The 'Vanderpump Rules' Scandal Goes Beyond Bad Reality TV Behavior
The biggest cheating scandal in Bravo history has captivated the nation, and for good reason.
The biggest reality TV scandal of our generation came to light last week, and I cannot stop thinking about it. If my personal experience (and the buzz on Twitter) is to be believed, no one else can get it off their minds, either. As a longtime Bravo watcher, I can’t help but feel like the reaction is more outsized than I’ve ever seen. So, as a student of the Reality TV Arts and Sciences, I felt obligated to investigate why.
If you (somehow) haven’t already heard, I will give a brief summary of the drama that has shaken the Bravo-verse, sending reverberations through the larger world. Vanderpump Rules, a spinoff of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, follows the lives of the waiters and bartenders at Lisa Vanderpump’s various West Hollywood restaurants, and it recently returned for its tenth season. This is a big reset following the previous two seasons, where everything was just going a little too well for all of the cast members. Over the past few years, the cast was mostly paired off (either engaged or married), having babies, buying houses, and generally not on the brink of economic or personal ruin. In the past year, however, three of the major couples have either divorced or separated, including Tom Schwartz and Katie Maloney (relationship tenure: 12 years) and DJ James Kennedy and Raquel Leviss (relationship tenure: five years). The only remaining couple at the start of the season was Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix — the duo with the somewhat dubious honor of being the most functional couple in a landscape of very, very dysfunctional ones.
On Friday, March 3, at 12:06 p.m., TMZ dropped an exclusive scoop that, after nine years together, Sandoval and Madix had split — the reason being he had allegedly cheated with costar Raquel (government name, Rachel) for over seven months, despite rumors and teasers on the show that Leviss and the other Tom, Tom Schwartz, were an item. To quote Mean Girls, after rumors of the affair turned out to be extremely true (as confirmed by the entire cast), we’ve officially got a “Scandoval” on our hands, folks!
I’m not sure that anyone vaguely interested in gossip or reality television has gotten anything productive done since this bomb dropped. Bravo fandom can sometimes feel pretty niche; if you talk to someone who isn’t a part of it, you might as well be speaking a different language. But now it seems like word has spread far and wide, and thank goodness, because we need support now more than ever. Across the nation, people have come together over love and support of Madix, disappointment and/or hatred of Sandoval, and consternation over Leviss. (Is she secretly a master manipulator, or is she incredibly dumb? It’s like a Rorschach test where what you believe probably reveals more about you than it does about her.) As one of my friends proclaimed, “This is the biggest thing to happen since Princess Diana died.”
Fallout amongst the Vanderpump Rules cast happened swiftly: Madix deleted her Instagram, loyalties between former friends have been tested, Schwartz & Sandy’s (the Toms’ shared restaurant) has been attacked with negative Yelp reviews. But there have also been real-life financial and emotional consequences of this cataclysmic event outside of the cast. I have personally heard of at least five people deciding this is the moment they should invest in a Peacock subscription. Many will now dedicate the next weeks or months of their lives catching up on nine seasons of backstory.
I, for one, feel very grateful to be single at this tumultuous time. Men are clearly not to be trusted. Imagine having one living in your house right now? I cannot! Two of my best friends have told me they have incidentally started fights with their boyfriends over the Vanderpump scandal. One reported subjecting her partner to a 45-minute monologue on the devastating effects of cheating, and promised to, and I quote, “take him for all he was worth if he ever does [this] to her.” Another admitted to asking her boyfriend, “If Tom and Ariana can’t make it, what chance do we have?” I’d like to think they were both exaggerating, but maybe only slightly.
In the past few days, I think I’ve talked about the #Scandoval from every possible angle. From the high level: Who’s most at fault? (Tom, obviously.) How could Raquel possibly do this to Ariana (who she called a “true friend” mere hours before the secret affair was revealed in the friend group)? What did Schwartz know, and when did he know it? (Schwartz’s brain is a mystery and we may never know.) Then there are the nitty gritty details: Can you believe the matching lightning bolt necklaces? Who gets custody of Coachella? The scandal has even facilitated a conversation about what the unofficial dress code is for showing up at your friend’s house post a devastating breakup. (The answer? Tasteful sweats, no makeup, and sunglasses, carrying a bottle of wine.)
The buzz and fervor for more details and discussion feels akin to true crime obsession. We don’t just want to know, we need to know everything about the when, why, where, and how. We’re all scrapping at Twitter, blogs, and DMs for extra information. Which leads me to believe it’s all coming from that strange psychological place that tells you when you’re watching Dateline, maybe if find out everything there is to know about the bad situation, it won’t happen to me.
Sure, The Last of Us is scary, but as far as I’m concerned, HBO’s prestige programming has nothing on Vanderpump Rules. I’ve never seen a mushroom-based zombie stomping around Lower Manhattan, but I have seen someone shocked, taken advantage of, and heartbroken by a person they love. That’s what’s really hardcore. In the reality TV landscape, where it seems like no one can hide their true, dark nature for long, we were all fooled. Sandoval having a full-blown affair while cameras were rolling, during BravoCon, and through many public appearances, is so deceptive it’s almost unbelievable. We’d seen some ups and downs between Madix and Sandoval over the past nine years, but it still felt like they had a good thing going — that they had made a true commitment to one another and planned to live out their days in that modern farmhouse in Valley Village. It makes one think that, if this can happen to Madix, it can happen to anybody. Reality TV fame or not, that sucks.
If you’re going to be surprised and betrayed in such a public manor, it would be nice to have everyone you know and love (as well as thousands of people that you don’t) call your ex an asshole, and then broadcast it on national television. I can’t wait for the reunion to film in two weeks! Team Ariana!