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
With people constantly showing off their professional accomplishments, personal life milestones, and expensive purchases, it’s easy to feel like nothing in your life measures up. Let’s be clear: you’re not actually jealous of that girl from your hometown who has a husband, two kids, and a fixer-upper house by age 30—that sounds like hell, tbh—but you still feel like your life is missing something. Faced with this lack of fulfillment, others might say that you should “work on yourself,” but what does that really mean? Self-help books are boring, and who can afford to see a life coach?
Thankfully, there’s an alternative. If you need a little self-esteem boost, or reassurance that things are going to be okay, I recommend turning to The Real Housewives. As someone who has devoted thousands of hours to studying the ins and outs of reality TV, I can confidently say that there’s no more efficient cure to whatever kind of ennui you’re currently experiencing. From rich-people problems, to problems it doesn’t seem like rich people should be having, Housewives serves as a comforting reminder that being rich and kind-of-famous might not actually make your life better. Here are some ridiculous storylines that might make you feel a bit better about whatever you’re dealing with right now.
Did you let a tabloid rumor about un-adopting a puppy get blown out of proportion and rip your friend group apart, or are you normal? For everyone but the ladies of Beverly Hills, I hope the answer is the latter. We still don’t know who leaked the story of Lucy Lucy Apple Juice to Radar Online, and we probably never will, but we do know one thing: Lisa Vanderpump can hold a grudge unlike anyone else. She ended multiple friendships, not to mention her decade-long run on RHOBH, all because of a dumb rumor about a dumb (but very cute) dog. If you’re currently dealing with some drama in the group chat, there’s no need to take a polygraph or print out text messages at 200% zoom—those things are fun on TV, but you don’t want everyone to hate you. Just talk through your issues like a normal f*cking person.
The Great Hospital Smell Debacle
The Salt Lake City cast certainly had real issues during their first season. Meredith’s marriage was on the rocks, Heather’s relationship with the LDS Church left her with deep wounds, and Lisa Barlow’s pre-teen sons unfortunately had not become moguls yet. Truly, so much strife. But beyond all those boring real-person problems, we can’t forget that the season’s over-arching narrative stemmed from one grown woman saying that another grown woman smelled like “hospital”. Honestly, who has the time? Much like PuppyGate, you can likely rest easy knowing that your friend group has better things to argue about.
Kameron Westcott’s Pink Dog Food
Do you ever worry that your career has hit a dead end? Of course you do, you’re not like, Jeff Bezos. But whatever your #GirlBoss aspirations may be, they’re probably more likely to take off than Kameron Westcott’s foray into entrepreneurship. Kam was talking about SparkleDog from the moment she joined the show, and through the power of
her husband’s money perseverance, it hit the market a year later. Good for her, but judging from the Amazon reviews, the food was not good for the digestive systems of actual dogs. Oops! The food is no longer available, and Kameron has since moved on to newer, less ridiculous storylines. So if you’ve been thinking about selling your needlepoint on Etsy, or getting into freelance graphic design, even if you don’t have a rich husband to bankroll your hobby du jour, go for it! Hustling isn’t easy, but at least your hustle isn’t pink dog food.
Everything About Sonja Morgan
Sonja Morgan is undoubtedly a fan-favorite, but there’s something undeniably tragic about her. The moment that crystallized it for me was when Tinsley Mortimer discovered that the ice in the freezer of Lady Morgan’s Upper East Side townhouse was… yellow. YELLOW! You might not give off an air of old-money elegance, but at least you can feel secure knowing that the ice in your modest apartment kitchen is CLEAR. We’ve watched a decade of Sonja’s financial woes and failed business ventures, and even though there are some moments of glamour, aren’t you glad you don’t have to deal with any of that? Between the failed movie deal with John Travolta (and resulting lawsuit), the toaster oven saga, and the multiple underperforming clothing lines, I feel grateful for my steady paycheck.
Lynne Curtin’s Literal Eviction
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that if you’re reading this, you’ve never received an eviction notice on national television. Congrats, you’ve cleared the bar set by RHOC‘s Lynne Curtin! Well, technically her teenage daughter received the eviction notice because Lynne wasn’t home, but my point stands. Even if you’re behind on your bills, living paycheck to paycheck, or have dipped into your savings because of, like, reasons, you can stand proud in your truth that the entire country is not privy to your financial status. It’s the small things!
Images: Heidi Gutman/Bravo; Giphy (5)
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
It started off so promising: a diverse cast, a glittering snowy paradise, a peek into Mormonism, a pastor who f*cked her grandfather. The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City had all the makings of what should have been a captivating first season, but 12 episodes later and I can’t seem to get myself to care much. What happened, and where do we go from here?
Maybe I expected too much from a first season of a Real Housewives show. Even my beloved Potomac had a clunky debut, initially pitched as an etiquette show and then later refashioned into a Real Housewives franchise. The drama that season was petty and low-stakes: Gizelle sitting in the middle of the table at Karen’s party, Ashley having the audacity to dance in public. It took five seasons (and a whole lot of pent-up animosity) for them to get to the explosive season that just concluded.
There were definitely some growing pains on RHOP as Gizelle, Karen, and Robyn—women who had known each other for years—got to know Ashley, and later, Candiace. Remember when Ashley was just some perky 26-year-old who took bourbon shots, much to Karen and Gizelle’s horror? This whole season of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City feels like that: a group of women who don’t know each other well and don’t have an affinity to one another just trying to fake it for the cameras. Heather and Whitney and, until she kept going after them, Jen are really friends, you can tell; so are Lisa and Meredith (though whether they are friends out of a genuine fondness or plain narcissism because they are the same exact person remains to be seen for me). But for a show that opened with a voiceover saying “our friendships define us”, the friendship of the group as a whole feels pretty weak.
There are the warring factions—Lisa and Meredith vs. Heather and Whitney, and everybody vs. Jen—but these independent groups feel loosely held together by virtue of being cast on the same show. Do Lisa and Meredith really care if they remain cool with Heather and Whitney? I don’t get the sense that they do, and still, this remains a conflict for multiple episodes. Plus, rather than sitting there and, as they say in other franchises, working on getting to a good place, many of the women literally walk away from fights: Jen at the prohibition party, Jen at the brunch, Meredith in Vegas, etc. Perhaps this is just a side-effect of all that Mormon conditioning, but 12 hours of television later and it just feels like none of these women really GAF whether or not they talk to their castmates after the cameras stop rolling. If there are no friendships to hold the group together, who really cares if they argue? It’s like watching two strangers get into an argument on the subway, only I don’t have to avert my eyes.
In particular, Lisa and Meredith act too above everything to engage with the rest of the cast. They seem like they would be perfectly content to never branch out of their twosome, except to go on double dates with their husbands. That’s very mature, but unfortunately maturity does not make for good reality TV.
Meredith, in fact, doesn’t really seem to want to be on TV at all. She leaves the room in Vegas when Jen’s behavior starts escalating (at least Lisa follows Jen to try to calm her down/remain on camera). She literally says “I’m not engaging.” Is it because, as she says, she won’t have someone tell her who she can or can’t be friends with, or because she doesn’t want the cameras to catch her cracking?
She also shuts down discussion of her marriage, the one plot point that, I’m sorry, makes her interesting. For all the talk about her marriage problems, they’re basically resolved in two episodes: in episode 7, the worst of it, Seth misses the Park City fashion show; by episode 9, they’re happily back together. From the previous, it seems she will finally talk about it in the finale, but that’s after many episodes of downplaying.
The two cast members who actually do have genuine emotions towards each other are Jen and Mary, and the emotion they palpably feel for one another is hatred. It starts in the very first episode, with “Hospital Smell-Gate” (a feud I still don’t get because it’s a fact. If you just left a hospital, you will likely smell like a hospital. Actually, same with F*cked Her Grandfather-Gate—also a fact). In any case, Mary and Jen’s dislike of one another is so real that they flat-out can’t be in the same room, which is a real shame. In episode 5, during Mary’s attempted brunch reconciliation, she and Jen immediately start arguing. Mary exposes herself when she tells Jen, “I don’t want to talk to you. Ever.” Heather tries to correct her by telling Mary, “you do, you want to talk to her,” but the truth is clear: these women won’t spend time together, good TV or not. Predictably, Jen leaves the brunch early. I’m sorry, but we simply cannot have a show where the only two people who have genuine conflict and bridge the gap between the separate friend groups will not interact with one another. It’s admittedly weird when the two people who are holding this group together, Jen and Mary, are also the most divisive ones. But that could also make for great TV, if utilized correctly.
Speaking of Jen, she seems to have two moods: crying or screaming. At first it was interesting to watch her fly off the handle, at least because nobody else was doing it. Now, it’s gotten predictable, and a little concerning. On top of that, nobody on the cast is capable of holding her accountable or getting a genuine apology (save Lisa at the aforementioned brunch in episode 5), and they all seem tired of trying. Even the hypnotist, despite repeatedly chastising Jen on her improper apology etiquette, can’t elicit a no-strings-attached “I’m sorry” from her. Jen also doesn’t seem to understand how reality TV works, because she won’t forgive and forget. She takes it as a personal affront that Meredith and Lisa forgave Whitney after her apology, saying “I’m not ok with her lying and us throwing everything under the rug,” refusing to realize that apologizing and then sweeping issues under the rug is literally how these shows go on. (Paradoxically, that is a point in her favor that their friendship is real—she is genuinely hurt, and not just for TV.)
The problem is, though, this is The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, not Everybody Hates Jen. Someone else needs to share the weight, and in order to do that, we need some stakes between everybody else. To her credit, Whitney did try to hold her own by bringing up the rumor of MereLisa saying they’re afraid of Jen to Jen at her husband’s birthday. It was objectively a bad time to bring it up, but Whitney seems to know that this is reality TV, and the worst occasion to bring up an issue in the real world is the single best time to do so to maximize impact. (That or she truly lacks tact, but I’m going with the former guess.) However, while noble, this is a short-term solution, because all Whitney would need to do to fix it is give a simple Ramona Singer-esque apology and admit it was the wrong place, wrong time.
What made RHOSLC so interesting from the beginning was how different it was from other Real Housewives cities, but in order to get back on track, we are going to need to follow the playbook from those other cities, at least for a few pages. The good news is that a solution is both easy and imminent: get these ladies in the same room again! At the reunion, which Mary will attend in its entirety, there can be no storming out or leaving the table when confrontation gets too direct. There can be no FaceTime games of telephone. Like it or not (and I don’t think Meredith or Jen will like it), but they will have to hash it out. And isn’t that what we’re all here for, dammit?
Images: Fred Hayes/Bravo