In case anyone is keeping track, I’m now off flour, sugar, toxic male assholes, and The Real Housewives of Orange County.
Probably a lot of us eventually stop watching certain shows we were once enthralled by, and I suppose that happens for all kinds of reasons. I remember quite well, for example, when I had to make the painful decision to walk away from Days of Our Lives. I was in college, and the showrunners decided that Marlena should first get possessed by the devil and then go entertain masked gentleman callers late in the evening by walking through a portal in her bedroom closet. What I’m saying here is that we all have our limits and Marlena levitating was mine. I have friends who never watched The Office after Steve Carell left. I certainly understand their fierce devotion to Michael Gary Scott, but I also cannot help but feel their choice was flawed, as they have now gone through their lives without seeing Meredith shave her head in the office kitchen. No life should have to be lived with that sort of lack. But they made their decision and I respect their decision, much as I hope everyone will respect why I have decided that I have finally endured enough of the tottering hysteria of the Orange County Housewives who, after all this time, are still decking themselves out in fur vests made of muskrat.
The O.C. women were never my favorite group of Housewives, nor should they have been. As an east coast woman with brown hair who votes Democrat and has never owned a hideous top made by the brand Sky, I’m probably not their target demographic anyway. I did, however, watch the show for many years. Hell, I even recapped that show, first for my site and later for Reality Steve. I would sit on my couch – I think it was on Monday nights back then – and my laptop would be propped open and I would try my mightiest to find new ways to describe the slithering garbage monster that is Vicki Gunvalson. Now, I have personally encountered a few human-being-horror-shows in my own life, but I was still continually stunned that someone so universally unappealing was selected to be on a television show and that she and that show kept getting renewed. I recall with a vividness that I fear will never leave me the time she shrieked at a van driver. I also recall the time she shrieked at Tamra in a hallway and I will never scrub from the folds of my brain the time she shrieked at Gretchen at a party, because that particular time she broke the sound barrier and she did it while sporting crimped hair and the face she had six faces ago. Throughout the years, I have watched her spout biblical quotes while participating in a cancer scam and then whine about not receiving a casserole. I watched her whip her arms straight into the air and bellow “Whoo Hoo!” because the self-proclaimed-wannabe-MILF was going to brand herself in some way, and for reasons beyond my comprehension, she didn’t just go with the obvious and brand herself a leaky asshole. Recapping a show starring someone so vile was difficult. I would often have to take several deep meditative breaths and some nights I’d call my mother just to thank her for not being a soul-warping demon who chose to go on television and moan to the masses about her dried up “love tank.” My mother, who watches not one of these shows, has become quite used to getting such calls from me over the years and, to her credit, she now just chirps back, “You’re welcome, Tuffy!” and then hangs up the phone pleased that she’s finally appreciated.
You’d think that having someone on the show who periodically mimes the crucifixion just to indicate how similar she is to Christ would cause everyone else to look stellar in comparison, but nah. Because Vicki’s best friend (and often her worst enemy) is Tamra, a tiny blonde lady who still wears trucker hats in 2019, has one child who will not speak to her – which has become part of her motherfucking storyline – and still another child that I fully expect to see on the news one day, and not for having solved the climate crisis because he doesn’t believe such a thing exists anyway. Tamra has spent about a decade stirring shit and dropping barely veiled innuendos when she’s not getting baptized in a swimming pool. Yes, the woman has found God, but she has not located a stylist. Then there’s Shannon. I don’t hate Shannon. Since her start on the show, she has endured a crumbling marriage that led to a rickety reconciliation and then to knockout drag-out divorce hearings, all while strapping a mic pack to her body. I have no idea why anyone would find it empowering or helpful to go through all that shit while the eyes of the world and those of her three impressionable teenage daughters were on her, but Shannon always struck me as more wounded than wounding and she dropped some witty lines along the way in her confessionals, so I always kind of liked her. That doesn’t mean I’d buy the frozen fish TV dinners she hocks on QVC, but I wouldn’t be fully shocked if she ends up in The Good Place, which incidentally is what you all should be watching instead of the fucking O.C. Housewives.
I stopped watching the show for good midway through last season. I figured that once you’ve seen one group of fake-titted women toasting with tequila before attempting to destroy one another, you’ve really seen it all. I therefore can’t say too much about Gina or Emily, the newest additions to the group. I can say that Gina now looks nothing like she did when we were first introduced to her and that her life seems very complicated and really quite sad. I can say Emily has very shiny hair, a fine career as a lawyer, and a husband who is so condescending and skeevy that simply gaining a brief glance at him almost turned me into a lesbian or an amphibian, but that’s really all I’ve got there.
But then there’s Kelly, and the only thing you really need to know about Kelly is that she is one of those people who lives by the creed that, if attacked, she will come back at you with everything she has in her expanding arsenal of doom. She feels fully justified in such behavior while my own belief system dictates that unless someone has killed your entire family and then dresses in their skins for Halloween and comes trick-or-treating at your door, there’s really no need for an adult human to exert such unceasing revenge on anyone. Moreover, when someone engages in that sort of unrestrained behavior again and again, perhaps that person should, I don’t know, walk away from the environment that perpetuates such hysteria, or maybe they should go away and instead join a fucking coven. I hear through the Twitter grapevine that this year Kelly is brawling with both Vicki and Tamra, and while I truly dislike Vicki and Tamra, just because I find them repulsive doesn’t mean I have to pretend Kelly is a fine person. They can all be awful, and they all are. And they terrify me because they so clearly will do absolutely anything to remain on a show that makes them look like demented heathens because that show is also keeping them rich, and that kind of tradeoff galls me to my very core because I am a normal human lady.
When the blessed news came down earlier this year that Vicki – the asshole who has publicly called the series “my show” – had been demoted to simply being a “friend” of the women who hate her instead of a regular cast member, I wondered if I could perhaps give the show one more try, but I only made it ten minutes through one episode. My patience for idiots has just waned, you guys. It’s why I swore off The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills also, and that one was my favorite Housewives show for years. But I could not for one more second watch Dorit meander around her house in a Gucci fanny pack with earrings that spelled out “Chanel” dangling from her earlobes while she and her wet spot of a husband are being sued for financial fraud and she swears everything is great with a totally fake voice. Listen: I do not demand nor expect total class and perfection from my reality show participants. I look beyond the fact that Kathryn on Southern Charm wears lashes that look like feather dusters were given steroids when she does shit like go to barre class. I shrug and sigh every single time Brittany on Vanderpump Rules claims Jax is a fully changed man and that they will have a profitable beer cheese business one day soon. I giggle when Luann on The Real Housewives of New York calls herself “a singer” without even a trace of irony, even as the rest of the women around her cover their mouths and point at her with such evident derision that I fear the woman may be clinically blind. I accept all of that, and I’m sure many of you accept it too. We watch these shows for moments where we sometimes feel a sense of moral superiority and because sometimes we feel badly for the people onscreen and because sometimes those people make us laugh for real, but we do not watch these shows – at least I don’t – so that I will feel like I want to tear my skin off with a vegetable peeler just so I can experience something more pleasant than what’s blaring out of my television.
Because of the recaps I used to write – and because of the ones I still write, like Temptation Island, which is coming back soon! – I’m exposed on a daily basis to avid watchers of the shows I’ve recently turned away from. It’s through that interaction on Twitter and other sites that I still know what’s happening in the lives of people I no longer care about, which is how I know Tamra and Vicki dropped the news that eight guys maybe had sex with Kelly at a party. It’s also how I know that neither of those women ever wondered aloud if getting plowed by more than a handful of men at one time should maybe be considered rape since I don’t think Kelly would do such a thing if fully sober. It’s how I know Emily’s marriage is falling apart and that Gina’s entire life is falling apart and that Vicki still manages to be on camera because she’d wilt away and die if a lens wasn’t pointed at her face biweekly. I know Shannon lost the weight that was plaguing her last season and that Kelly denies using cocaine, which Vicki accused her of doing, and that I guess means no drug can be to blame for her sociopathic tendencies and she’s just naturally this vile. A wiser woman might blame the blow.
I do not follow any of the Housewives on social media – not even those from my still-beloved New York or my new almost-favorite, Dallas – but I follow people who follow them and I cannot help but find it hilarious (and also so fucking weird) that a massive contingent of people in Internet Land feel legitimately protective of reality TV participants. Their need to become warriors for total strangers – strangers who profit financially from behaving like miscreants – is confounding to me for a lot of reasons, chief among them that those who are crafting tweets, posting comments, and preparing themselves for some anonymous battle sequence are fighting with people they do not know over people they will likely never meet. I mean, really – could the stakes here be any lower? Could there be a more futile army to suit up for and then head into a war with only a keyboard loaded with a bunch of emojis as an arsenal? And don’t these social media crusaders have people in their real lives they can argue with about nothing, because if they don’t, I will happily lend them certain ex-boyfriends of mine that they can go ahead and send nasty texts to all in the name of my efforts to heal humanity.
I’m not walking away from all reality TV. I’ve said before that LeeAnne on The Real Housewives of Dallas is such a perfect manifestation of a reality star that I’m 99% certain she isn’t actually real and was instead cloned in a Bravo laboratory using a dab of Ramona Singer’s saliva and one of Kristen Doute’s pubic hairs. There have only been a few episodes so far this season, but I’m loving that show. When the news came down that Bethenny would be leaving The Real Housewives of New York, I almost sat Shiva – that’s how deep ran my grief. I’ll still tune in, but I’m going to miss her snark and the way she freaks the fuck out because she’s articulate and hilarious even when she’s crumbling. And though it was a total and complete snooze this year, I will always tune in to watch Big Brother. I loudly maintain that Survivor is one of the best shows on television and that Vanderpump Rules is often soapy fun, you know, as long as you’re cool with hearing a pretend thug from Utah utter sentences like, “Does Daddy want Lala to play with his asshole?” But let me be clear here. I would rather watch Lala talk about assplay for the very rest of time than listen to one more supposedly devout grownup mention one more sex train or hear a former soap star screaming that everyone just needs to own it. Those days for me are done, but I do hope that someone will go ahead and shoot me a text to let me know if one of the O.C. ladies finally gets swallowed up forever by the demon I’m imagining is finally finished with Marlena.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.