Can ‘The Real Housewives’ Be Saved?

The Real Housewives has been on television for over 16 years now, and while it is a staple within pop culture, I feel like there’s been a decline regarding the authenticity, and many seem to agree, pointing to the manufactured drama causing it.  What was once a show that gave us hilarious one-liners, authentic storylines, and over-the-top moments has now become stale, overproduced, and a bit lost. Let’s get into how we got here and what we can do to fix it. 

Out With The New, In With The Old

Listen, I understand that there’s always a need for a bit of a refresh from time to time, and I am absolutely here for it. But, if we’re being honest, I don’t necessarily think that firing OG/veteran cast members has been in the best interest of the franchises. For example, losing Tamra and Vicki was a big mistake (huge) for RHOC. The show lost some of its authenticity, and to introduce new cast members 16 seasons in doesn’t give me any excitement. We love The Real Housewives mainly because of the dynamic between the women, and when the women start to come across as co-workers instead of an actual friend group, it’s incredibly inauthentic. Obviously, because these franchises have been on for so long, it can be challenging to cast people that are genuinely friends. I think bringing cast members like Vicki and Tamra back to RHOC, Dorinda back to RHONY, and even Caroline Manzo back on RHONJ could bring the realness that some of these franchises so desperately need.

The Theme Of Each Franchise Should Stay Consistent

What makes us love The Real Housewives is that each city has its own theme. When you think of RHONJ, you might think of family, and when you think of RHOA you might think of laughter and shade. Recently with the RHOC reboot, I felt like the show was becoming something that it was never intended to be. When I think of RHOC, I think of really dramatic yet real storylines. From the Brooks cancer scandal to Shannon Beador’s divorce, RHOC was consistently good because the women were showing us their authentic selves. This last season, I felt like the women wanted to give us high glam and drama, when that’s more RHOBH‘s domain

Shorter Seasons Are Better

While I love watching Housewives, there comes a point where some episodes are just flat-out boring. For example, the most recent season of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City was 24 episodes, and the main storyline of the season that we were waiting for (Jen Shah’s arrest) didn’t arrive until episode 10. The season felt drawn-out and was incredibly boring at times. I believe that each season should contain no more than 18 episodes, including the reunion. That way there isn’t a lot of filler and the fans can actually enjoy the season without feeling like the show has become a chore to watch.

The Women Have To Like Each Other

While we love a good feud, there still has to be some sense of sisterhood within the group. The reason why franchises like RHOP and RHOA work is because while the women may feud from time to time, there’s still this sense that they have a love for one another and are friends outside the show. Watching RHOSLC and RHOC, you get the vibe that the women aren’t friends outside the show, and that the friendships that they portray as “close-knit” are all for show. Even RHOBH and RHONJ who both have ensembles that have “teams” within the cast (Fox Force Four, Teresa and Jen, etc.) still have some sense of real friendships on the show.

Even with the last two seasons of RHONY, I felt like women were trying to shift the show into something that it wasn’t before. What was once a show that gave us belly laughs, genuine friendships, and sort of a Sex and The City vibe became a show where the women seemed to hate each other at times and there didn’t seem to be any genuinely fun moments, like we were used to before. 

I do believe that there is potential for the franchise to go back to what we loved in the glory days of housewives, especially with the new season of RHOA, which looks incredibly promising. For that to happen for other franchises, however, the network will have to go back to the basics with its formula for producing its shows. We need authentic drama, organic chemistry between the cast, and to let every franchise stick to what made it popular in the first place.  

Images: Nicole Weingart/Bravo

Heather Dubrow Alone Can’t Save ‘RHOC’

Last month, The Real Housewives of Orange County finally came back after a bit of hiatus with a “reboot” of the show. With Shannon Beador, Gina Kirschenheiter,  and Emily Simpson joined by Heather Dubrow and two newbies, Dr. Jen Armstrong and Noella Bergener, I was excited to see the beloved original Housewives franchise back with a new vibe. I originally loved the fact the show had a new “classy” element to it, and that we were finally getting to see new stories, new people and Heather Dubrow’s massive mausoleum of a home. However, the excitement, the flashiness, and the cast quickly bored me, and I started finding the show a bit monotonous—and I’m not alone in thinking this way. It made me think, if we don’t fix what’s happening on the show at the moment, we might not get another season of RHOC. Here’s what I think the show needs to address in order to avoid that. 

Heather Is Iconic, But She Isn’t The Main Girl

I love Heather Dubrow. I find her fabulous, hilarious, and she’s obviously rich as hell. However, what made Heather so good on her original run on the show was her role as the voice of reason and, at times, the villain of the show. She’s snarky—she plays it up for the cameras and can be a bit of a smart-ass. That’s why she’s an amazing Housewife. However, I feel like Bravo kind of f*cked up by pushing her to be the matriarch/center of the show. Sure, she could give us a Bethenny Frankel tease and be the alpha of the group, but the reason why that worked for RHONY was because each of the women on RHONY had their moments of standing up to Bethenny. I feel like most of the girls on RHOC, except for Noella, have a tendency to kiss Heather’s ass. It makes the show boring, and eventually could make Heather think she’s above this group. We for sure don’t want that. 

The Direction Of The Show

I’m happy that we have a reboot, and everyone (including me) wanted the show to go in a different direction—especially after such a dark season—but I feel like this season’s direction isn’t what RHOC needed. Yes, we love wealth, and yes, we love opulence, but not every franchise needs that for it to be good. Each Housewives franchise is amazing because they all have their own special qualities: RHONY has a comedic vibe to it while RHOBH is more focused on opulence and wealth. What made RHOC special was the dynamic between the women and the show’s casual vibe. I don’t know if pushing the show in the direction of RHOBH is the right idea. It comes across as a bit jarring, especially to longtime viewers. In addition to the direction of the show, the cast feels a bit disjointed. For instance, the reason the Real Housewives of Miami reboot is working so well is because there’s a good balance of newbies and OGs in different capacities. RHOC needs to bring back some OGs to balance out the cast and stir the pot a bit. Those vets would be Vicki and Tamra. 

Vicki and Tamra

Vicki and Tamra were the foundation for RHOC. While I was happy to see them go at first, I deeply regret that decision. They knew how to stir the pot in such an organic way that it made the show incredibly worth watching. From Bass Lake-Gate to Vicki being a complete hater to Meghan King, those girls understood the assignment. I think bringing them back in a friend role in the same way RHOM has done with Marysol and Adriana would balance out the cast, and we all know that Vicki and Tamra would keep everyone on the cast accountable. Plus, with their recent fallouts with Shannon, it only would make sense to bring them back. 

I absolutely love RHOC, and I’m not saying this season is bad. But, it is definitely missing something that could bring it from being a 6/10 to a 10/10. We need the show to change its direction a bit, bring back Vicki and Tamra, and not push Heather so much to be the centre of the show. I know for a fact that if these changes were made, RHOC could be back in its prime. 

Image: Nicole Weingart / Bravo

‘RHOSLC’ Needs A Shake-Up & Here’s Who Should Disengage

With RHOSLC having a pretty lackluster first season, the bar was set high for the second season to finally up the ante. But even with a near on-camera arrest by Homeland Security, it took us 14 episodes to get some real drama going on and well, that’s not a good thing. While I am appreciative that we finally get to see some real action going on, I can’t help but wonder why it took so long? Was it filler scenes? Was it a lack of direction for the first half of the season? Was there some lackluster storylines going? Well, babes, it’s all of the above, and I’m sorry that’s not really Shah-Mazing. Yes, Jen’s arrest was incredibly iconic and it made the girls work for their checks, but it shouldn’t take a federal indictment for the women to actually pick up the pace and do what they need to do.

In my opinion, there is only one solution: a mild cast shake-up. Now, I’ve been a huge opponent to 5-6 housewives on a cast. I’ve always thought the more the merrier. However, in this case Bravo might want to take the RHONJ (seasons 1-5) route and cast around 5 women and maybe a friend or two. Let’s dive into who should stay and who needs to go. 

Jen: Keep

Jen Shah and Mary Cosby RHOSLC

Whether you like her or hate her, she is the show. Not only is her arrest intriguing to watch, but there’s also a certain dynamic that she brings to the group that is absolutely perfect for reality TV. She brings the drama, the fashions, and the FBI. Plus, it seems like a lot of the storylines this season surround her, so thank you Jen for giving us a show. 

Lisa: Keep

Lisa Barlow Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

Hi baby gorgeous! Honestly, we all should be counting Lisa Barlow’s in our sleep. Lisa is a pot stirrer and to be honest, I wasn’t feeling her at the beginning of the season. I thought her antics were childish and not Housewives-worthy. However, the delusion of Lisa Barlow and the constant meddling is what makes her a great Housewife, and as the season progresses I can see the need to keep her. 

Whitney: Demote 

Whitney Rose Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

Whitney isn’t boring by any means. She definitely calls the B.S. out and is pretty funny, but I just can’t seem to really care about anything going on in her personal life. While her storyline last season about dealing with her father was incredibly powerful, this season she hasn’t given us much besides telling us that she spent her entire life savings on a skin care product that I haven’t heard of before (not so smart). But, I think she would be an iconic friend to the show. Messy, funny, and comes in at the right time. 

Jennie: Keep

Jennie Nguyen Real Housewives Salt Lake City

I’m not gonna lie to you, when I first watched Jennie, I found her personal story intriguing but her dynamic with the women to be a little bit bland. However, after last night’s episode, I am absolutely sure that she’s needed in this group. She’s great at addressing things head-on and not holding back on how she feels. 

Heather: Keep 

Heather Gay and Whitney Rose RHOSLC

Whether you like it or not, Heather is the glue to this cast. She’s funny, relatable, and honestly just a down-to-earth person. I love the fact that Heather is a ride-or-die, and I also love that she stands in her truth. Beyond that, she’s good at starting those necessary conversations and, like Lisa, is an incredible pot stirrer. 

Mary: No Idea

Mary Cosby Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

Mary was one of my absolute favorites for a while. I like that she’s incredibly delusional, has a no-nonsense attitude, and can read the girls when necessary. However, Mary has made so many offensive remarks regarding body image, race, and stereotypes to the point where I don’t see how she can recover from that. It’s not that I’m trying to “cancel” Mary, but it’s more so the fact that she has burned almost every bridge in this group that it’s kind of hard to see her returning. If the people she offended can move on from her comments, then I would like to see her back, but that is yet to be determined. 

Meredith: Keep

Meredith Marks Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

Honestly this was a tough one—I really wanted to say Meredith should be a friend-of. I get it, she’s “iconic” and you can’t really figure her out and because she’s so “mysterious” and blah, blah, blah. I’m not saying I want Meredith gone, by any means—she’s hilarious at times and her aura is very intriguing. However, if Meredith does stay, I really need her to drop this whole Jen Twitter drama. Not only is it exhausting, but it just really isn’t that deep. She’s already cussed Jen out and “forgiven” her so I feel like the whole issue needs to be done with. Other than that, I like that she calls Lisa out on her messy behavior and I also like the fact that she’s someone who has her own opinions and isn’t swayed by others. I also love the fact that I never can tell exactly what she’s saying. We love a mystery. 

So yes, I do think the cast should be five Housewives and one or two friends-of. I like the idea of having a core cast : Heather, Jen, Jennie, Lisa, and Meredith and the possibility of having Whitney and maybe a newbie come in and stir it up. This way we can focus on a core group of “friends” who know each other, and who understand the assignment when it comes to giving us a great show. 

Images: Natalie Cass (4), Thomas Cooper, Andrew Peterson (2) / Bravo

Hot Take: Lisa Rinna & Sutton Stracke Carried This Season of ‘RHOBH’

This season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills was basically sponsored by the tragic chronicles of Erika Jayne. From the embezzlement allegations against her (estranged) husband Tom Girardi to the scrutiny of her suspiciously well-timed divorce filing and everything in between (rolling cars, snowstorms, cheating, emergency surgeries, burglaries) there was no shortage of content to cover. In the words of Scheana Shay, it most literally was all happening to the untouchable ice queen Erika Jayne. 

But a scandal can’t stand on its own. As Meghan King so graciously set the precedent with CancerGate, and the Potomac ladies exercised with Michael Darby, you truly need someone to both recognize the potential of a Bravo God-gifted scenario, and to take a firm stance and ask the hard questions. And in this season of RHOBH, both Lisa Rinna and Sutton Stracke understood the assignment. 

Erika may have brought the tangential legal woes, surprise details about her and Tom’s pretty mess-y marriage, and more, but Rinna and Sutton were the vehicles who made that content a conversation about the cast’s stance on the matter(s), rather than a full-blown Erika pity party. 

Hear me out.

If it were up to Kyle or Dorit (sans PK), the season most definitely would have steadily chugged along. Shocking news about Erika would drop and they would run to comfort her. They’d patiently listen to her confusing explanations, partially because they didn’t want to cause waves and partially because they couldn’t be bothered to read a 4,000 word article in the LA Times

Which sure, would still be semi-interesting, because we’d see Erika’s response to the news in real time, and may have even gotten a shady comment or two from Dorit during a confessional. But overall, it’s safe to assume that even though the cast may have *gently* alluded to their suspicions behind closed doors, they likely would have never confronted Erika IRL. 

But what we got this season was so much more entertaining than the above. Sutton gave us ruthless investigative journalism, while Rinna presented us an unwavering, court-worthy defense of Erika. Despite their differing positions on the matter—actually, because of their differing positions on the matter—Sutton and Rinna’s strong opinions shifted the storyline beats away from just a regurgitation of the headlines, and made it about the cast’s dynamic in relation to how they felt about snow in Pasadena and rolling cars.

And that’s what makes a strong Housewife and memorable season. The glamorous houses and cute family moments are nice additions, but the real tea is hearing the ladies voice their stance on matters that the viewers and Bravo fandom sure as hell are tweeting about and taking sides on. 

Because Rinna and Sutton took the risk of sharing their perspectives, it paved the way for the others, including an initially timid Kyle and fence-sitting Dorit, to throw shade at Erika’s ever-changing stories, discuss what Erika knew/didn’t know, and even speculate about whether Tom was of sound mind. 

And because Sutton was on one end of the spectrum, Rinna’s 180-degree POV complimented the stance by showing another side. Even though Rinna is generally getting heat for her actions this season (and last…), we can’t forget that her over-the-top opinions and pot stirring nature are why she’s a good housewife—she’s an exaggerated character with strong opinions, and that gives the viewers something to talk about and the cast something to fight about. Without someone like Rinna (or Sutton) initiating conflict, we’d be watching a season where everyone’s hunky dory… yawn.

And bless Rinna for giving us a B-storyline between Garcelle and herself (ICYMI: Garcelle questioned why Rinna didn’t take that same gumption to defend Denise Richards the season before as she did with Erika). Rinna’s stance—which yes, is not the side most Bravo fans agree with taking—gave Erika a partner in crime blindly loyal friend, reminiscent of vintage Kyle & LVP. 

Rinna and Sutton aside, the closest we got to confrontation was Garcelle saying “that’s not what you said the other night” to Dorit, after Dorit said to Erika that she didn’t want to pry into the legal situation. I hardly can imagine Garcelle stepping up to initiate that dialogue without Sutton, just given Garcelle’s later commentary on how she felt she didn’t fit in. And need I remind you, SUTTON was the one who called the everyone-but-Erika is-my-reputation-affected meeting at Dorit’s house, that so nicely gave Garcelle a Dorit soundbite to reference.

So TYSM, Sutton and Rinna. Even though Erika brought the headlines, you arguably made this the best season of RHOBH since PantyGate. 

Overdone ‘Real Housewives’ Story Lines That Need To Stop

There’s nothing more painful than watching a Real Housewives trailer or mid-season teaser and realizing it’s packed with groan-inducing storylines. You know the ones—the vow renewals, drinking interventions that are totally cringy, straight-up boring, and so overdone that they’re more tired than me after attempting to run a mile. 

So here are some scenes where I wish someone yelled “Bravo, Bravo, f***ing Bravo!”, so that production would have trashed the footage rather than making us suffer through it. These are the Bravo storylines that need to stop. 

Their Kid’s Driving Test

Four words, 17 letters: Where’s the value add? 

There’s no reasonable explanation for why precious on-air time is used on a storyline that advances zero actual plot. If you really want to announce that your kid is practicing for their driving test, that can be done via a single tweet or Instagram story (that’s right, it doesn’t even deserve a static post). 

And besides, watching a 16-year-old learn to drive triggers the trauma I developed from taking my own test, while simultaneously making me jealous AF that they’re learning using their own Mercedes, and not a passed-down 2004 Honda. 

What makes it even more boring is that the story is always the same, no matter the franchise and no matter the season. The Housewife/Househusband is nervous for the kid to drive, the kid does something “cute” like hit the curb, the kid takes their test. End of story. 

And I’m not against seeing the kids on screen, but in order for me to care, it needs to be something ridiculous, like Luann and Ramona planning Victoria and Avery’s over-the-top sweet sixteens (I’m reminiscing about vintage RHONY, sue me). 

Vow Renewals

Ramona Singer vow renewal

A vow renewal is a glorified “look at me!” party that’s undeservingly given a multi-episode buildup. Like seriously, despite how much party planning they do, it somehow always ends up looking like a cookie-cutter ceremony inspired by a 2013 Pinterest board. 

So, Housewives, stop trying to make vow renewals work. Viewer entertainment (or lack thereof) aside, renewing vows during a season has a success rate of about 3% (my math sucks, but according to my calculations, it’s only worked for Whitney Rose… so far). 

And I get that the Housewives are trying to be respectful to the institution of love during the ceremonies… blah, blah, blah… BUT, I’d prefer a boozy party where the ladies feel open and free to be dramatic (versus at a buttoned-up ceremony). Think more Kyle’s White Party or Heather Dubrow’s Hoedown, and less Vicki/Don re-tie the knot. 

The Cast Doing Outdoor Athletic Activities

Real Housewives of Potomac Water Aerobics

A good Housewives scene either: is dramatic AF, includes new info, advances the plot, and/or shows the ladies doing something aspirational. 

Watching them do outdoor activities like bocce or an adventure course is none of the above. Let’s be honest,  if I wanted to watch someone zipline or hula hoop, I’d start viewing my friends’ Instagram stories. 

And I get that these outdoor activities are usually filler footage. But honey, there’s so many other options that would be so much more fascinating to watch… like the ladies shopping with the dollar amount spent flashing on the screen, or even ordering at a restaurant. That’s right, I want to sit in my thrift store college hoodie and judge how XXpen$ive it is to be them. 

The only exception to this is if it’s RHONY. Because let’s face it, no matter what they’re doing, Sonja and Luann find a way to flirt with the hot instructor—and as a single gal, that’s something I take notes on as I watch. 

Finding Long-Lost Family

I’m not saying cast members shouldn’t find their long lost family, I’m just saying I don’t want to see it on my screen. Not only is it an extremely isolating storyline because it pulls the cast member away from the group, it’s also overdone and never really results in anything positive. 

It’s the classic “expectation vs. reality” meme. Producers expect that this will pull on viewers’ heartstrings, but what really happens is that we end up watching boring one-on-one convos between the cast member and whatever family member/detective/family-finding-specialist they’re consulting for episodes on end. 

And I hate to make this comparison, but it’s like RHONY this season. You tell yourself to keep watching because maybe something good will happen this episode! but you’re disappointed every time. Mainly because it leads to a dead end (Melissa Gorga and her “sister”) or a situation where the long-lost family member clearly doesn’t want to be found (Ashley Darby and her dad). 

All which begs the point: what’s the purpose of this? 

Drinking Interventions

Sonja Morgan and Luann De Lesseps

The only thing more uncomfortable than accidentally watching an episode of Sex/Life with your parents is a Housewives drinking intervention. 

There’s something undeniably depressing and hypocritical about a group of drunk women confronting another drunk woman about how much she’s drinking, and speculating that she may have an issue (while being one sip away from slurring their words as they do so). 

Besides being extremely cringey, it usually results in the group inevitably feeding fuel to the tabloids to speculate about that person’s drinking/substance abuse habits, which is so not fair, especially if the cast member has kids and businesses that’ll be affected by the rumors. 

What happened to the days of lighthearted (but juicy!!) storylines like Adrienne Maloof’s chef Bernie versus Lisa Vanderpump? Bring back more of that, and stop trying to force these overdone plotlines down our throats.

Images: Heidi Gutman, Paul Morigi/Bravo; Myles Aronowitz/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

An Open Letter to The Real Housewives: Thank You for Ruining Brunch 

To My Dearest and Realest Housewives, 

Thank you for being there for me during this turbulent time in our country. Pre-pandemic, I used to love to get together with a large group of my girlfriends. Brunch, after-work drinks, dinners, you name it—I was there. But when the pandemic made hanging out with the girlies unsafe for my immunocompromised self, I turned to you, The Real Housewives, to fill the void of my missing girl squad, and you did not disappoint. Not only did you keep me entertained, but you satiated my need to socialize—quite possibly forever. Thank you for your service. 

Listen, before I discovered your life-changing franchise, I actually missed going to brunch with my gal pals, but now thanks to Ramona and LuAnn, I know that brunch is code for blackmail and should be avoided at all costs. The same goes for cocktail parties and all vacations. I never want to see my friends again. 

Watching you fight with each other incessantly didn’t make me feel less alone, but it did make me appreciate my loneliness. Sure, I might have been completely by myself, but at least no one was yelling at me or calling me a “prostitution whore” in front of Andy Cohen. Once I found you, I no longer cared that I couldn’t experience my own life in present day New York. Turns out, watching you wreak havoc in the before times was all I’d ever needed. I fell in love with you immediately, ya habibi. 

Unable to see my own friends because my rare immune disorder made even outdoor hangs risky for me, there was something so healing about watching your friendships unravel right in front of my eyes. After going months without seeing a single friend, there’s something very cathartic about watching Ramona Singer berate Bethenny Frankel on the Brooklyn Bridge in a moment that was so peak 2008 that I didn’t even have anxiety about them not wearing masks. Ditto for when Kelly Bensimon told Bethenny, “I am up here and you are down here” when they met for cocktails in Manhattan. So this is what I’m missing? This is what female friendship looks like?? Thank God I’m quarantined with my brother then! He would never scream “Jovani” at me during my cabaret (mostly because he doesn’t know what either of those things are, but still). I love being a guy’s girl, it’s so fun and interesting and I don’t miss my girlfriends at all! 

I used to think it was a red flag when a woman said “I’m not friends with other girls. They’re just way too much drama.” But now? I’ve seen the light. Girls really ARE too much drama. I mean, you throw a ravioli in someone’s face ONE TIME and suddenly you stop getting invited places? Grow up, drama queens. It wasn’t even my fault that I upstaged that charity event for a sick baby by bringing twenty Hell’s Angels as my plus-ones. I said I was sorry, what else do they want me to do? Actually donate to the cause?  Whatever, I guess it’s true what they say, money really can’t buy you class. 

So when my healthy, non-high-risk friends all got covid tests and safely rented a cabin in the Catskills together last summer, I was relieved not to be invited! I’ve seen season 6 of RHONY, okay? I saw how they treated Aviva, and I was not about to let my medical pump suffer the same fate as her prosthetic leg. Besides, I don’t even care that I wasn’t invited, I’m having way more fun watching my brother watch the Michael Jordan docuseries anyway! Have fun in the Bezerkshires, bitches! I don’t need your Scary Island energy in my life, I’ve got the back of my brother’s head to keep me company. 

Now that I’m fully vaxxed and the pandemic is seemingly coming to a close, I’ve transitioned into a different state of fear. No longer am I afraid of Covid, now I’m scared of something much more insidious…women. Go to dinner with my friends??? Why? So they can accuse me of having a drinking problem? I don’t think so. Support my best friend’s charity event? What, and get ambushed with questions about my husband’s financial problems?? I don’t care that I “don’t have a husband,” you bitches have had it out for me since I threw those tiki torches in the Hamptons. Get over it already! They were barely on fire and what Ramona did to the Fish Room is way worse. So what, I “ruined your engagement party” because I said your fiancé was cheating on you, are you really still mad about that?  And no, I do not want to attend your son’s christening, ok? It’s hard to have FOMO for a party that’s going to end in handcuffs.

Why would I ever choose to venture back out into a world of conflict when I could stay at home and finish bingeing RHONJ? Those ladies would never judge me for flipping a table and unlike some people in my life, they don’t mind a little hair pulling. Plus I’m pretty sure Joe is about to go to prison and I wouldn’t miss that for all the maskless parties in the world (that I’m totally invited to). Screw your brunches, I’d rather hang out with my real friends, The Housewives. 

With Love From Your Biggest Anti-Socialite Fan, 

Hope Carew 

Jen Shah Can’t Stop Digging Her Own Grave

If you’re a real Bravo fan, you’re likely already privy to the latest situation surrounding Real Housewives of Salt Lake City cast member Jen Shah, who was widely seen as the “villain” after the show’s debut season, following several unhinged outbursts and threats of violence against her fellow cast members. Even though she has literally been arrested (more on that in a minute), Shah can’t seem to stop digging her own grave—both professionally and personally. The latest? A new leaked audio message in which Shah seems to bash Mary Cosby and Heather Gay. (Among other things, she calls Mary “a motherf*cking b*tch”. She also seems to say about Heather, “bitch you ain’t an actress” and tells her, “fix your f*cking face.”) If you’ll recall, Heather was one of Shah’s most loyal friends until the end of the season, which is leading me to wonder: between the constant feuds and the legal troubles, is there any future for Jen Shah on Bravo? Honestly, let’s hope not.

In the universe of the Real Housewives franchises, legal drama is about as ubiquitous as tacky Chanel placements. Whether it’s an on-air eviction (Lynne Curtin, Orange County), tax evasion charges (too many to name), or messy divorce proceedings (likewise), courtroom sagas are par for the course. And look—we love it. But probably not nearly as much as Bravo editors do, who will not only beat a legal storyline like a dead horse, but also shove the remains down our throats until we wish to no longer hear about it ever again.

Shah, whose word-salad explanations about her “career” set off alarm bells immediately for me, personally, was arrested alongside her assistant on March 30 on multiple charges of fraud. She is accused of running a multi-year telemarketing scheme that, according to the Southern District of New York’s indictment, involved “building their opulent lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable, often elderly, working-class people.” 

The charges are damning and, as far as I’m concerned, should disqualify her from ever earning a Bravo paycheck again. (After the second season, that is, which began filming prior to Jen’s arrest, which—to the delight of viewers everywhere—means we get to witness her arrest, which apparently involved a SWAT team, firsthand.)

And before you say, “But, what about Teresa?!”—let me explain. 

Shah and her assistant, Stuart Smith—whose job on the show appeared to be simply chauffeuring his boss around in luxury cars—allegedly conspired to begin running a telemarketing scheme together in 2012, targeting primarily those over the age of 55. Shah and Smith allegedly convinced hundreds of victims to invest in nonexistent “business services” such as “website designing” in order to repeatedly defraud them, push them into debt, and sell their information to a wider telemarketing network who would further exploit them. The indictment reads, “At no point did the defendants intend that the victims would actually earn any of the promised return on their intended investment, nor did the victims actually earn any such returns.” Both Shah and Smith pled not guilty during a Zoom arraignment on April 2, and face decades in prison if convicted. 

When I read the details of the case, I immediately thought of my own grandfather, whom I love and cherish dearly. He’s suffered from memory loss and dementia for several years now, and I can’t count how many times I’ve watched him answer the phone, confused, convinced he needs whatever a rogue telemarketer with an agenda is selling him, before my grandmother gets him to hang up (or cleans up the mess after discovering he already got suckered in). I always think, The people on the other end of this phone have no soul. How could they possibly prey on an innocent grandfather like this? 

And with leaked audio that sounds conspicuously like Shah calling about repayment of student loans—although the caller identifies herself as “Annie”—many people, including myself, feel disgusted that she may have been involved in this type of predatory cold calling. 

In other trash behavior, prior to her arrest, other leaked footage appears to show Shah verbally abusing one of her employees. And, sure, trash behavior and courtroom sagas are to be expected with our Real Housewives stars—to an extent. 

Although you probably already know this story, here’s a quick refresher: Real Housewives of New Jersey OG cast member Teresa Giudice was arrested alongside her husband Joe for a number of fraud and tax charges in 2013, and has since made a full return to the show after serving her prison sentence and filing for divorce. It’s also worth mentioning that prior to her arrest, Teresa had already been a Housewives star for more than four years (with one of the most iconic Housewives moments in history under her belt), so her return to the show following her release from prison felt, well, somewhat inevitable. (The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ Erika Jayne, rumored to have helped defraud innocent victims alongside her estranged husband Tom Girardi, hasn’t been officially charged yet.) 

On the other hand, Shah’s husband hasn’t been charged with any crime, and it’s unclear what he knew, if anything at all, about his wife’s alleged schemes. 

None of these crimes are excusable, but when you think about the fact that Shah hasn’t been a Housewives star long enough—and, in my opinion, successfully enough—to have the Bravo fan base’s sympathy, I don’t see her getting another Bravo paycheck after this, nor would I want her to. (And for all we know, that won’t even be an option, if she ultimately ends up getting convicted and sentenced to prison.) 

Of course, there’s still one huge question mark: Since Bravo cameras have been filming this saga in real time, how exactly will we see it play out on TV? The storyline will, undoubtedly, take over RHOSLC’s sophomore season—and after viewers recently spotted fan favorites Heather Gay and Whitney Rose playfully taking selfies with Shah on Instagram during filming, I can’t help but feel like even the Bravo world doesn’t fully grasp how serious these charges are. Gay and Rose could have a spectacular fall from grace if they decide to align with Shah, rather than hold her accountable and condemn her alleged crimes. 

The bottom line is: I love Housewives legal drama as much as the next person, but directly and purposefully scamming innocent elderly people is where I think we all should draw the line. While Teresa Giudice’s and Erika Jayne’s crimes shouldn’t be excused, there’s something about Jen Shah’s purported criminal “modus operandi” that feels chillingly personal. (Aka, calling vulnerable people on the phone to talk them out of their money.) 

What’s worse is that Shah herself has appeared to show little or no remorse since her arrest, continuing to post on Instagram as if she’s merely facing a parking violation. Showing off “Free Jen” T-shirts and glam squads probably isn’t a great look to the prosecutors building a case against you to send you to prison for decades, but what do I know? As recently as April 29, she was spotted filming with her castmates. Many Housewives fans expressed confusion at how disturbingly nonchalant she seems while potentially facing decades in prison. (“I got two parking tickets in a week and cried, Jen Shah is facing federal prison and is going on Instagram Live without a care in the world,” said one Twitter user.) 

In my opinion, good Bravo villains—of the Brandi Glanville, or Kristen Doute, or even Teresa Giudice variety—elicit sympathy despite their flaws. Then there are Bravo villains whose cunning actions make them impossible—and even immoral-feeling—to root for. Jen Shah is one of them. (And Erika Jayne, too, will likely be on the chopping block if current Bravo fan reactions are any indicator, especially if she’s charged.) 

As Bravo viewers, we have to reckon with the fact that we help make stupid people famous. The one thing we do have control over is which stupid-famous people we choose to support and enable—and when it comes to rewarding a possible criminal with further celebrity, I’d hope Bravo producers and Andy Cohen agree that that might just be a bridge too far. 

Image: Fred Hayes / Bravo

Frequently Asked Questions While Watching ‘Real Housewives’ With A Straight Man

Presented by SkinnyPop

When it comes to TV viewing habits, we all have our own routines, and it can be difficult when anything—or anyone—encroaches on your sacred (couch) space. But unless you live alone and don’t let anyone into your space (which like, respect), inevitably you’re going to have to watch TV with others at some point. And unfortunately, that even includes watching Real Housewives with the straight men in your life. Whether you live with a significant other, are staying with your parents for a while, or just happen to be in the vicinity of any non-Bravo-watching man, just know that you are so strong. Today, we’re bringing you a vital resource to make it through this trying time: ideal responses to some FAQs that your dad/husband/male friend will undoubtedly be asking over the course of a 43-minute episode. Godspeed. 

Who are these people?

When faced with a question like this, it’s easy to overshare and dive into the origin story of each Housewife, but that’s not what your dad/boyfriend/brother/pizza delivery guy who got too sucked in is asking. He probably doesn’t even know what city you’re watching, so start with broad strokes (are we watching New Jersey or Beverly Hills?), and get more specific (which woman is planning a vow renewal as a last-ditch attempt at saving her marriage?) if he signals interest. If one of the women has been arrested or married to an athlete, I recommend dropping that into the conversation at the first opportune moment.

Who’s the blonde one?

If your male viewing companion asks the name of a specific cast member, this is a fundamentally different question than a general “who are these people?” Whoever he’s asking about, he thinks she is HOT, and he’d like to look up her Instagram to see if she’s worth a thirst follow. I won’t tell you how to live your life, but if it’s your boyfriend/husband/significant other, shut that sh*t down and tell him he doesn’t need to know. If it’s your dad, just let him have this one.

Is she the one that sells alcohol?

This is a bit of a trick question. Based on the sheer volume of Bravolebrities with liquor brands, chances are whoever he’s asking about does sell alcohol. This could apply to women on nearly every show on Bravo, so it’s kind of like asking if a millennial in New York has a leopard print midi skirt. Like, probably! But he’s actually thinking of Bethenny Frankel, so unless you’re watching seasons 1-3 or 7-11 of RHONY, the answer is no.

What are they fighting about?

If he’s inquiring about the source of tension within the group, congratulations, you’ve gotten his attention. He might pretend not to care about what’s happening, but now he’s invested enough to want the backstory so he can form his own opinion about whether What’s-Her-Name was being shady to The Tall One. He’s no longer trying to grab the remote to change the channel to “check the score of the game” every five minutes, and if you do a good enough job selling him on the storylines, he might even tell you to play another episode when this one ends. Good work.

How do you watch this stuff?

As a dedicated Housewives viewer, it’s important to stand your ground, and not to let anyone disrespect the blood, sweat, and tears you’ve put into this journey. If a man in your life is spewing negativity, feel free to remind him of the many hours he’s spent watching Bitcoin YouTube videos, or random strangers play video games on Twitch, or *shudders* golf. We all have our different viewing habits, and trust me, there are way more embarrassing things to be obsessed with than Bravo.

Images: Steve Dietl/Bravo