Jill? 

Out of the blue, in the last episode we’re introduced to yet another group called the Joshua generation which is a youth group of what we could call Christian influencers, spreading the words of conservative Christianity to the larger public via social media. It is utterly bizarre to see how far they’ve come and with no repercussions whatsoever. There was even a congressman named Madison Cawthorn who was one of the Joshua Generation, speaking his mind on Television airing across America. We see a live account of the perspective of youtube “stars” Morgan and Paul, wife and husband, who too talk about Christian and old-fashioned ideologies. It’s absolutely daunting and frightful to see how far they’ve come and what more can happen to see the way they grow every day. Bill Gothard may have disappeared from the picture but his work still spreads like wildfire through the Joshua generation and the wisdom books which are now incorporated in Bible studies. 


Regarding the Duggars, Jill is estranged from her family, and she too uses her YouTube channel to tell the world how she’s been exploited in order to survive in the harsh world. Like Jill, many of these homeschooled kids have no way of sustaining themselves outside of the home. With regard to Josh, his wife, Anna, still stands by his side because that’s what she’s been raised to do. She needs to obey him and support him until she dies. All the survivors of the IBLP on the docuseries have been slowly able to find their peace and unlearn what they’ve been brought up with. Most of them had to begin completely fresh lives which was for the best. As victim Chad Harris beautifully puts it, all of them had the power because what the IBLP was most afraid of was the kids and all they needed to do was “talk”. That was their great weapon. 

Bill Gothard roams freely and continues to deny his allegations. The Duggars did not comment on the show except for stating that they love their children very deeply and expect them to fulfil God’s plan for them. With so many people trying to spread the word of the IBLP, there rises another side to show people the truth of abuse and hurt. Jill and some of her sisters continue to fight and Jill may be publishing a book next year as well. Anything to survive as she says.


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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika, or "Ru," is a fashion designer and stylist by day and a serial binge-watcher by night. She dabbles in writing when she has the chance and loves to entertain herself with reading, K-pop dancing, and the occasional hangout with friends.

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