Here are some places I’d rather be than inside of a car with Vicki Gunvalson on a long road trip:
· A hot yoga class that I’ve run to in order to get a brief respite from the brutality of a humidity-drenched heat wave in late August, one that caused a cataclysmic weather crisis that simultaneously led all air conditioners in the region to explode at the very same moment that Duane Reade and CVS ran out of every form of deodorant including carpet deodorizer.
· Sitting in Biology class on my first day of 8th grade when my hair was newly lobbed into some hideous asymmetrical style, all the better to show off my frosted pink 44 lip-gloss. It hurt just looking at myself in the mirror.
· Standing on line in Nordstrom when I’m in a massive hurry while the person in front of me returns a dress so awful that, not only should she never have purchased the item in the first place, but some designer should have thimbles rammed into his ears and nostrils just for creating it. By the way, this return will be conducted by a Nordstrom employee who just started working at the store an hour ago and nodded convincingly when her supervisor asked if she understood the return process because she didn’t want to appear like an idiot on her first day and now the supervisor has left and the new girl has no fucking idea what she’s doing.
Fortunately, I can see no scenario – including one that takes place in the fiery confines of Hell – in which I will have to ride shotgun as Vicki Gunvalson literally drives me to a full mental breakdown. Briana doesn’t have it so lucky. She is heading from Oklahoma to California, and it’s all because Vicki prayed so hard to her BFF, Jesus, for Briana and her family to live close enough that Vicki can pop by to borrow some brown paint, should she ever eventually run out. Actually, the truth is that Briana wants to be close to her team of doctors because there’s a lot physically going on with her. It’s a shame such a young woman is facing these medical issues. Her husband has to stay behind for a while and Briana cries as she says goodbye to him and to her house and to any future privacy she ever hoped to achieve now that she lives just a hop, skip, and a whoo hoo from her lunatic mother.
Meghan is having a tough day as well. She’s starting to give herself shots for the in vitro process she’s fully engaged in, a practice terrifying to one so deathly afraid of needles. As for her sweet and attentive husband, he’s away for Spring Training, so Meghan is making him a video diary that chronicles her tackling her biggest phobia, all in the name of them having a baby. Something tells me that Jim Edmonds will never even hit play on this video diary – or he will hit play and then he will laugh as his wife cries because he is a monster. How does Meghan handle puncturing her own stomach with needles? She doesn’t do great initially. First she must locate a pinch of fat on her tummy where none exists and then she must push that needle in and she can’t seem to make herself do it. We see the time lapsing in hallucinatory-like waves as Meghan takes deep, cleansing breaths. Finally, she gets it in and announces that she did it and she feels so proud of herself. She should! I just wish that footage landed in the lap of a man who is proud of her, too and look, maybe Jim is proud of Meghan. Maybe Jim is compassionate and communicative and loving as can be. Maybe Jim is a fucking prince, but really, all we have been shown so far is that he’s as cold and withholding as they come. I’m more than okay standing by my assumptions about the guy for now.
Over at Shannon’s estate, there’s real estate panic going down. Her house is in escrow – again – and Stella would like to live at the beach so she can practice how she will pose in the surf so that one day, when she’s eventually invited to Taylor Swift’s July 4th party in Rhode Island, she will be able to frolic through the waves with fellow models and make it look convincing. Meanwhile, all of Shannon’s kids have some ideas about the new house where they should live: modern, white, one hundred thousand sprawling square feet. Those seem like fair requests. They also seem like they are more realistic features for a house than Shannon’s, for she would like a home that comes with a gigantic foyer and an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind room, where she and David can take their tumblers of vodka with lime in the evenings and then leave there with no memory of David’s past affair.
Back on the road in a car that even the editors of this show realize is the certain setting of the next Armageddon – as is evidenced by the way they time-stamp that there’s still nineteen hours to go until Briana and Vicki hit Orange County, and you know Bravo only time-stamps shit if it’s about to get really intense – Briana is driving and marveling at all the cows they pass while Vicki laments that there is nowhere in the vicinity to shop because she needs a new top to show off her cleavage just in case Brooks is watching. Sixteen hours in, one of Briana’s kids has to crouch against the side of the car so he can poop in the desert. Fifteen hours in, Vicki demands to know why no doctor has been able to get Briana “fixed.” Then the other blonde child in the backseat announces his need to poop. Couldn’t they have flown home and had the car shipped? I’m sort of not kidding.
Far away from infant feces, Kelly announces to the husband who wouldn’t allow her to divorce him that she’s heading out for a Girls’ Night. Her plan is that Meghan will serve as her buffer since the other women already don’t particularly like her because she called Shannon “aloof” and she once tried to breastfeed Tamra. Unfortunately, Meghan is not feeling well so Kelly is on her own for the evening.
Back in that car with thirteen hours to go until they reach California, Briana is slowly beginning to lose her mind. She’s got two babies in the car, a crazy mother, and she just recently had surgery. This is not even the kind of scenario a kick-ass mix tape from 1994 could fix, not even if that shit was loaded down with rare Dave Matthews tracks interspersed between some Pearl Jam and Blue Traveler. (God, how long has it been since I’ve thought about Blues Traveler?)
Back in the land of sunshine, Kelly arrives first to Girls’ Night. Tamra joins her shortly and the two argue briefly about which one of them is more tired, but then Kelly one-ups her exhaustion game by announcing that she’s also sick. Tamra cannot be around a sick person! She has to go win a fitness competition while wearing Lucite heels soon! She cannot compromise her health just so she can pretend to play nice with the new girl for the evening! Heather and Shannon show up next and Shannon is shocked – shocked! – that Kelly is doing shots while she’s sick because she never drinks when she’s under the weather. No, she just sucks on some limes and pretends her NyQuil is vodka. (That’s what Dr. Moon said she should do. It’s very important to listen to the experts.) Anyway, Heather tells them all that she is going to have a party to celebrate the release of the book she and Terry wrote together and Kelly busts in to announce that she is also going to have a party and they all better come. “These ladies need to loosen up,” says the woman who will probably be strangled by Shannon Beador in the weeks before the Reunion. “What comes before Part B?” Kelly pretends to wonder aloud. “Part-A!” Quick question: can I order someone to come and give me a lobotomy off of Grubhub?
Tamra decides then to let the rest of the women know that Kelly and Vicki recently had lunch together and Kelly explains that she and the Whoo Hoo creature from the deep have a mutual friend and they go to the same place to have shit done to their faces and that’s really the kind of bond that should never be severed. She attempts to explain that Vicki’s situation with the ladies wasn’t about her being duplicitous; it was about her being pathetic for getting duped by a man she loved too much. Okay, so there’s a thread of empathy running through Kelly and yes, that’s a good trait. But coming onto this show in season eleven – after Vicki has systematically made most of her costars and at least half of this great nation loathe her – and expecting that you are the appropriate person to go to bat for a woman you’ve met twice is nothing short of idiotic.
“She admitted that she lied,” Heather softly explains. When Kelly continues to defend Vicki, Shannon keeps eating her dinner while hiding her clenched fists underneath a napkin and tells us, “Oh, sweetie. You don’t know anything.” I really kind of love Shannon.
Speaking of Vicki, she’s behind the wheel as it pulls into her driveway. Briana’s leg is infected and it hurts terribly. The next morning, Vicki takes her straight to the hospital and then has to take care of both of her grandchildren and you know the only thing Vicki hates more than being single is being a single grandmother. For this, I do not blame her in the least.
Over in Sweat Your Ass Off Central, Tamra is reaping the benefit of all the prayer she did in which she asked the Lord to please deliver her a trainer who can quote scripture. Mia has been sent straight from God and she recites psalms as Tamra ices her tender body. I admit that I am not a religious girl, but watching this scene is weird as fuck, as is the way Tamra’s eyes fill with tears when Mia tells her the Holy Spirit is currently speaking to her. Can the Holy Spirit maybe also tell her to stop wearing tank tops emblazoned with rhinestone crucifixes?
Since she’s probably already been saved, Heather does not need to spend the day with a trainer/spiritual advisor. Instead, she needs to buy a pizza oven for her new home, as well as a grill that costs seven grand that her chef will just adore. Then she selects a refrigerator that will shoot out hexagonal ice cubes, because any other shape is just fucking tacky.
A few days later, Briana gets released from the hospital. She looks exhausted and like she’s in a tremendous amount of pain. It’s devastating to her that, right when she needs her mother the most, Vicki insists that she must run off to work. Listen, I never say this, but Vicki is sort of right here. Yes, maybe it would have been possible for her to work from home, but the one thing I never begrudge anybody is the need they feel to go to work. Houses and pizza ovens and a divorce lawyer who will one day figure out how to extricate Kelly from her husband do not just come falling out of the sky. People need to work to pay for that shit.
Over in Kelly’s idyllic household, she hates the outfit her husband has chosen for the beach party (she also hates her husband) and she’s nervous about being the hostess. She’s holding the fiesta in her backyard, which just so happens to be the beach. Meghan arrives and she’s toting her shots with her in what I’m hoping is not her form of a hostess gift. Heather walks across the sand towards them and compliments the “peaceful” party décor that will certainly be blown to filthy smithereens should Vicki wash up anywhere near that shore. Shannon, David, Tamra, and Eddie appear next and then it’s Vicki’s turn. She is wearing a fur vest on the beach and a part of me hopes she’s done it in an attempt to get people to talk about how terrible her fashion selections are so they can cease calling her a fucking liar for ten minutes or so. The thing about Vicki that I hate even more than her clothing, though, is how she refuses to take accountability for anything and has managed to demonize all of the other women in her own mind. That refusal to be in any way self-aware is actually some next level form of delusion – and it’s terrifying to see it in close-up.
Vicki refuses to allow the fact that other people are annoyed that she was such an asshole cramp her social life. So what that everybody on that beach has at some point fantasized about drowning her? Kelly is her friend and she hasn’t repelled her quite yet so she is showing up and she will down drinks until Tamra’s face looks like it’s softened. It’s Heather, though, who is being the most cordial to Vicki. Always wise, Heather decided after Vicki’s last bullshit apology to just treat her like an acquaintance so she smiles and asks about her daughter and reassures Vicki that Briana will be alright. This kind of compassion is actually more than Vicki deserves from Heather, and the only one who would disagree with such a statement would probably be Vicki, who not only wants compassion from Heather, but she wants that fucking casserole, too.
At some point, Vicki sits down next to Tamra to tell her that she’s still healing from all of the misery that has befallen her and that Tamra in particular should have been there for Vicki while she lied to everyone she knew. Tamra’s not having it. She would like to know how Vicki could have possibly lived in a house with a man and had no idea that he was lying about having cancer. She wants to know why Vicki never turned to her friends to say, “I’m sorry.” And to all of these very fair questions, Vicki responds by saying, “Stop” on repeat because she does not know how to speak truthfully and every fair question Tamra is hurling her way hurts.
“You can’t judge me,” Vicki declares. “God judges me.” Okay, when exactly did this series turn so religious? Will reruns start airing after The 700 Club in the near future? Meanwhile, Shannon overhears Vicki announcing that she didn’t realize Brooks was a professional charlatan and that Jesus loves her and she just shakes her head at the sheer amount of bullshit one terrible woman can continue to keep spewing. When Kelly attempts to again advocate for Vicki in a manner I just have to believe was mandated after she lost some sort of spectacular bet with an evil poltergeist, Shannon explains that there is a grave difference between messing up and lying about your boyfriend being on the verge of death.
“Vicki’s like the older sister you don’t want,” muses Tamra in the single greatest line of the night. Then she follows that brilliance up by refusing to back down as Vicki attempts to reprimand her for not just forgiving her for what Tamra still believes are total lies.
“You were right,” Vicki eventually sobs once she realizes only abject vulnerability will work to thaw Tamra. “Will you forgive me? I want to be us again.”
This asshole deserves an award for her crocodile tears. Quick: someone get her one in the shape of a casserole.
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.