Over here at Bravo Dyke HQ, I tend to mostly focus on covering any Sapphic happenings in the Real Housewives extended Bravo universe, even when those happenings are somewhat of a stretch. Every once in a while though, this Bravoverse delivers a moment so fork-tender juicy, so delicious that it breaks into larger cultural discourse beyond my group chats and social media. This was certainly the case with Scandoval, the Vanderpump Rules affair that even people who do not watch any of these shows heard about, perhaps against their will, but inspiring some to go back and watch all ten seasons for the first time just to understand what all the tomtomfoolery was about.
This latest slice of group chat-exploding Bravo drama, though, I personally find more entertaining than Scandoval. It has similarly inspired those behind on Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, which has largely been a snooze following the explosive moment of one of its cast members going to federal prison for scamming elderly people, to catch the fuck up. Vulture has created an entire mini-section on its homepage dedicated to coverage of the season four finale where it all went down. And as our intrepid Bravo Dyke, I must weigh in, because that was one of the best edited and crafted episodes of Real Housewives we’ve seen in a minute.
The structure of the episode brings to mind…How To Get Away With Murder in its nonlinear approach that defies logical conventions of time and space. We open on a stormy sky. Heather Gay stands on a beach, saying she has something important to tell the other women. We then jump into a foreshadowing montage of moments to come at episode’s end, brief bursts of decontextualized dialogue shouted by each of the women around a table. Then we jump back to eight hours earlier. Most of the day unfolds like a regular episode of Salt Lake City. There’s some processing of the evening before’s outburst, which had given us this Heather Gay gem:
We move linearly for a bit. The women go shopping. When they’re done, the stormy sky appears again. We then do a one-hour time jump into the future, when Heather receives an apparently Very Important Phone Call. This scene was teased at the very beginning of the season. It basically features producers and the camera crew scrambling into Heather’s room in the Bermuda vacation home where this is all going down, and Heather promptly kicking them all out. We catch snippets of disbelief from Heather over whatever she’s hearing on the phone but not much else. Heather kicks the crew out of her room. Then the screen reads FOUR HOURS LATER. This episode could be used as a word problem on a math test teaching children how to track time. WOULD YOU PASS?
At this point, the women are sitting down for the dinner teased at the beginning of the episode. In the words of Scheana Shay, it’s all happening. But what IS it?! Because at first, the dinner is pretty regular Housewives fodder. Someone proposes a game, as these women are wont to do. There are two kinds of games played in the Housewives universe: games where everyone is supposed to reveal how they like to fuck and games where everyone tells each other what they dislike about each other. Both are equally erotic if you ask me. This game is of the latter category. Heather has placed effigies resembling each of the women in front of everyone. They have to take turns asking the person whose effigy they have to answer an “unsolved mystery” about them. These women have a very loose grip on what a mystery is.
But it doesn’t really matter, because this is all ruse! When it’s Heather’s turn, she turns to Monica. Monica was Salt Lake City‘s latest rookie Housewife this season, and she honestly made quite the splash throughout, unfiltered in her testimonials, frequently coming for the more veteran wives, introducing who might be the new reigning Bad Mom of Bravo via her mother, and down for a fun time. But oh how that splash was about to become a tsunami.
We then jump to TWO HOURS before this, back to Heather on the beach like the episode’s opening. So that places us two hours before dinner and two hours after Heather received that phone call I think? Math has never been my strong suit. Heather, wearing what I can only describe as an Ancient Greek toga and very large sunglasses, summons the cast members who have been on the show since season one: Meredith, Lisa, and Whitney. She reveals to them that Monica is the person behind Reality Von Tease, an Instagram gossip account that was used to take down former cast member Jen Shah but that also has spread rumors about all of these women. We’re treated to a series of flashbacks as Heather, Sherlock Holmes of our time, details how she was able to unravel this reveal. Parts of Monica’s story didn’t add up. She used multiple last names at Heather’s med spa salon Beauty Lab and had unpaid balances. She also seemed to use information on the other Wives as currency (to be fair, they all do that, so this is hardly a damning allegation). Things came to a head when Heather’s hairstylist Tanesha, also apparently part of Reality Von Tease, turned on Monica and exposed her, resulting in that phone call. Flashbacks within flashbacks! Oh, we’re cooking.
The whole scene looks like Big Little Lies, the wind and Meredith’s oversized shawl practically supporting characters:
Now, we’re back at the dinner. The setup. All the women (minus newcomer Angie, who Heather didn’t include in the beachside convention) know the truth. And Heather is about to expose it. She accuses Monica of being Reality Von Tease. She initially denies it, before admitting it’s true but not entirely true. Housewives and their semantics. She claims to just be one of the people behind Reality Von Tease; it’s a collective. She also claims she only contributed to the takedown of Jen Shah, scammer of the elderly, and did not participate in any ridicule or rumor-spreading when it came to the other women. Heather suggests Monica infiltrated the group, applying to be on the show so she could further dig up dirt and humiliate the rest of them.
The whole time, Monica largely keeps her cool while the women hurl words of disdain her way. Real Housewives franchises often have villain arcs for characters, but I cannot recall any other instance of a SECRET VILLAIN. And that’s exactly how all this unfolds: Monica is giving secret villain! She’s giving Evil All Along! Certainly, there have been Housewives who have turned out to be Very Bad, like the aforementioned scammer of elders as well as others with unsavory business liaisons. But someone who has specifically haunted the Housewives themselves in secret and anonymously for a long period of time? This is a new type of villain reveal for these shows.
As a villain hidden in plain sight, she’s really channeling my favorite Erika Jayne quote of all time:
Monica likens herself to Gossip Girl (I need a hat that reads “Even Gossip Girl couldn’t stay Gossip Girl forever” STAT), but the women react to all this as if she’s actually Ghostface removing her mask after a killing spree. Housewives live and die by their reputations, by their social status. Plenty of gossip accounts exist around the periphery of the shows, and while they aren’t really supposed to break the fourth wall while filming, the veil of reality TV is a fickle shroud as wind swept as the shawls worn by the women at this dinner. Sometimes, and increasingly recently, the veil lifts. By arguing about Monica as Reality Von Tease, the Real Housewives are arguing both about artifice and about something that feels very real to them. They’re appalled that someone who has participated in the gossip about their storylines on the show could somehow work her way into living amid that gossip.
I said earlier that this hits better than Scandoval, and I mean it. I think there’s a key different in production. Scandoval news broke outside of filming. In fact, the season was pretty much wrapped when it was leaked to the press that Tom Sandoval cheated on long-time girlfriend Ariana with fellow cast member Raquel. Production then picked the cameras back up to film the cast reckoning with the aftermath, and while it was raw, unbridled drama, it was also largely reactionary to viewer discourse that was already happening. We knew what was coming before we watched. Editing tried to heighten certain moments, but it was all, well, ultimately a little flat and contrived! There were juicier moments from earlier in the season, filmed before the news broke but airing after so that there was a level of dramatic irony. When Raquel asked Ariana about her sex life with Tom, we all recoiled, knowing Raquel was already sleeping with him even if Ariana didn’t yet.
Monica’s identity as Reality Von Tease, however, stayed in the vault rather than leaking to the press mid-season. None of us knew what was coming. The construction of the episode — from the camerawork to the editing — is genuinely thrilling. All those flash forwards and flashbacks! Dramatized storm effects! The WIND and the SHAWLS.
— Ryan (@ryanntweets_) January 3, 2024
The times when the Real Housewives shows are the most thrilling are the times when they’re most narratively evocative of soap operas. Much like daytime soaps, when it comes to Housewives, we’re following the same “characters” for a very long time — over a decade, in many cases. Salt Lake City is in its nascent stages compared to more long-running franchises, but it has resembled a soap from its start, from the weird lighting everywhere in Utah seems to have to the fact that it opens with a Housewife who is married to her step-grandfather. A secret villain reveal is the stuff of soap operas. So is a mysterious black eye, which was one of Heather’s unsolved mysteries of last season. That finally gets answered here in the season four finale, too. When confronting Monica, Heather finally comes forward and says she spent over a year on book tour protecting Jen by not telling people it was her who gave Heather the black eye last season. A flashback (another flashback!) here reveals just how obvious that truth was all along, but I think we were all understandably in denial about the fact that one Housewife would literally assault another during filming…even if it’s technically something we’ve seen before. The Monica reveal is entertaining; the black eye reveal is disturbing. And not even just because the incident happened in the first place but because Heather has indeed been adamant she didn’t remember how it occurred.
If you’re reading this and don’t watch these types of shows, maybe the drama of the Monica reveal sounds inane; maybe it sounds confounding; maybe it sounds thrilling. I think all are correct responses. Watching reality television, as I write about frequently in these Bravo Dyke missives, is a complex viewing experience. People are exploited; their worst tendencies come out; whole lives are ruined. On the one hand, it’s easy to be sympathetic to the other women on Salt Lake City who have been unknowingly fraternizing with a woman who has, either directly or passively, spread rumors about them online and perhaps even surveilled them prior to joining the show herself. On the other hand, their reaction is so outsized, too, so myopic. To them, the greatest crime a person can commit is trolling anonymously online. To them, interpersonal betrayal is akin to being a killer in a slasher movie. They accuse Monica of invading their privacy, but how much privacy does one really have when signing up to be on a reality television program?
Real Housewives is supposedly slice-of-life reality television, but it’s viewed best when viewed as a game. Monica easily won the season, though I’m sure the other women would prefer the narrative that they banded together and briefly put their differences aside to confront an infiltrator. The truth is, this season would have been nothing without its secret villain click clacking her acrylic nails to fire off anonymous posts in the shadows. This drama is juicy precisely because it’s kind of silly! There’s no affair, no criminal conspiracy. This is Gossip Girl fluff, but it has ruffled their feathers in such ways so as to make it feel as if the stakes are mob-movie high.
There is no real-life counterpart for this drama, not really. I guess it’d be as if someone who was anonymously spreading negative rumors about your friend group then suddenly became a member of your friend group? Has that happened to you? If so, I want to hear about it! But in general, I think the Salt Lake City finale’s villain reveal entertains because it doesn’t feel real, because it’s something so specific to reality television and the secondary texts like the blogs, social media posts, and tabloid headlines it spawns. The words “Reality Von Tease” don’t hold much meaning for anyone on the outside. But to the women, it’s the boogeyman who has haunted them.
While it seems like every other Bravo show is scrambling to participate in the spectacle of affairs that made Scandoval so appealing to viewers, this is a twist that cannot really be replicated. “Housewives is camp” gets thrown around a lot, oftentimes erroneously. But I think it’s difficult to deny the camp of this finale.