Is there an exact date on record in the annals of history of the first time someone answered the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" with simply the word, "Famous"? Did that person just shrug dismissively when someone brave questioned whether or not he or she actually had any talent that might beckon fame in the future? And if we journeyed back in time and snipped that shrugger’s vocal cords and also maybe hired a sniper, would Vanderpump Rules even exist?
I think one of the things that infuriates me the most about this show is that so few of its participants appear to have any goals other than achieving some level of generic infamy. I mean, sure –you can argue that Sandoval's got a band and Schwartz is a model and Katie (who has never once worn an item of clothing I have coveted) has a style blog, but what do the rest of them want to do besides strip off their dignity season after season while cameras point and aim and shoot? What is Jax’s long-term plan for his career and personal happiness? Ready to laugh? I recently heard that our favorite felon opened (or will be opening) a restaurant of his very own. Riddle me this: would anyone who has ever watched this show actually consume food prepared in an establishment that was started by one of the ooziest guys who has ever appeared on television? How might one sterilize a dumpling? Then there’s Kristen. She claims to want to be an actress, one who is best known for her dramatic roles. But here’s the undeniable caveat: after being inside of this loon’s dreary apartment and watching her tell random strangers to “Suck a dick” and knowing that she proclaims to her bedroom mirror, “I’m 5’9” and I’m spectacular!” on a daily basis, can anyone even pretend to buy her as an authentically sane person or really believe her in any role other than Scorned Psychopath?
(I’d toss James into this little exercise too – you know, just for giggles – but the guy has already announced to the masses that he’s the white Kanye West. When it comes to this English weenie, I figure that I don’t even need to lift a fucking finger anymore. The guy is just that ridiculous; all I have to do is record what he says and then walk away because this dude has become my living embodiment of a human mic drop.)
As for the rest, I have no idea what they eventually hope to do with their lives, but I’m quite sure that appearing on this show is complicating things for them in ways they are refusing to even quantify at this point. But the thing is, these people aren't teenagers anymore and there are some questions they might need to start contemplating. Are they planning on being servers and bartenders at SUR until they die or is it maybe more likely that they'll have to spend the first ten minutes of every job interview from this point forward attempting to refute every hideous personal characteristic that they brazenly exhibited for years on this show? How chilly will some of them eventually feel when the lights of the camera are no longer casting a toasty shadow? In other words, what happens to this group of backbiting, disloyal adults once this show eventually goes off the air and Celebrity Rehab isn’t even interested in having such G-listers fill the house? At least the Housewives in any given franchise snare themselves bullshit alcohol endorsement deals; the only thing I’ve heard to come out of the Vanderpump Rules dump is a ridiculous Scheana song, style sites I’ve never visited, and a tee line run by Kristen, a woman so loathsome I would rather strip my own flesh off with a vegetable peeler and then weave it together with a rusty loom than stick an item of clothing that asshole designed on my body.
Really…I’ve already been through enough.
I started contemplating what this entire experience is worth for its participants when I saw in the coming attractions that former best friends Stassi and Katie will have a conversation tonight about how badly Stassi feels now that being a bitch went awry for her in the way it shockingly never has before. Knowing this scene was on the docket, I couldn’t help but ponder a few other questions:
1. Why did Stassi wait for production to resume before trying on contrition to see if it fits as well as Spanx?
2. Is there seriously nobody else in Stassi's life she could have bunked with during this trying time besides Kristen? Is it just a coincidence that cameras visit that apartment too and maybe that's why Stassi's pretending to tolerate Kristen until anyone else finally speaks to her?
3. Does Stassi have any other income coming in besides the salary she receives to ruin friendships on camera and then beg for those friends to just call her sometimes – also on camera?
4. Can anyone explain what either woman misses about the other? Because I don't think even they can respond to that question.
At any rate, tonight is about longed-for reconciliations and golden hopes and Swarovski-encrusted dreams and...fuck it, I can't even fake it. Tonight is about even more problems that people bring upon themselves in the name of cash and some paltry semblance of this century's curious form of fame.
We begin at SUR where Lala is busy working the phones. Katie and Scheana arrive and head into the courtyard where they sit around looking like shittier-dressed versions of Oliver Twist. They’ve shown up to put their hands out to collect the bread they’ve earned. (Does SUR not provide direct deposit or do none of these people have a bank account?) In any case, Katie is properly attired for the very businesslike event of getting paid. She's rocking glasses, a bun you’d normally see on a porn star who’s pretending to be a librarian, and she's got a scarf knotted around her neck just like my grandmother used to wear. I'd like to take this moment to remind you once again that this chick has a style blog. Anyway, the librarian's ready to get out of town because she drunkenly texted her fiancé sweet-nothing's like, "Aren't you glad I'm not pregnant?" because they were fighting and she wanted to hurt him. Listen, all couples fight. They'll move beyond this. But, Katie? The only way a pregnancy text can have any sort of threatening impact on its recipient is if the guy has actually banged you recently and both of you seem intent on telling the public at large that such an event has not occurred in several moons. In the future, just tell him his hair is thinning. It'll do the job nicely.
During Tequila Katie's reign, Scheana – the voice of reason – attempted to stop her best friend in the whole wide world from texting Schwartz that she hates him and that she maybe wants to get the ring appraised and see – that's the kind of closeness Ariana is missing out on. Speaking of Ariana, the Duchess of Joy shows up next to get her check and the three have an awkward conversation about absolutely nothing until Ariana finally leaves and Lisa shows up with the money and some advice. Upon hearing that Kristen invited them to Palm Springs for a girls' weekend, Lisa snorts. Upon hearing that Stassi will be there too, Lisa glances up with a look of befuddlement on her face. Sure, it might be that she's just caught a full gander of Katie's whole outfit (the one I’m now actively praying was a dare), but her reaction might also be due to the news that Katie is about to take a road trip to see the girl who dumped her.
Katie is no dummy, though. She’s not embarking on a trip to Palm Springs without having thought this thing through! Her devious plan is to catch Stassi off-guard by arriving unexpectedly. She doesn't want Stassi to have the chance to prepare notecards or even get a pep talk from Kristen, Female Warrior. No, she wants Stassi to be as vulnerable as possible so she can verbally eviscerate her before eventually making her a bridesmaid. No worries, people. The wedding will totally be broadcast.
And now it's time for a very special trip over to Peter's house! We never visit there and, well, we haven't missed out on much. He's home with Schwartz and Jax and the three drink a little alcohol and prepare for their job as babysitters. (Quick question: does this production's insurance policy cover little Liam?) Before the baby can arrive, the other baby wants to chat about the midlife crisis he might be experiencing. That's right: at a certain point, Jax realized he should stop blaming his grotesque behavior on being a cock and instead start blaming it on aging! It’s not the professor’s worst plan. And we'll get back to Jax's existential dilemma at some point, but first Schwartz wants to vent about the crazy that lives inside of the woman he plans to marry in a celibate ceremony. He's shocked that even a rage texter as poetic and blistering as Katie said the things she said to him.
Liam comes in then – but don't worry, Jax managed to quickly down another shot first – and the kid's mother acts like this isn't a producer-driven storyline, that she hasn't already programmed Poison Control into Peter's phone, and that she won’t be watching the entire thing with a pair of binoculars from across the street. Then she warns them not to give the kid candy. (Was I the only one who had flashbacks to Gremlins just then or did any of you also start to ponder what kind of damage this kid could perpetrate if anyone feeds him after midnight?) Luckily, Peter’s got some toys all set for Liam – fake knives and swords, just your basic plastic weaponry – and the guys pretend to shoot and stab one another just like all the parenting guides told them they should.
Down in Palm Springs, Kristen has arrived for her girls’ weekend with the only two people who are still willing to talk to her and a bottle of vodka tucked inside her purse. She is so excited to "have such a strong team" with her in the desert! Um, who fucking talks like that? Wanna hear another moronic and infantile musing from the mouth of our favorite dramatic actress? Because if you do, we can discuss the way Kristen chortles about how Katie and Scheana are gonna see all their awesome photos on Instagram and they're going to be devastated that they didn't join them. It’s official: with her adolescent fixations and severely warped self-image, Kristen might just be the saddest lady on television.
Stassi is sad, too. She no longer gets to decide who goes on trips anymore like she used to before her minions grew some balls and the whole thing is making her feel down. I hope she also felt morose as she listened to herself say something so juvenile on television. C'mon...you know she watches the show. Let there please be at least one moment where even the slightest and most whispery voice inside of her intones, "You're an adult and adults do not think or say such things. Nor do most beings with the capacity for language." Please let Stassi actually listen to that voice one day.
But until that illustrious day of awareness can arrive, Stassi must sit beside Kristen and droop in the humidity while marveling about the large elderly population in Palm Springs. Also sweating is Kristen, but her shininess has been caused by James' incessant incoming texts. "Block him," Stassi implores before telling Kristen that she's too old for this nonsense, a line that briefly (and hilariously) causes Kristen to turn into The Incredible Hulk right before our eyes. Seriously – her chest expands and her lip curls and she might have split her pants. Look at her slaying a dramatic role!
Meanwhile, the object of Kristen's love or loathing (it really depends on the day) is back at SUR where Lala is questioning him about the "basic" girl he trotted to the beach yesterday. "She's just some chick I hired off of Craigslist to make you and Kristen jealous," he smiles back and… – wait, that was just wishful thinking. Instead he tells Lala that he and Basic are just hanging out and she responds by informing him that he's still not over Kristen. None of this makes sense to me and I think I’m thrilled that I'm so completely confused by these people because that means my mother must have done something right. I should probably call and tell her that.
Over at the bar, Sandoval and Jax become embroiled in a heated discussion during which Sandoval speaks his carefully worded truth and Jax responds by making up excuses, redirecting conversations, and sweating his sideburns off. Sandoval's getting close to being done with this ape who can never just be happy for other people because he's both selfish and insecure and I think that's a pretty spot-on prognosis. What's less clear is why half of these people still speak to Jax at all. Hey, Vanderpumpers: is the infamy worth having to be around Jax?
Back in Palm Springs, Stassi still can't get over the searing agony she feels about not being invited to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of two people she chose to ignore for a year just to make a point. She doesn't even feel comfortable sending a sunflower emoji Katie's way! But into her smells-like-vodka darkness comes some light because Katie has just shown up with Scheana to talk to her estranged buddy. She's still dressed like a homeless librarian which means that should the conversation between the two crumble into nothing, at least they can talk about who made Katie wear that outfit.
Katie’s nervous before she goes inside. Her friendship with Stassi seems like it was once very real. It's not real anymore, though, at least not in the truest sense of the word. Sure, they've got legitimate history between them, but they bartered their friendship in exchange for scandal-inducing sound-bytes and breathless appearances inside Andy Cohen's Clubhouse. Whatever their intentions are, these two don't have a real prayer at getting back to where they were initially. Still, when Katie walks inside, Stassi is stunned silent. In fact, she has a look on her face similar to the one I had on the afternoon when I jumped into a pool and had an entire conversation with some guy before realizing my left tit had been bobbing in the surface for about ten minutes. Yeah – it’s that kind of shock. Stassi also burrows her head in her hands at the sight of Librarian Katie and she looks like a beauty pageant contestant who just won the crown. What Stassi doesn't know is that Katie is ready to fire away at her and if Stassi bleeds enough, maybe Katie will scoop her former best friend's emotional corpse off the patio and then go hang out with Kristen. I'd rather be outside examining blood spatter myself.
Sitting down with Katie, Stassi is already crying and she gulps in some air in total surprise when Katie begins by telling her to talk. Like Jill Zarin (the New York Housewife who was fired – but I like to pretend that she's locked in a closet somewhere like she's Patty Hearst), Stassi does way better when she's prepared to fight with a friend, but the PowerPoint she created is upstairs and the miniature wood carvings she made of Katie's head as an homage to the girl who got away are shoved in the back of the utensil drawer in the kitchen of Kristen's apartment where Stassi keeps all of her stuff now. Seems she's going to have to go off the cuff here.
Scheana pops in briefly to serve Katie a drink and then hightails it the hell out of there so Stassi can blame her again for spreading the news about Stassi's sex tape. It was for that reason alone that Stassi was so hurt when Katie – her best friend – jetted off to Miami with the rest of the group for Scheana's bachelorette party. But what Katie seems intent on informing Stassi about is the earthshattering news that not every choice someone makes involves Stassi. Katie wanted to travel with her boyfriend. She didn't want or need permission to do so. In fact, she doesn't need or want permission to do anything anymore. Stassi bawls. She knows she's been selfish and she desperately misses their friendship. She sounds genuine and her pain appears real but Katie reminds her that Stassi happily disposed of her and then behaved like Katie was beneath her. "I was wrong," whimpers Stassi. "Too little, too late," retorts Katie and the only thing I can really worry about here is that Katie's glasses have gone missing because her outfit is practically begging for an accessory besides an ugly scarf.
While his fiancé annihilates someone's dreams of friendship, Schwartz appears at SUR looking down. Lisa appears out of nowhere like she's Glenda the Good Witch and just burst forth from some pink iridescent bubble and Schwartz tells her that he and Drunk Katie had a fight. Lisa patiently explains to him that women just want to feel like the men in their lives believe in them and defend them. Then she deletes their wedding date from the calendar in her iPhone because these two are imploding fast. Before Lisa can escape entirely and go hang out with some real adults, she makes sure to mention that Katie is visiting with Stassi in Palm Springs and Jax's heart rate goes haywire. While he claims that all he really cares about here are Katie’s feelings – he actually says that with a straight face – he eventually lets us know his deepest darkest fear: that Stassi will come back, take control from the self-appointed number one guy, and get everyone to hate him. Did all of these people stop developing mentally during the eighth grade? This is not a rhetorical question.
(Also: doesn’t Jax kind of look like a sweaty walrus?)
Back in Palm Springs, Stassi's tears are still falling. She apologizes again and again and Katie finally accepts her apology serenely and they hug and my guess is that they'll be wearing matching necklaces by the Reunion.
As for Scheana, she's also entirely fucked up when it comes to regression. Like Jax, she harbors a fear that all of her friends will ditch her now that Stassi's back and this either means that A) this group is psychologically deformed for real or B) they're all such terrible friends to one another that each one fears being excessed every single day like it’s 2008 and they work in Finance. Meanwhile, Kristen is drunk off her ass and planting slobbery kisses on Stassi and Katie and jumping up and down in excitement because it's like the Three Musketeers are together again and who cares that they destroyed one another in public? They can go swimming topless like it’s the olden days!
The next day, Kristen begins drinking the second the sun comes up so she can pretend she's someone else and then decides it’ll be fun to tell Scheana that Ariana has been speaking ill of her. That Scheana even speaks to Kristen is pathetic and Kristen bringing all of this up just to hurt her should be all the evidence Scheana needs to once again confirm that the woman sitting before her with a wine glass is actually a limp-haired desperate creature from Greek mythology that once lived beneath the ocean floor before it gnawed its way to the surface. Who's up for some symbolism?!
In any case, Scheana is upset that Ariana no longer pretends to like her even though Lisa Vanderpump has officially sanctioned the friendship. Whatever happens, Katie tells Scheana that she won't be alone on the sidelines while the rest of them point and laugh at her. No, Katie swears she's Scheana's best friend and they hug while Stassi's eyes narrow into slits and she starts contemplating where she can bury a body in the desert because that crop-top wearing bride can suck it. Katie is her best friend again.
Before they leave to go back to LA, Stassi and Katie stare at one another shyly like they just shared their very first kiss. Then they agree to tread back into their friendship slowly so they can get close again for real. Am I rooting for these two? I actually don't care in the slightest about the friendship of two people I don’t know, but I might be convinced to light them a prosperity candle if they officially decree that the first order of business in their friendship summit is ditching Kristen. Any other priorities and I’m out.
And now it's time for James to meet up with the woman who once carried him in her uterus! His mother is astounded that her kid just got suspended from Pump and she's even more disturbed about the fact that it was Kristen who fueled his emotions. If she'd like to be forever revolted, maybe she should watch the moment where James says that Kristen and his mom are all but the same person on a loop. As for James, the guys got a plan! He will quit drinking, get buff, get his DJ job back, and make the Pump compilation CD so cool that it'll be sold on infomercials. Oh, what are his mother's dreams for her ludicrous child? She wants him to model in Calvin Klein underwear ads. Can I just say that I suddenly feel very uncomfortable watching this show but it's nice to finally have a visual aid for the next time I want to teach the Electra Complex.
Back in her apartment, Katie tells Schwartz that she and Stassi are friends again and that she's really sorry for all the hatred she texted his way while she was drunk. Schwartz forgives her but he can’t help but wonder if those alcohol-soaked texts contain the truth about how she really feels. More importantly, can any of those texts be worked into their vows? Can the "Aren't you glad I'm not pregnant?” text be Katie’s something old?
Next time, Sandoval films a music video and it’s looking like – for all of them – actual fame based on talent seems very far away. But hey, at least people are talking about them, right? As for Stassi, she has officially risen like a battered phoenix from the ashes after building the fire herself and now she’s back. She’s reclaimed her old friends and she’s ready to start fighting the same old fights and I’d ask her if all of this is worth it for the faux fame she’s commanded but I don’t want to disturb her because she’s concentrating on looking chastened for that one lone camera filming her from a distance.
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.