Exactly one week before the “Scandoval” broke the Internet, I found myself in an LA dance club seated next to the one and only Ariana Madix. We both presented at “The Crappies,” an annual event hosted by Ben Mandelker and Ronnie Karam of the Watch What Crappens podcast — and, after the event, we both headed to an afterparty.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve run into Vanderpump Rules cast members, or even the first time I’ve been in the same room as Ariana. But while she and I (and Tom Sandoval) had just co-hosted a live podcast together a couple of weeks earlier, this night marked the first time we got to legitimately hang out in a non-work related setting and just… chat.
Drinks were flowing, and, in turn, so was the conversation—but nothing that night even remotely hinted that Ariana was aware of Tom’s infidelity or that there were issues in her relationship. She was happy, we talked about Schwartz & Sandy’s, and I even tried to convince her to name a bagel sandwich after me at her future sandwich shop. (The Kiki Club, with ham instead of turkey, thank you very much.)
We did, however, talk about failed relationships. My failed relationship, to be specific. Once we moved past deli meats, we landed on the topic of how I ended up in Los Angeles. I told Ariana about my relationship of nine years and how it imploded. I told her that, even though the break-up destroyed me at the time, it forced me to pivot my entire life for the better. I told her about how, four years later, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
The irony of this being my last conversation with her just days before her own long-term relationship imploded is not lost on me.
A mere five days after our exchange in the club, Ariana discovered an inappropriate video on Tom Sandoval’s phone featuring her (now ex-) best friend, Raquel Leviss. After days of rumors, gossip, and leaks, we were able to piece together that Tom and Raquel have been having a seven months-long affair behind everyone’s back—including, it appears, even the Vanderpump Rules production team. So even though season 10 of Vanderpump Rules had already wrapped, it was cameras up again to capture this major drama in our increasingly less niche corner of the universe. It also gave the VPR-obsessed among us an opportunity to rewatch both the current and past seasons with eagle eyes, looking for any clues.
And during my own rewatch, one thing was abundantly clear: Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz showed their true colors long ago—but no one saw it.
Let me count the ways with 20/20 hindsight:
- In Season 2, Kristen constantly tried to claim that Sandoval cheated on her with Ariana. He always denied it, but eventually the two of them admitted they did share a kiss (but nothing more) in Vegas. During the season 2 reunion, Sandoval also confessed that he hooked up with a waitress in Vegas.
- In Season 3, Kristen spent an entire season trying to destroy Sandoval and Ariana’s relationship, going so far as to invite a woman (we know her as “Miami Girl”) who claimed to cheat with Tom to LA. Looking back, all we could see was Kristen being… a little unhinged. But as I re-watched the season, it seems more probable that the truth was obscured by our hatred of Kristen.
- While all of this was happening, Tom Schwartz was in the background having multiple drunken makeout sessions with women, claiming he couldn’t remember because he was blackout drunk.
- The accusations that Schwartz cheated while in Vegas were never fully cleared up in season 5, either. Whether he slept with someone, or whether they just made out have not been confirmed.
- And while Schwartz may not have been the most prolific cheater of the group, he helped set the bar plenty low. Let’s not forget he called Katie a bitch and dumped a drink all over her head after a heated argument on the streets of Cabo in season 2.
And these are just a few bullet points on the very long, very messy laundry list of very bad Vanderpump behavior.
Even though all the evidence told us otherwise, we all fell for Sandoval’s “good guy” act the first watch around, leading to an unexpected and universal feeling of betrayal across the Bravo universe. Some might call the widespread reaction parasocial, but, to me and so many fellow fans of Vanderpump, we felt the deception because we’ve experienced the deception in our own lives. Seeing the Scandoval played out in the news forced so many of us to reexamine our own experiences with cheating, lying, and sneaking around.
Every woman I spoke with after the news broke displayed the same pattern of emotions — immediate rage followed by sadness triggered by a recent personal memory. Anyone who has ever discovered a text they didn’t want to find, has been lied to by a partner or best friend, or just been callously dumped for someone else knew what Ariana was living through, and it was heartbreaking.
And so, many of us showed up to be there for Ariana — even those who had never met her before. Support took on many forms: Some fans felt buying merch from her sandwich shop was the easiest way to send a virtual pat on the back. For others, leaving scathing reviews of Tom’s bar on Yelp was far more cathartic. When it was reported that two of the Vanderpump restaurants had their liquor licenses suspended, some even wondered whether there was a #TeamAriana employee at the California Department of ABC. While I wouldn’t advise the latter tactic (as it affects the lives of more than just Sandoval), the community forming around Ariana has felt stunning and extraordinarily empowering, not to mention healing. It’s not often that fans across the Bravo universe support one another, let alone agree on anything so staunchly.
When VPR first aired, it was a show about, and watched by, a bunch of 20 and early 30-somethings. Many viewers, like myself, probably worked in the hospitality world, and related to the drama, backstabbing, and copious amounts of boozy nights and sexy hookups that come with that lifestyle. But as we grew up and evolved, the show’s characters grew up and evolved alongside us (so we thought). They bought houses, started businesses, got married, and found life partners, much like we did, or planned to do. These on-screen friends felt like extensions of ourselves and our own lives.
But, 10 years later, we finally know the truth about Tom. Sure, we were fooled for an entire decade, but the veil has finally been lifted. And disappointed, shocked, and emotional as we might be, the Scandoval is exactly what we signed up for when we became Vanderpump fans — whether we realized it or not. A good reality show delivers drama and memorable one-liners; a great reality show delivers all that, and a dose of self-reflection. As more and more reality shows chase the aspirational and unbelievable, Vanderpump, in its 10th season, has managed to bring the genre back down to earth with a sense of relatability that made reality TV so compelling to begin with. Though many of us might never plant our shoes in SUR, we can put ourselves in Ariana’s shoes, and be even more invested in watching what happens.
So I’m not going to riot, I’m not going to try to bring down Toms’ restaurants, and I’m definitely not going to cry “fire them.” But what I am going to do is grab my popcorn, manifest fat paychecks for the entire cast (especially Ariana), and remind myself that sometimes, the realest thing about reality TV is that nice guys aren’t really all that nice, after all.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.