Hot Take: Let’s Keep Erika Jayne On ‘RHOBH’ For As Long As We Can

There’s nothing that brings the internet together like a good old fashioned scandal. Whether that’s Hilaria “how you say cucumber in English” Baldwin, the O.J. trials, or Tom and Erika Girardi vs. everyone they’ve (allegedly) f*cked over. 

As of late 2020, Erika Jayne/Girardi officially transcended the reality TV world into mainstream news and pop culture after she filed for divorce from Tom and the couple was sued for allegedly leveraging their breakup to embezzle money. And even though the Housewives franchises are no stranger to legal scandals (Teresa Guidice, Lynne Curtin, Jen Shah, etc.), Tom’s reputation and the sheer gravitas of the situation has catapulted the story into major news outlets like the LA Times and CNN — but most importantly, it’s being featured on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

Up until this season, Erika Jayne was the Kourtney Kardashian of RHOBH: boring AF (Kim said it, not me). And sure, unlike Kourtney, Erika has been interesting to look at, but beyond that she’s been cold, reserved, and truly an enigma wrapped in a riddle and (allegedly stolen) cash. 

IMO, getting to feature the divorce/lawsuit this season is the best thing to happen to RHOBH in a looooong time. Over the past few years the franchise has been littered with trivial storylines like PuppyGate that drag out for 10 episodes longer than they should, so bringing in an actual scandal to basically be the eighth cast member this season is bringing much-needed dimension and depth to the show. Otherwise, you just know the entire season was going to be ViolateGate (Sutton vs. Crystal). Yawn. 

And I commend Erika on what she’s given us so far in season 11. She’s basically the Faye Resnick we never got — divulging her perspective on the lawsuit, commenting on Tom’s declining health, and sharing her real feelings about her and Tom’s relationship now that she doesn’t have to protect him. Her storyline this season has seriously resurrected the franchise from the brink of irrelevance, lacing it with a hint of true crime-ish elements combined with a more open and off-the-cuff Erika who’s actually pulling her weight within the cast. 

And that leads me to my hot take: let’s keep The Pretty Mess on RHOBH as long as she’s still being… well, pretty messy. 

If I’m getting too far ahead, there are CliffsNotes below to get you up to speed. But if you already have your PhD in the Erika/Tom scandal like me, feel free to skip the summary and get straight into my open letter to Bravo on why they should keep Erika around for season 12. 

Erika’s Involvement in the Lawsuit(s)

About a month after Erika filed for divorce, Edelson PC filed a class action lawsuit against Erika and Tom, alleging that the couple embezzled settlement funds meant for victims who lost family in the 2018 Boeing plane crash. The lawsuit also claimed that the “‘divorce’ is simply a sham attempt to fraudulently protect Tom’s and Erika’s money…”. 

On the heels of that, Tom’s former business partners filed a separate suit against him, claiming that Tom kept funds over $315,000 that he owed them for his own gain.

And although all this shadiness was allegedly orchestrated by Tom, the scandal is being framed in a way that implies Erika is guilty by association — and not just because of the allegedly opportunistic divorce, but also because her company EJ Global received over $20 million in loans from Tom’s law firm

That $20 million was probably spent on her glam squad’s room and board during cast trips alone (kidding) (not really), which makes it all the more sad to know it could have been used to pay victim settlements — and all the more infuriating considering it did not belong to Erika in the first place. And that’s a sentiment the judge agrees with, after ruling that specific victims can go after Erika for up to $11 million to replace the amount Tom never paid them.

Why This Sh*t Is Interesting

What punches up the entire storyline is the juxtaposition between the way the media/lawsuits are framing Erika, and how she’s portraying herself on RHOBH

While the lawsuits suggest that Erika had some part in/knowledge of Tom’s shady dealings, the RHOBH version of Erika is acting as if nothing illegal happened. In fact, she’s enraged that people dare speculate that the divorce timing was suspect, saying during the latest episode, “What’s being said is just, I mean, it’s insane. That my divorce is a sham, but nobody cares about the facts.” She also explicitly said the divorce wasn’t a ploy to hide assets while FaceTiming Kyle and Lisa. THE TEAAAA. 

I’m the first to admit that she’s in a sh*tty position, mostly thanks to Tom. But we can’t forget that Erika is a performer by trade with an alter ego that even Danielle Staub couldn’t pull off. We’ve seen her transform from the world’s best poker player to a puss-patting, bodysuit-wearing, loud and bright singer/dancer. All this to say, her time on the stage and those two episodes in The Young and the Restless prove that she has the chops to act the part that her PR recommends. 

And as much as I love to analyze what’s strategy and what’s not, at the end of the day I just want good TV. So Erica sharing those tidbits about the lawsuit hit hard, as did the comments about her and Tom’s pre-divorce relationship. For the past five seasons, we’ve heard nothing but glowing reviews of Tom “styrofoam cup” Girardi. Not a peep of indiscretion or disagreement, and not even Kim Richards piped in threatening that she had dirtBut Erika has finally, finally expressed several iotas of emotion and raw stories about their relationship this season, and whether those are her true feelings or a narrative suggested by her PR team (or Mikey), it makes you wonder, what other dirt is she going to spill, now that she’s not protecting Tom?

And we’re going in the right direction. So far this season, Erika has detailed his heartless goodbye, admitted she was pissed he didn’t come see her on Broadway, and even expressed her fear about her public perception post-divorce in the last episode when she said, “I don’t want his actions to absolutely kill what I have created.”

And there are logical reasons why Erika is being more real. For one, she needs that Bravo paycheck more than ever, especially after detailing her fears about the attorney fees in the latest episode. Now that she literally needs this job, it’s in her best interest to involve herself in the storyline and bring some actual juiciness — whether that’s Tom related, post-divorce dating stories, etc. 

Another reason to keep her on the show is that despite the accusations, Erika’s still proving it’s expensive to be heeeer-er-er-er by boarding a PJ and sporting a $189k ring. That’s some major BDE when you’re in the middle of an embezzlement lawsuit, and some very Jen Shah-esque energy that makes for ridiculously entertaining TV. 

And while Erika’s attorneys briefly dropped her and then took her back (for reasons we can only speculate), her castmates have continued to show their support and allegiance to Erika, both on the show and on social media. From Kyle and Lisa dancing to “XXPEN$IVE” and most of the ladies wishing her a happy birthday publicly, they clearly don’t feel a need to distance themselves at all. Truly women supporting women, in the words of Ramona Singer. 

Thanks to Tom, Erika’s part of a truly impactful scandal that I’m 100% sure will be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster. With that being said, capturing Erika’s perspective on the RHOBH is a fresh, deep, real storyline that’s captivating AF. And because court cases take forever and Erika can only say so much right now, Bravo can easily milk this content well into next season as well. Not to mention, Erika will definitely be opening up with some new storylines about post-Tom life in an effort to stay relevant (and liquid… with those big lawyer bills). 

Image: Bravo

Bravo Is Not Well, Bitch—But We Have A Treatment Plan

As a dedicated Bravo fan, I can’t help but feel that over the past few years, Bravo’s decisions have become as questionable as Scheana Shay’s (previous) choices in men, and its content as boring as Teddi Mellencamp on screen. It’s no secret that the network’s come under fire for multiple problematic cast members and its lack of diverse representation… also, after confusing viewers’ requests for juicy content with Lucy Lucy Apple Juice content. And what has this resulted in? Low ratings for even the network cornerstones like RHONY and RHOBH. No bueno, Bravo. But I’m not here to sh*t on the network. After all, Bravo’s given me endless laughs over Sonja’s shenanigans, defined “real friendship” for me via the Witches of WeHo, scared me sh*tless into never committing a crime thanks to Teresa/Jen/Erika, and has taught me everything I know about fashion through Dorit’s confessional looks. So instead of jumping on the boycott Bravo wagon, I’m here instead to use my PhD in reality TV to offer guidance and recommendations on how to reinvent the network and bring in a bigger, better, more engaged audience. 

Promote The Hidden Gems

As a die-hard Bravo fan who chooses to watch TV over having a social life, reading books, or generally bettering myself, I don’t sleep on any content. And because of that, I know Bravo has hidden gems that the average viewer is completely oblivious to, like Shahs of Sunset, Family Karma, and Married to Medicine. These shows bring it all: diversity in race, religion, and sexuality; messy drama; and heroes and villains that you both want to be and love to hate. But I can’t blame the viewers for not knowing what they don’t know. So my recommendation for Bravo is to promote the sh*t out of this content. Viewers are begging you for diversity, reckless casts, and something fresh to pass the time with. It’s not like you have to start from scratch to build this… literally, all you have to do is reallocate your advertising budget. 

Pick A Star and Build Around Them

In the early days of Bravo, the network would often pick a star and build a show around their personality, friend group, and/or vocation. Exhibit A: The Millionaire Matchmaker with Patti Stanger. Exhibit B: Vanderpump Rules with Lisa Vanderpump. Exhibit C: The Rachel Zoe Project with Rachel Zoe. This formula completely put Bravo on the map in the ’00s—by finding someone who had either the glam, aspiration, knack for confrontation, or chaotic family/workplace dynamic, the network was able to build an empire around stars like the Manzos and Bethenny Frankel. Now, don’t get me wrong: as a dedicated Housewives fan, I’d never be able to live without my ensemble casts that bring together a bunch of messy, middle-aged women who take lavish trips, get dressed up for game night, and live by the motto “everyone is jealous of me.” But my suggestion to bring back this old formula, pick a star and build around them, would be a fun alternative to punch up the current ensemble staples. 

Copy The ‘VPR’ Formula

Vanderpump Rules was the sh*t in its early days. The concept of filming a broke, IRL friend group that had zero expectations for the show created the perfect hurricane of messy AF drama that you seriously couldn’t dream up. Need I remind you about Jax sleeping with Kristen, Laura Leigh (no elaboration required), and “suck a d*ck Diana”? Using early VPR as a case study, my expert recommendation is this: find an unknown group of friends who happen to work at the same establishment and who have less than 1,000 Instagram followers each. Let them be their petty, scrappy, desperate, and jealous selves and the show will write itself. Make note that this cast doesn’t have to work at a bar/restaurant (although the element of late nights and alcohol definitely helps fuel the fire). Whether they’re at a retail location like Very Cavallari or a real estate firm like Selling Sunset, the most important thing is to cast the right people—the location/industry is simply a backdrop to the drama. So what’s next? Bravo has announced a show featuring Kandi Burruss’ Old Lady Gang restaurant is in the works, but why stop there? How about building a show around Southern Charm star Leva Bonaparte’s new restaurant/bar… I mean, the crossover opportunity is built in. 

Stop Leaking Sh*t To The Press

You used to be able to expect the unexpected when it came to storylines and conflict. Think Kim Richards v. Lisa Rinna in Amsterdam, Scary Island, Brooks faking cancer, or Manzo v. Manzo v. Manzo. There was a sense of intrigue and anticipation for a new season or episode to premiere, because besides the season trailer, you literally had no idea what madness was about to ensue. But now, thanks to social media, leaked news stories, and cast members spilling tea on podcasts, the element of intrigue that made (nay, forced) you to tune in in real time to watch an episode has been minimized. For example, before RHOA premiered, we already knew that someone allegedly hooked up with a stripper on a cast trip. And, before last year’s RHOP, we already knew the main conflict was going to be Monique and Candiace’s fight, and that it ended in police reports and the group being ripped apart. Sure, having some idea of the conflict can get viewers excited, but it also dulls the element of surprise. So this leads me to my next recommendation: lock down the content. And I know this seems like an impossible task in today’s current media landscape, but hear me out. There’s stuff that fans generally don’t care is “leaked”, like reunion outfits or where the cast goes on their annual filming trip. So continue not giving AF if the ladies post or podcast about that. BUT, when it comes to major feuds and main storylines, I’ll stand firm on (a) stopping the cast and crew from leaking information (The Bachelor franchise’s tight NDAs prove you can prevent people from spilling the tea); and (b) having the cast and their family/friends refrain from engaging in social media back-and-forth that gives away who is pissed at whom, and from speaking on podcasts that give away details before the season airs. And trust me, if fans can’t can’t get their content from social media or the gossip headlines, they’ll put down TikTok on a Tuesday night to tune into RHONY for 43 minutes with no questions asked. 

Retire—Or Replace—The Sh*tty Franchises

It’s time to retire the sh*tty franchises. I’m looking at you, Dallas and Orange County. Why? Well, we’ve reached a new level of Housewives saturation because Bravo’s failed to trim the fat—AKA, get rid of the boring/problematic franchises – and some viewers are suffering from Housewives fatigue. And sure, I get it, if you’re a diehard Housewives fan you’ll take PuppyGate and the RHOD crew road-tripping to Oklahoma over no content at all. BUT, this is about Bravo upping its ratings and engaging the casual viewer… which can only happen if the content isn’t a dumpster fire of controversial cast members, repetitive plotlines, and the same old tropes over and over again. Let me take a step back. You know how each friend in your crew has a role? For example, there’s the one who can do makeup, the one who has the hot guy friends, the one who acts like the mom of the group, and so on. I use this friend group analogy as my litmus test to see if a franchise is worth keeping or not. IMO, each franchise should bring its own unique twist to the network… like how RHONY brings fast-paced entertainment, RHOBH brings aspiration, RHOP brings spicy drama, etc. etc. But others, like RHOD and RHOC, bring less to the table than Teddi Mellencamp did in season 10… so retire them quicker than Rinna turned on Denise. Now that Heather Dubrow is coming back to Orange County, they get one more season to turn the ship around, but that’s it. And even if Bravo does retire a couple franchises, they have Miami and Nashville (allegedly) in the pipeline. So, fingers crossed that these new groups of ladies bring the same unfiltered theatrics and enjoyably out-of-touch ego that the early New York and Beverly Hills ensembles did, before self-producing became a thing. 

Images: John Tsiavis / Bravo

Your Favorite Reality TV All-Stars Are Back, And They’re Looking For Love

Presented by PEPSI® MANGO

Can you feel that? The temperatures are getting warmer, and for the first time in forever, buying clothes that aren’t sweatpants doesn’t feel like a complete waste of money. Summer is right around the corner, and everyone is single and ready to mingle. Okay, obviously not everyone is single, but if you managed to find love in the time of corona, you don’t have to rub it in.

This year is all about experiencing unexpected things, from trying new foods (and delicious drinks), to actually going out in public again, to hopefully meeting someone who gives a little added kick to your life. MTV and PEPSI® MANGO understand the vibe, so they’re bringing us a new reality dating series full of surprising combinations and sweet surprises. It’s called Match Me If You Can, and we need to talk about it. The cast of Match Me If You Can is full of fan-favorites from lots of your favorite reality shows and, one by one, they’ll be matched up to go on one-of-a-kind dates.

Really, the casting department went above and beyond on this one. Match Me If You Can has higher standards than any of us, apparently, and the cast features FOUR winners of their respective shows. The show is hosted by Lauren Speed Hamilton who knows a thing or two about finding love in an unusual situation., Real talk, if anyone can keep this train from going off the tracks, it’s Lauren. A queen, icon, legend, and one of the only people to ever get a guy to commit before he could even see what she looked like. We all need Lauren’s energy for summer 2021.

On the contestant side of things, Match Me If You Can features a roster of all-star alums from your favorite dating and competition shows, and these familiar faces are ready to get mixed and matched. Like we said, Lauren isn’t the only one with winning experience. We’ve got Joey Sasso (the world’s most adorable person), competition queen Ashley Brooke Mitchell, and Harry Jowsey, AKA everyone’s crush. Obviously, things didn’t work for Harry in the relationship department last time, or else he wouldn’t be here right now, but going on another dating show should be the answer to his problems. 

Harry, Joey, and Ashley will be joined by lots of other esteemed reality colleagues. We’ve got experienced reality daters—Onyeka Ehie, Eric Bigger, Kylie Smith, and Kyra Green—plus Natalie Negrotti, who managed to find a relationship on a show where that wasn’t even the goal. It’s a real who’s who of reality alums, and with all these people in the mix, you know there will be some surprising and memorable moments.

Will any of these singles find true love on their mix-and-match dates? Who knows, but we’re ready to enjoy the ride and ~trust the process~. There’s no engagement ring at the end of this journey, and to be honest, we don’t really care who’s here for the right reasons. But life is all about unexpected pairings, and who knows, maybe one of these dates will lead to something as surprising and exciting as PEPSI® MANGO. Match Me If You Can premieres on MTV during the finale episode of The Challenge: Double Agents, on April 21 at 8pm ET/PT, so mark your calendars now. Plus, make sure to check out new episodes each week on MTV YouTube.

We Need To Talk About The Racial Double Standards On ‘The Real Housewives’

Who doesn’t love The Real Housewives? Many focal points of pop culture have come from this incredible franchise, and the gift keeps on giving with every season and every new city. However, as a faithful viewer of this iconic reality TV phenomenon, I’ve noticed that there is a huge double standard in the handling of each franchise from the network. As a viewer of the shows for years, it’s become more apparent that the Black women on the network are being held to a higher standard than their white counterparts, and that has to change. 

Physical Altercations

Listen, let’s be real: We love a good confrontation. That’s why we indulge in reality TV, and The Real Housewives is no exception. The issue, however, is how fights on different franchises are framed and handled by the network. Let’s use The Real Housewives of New Jersey vs. The Real Housewives of Atlanta, for example. Teresa Guidice has built a brand for herself, mainly because she “flipped a table” (it was a push, by the way) at her fellow cast member Danielle Staub. This outburst is considered iconic and is remembered by many as a defining moment in pop culture. Teresa also pushed down reunion host and executive producer of The Real Housewives franchise, Andy Cohen, during the season two reunion, once again during an argument with Staub. 

But when you look at The Real Housewives of Atlanta and the physical altercations that have occurred, none of them are defined by media outlets as “iconic”. From Porsha pulling Kenya’s hair to Kenya and NeNe arguing, any time the women on RHOA show any passionate emotion, they get labeled as contributing to a stereotype. In this clip, uploaded by Bravo, Andy Cohen proudly asks the women, “Who is the most ratchet?”. The word ratchet, in this case, is to describe “ghetto” behavior. It’s culturally offensive, and it’s mind-boggling to me that the network would choose such rhetoric to describe the women who played a key role in putting The Real Housewives franchise on the map. RHONJ, meanwhile, has had several physical altercations between cast members, including hair-pulling and drink-throwing, and yet they are not labeled in such an egregious manner. The Black women on the network have to uphold this rule about not being violent, but the white women on the network do not, and instead are praised for the same behavior.  

Casting: Always Having To Bring It

It’s no secret that in order to be a Real Housewife, you have to be on your A-game. That means keeping up with the group by sometimes stirring the pot and having an impressive personal storyline. But, as any viewer knows, not every single Housewife has consistently brought it. I’ve wondered over the years why RHOA “friend” and fan-favorite Marlo Hampton has not been promoted to a main cast member (given a peach). Marlo brings the drama; she’s also hilarious and has an incredible personal story. Marlo was raised in foster care and is the legal guardian to her two nephews, who lovingly call her “Munty.” It’s been speculated that she does not have a peach because of past legal issues. I find this odd, because there have been plenty of women cast on Bravo shows with a less-than-spotless record. A few months before Kelly Dodd’s inaugural season as a Housewife, she was caught making racist remarks towards Black men outside of a restaurant. Tinsley Mortimer boasted about her arrest and mugshot that happened just months before she joined the RHONY cast, and I personally believe her arrest is what got her cast in the first place. RHONY newbie Leah McSweeney spoke openly about her arrest, and Luann de Lesseps’ assault on a police officer was a focal point of season 10. I do think that whether you like Marlo or not, it is clear as day that the network picks and chooses what is “acceptable behavior” to become a Real Housewife. 

It’s not just legal issues—there are also double standards in what the Housewives are expected to divulge about their personal lives. Porsha Williams, another RHOA star, was demoted in her seventh season, because according to Andy Cohen, she was not very open about her personal life. I find that ironic because, in the ninth season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, fans complained that some of the women were not open about the impending lawsuits against them. At the season 6 reunion for RHONY, Ramona Singer was adamant that she wouldn’t comment on her divorce, even though the split was already public information. Yet, none of those ladies were demoted for not sharing enough. It seems to me that the Black women on the network are held to a higher standard in terms of how much they share about themselves and how they’ve conducted themselves in the past.

The Perception Of Black Wealth

At the season 5 Real Housewives of Potomac reunion, Andy Cohen brought up the fact that the ladies had become more financially independent due to the show. I somewhat understood the segment’s intent until a very uncomfortable exchange between Cohen and former cast member Monique Samuels occurred. Cohen had insinuated that Monique’s husband, Chris Samuels, was not well-off after playing for the NFL so many years ago. I found myself scratching my head because Monique was very open on the show about the financial successes that she and her husband had acquired after his NFL career through investments. Viewers are also aware that Monique was very wealthy and was one of the only women on the show to live in Potomac, a very prestigious and expensive community. So why is it that Andy Cohen felt the need to try to contest that? There is a stereotype toward African Americans that we cannot manage our money and rarely make smart financial decisions. This stereotype ignores the economic disparities that Black people have faced as a result of our being. 

Andy’s conversation with the women of Potomac exemplifies a vast double standard, especially when the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills are involved in lawsuit, after lawsuit, after lawsuit, and are still seen as a franchise that promotes opulence and wealth. Whether Andy Cohen knew it or not, by questioning Monique on how she obtained her wealth, he was feeding into a stereotype. In my opinion, we should uplift and celebrate Black people that have acquired their own wealth, especially in an economy that white people dominate due to systemic racism.

I am not here looking to cancel anyone. I believe in accountability and progression. With social justice movements becoming amplified more than ever in the past year, I hope that Bravo changes its treatment of the Black women on its network. These women have given Bravo so much in terms of content and notoriety that it is only right for the network to go out of its way to ensure that this type of rhetoric and treatment stops. 

Images: Sophy Holland/Bravo

Why Salt Lake City Is The Future Of ‘Real Housewives’

In a television landscape where most shows never make it to a second season, the success of the Real Housewives franchise is nothing short of remarkable. What began 15 years ago as a sort of half-baked ploy to capitalize on the popularity of ABC’s Desperate Housewives has ballooned into a sprawling TV empire complete with thousands of episodes, numerous spin-offs, and more than a dozen international franchises. The women who have starred on the shows have used them as launchpads for countless business ventures ranging from tequila and shoes to pink dog food and a very elusive toaster oven. 

But while the Housewives franchise is an undeniable, genre-defining success, it’s hard not to wonder what the future will look like. With its five longstanding flagship properties—Orange County, New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey, and Beverly Hills—all past the 10-season mark, each facing varying degrees of growing pains in recent years, it’s become an unavoidable line of questioning: what’s next? Where do we go from here? Are we nearing the end of Real Housewives?

In a word, no, I don’t think so. Despite RHOC’s much-maligned recent 15th season, and a slew of major cast departures in the last two years, these shows are still generally consistent performers in the ratings, and the brand identity they’ve helped to build for Bravo is arguably even more valuable than actual viewer numbers. But there’s another key reason I see Housewives continuing to thrive when I look into my crystal ball for the new decade: Salt Lake City. 

When Andy Cohen first revealed the location of the newest Real Housewives installment at 2019’s BravoCon, the reaction was one of excitement tinged with confusion. To many people, the idea of Utah was synonymous with modesty and sobriety—two concepts that seemed fundamentally at odds with the time-honored Housewives traditions of getting drunk and starting fights. But from the moment the first teasers for The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City arrived last fall, we knew our fears were unwarranted. The women of RHOSLC—most of whom are not members of the LDS church—have no problem getting drunk and starting fights, and their 13-episode first season has been not only a rollercoaster of drama and shifting group dynamics, but a template for what housewives can be.

On any reality show, casting is key, and I could talk about the RHOSLC cast for days. First, and most importantly, these women actually know each other. Heather Gay and Whitney Rose are cousins. Heather and Lisa Barlow went to college together (though Lisa may not remember). Lisa and Meredith Marks go way back, with the throwback photos to prove it. The perfect Housewives cast shouldn’t be six best friends (we need drama, duh), but we can at least believe that this group of women might be at the same party, whether cameras showed up or not. We’ve seen plenty of drama onscreen, but there’s always the feeling that something deeper is simmering under the surface—is Jen Shah really that upset about Mary’s “hospital smell” comment, or is it a metaphor for something they don’t even want on camera? This tension raises the stakes for everyone involved, including the viewers.

 

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Besides seeking out complex interpersonal dynamics, another key element of casting is diversity, and not just in the box-ticking, “I guess it’s time” way that we’ve seen in recent seasons on other reality shows. RHOSLC is one of the most well-rounded, truly diverse casts we’ve seen on Bravo, with a variety of racial, cultural, and religious backgrounds represented. With Salt Lake City’s deep ties to Mormonism, the religious aspect is especially interesting. Religion has rarely been a major topic on Real Housewives, but with current Mormons, ex-Mormons, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Pentecostal First Lady in the cast, the RHOSLC producers have done an excellent job of exploring these dynamics, without derailing what we already love about these shows.

Whether or not you feel RHOSLC’s first season lived up to the considerable hype, there’s no denying that its success, and that of 2016’s The Real Housewives of Potomac, has opened up a new world of possibilities in the Real Housewives universe. It makes sense that big cities were the early focus, but these mid-size cities and suburban locales have just as much money and personality, with the added opportunity to bring the viewers something new. In the past year, Bravo has aired seven different shows centered in greater Los Angeles, but Salt Lake City is one of a kind, and that mountain air is FRESH.

Rumors abound that Bravo plans to revive its long-dormant Miami Housewives franchise this year, but beyond that, it feels like there are more choices than ever for where the empire could go next. As a St. Louis native, I’ve always seen the potential in my hometown, with its historic roots and a major old money vs. new money divide. Popular ideas online include Boston, Las Vegas, and Nashville, but RHOSLC has shown us that there can be diamonds (or snowflakes, rather) in the rough where you least expect them.

Andy Cohen, the godfather of the Real Housewives empire, was quick to deem RHOSLC a hit, and on the heels of its season finale, it was officially renewed for a second season. With a three-part reunion—a rarity for a first-season show—beginning this week, it’s clear that Bravo sees the value in the mountains of Utah, and hopefully this success story will fuel creativity and originality within the Real Housewives franchise in years to come.

Images: Fred Hayes/Bravo; bravobybetches / Instagram; Giphy

What’s Really Wrong With This Season’s ‘Bachelor’ Villain

The Bachelor is the TV show equivalent of a f*ckboy. Every season I vow to stop dedicating hours of my life to an experience that gives me more aggravation than actual pleasure. But after the final rose, I delude myself into thinking that maybe, just maybe, it’ll be different next time. And as sure as an unwanted appearance by Ashley I., I’m back.  It actually is different this time, but not in the way I was hoping. My issue this season has nothing to do with the fact that Matt is a less-than-compelling lead. After all, this is a show built around mediocre men. The problem is with our villain. Coming off the literal garbage heap of Peter’s season where producers couldn’t even successfully produce a villain, this time they’re overcompensating by force-feeding us Victoria, a contestant so over-the-top, she’s practically a cartoon. Unfortunately, Queen V lacks all of the qualities that make for a truly great Bachelor villain.

She Lacks Complexity

Victoria is so outlandish, it’s hard to believe she’s anything other than a producer plant, sent to stir up drama and provoke the other contestants. This might actually be fine if it all didn’t feel so one-dimensional. Past villains like Corinne Olympios and Demi Burnett were so fun to watch because they had layers. At first glance, both women seemed like they were only there to seduce the lead and piss off the other women in the process. But as we got to know them, each woman gave us a softer side. Corinne had a sweet relationship with her former nanny, Raquel, who was a mother figure to her. Demi opened up about the struggles she faced while her own mother was in prison. Despite their villain-like qualities, each woman was vulnerable, which, despite being a comically overused term on this show, is key to not only winning the lead’s heart, but also being a good villain. Maybe we’ll get to see a different side to Victoria. But for now, waving around a crown and calling every person that you dislike “toxic” for no apparent reason feels more like the kind of shtick that should end in a night one elimination, especially given the targets she chooses. Which brings me to my next point.

She Chooses Unworthy Opponents

Almost immediately, Victoria gets into it with her roommate, Marylynn. She claims Marylynn is “toxic” and “psychologically disturbed”, even going so far as to tell Matt that Marylynn is bullying her. However, we’re given no actual proof of this being the case. On the contrary, Marylynn is sweet, docile, and seems to get along just fine with the other women. She seems genuinely shocked when confronted by Matt about the bullying accusations and tries to respectfully work things out with Victoria. Victoria, on the other hand, refuses to even hear what Marylynn has to say, steamrolling her with the “bully” narrative and finally bringing Marylynn to tears.

Targeting the mild-mannered Marylynn is like trying to kill a fly with an elephant gun. It’s unnecessary and, frankly, difficult to watch. Viewers enjoy a fair fight. Had Victoria been able to successfully spar with someone like Katie, it would’ve been far more impressive and entertaining, but she’s ill-equipped. Instead, she prefers antagonizing contestants who are unable or unwilling to fight back, which is why she then set her sights on Sarah.

Her Toxicity Has Infected The Group 

We enjoy villains not only because they’re entertaining and spice things up, but also because they serve as a foil to the hero and ultimately provide a comforting vehicle for “good” to triumph over “evil”. What’s been remarkable about this season thus far is that it’s unclear who the “good guys” actually are. Aside from the real queen Katie, the rest of the contestants went from looking visibly uncomfortable around Victoria to piling onto her takedown of Sarah. As someone who wrote under the pseudonym Betchina George, I can usually appreciate a catty moment when it’s warranted, but things went way too far there. Sure, Sarah was needy, and it was wrong of her to steal the other girls’ time. But for the women to not only sit silently while Victoria mocked Sarah in the midst of her apology, but then gleefully join in on the bullying by threatening to make the rest of Sarah’s time in the house horrible was totally unacceptable, whether they knew about her sick father or not.

Unfortunately, even with Sarah gone, the cattiness continues. Victoria has a new henchwoman in Anna, with the two delighting in the vicious rumor that new girl Brittany is an escort and cackling like Cinderella’s stepsisters after Victoria calls Catalina, who by all accounts has done nothing to Victoria, “the dumbest hoe I’ve ever met”. Not a good look.

Victoria: I’m an empath.
America:

Her Romantic Connection With Matt is Nonexistent

What’s made many past Bachelor villains believable is their connection to the lead. Krystal Nielson stuck around despite being extremely polarizing because it was clear she and Arie had actual chemistry. We even had a villain win an entire season, because Ben Flajnik was unable to hide his erection affection for Courtney Robertson. The same can’t be said for the connection between Matt and Victoria this season. He looks visibly pained calling her name at the rose ceremony week after week, and when they have had one-on-one time, the conversations we’ve seen have been totally superficial. Matt isn’t exactly shy about making out with the contestants he’s into, usually by attempting to engulf their entire face with his mouth. So far, he’s given Victoria the kind of half-hearted hugs I begrudgingly gave to distant relatives as a child.

Actual Footage of Matt and Victoria Interacting:

The chemistry is palpable.

It’s clear that this season is hitting differently when it comes to the usual villain trope. Maybe as we become savvier as reality TV viewers and the fourth wall breaks, it’s harder to suspend our disbelief and easier to spot the producer prompts and manufactured drama we glossed over in previous seasons. Or maybe we’re living in a political climate where we’re tired of the constant negative rhetoric and glorifying those who seem to be mean for its own sake. Whatever the reason, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to root for Victoria and almost all of the other women this season. I want to believe that she’ll surprise us and redeem herself in the coming weeks, but it’s The Bachelor. I’ve been burned before.

Images: ABC/Craig Sjodin; Giphy (2)

The Best ‘Bachelorette’ Recap You’ll Ever Read: Be Still, My Cold, Dead Heart

Well, friends, we did the impossible. After 11 weeks, two Bachelorettes, and one global pandemic, we’ve made it to the finale! Tayshia is down to her final two three men. As per usual, Chris Harrison is doing the most in his intro voice-over:

Chris Harrison: Will she get engaged to her soulmate, or will she DIE A LONELY OLD SPINSTER?!

Damn, Chris. I know we’re living in the time of COVID, but there are other men on this planet if she decides she’s not into these guys!

We pick up where we left off, with Tayshia having a sidebar with a producer. She’s being filmed behind some blinds after being blindsided by Ben. You gotta love the producers’ commitment to imagery and metaphors on this show. They had to get them where they could, because lord knows Ivan wasn’t going to liken love to his testicles morphing into icicles on his fantasy suite date. Ben is sitting awkwardly on Tayshia’s couch. He says that by looking at Tayshia’s eyes, he sees there’s more under there. Kind of a strange way to point out under-eye bags, but Ben’s never really had a way with words. I guess it beats the alternative I’m used to getting:

Who can relate?

Ben’s talking a lot about his “love” for Tayshia, but isn’t really saying much. When Tayshia pushes back and asks him if he’s always going to run when things get hard, his response is, “I blew it”. Accurate, but not promising! Instead of sticking with her gut and sending him home for a second time, SHE INVITES HIM TO THE ROSE CEREMONY! They then walk out together, hug, and Tayshia initiates a very passionate kiss. Who knew she was a sucker for a moose knuckle?! While I definitely don’t agree with her decision, I can’t wait to see Zac and Ivan’s reactions when Ben rolls up to the rose ceremony.

The Rose Ceremony

Ivan walks into the rose ceremony with the pre-elimination confidence that has become a hallmark of this show. Feeling the pressure from the producers for not delivering the required love similes on the ice bucket date, he offers the consolation prize of saying it feels awesome to be “open” and “vulnerable” (or “vonurble”, as Tayshia would say). Not for long, buddy. Zac says he’s ready for a proposal. Ben walks in with a goofy grin on his face, as if he expects Ivan and Zac will be happy to see him. I think Bennett gave the book about emotional intelligence to the wrong guy.

Ben:

Ivan & Zac:

Like many people who’ve gotten dumped, Tayshia proceeds to explain Brendan’s absence by saying “it just didn’t work out.” Control that narrative, girl! She’s about to start handing out roses but then stops and asks Ivan if they can go talk. Ivan’s face says he knows what’s coming next. They then have a cryptic talk about religious differences, but give no specifics about said differences. Is Ivan a Scientologist? That’s the only legitimate theory I can come up with for this abrupt dismissal.

All kidding aside, it may be that Ivan is atheist or agnostic. Tayshia has always been open about her devout Christian beliefs, so it’s possible this is the reason she sent Ivan home. It’d be a shame if that were the only reason she eliminated him, but, let’s face it, she’s been favoring Brendan and Zac for weeks. Given the honest conversations Tayshia and Ivan had about race, it seems strange, and frankly frustrating, that ABC isn’t allowing an unfiltered exchange about religion. Then again, this is ABC we’re talking about, so maybe that’s asking for too much. Ivan takes the elimination in stride like the angel he is. Love you, Ivan! See you in Paradise.

Ben Meets The Family

The next day we catch up with Tayshia writing in her burn book journal. She meets up with her family and I remember how much I enjoyed Tayshia’s dad, Desmond, eviscerating Colton when Tayshia was competing on his season. Like most viewers, Desmond doesn’t have time for BS. Tayshia tells her family that they’ll be meeting Ben, whom she had previously sent home. Desmond is understandably skeptical and wants some answers. This is gonna be good.

Ben meets with Tayshia’s mom, Rosario, first and keeps talking about how he’s never felt this way before, and the way Tayshia makes him feel, yet he can’t seem to identify the feeling(s) in question. Everything he says is surface-level and there’s no real substance to any of it. It seems like Ben is in love with the idea of love, more so than Tayshia specifically. It doesn’t go much better with Desmond.

Desmond: What do you see in Tayshia?
Ben:

Ben also tells Desmond about how he and Tayshia talked about “showing up” for Tayshia. Does he think that physically coming back after being sent home is what showing up means? She meant showing up for her emotionally, Ben!

Zac Meets The Family

The tone of Zac’s meeting with the family is completely different. Instead of making his answers all about him and his feelings, he expresses his love for Tayshia by showing love to her family. He even seems to win over Desmond, who says he’s going to be tough on Zac. Instead of saying the things he thinks Desmond wants to hear, Zac is honest about his failed marriage and is able to reflect on his past mistakes, even weaving in a reference to the standards Desmond has set and how Zac wants to live up to them.

I gotta give it to Zac; he is incredibly authentic and eloquent. He talks about marriage with Tayshia like it’s a real thing that’s going to happen, not some abstract idea like Ben does when he broaches the subject. Zac is making my job as snarky recapper very difficult, but he totally won me over — until he started pretending he was an authentic New Yorker with that whole pizza charade. Zac, you’re from South Jersey! Rep some hoagies like the Philly boy you are and cool it with the tired NYC cliches.

No one:
Zac:

The next day Tayshia hears a knock at her door. Fearing that Bennett has gone full American Psycho, she reluctantly answers. It turns out to be her dad, which isn’t a much better sign. He tells her that the family doesn’t want her to make the biggest mistake of her life by rushing into another marriage. Tayshia starts to break down recounting how her dad was there for her in the throes of her divorce. It was raw and one of her realest moments thus far. She’s starting to have doubts.

Zac & Tayshia’s Date

Tayshia and Zac Finale

On their date, Zac reassures Tayshia that he’s ready to take the next step, but Tayshia seems skeptical. Damn, Desmond really got to her! They find out that their date is to learn a wedding dance routine and Tayshia looks about as excited as Brendan did when he met Neil Lane to try on wedding jewelry. Gotta love karma. She keeps getting in her own head and is struggling to relax into the dance moves. Zac is patient with her and they actually pull off a sweet little routine. I’m honestly impressed they learned that in one lesson. It took me and my husband about two months to put together a solid first dance. Respect.

Later that evening they have a casual night in, and Tayshia is honest about her fears that Zac’s feelings will change. He tells her that he is nine years sober today and that his sobriety allows him to not run away and that he’ll love her no matter what she decides to do with her life. Ok, why am I crying in the club right now? And by “in the club” I mean “on my couch”.

Tayshia seems convinced, and frankly, so am I. It’s one of the most authentic exchanges we’ve ever seen on this show and it’s nice to see a couple talk about real-life issues for a change. “I think she believes in me,” Zac says, and I start to tear up. WTF is happening? Is this show…actually making me feel genuine human emotion?

Me watching this season of The Bachelorette:

Ben & Tayshia’s Date Breakup

When Ben meets up with Tayshia “the next day”, she is wearing the same tragic denim number she was wearing when her dad came to talk to her. So she’s either running out of wardrobe options in quarantine or there’s a bit of a continuity issue here and she went to dump Ben after talking to Desmond. She tells Ben that her heart is with Zac and, as usual, Ben looks like a deer in headlights. He takes it pretty well, albeit with way too many “umm”s, and says he’s happy for her. I do feel bad for Ben. He’s a sweet guy and he deserves to find love, but he needs to work through some of his issues with self-worth before jumping into a serious relationship, let alone a marriage. We’re rooting for you, Ben!

The Big Day

It’s engagement day! Tayshia and Zac are getting ready and Neil Lane is back to shill his gaudy rings. Zac looks handsome in his blue suit. Tayshia meets up with Chris Harrison and the exchange is kind of odd. She says she questions if she’s ever been in love until now and then bursts into tears that don’t really look happy. Even Chris seems confused.

Chris: What is going on?
Tayshia:

The proposal set-up is kind of a hot mess. The area rug from the Airstream trailer fantasy suite isn’t helping. Tayshia tells us she feels stressed, overwhelmed, and scared. So basically all of the things one should be feeling right before getting engaged after knowing someone for 30 seconds. She says she doesn’t know if she’s doing the right thing. I’m a little concerned. Is she feeling the pressure of not wanting to disappoint ABC and the fans given the whole Clare debacle?

Things improve when Zac arrives. His engagement speech is really personal and from the heart. It’s undoubtedly the best one I’ve ever heard on this show or The Bachelor. Tayshia starts her speech and after telling Zac that she knows she told him she loved him, takes an extremely long, producer-suggested pause. I admit they got me for a second and I was scared she was bolting. But she continues and tells Zac she wants to jump in fountains all over the world with him and star in endless FabFitFun endorsement deals together. He gets down on one knee and she says yes! Like the true New Yawkah he is, he yells “TAXI!” and the two ride off Flintstone-style into the desert sunset in a cardboard cab the way god and Chris Harrison intended.

And there we have it! Unfortunately (or fortunately, given the endless hours of our lives ABC takes each year) we have no After the Final Rose to catch up with Tayshia and Zac, but it looks like they’re still going strong. This was an excellent season with some of the most mature and authentic men we’ve ever had. Keep it up, ABC! Thanks for joining me this week, guys, and congratulations to the happy couple!

Images: ABC/Craig Sjodin (2); Giphy (6)

The Best ‘Bachelorette’ Recap You’ll Ever Read: Blink Twice If You Need Help, Brendan

Well, everybody, we’ve made it to the final week of The Bachelorette. In keeping with the “unprecedented times”, ABC is breaking protocol and giving us fantasy suites and the finale in the same week. I’d like to think this is a gift to us for having to put up with Clare’s therapy sessions masquerading as dates, but we know better: they have to keep things moving in time for the premiere of Matt’s season. I’ll be filling in for my esteemed colleague Ryanne this week, so please be gentle in the comments. Let’s get to it!

We begin with Tayshia discussing the importance of the fantasy suite dates and her confidence in the final three. We then cut to Ivan, Brendan, and Zac being forced to sit together and allude to their potential future as eskimo brothers. It’s awkward AF and will be a running theme throughout the episode. Meanwhile, Tayshia has a forced Bachelorette synergy “girl chat” with JoJo. They’re really trying to make JoJo happen, huh? Despite Ed’s notes, Chris Harrison continues his practice of barging in on the men without even a courtesy knock. This time he tells them that they better be prepared to get down on one knee and propose.

Chris: If you’re not ready for an engagement, GTFO!
Brendan: 

And so begins Brendan’s mental spiral.

To my surprise, Ivan gets the first fantasy suite date. I personally love Ivan. He’s far and away my favorite of the three men, but he’s too pure for Tayshia and, arguably, this world. However, he tells us he did The Secret and manifested the first date. You go, Glen Coco Ivan! Zac is visibly pissed and Brendan looks like someone told him that it’s now a federal offense to wear turtlenecks. Zac reminds us that regardless of the men’s feelings about the other men, this is about Tayshia. Finally, a man who understands the concept of The Bachelorette!

Ivan’s Date

Tayshia Bachelorette

Just watching the way that Tayshia interacts with Ivan, it’s clear that he’s not the frontrunner in her mind. As if the lukewarm peck she gave him weren’t proof enough, we find out that their date is a f*cking ice bath. Now if that’s not a metaphor for her feelings for Ivan, I don’t know what is. “Are you excited?” she asks, with that pseudo British inflection she adopts when asking questions. Ivan smiles through the pain. This is the most unromantic concept for a date that I can possibly think of, especially one that’s designed to precede sex. The shrinkage alone! Rude, Tayshia. Rude. Even Big Paulie, who according to Chris Harrison is a “Bachelor Nation favorite” (sure, Jan), deems the effects of this date on Ivan’s prospects later on “devastating”. Slapping a potential “world record” on this turd of a date isn’t fooling anyone, Tayshia! You may as well have had an intern spray paint a football field on some cardboard with “Friend Zone” at either end.

Meanwhile, back at the house:

Brendan:

 

Zac seems to be handling things a little better. He gets the second date card and gives us his best Matthew McConaughey.

During the evening portion of Ivan’s date, he tells Tayshia he’s falling in love with her. She says she’s been falling for him too, but I’m just not feeling the sparks between these two. Their conversation doesn’t have much substance and basically consists of them parroting things back to each other. “I cried in front of you!” “I cried in front of you!” Apparently this is enough to take things to the fantasy suite, which in this case is an Airstream trailer that inside looks like it was designed by 2009 me after winning an Urban Outfitters shopping spree. I love a boho-chic moment, but this is not the mood for fantasy suites. This looks like it would be better for a Real Housewives girls’ trip (OC, obv). Apparently it had the desired effect, though, because they stayed up all night talking, according to Ivan. I don’t get the feeling they had sex. Maybe a little over-the-pants action, but nothing more.

Ivan returns to the house and recaps the date. Unsurprisingly, Zac and Brendan look pissed. Brendan, clearly a masochist, asks if they got any sleep. Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to, Brendan! Ivan is apparently an emotional cutter as well because a producer told him to ask he asks what Zac’s date card said. Yikes.

Zac’s Date

Tayshia and Zac

The vibe on this date is completely different than the date with Ivan. Tayshia is straight-up giddy. The feeling is mutual for Zac and he tells us no less than 14 times that he can’t wait to EXPLORE Tayshia. Vom. That’s exactly what the guy you go on one Hinge date with tells you right before he never calls you again. Their date is body painting, which may as well be the polar (see what I did there) opposite of Ivan’s date. This date is essentially foreplay with colors. They slap on some paint and proceed to aggressively make out in front of the camera crew. Do they have no shame??

During the evening portion, they get into deeper topics, specifically, Zac’s stance on having kids. Zac says he realizes now that he does want to be a dad and he then proceeds to tell Tayshia that he loves her. The moment was really genuine, so much so that it moves Tayshia to tears and she says she loves him back. I can’t even be snarky, it was a lovely moment. This is what happens when you put age-appropriate men on this show!

They move on to the fantasy suite, and the set-up alone is another personal affront to Ivan. Zac and Tayshia get a whole-ass suite that looks much nicer than the “El Presidente” suite Tayshia’s been living in all season. The unmitigated gall of these producers to do Ivan so dirty!

Ivan watching this back:

The next morning, Tayshia and Zac are jumping on the bed like two toddlers hopped up on pixie sticks. Interestingly, Tayshia says in a confessional that Brendan has had her heart since day one. This should be interesting given Brendan’s sheer terror all episode. Zac returns to the house with a sh*t-eating grin on his face. Ivan remains mostly calm. Brendan looks…constipated.

Brendan’s Date

Brendan tells us that he’s worried about the prospect of getting engaged again so quickly after getting divorced. Brendan clearly didn’t get the memo on not telling producers about your biggest fears, lest they be exploited to the high heavens, and so his fate is sealed. The date is hosted by F*CKING NEIL LANE! Neil, apparently pissed he had to cobble together a ring for Clare with barely 24 hours’ notice, negotiated some more airtime for his tacky wares and so we need to endure this product placement we’re calling a “date”. A date like this would be torture for just about any straight male who’s been dating a woman for a matter of weeks, but for Brendan, it is hell on earth, and it shows.

Neil keeps telling Brendan not to get nervous, then proceeds to talk endlessly about engagements and weddings. As if this wasn’t anxiety-producing enough, they then FORCE BRENDAN TO TRY ON WEDDING BANDS! I swear his hands were shaking. These producers are laying it on thick. They’ve even got Neil Lane waxing poetic about how rings are circular (no sh*t) and that marriage is FOREVER, as if Brendan, who has been married before, doesn’t already know this. Is Robert De Niro going to pop out and tell Brendan he’s been admitted into Tayshia’s circle of trust, too?

This date is messy AF. I guess this is one way to test his appetite for a proposal at the end.

Brendan:

The night portion of the date doesn’t get any better. Unfortunately, Tayshia saved her best dress for this date. Brendan is…wearing a black T-shirt. Not a good sign. Tayshia brings up Brendan’s distance and he admits he’s been struggling with the idea of an engagement. He confesses that he’s still broken. It was raw and honestly heartbreaking. Tayshia doesn’t put up a fight and sends him home. She says he’s the one she pictured herself with at the end. I’m sure whoever she chooses will be thrilled to watch that back.

Tayshia and Rachel

We get a surprise appearance from Rachel, who looks stunning. As happy as I was to see Rachel again, I didn’t really understand why she was there. The conversation was pretty superficial at the beginning, until Rachel asks Tayshia about any regrets she might have. Then it became very clear why she was invited: to create an opening to talk about Ben, who is obviously going to pull a Bennett and come back to ask for another chance. To which I say:

Michael Scott No

The Rose Ceremony Ben’s Mea Culpa

The men are getting ready for the rose ceremony and Ivan’s look here was giving me major Drake vibes. I’m not mad about it. We then see a shot from the waist down of some bulging thighs in capri pants making their way up the path of the La Quinta, and it’s immediately clear that Ben has returned. He tells Chris Harrison that he shuts down when things are tough and he wants to resolve things with Tayshia.

Tayshia, meanwhile, has two roses left, and to symbolize this she has brought the girls out for the night. She looks gorgeous and is feeling good about her final two, so of course Ben has to swoop in and f*ck it all up! He knocks on Tayshia’s door and she looks THRILLED to see him. He confesses his love for her, admits that he blew it in the moment, and tells her he sees a life with her. Tayshia’s immediate response is to freak the f*ck out and run to her producer. Not a great sign, buddy! All I know is if she cuts Ivan for this clown I will have ABC’s head continue to loyally watch this train wreck. See you tomorrow!

Images: ABC/Craig Sjodin; Giphy (3)