Photo of Ariana Madix by Paul Archuleta / Contributor via Getty Images
In the words of one Bethenny Frankel……….it’s about Tom. And not the Tom we might have expected.
If you’re even half as invested in the Bravosphere as I am, then your phone was likely ablaze with notifications heading into the weekend, multiple group chats spread across multiple platforms simply agog and aghast by the breaking news coming out of PageSix: Raquel Leviss and Tom Sandoval of Vanderpump Rules are rumored to have been enmeshed in a months-long full-blown affair, unbeknownst by Sandoval’s longtime girlfriend Ariana until this week. And if actions by the show’s cast and crew in the past 48 hours are any indication, I’d say those rumors and anonymously sourced reports are very much likely true.
In case you’re here out of mere morbid curiosity and not one of those among us whose weekend was derailed by this news, here’s a bit of background, from recent history: There has been a lot of lead-up to the currently airing tenth season of Vanderpump Rules (a show I’ve aptly described as being about beautiful liars through the years in my brief bursts of coverage here) following a mostly mid ninth season of the series. But anticipation and intrigue accumulated following rumors — and subsequent cast confirmation — of illicit makeouts between Raquel, who got engaged last season but was broken up with DJ James Kennedy by the time of the reunion, and Tom Schwartz, the show’s second Tom. Now, these makeouts were technically above board, because between the ninth and tenth seasons, Schwartz and his wife Katie Maloney got divorced. What made it illicit was that Katie made it very clear to Schwartz that if they were to remain friends post-divorce, he could not hook up with a member of the friend group, making all cast members off limits. She also tells Raquel repeatedly over the course of the first few episodes of season 10 that it would very much hurt her feelings if anything were to happen between them. We’re now four episodes into season 10, and while no makeout has occurred, we know it’s coming, and we’ve seen Raquel proposition Schwartz for a makeout drunkenly at the concert of the truly atrocious cover band self-funded and fronted by the show’s other Tom, Tom Sandoval.
And apparently the Schwartz scandal is just the tip of the iceberg or a deflection or a chaotic tangent to what is otherwise the real scandal, because PageSix says Raquel and Tom SANDOVAL not Schwartz have been basically sexting for months and also want to be together????? Which is very much not above board, because Sandoval has been in a monogamous relationship with Ariana Madix (despite rumors of opening their relationship up, which recently circulated and Aria squashed) for many years now, and all reports and rumors suggest Ariana didn’t know about Raquel until this week, so basically until the rest of us knew, too. A bit of background, from more distant history: Ariana started as just a guest in season one of Vanderpump Rules ten years ago, but she became recurring in season two when scandal swirled around the possibility that Sandoval was cheating on his then-girlfriend Kristen Doute with her (which turned out eventually to be true). She became a regular in season three when she and Sandoval started dating officially, and they’ve been together ever since. Now, the reports on the affair allegations are all saying she has already kicked Sandoval to the curb.
Now, you may be wondering why I’m writing about this for Autostraddle specifically, where we focus on queer pop culture. Well, to start, Ariana is bisexual. She made a point to come out in season eight, going through some of the specific struggles of internalized biphobia that can occur when reckoning one’s bisexuality while in a relationship that can be perceived as straight by heteronormative standards and even stigmatized within parts of the queer community. Sandoval appeared to be a good partner during that journey, but we are truly not hear to pat any Toms on the back!
I suppose we should have seen this coming after rumors surfaced last year that Raquel had been seen making out with Tom at Coachella. We just had the wrong Tom. Everyone assumed it was Schwartz, not Sandoval! A practically Shakespearean incident of mistaken identity!
I’d love for my reaction to all this mess to simply be “I hope Ariana gets a girlfriend after all this!” and I certainly would love that for her. But what I actually feel is that I just hope Ariana is okay! Having been through a situation where someone I was dating was cheating with someone I knew and trusted, I cannot imagine the day I found out and its immediate aftermath being captured on television for people to consume, dissect, and form instant opinions about. Because, oh yeah, cameras are apparently very much rolling. I’ve seen some unconfirmed reports that Bravo cameras were actually present at the concert where Ariana first learned about the affair. But I’ve also seen credible evidence that the cast were all rounded up for emergency testimonials to react to the news, with cast member Lala Kent posting on her Instagram story while getting glammed up that she received permission from Ariana herself to torch the Toms.
Yes, I am using one of the affected players in this scandal’s bisexuality as a way in to write about it for Autostraddle, but I’m also just interested in the overall experience of watching Vanderpump Rules as a lesbian viewer. Vanderpump Rules is heterosexuality gone off the fucking rails. It’s the most compelling argument against heterosexuality — or at least traditional, monogamous heterosexual structures — I’ve ever seen on television!!!!!!
It’s straight camp, if there is such a thing. Remember how I said Raquel got engaged last season to a maniacal DJ? Sandoval helped that DJ with the proposal, gifting thousands of dollars to his efforts. The affair reportedly started very soon after that engagement resolved. People who rarely watch reality television love to pretentiously point out it’s all scripted, but you cannot script THIS!
The circus of machismo I’ve seen on this show is staggering, but the selfishness across the board — regardless of gender! — is unnerving. And for me, this often feels like a chicken vs. egg conundrum. Does reality television attract people with poisoned personalities or does it do the poisoning? Supposedly, this cast really does consider itself a friend group when the cameras aren’t rolling (which cannot be said of all Bravo shows these days), and like a lot of friend groups, they often refer to themselves as a family. Well, you know what? Vanderpump Rules is stark proof that chosen families can be just as toxic as given ones, something I’ve witnessed in real life, too, and often in queer circles!
I’m also just thinking a lot about how the nature of reality television means people not just inside the friend group but also everyone on the outside, everyone who watches these people for entertainment, must now pick sides. People will be labeled villains, victims, etc. It’ll all get narrativized and packaged, and it’ll make me think something I often think when watching these shows, which is that reality television ruins lives. At the same time, I’d be lying if I said I’ve never experienced some form of catharsis or release in watching relationship drama or cheating scandals play out not just on reality television in general but on this exact show (because yes, this is far from Vanderpump Rules‘ first infidelity storyline, though it is easily its most shocking). This show has relatively low turnover for a Bravo show — some main players have left, but many remain and have been here since the beginning, which means we’ve followed them for a decade. For fans, there’s extreme parasocial investment in their relationships, as reality television tends to engender in general. It is hard to remember that these are real people with real emotional stakes, because most of them are really good at their jobs, and their job is to entertain us and turn their conflicts into storylines. Yes, I do wish I could approach Bravo with a smooth brain, not thoughts just vibes energy, but I can’t. Part of engaging this deeply with reality television means having to think about all these things. MY CROSS TO BEAR!
Surely I’ll continue to go down the rabbithole of fan theories and speculation in the coming weeks, but above all else, I just hope Ariana emerges from the other side of this with her sense of self intact. She’s no less or more queer now that she’s single. Being with Tom didn’t erase her bisexuality. But wow, I would indeed love if we got some bisexual casual dating and hookup scene content out of her now joining Lala and Katie as single women on the show. But it feels very much too soon to even be thinking about that, because whew, this rumor mill and scandal cycle is moving fast. I can barely keep up, and I’ve been home alone all weekend obsessively tracking things! Cameras are rolling, a phrase I find myself repeating a lot this weekend, so we should know even more as to what this means for group dynamics and the future of the show very soon.
Do you watch Vanderpump Rules? What are your thoughts on all this? Did you merely read this as an outsider, and if so, have I sufficiently convinced you the viewing experience of this show as a queer spectator is interesting or are you like wtf Kayla why would I watch this nonsense? My fiancé is out of town, please talk to me I’m bored!