There are some certainties one can always count on:
• The parking lot outside of a gym will be absolutely packed during the second week in January – and then it will be half-empty (half-full?) during the second week in March because resolutions only really last for so long.
• The very minute Christmas is over, those chalky sugar conversation hearts – the ones that used to have expressions like “Be Mine” but now have adorable sweet nothings like “Text Me” engraved in sugar across even more sugar – will appear on the shelves of drugstores nationwide. I will buy four bags and eat three before remembering that I hate them.
• One or more of the Kardashians (or those lucky enough to be Kardashian-adjacent) will experience some sort of monumental existential crisis every three weeks like fucking clockwork and that crisis will result in one of them deciding to host a brand new talk show because this family understands one simple fact better than you or I ever will: an event is only meaningful if everybody on the planet knows it’s going down at the exact moment it’s happening.
• The momentum inherent in the passage of time can turn a ravaged and stinging heart into one that quietly thuds with just a dull ache until eventually it doesn’t hurt at all anymore. You will be able to slide what was once ragged with the edges of memory down your throat like it’s a perfect oyster – and you will do it in one little gulp and you won’t even need a chaser.
Those of us who watch reality television and do not suffer from narcolepsy have become adept at picking up other patterns. These thematic configurations reveal themselves almost cyclically over the passage of time. We know, for example, that each season a different Real Housewife is given “the bitch edit” for probably no other reason than because she once showed up to Andy Cohen’s clambake late while hoisting a platter of cookies that contained gluten. We realize that the least emotionally-balanced chick who competes on a season of The Bachelor will undoubtedly be hauled back during the summer to bawl her eyes out on Bachelor in Paradise where she will stand on a tropical beach and explain how destroyed she is that the guy she’s known for about an hour doesn’t see her for the person she is deep down and now all of her hopes for forever-love have been smashed into smithereens so small that she can’t even snort them. We can be certain that there will always be another cheaply produced show upon which Farrah Abraham can appear so she can deny that she knowingly did porn. Should you flip to E! at any time of the day or night, you will be able to watch Kim or Khloe or Kendall or Kylie or Kill Me as they stare at their phones instead of saying anything of interest and you can feel free to go ahead and make a nice healthy wager about exactly which day it will be when my head finally explodes from not having a legitimate answer to the question, “Why are these people famous when they never even look up unless it’s to take a selfie?”
But perhaps my favorite constant in the world of reality television is The Contrition Tour that some participants embark upon usually around year three in their involvement with a show they probably never should have appeared on in the first place. The goal of setting sail on a Contrition Tour is to attempt to rehabilitate the reputation you essentially gave ratings-obsessed producers and underpaid editors carte blanche in crafting in exchange for an often paltry paycheck and the chance to either endorse some shitty wine nobody has ever heard of or to finally get the chance to record that dance single you and your tone-deaf heart have always dreamed of belting out to an unsuspecting world. The journey towards The Contrition Tour begins soon after you allow yourself to realize that the attention you got for appearing on television was probably not worth the misery that has come with being known as a verbally-abusive monster or so fucking stupid that it almost defies comprehension. Sure, you rode that wave of infamy for a little while – that wave made quick stops on The Wendy Williams Show and Watch What Happens Live so you could display even more of your flaws – but you eventually felt like you were caught in the funnel of a riptide and you could no longer see clearly and you couldn’t even breathe and you became furious that reality television did the opposite of showing the world “the real you” so you decided it was time to enlighten a mass audience who doesn’t actually care about you in the least and already made up its mind about you anyway.
Few people have aced The Contrition Tour, but Camille Grammer came off of hers like a fucking champ. This woman spent the entire first season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills either gyrating against another woman’s husband, inviting bile-spewing psychics over for dinner, misusing words like “Machiavellian” and “pernicious” and pretending her marriage was just fine and that her husband hadn’t already left her. I recall seeing magazine covers with photos of her huge eyes and her sneering mouth printed above headlines like, “The Most Hated Housewife?” and knowing – just knowing – that we would all see a very different Camille Grammer during season two of the show. In fact, the Camille who showed up for the second season barely resembled the woman we’d met just a few scant months prior. This lady appeared chastened and humbled. She spoke about her life with a rueful smile on her lips. She didn’t call Kyle pernicious even once. And she often wore a white coat with long sleeves and it was probably to hide the IV that was pumping copious amounts of liquid tranquilizer directly into her bloodstream so she would make it to the end of the tour and take a victory lap at the Reunion. Honestly? Bravo, Camille – I’d buy a commemorative tee from your tour and I'd wear it without irony.
Something tells me that the Contrition Tours won’t go nearly as well for the Vanderpumpers in our midst. Camille Grammer spent the first season of her show projecting to the world that she was flat-out ridiculous, but we can work with ridiculous, right? Can we – do we want to – work with the issues ailing Jax, Kristen, and Stassi? Are we meant to pretend that Jax has seen the light and he’s no longer a piece of shit who is so stupid that he ought not to be permitted to procreate? Should we make believe that Kristen’s brand of crazy is just dangerous to her and not a potential calamity that could impact all of humankind? Can we believe that Stassi genuinely feels this badly about ditching a group of people who were kind of shitty friends to her anyway and that she is not just crawling back now so she can get herself back on television? Can’t these legs of the tour just be cancelled?
Cancellation is not looking good, my friends. Instead, the group is back in Los Angeles and everything looks rather depressing. Brittany is rifling through a suitcase with a blank expression on her face and even the bicycle mounted to the bare white wall in Jax's apartment looks sad. As for our favorite criminal, the guy is struggling. He can't even find his deodorant – and given how much the guy sweats, that's a legitimate problem. "Thank God my friends were there," he tells the luckiest girl in the whole wide world about how fortunate it was that he chose to steal when he had his loved ones near. Who would have bailed him out otherwise? This example is really just Jax's circle of life being illustrated. He creates problems and those around him solve those problems and that's why he can be this age and still act like a fucking moron with total frequency. "Over a pair of sunglasses," Jax muses as his face grows pale and he relives the moment when Brittany looked at him with sheer disappointment in her eyes. That had to have been a rough moment, but I think both of them should probably get used to having the kind of non-verbal dialogue that reeks of a subtext of misery because I'm thinking they'll have it a lot. "You'll just have to prove yourself," explains Brittany, and these two and their relationship are off to the kind of excellent start that often happens when you choose to kick-start your future of togetherness with a douchebag on a reality show.
Ariana arrives next with Jax's bags, the ones he wasn't able to get onto the plane himself because he was to busy posing for mugshots. She hugs him and all and she listens to his apologies about feeling badly that he ruined everyone's last day, but Ariana thinks the guy is an idiot and she's correct. By the way, Sandoval would have come with her to drop off Jax’s bags, but he's already at the gym because he hasn't worked out for over an hour and he had a trainer once who said he could die if he didn't do burpees every single day.
Over at SUR, the good news has already traveled and everybody (including the cooks) discuss Jax and the stolen sunglasses and what a fool the guy so clearly is. Even Lala is fully disgusted by Jax. See, Lala has gotten to the exact place I've gotten to with Jax: you start off thinking he's decent looking – and then he opens his mouth and you begin to believe that he's the grossest mammal to ever wander the bumpy terrain of our fair planet. To my credit, I got to this place without ever having to meet the guy or having him hotly whisper, "Can we fuck and not tell anybody?" in my ear one night as cameras were pointed directly at our faces before he denied such a thing ever occurred a day later, but I guess we all arrive at conclusions in our own time. And speaking of my soul sister, I’d venture to say that Lala and I might not be twins because my mind would never arrive at the place where this sentence would escape from my mouth: "If you're a drug dealer and have a shit ton of money and get arrested, that's hot." I think I should maybe refrain from buying the two of us matching "Sister" picture frames.
Since we’re only four minutes in and we've already been exposed to such distasteful nonsense, obviously the editors will take us next to someplace soothing, like the lake where Lisa Vanderpump's swans glide through the water, right? Well, not exactly. We go instead to Kristen’s apartment because apparently we have all sinned greatly and this is just part of the purgatory stage. She's preparing some hummus and wine for Katie and Scheana and she hopes that they'll tell her just how profoundly the vacation she was banned from sucked and that Ariana was the cause of every bit of strife in Hawaii – and even in Syria – because Ariana is just so awful that her awfulness has to spread like that rash Kristen got that one time. And she'll get to Ariana, that bitch, in a second, but first she wants to know what the hell happened with Jax and the sunglasses and I think what I'm most confused by here is how confused everybody else is that this guy fucked up. Have they not been paying attention for the last decade? Can any of this truly be a surprise? I saw the entire thing months ago on TMZ and just nodded and shrugged since a part of me just expected the guy would eventually be arrested, though I'd always figured he'd go down in a gay prostitution ring. Anyway, they all feign shock and discuss how he lacks impulse control and then they move on to discuss another man who also (at the very least) lacks impulse control as well as the ability to string rational thoughts together. Yes, Kevin – Jax's friend – has all but moved in with Kristen...and he's done it willingly. It's not like she's sending the lotion in a basket down a deep hole to him. He's choosing to stay because he's in love with her and such a sentiment doesn't surprise Kristen in the least. She knows she's fucking awesome! She knows she's a great catch! After all, how many other mid-thirty-year-olds are unemployed and have laid their lives bare across our television screens while going to therapy in order to proclaim, "See! I'm not a psycho!" to an audience who has already decided that the chick is a fucking psycho? Who cares! This girl is one of a kind! I mean, how many Kristen’s really exist out there? Twenty? And how many of them live outside of her ravaged brain? Eight?
It's really important for Kristen to hear about the shit that went down between Ariana and Scheana precisely because grinning from ear to ear during the story at the pain Ariana endured will prove definitively that Kristen is not crazy and that she's so over Sandoval. Well, that's what her drunken therapist told her, but you can't really be mad at the therapist. The woman was stone cold sober until she met Kristen and then realized the depths to which our souls can sink so you can’t fault her for needing to quickly get hammered. Also needing to get a drink into her bloodstream fast is Katie. Kristen tells her that she saw Stassi and that Stassi misses Katie so much because it turns out there's some residual pain one apparently deals with after slicing a dear friend from the fabric of one's life without care or decency. Katie? She’s not having it. She has moved on from Stassi and she is so much happier now that she’s gotten herself a group of such better friends like Kristen and Scheana and Jax and...oh, fuck...
Maybe Brittany can be Katie's new best friend! She got herself a job at Hooters and her boyfriend and his friends stop by to see her because that’s what a supportive boyfriend does. Meanwhile, Jax also manages to check out the ass cheeks of every girl who saunters by him in those little orange hot pants, but he doesn't bang any of them in the bathroom because the guy's reformed now. Then he gets a call from the Sheriff's Office in Hawaii and he tells the guys that his lawyer is handling everything and it's not like he stole a car or anything big and they both just gaze at him blankly because maybe the only thing they can actually win with Jax is a staring contest.
After her friends who used to hate her leave, we return to Kristen’s apartment where her squatter is chilling on the couch. Stassi arrives with some wine because, again, none of these people can ever be sober for ten straight minutes because it hurts too much. Momentary sobriety probably won't hurt nearly as much as the combination of antibiotics and wine rushing through her system, but I guess it’s nothing compared to the pain of a breakup. Yup, Stassi and her boyfriend broke up and she's devastated because he was a good guy and she wasn't able to make it work.
Also: Jax is a kleptomaniac.
Also: One of the things he stole in the past was a pair of women’s stockings.
Back in Hooters, it comes out that Kevin – he who is smitten with the lovely and sane Kristen – has himself a girlfriend. What is wrong with these guys? Do they not understand their televised actions might out them?
Also: One compliment will cause Kristen's thong to drop to her ankles instantaneously.
As for Stassi, she's such a complete mess that she's considering moving in with Kristen and the two of them get into bed to cuddle and I've maybe never been more concerned about someone I've never met in my entire life.
I don't care about Jax, though. I don't care that he must go face his boss and explain why he randomly committed a felony and I don't care if his relationship with a Hooters girl comes to a screeching halt. Still, it might be kind of fun to watch Lisa Vanderpump scream at this guy for being an alcoholic-kleptomaniac-egocentric-soul-damaging asshole, so I settled in for their confrontation, the one that caused him to sweat all over the white couch in the home where I hope she hid her stockings. "I'm not a bad person," the shitty person explains to Lisa before telling her that SUR is his home and he will pray (because Jax is very religious ever since his stint in prison) that he will get to stay there. Lisa throws him on probation and I'd cheer her business acumen if only she'd decapitated him as well.
Also: It’s always nice to see Ariana smile about anything because girlfriend is as frosty as they come, but I really hate it when someone says something like, "Tom and I's relationship," because that expression is correct in no language.
Having his testicles handed to him by Lisa, there’s really nothing else for Jax to do now but go out and celebrate. (What’s that? Maybe the guy should be in a dark room somewhere digging through his moldy repressed memories in order to determine why he’s such a disgrace as an adult? Yes, I suppose that would also be a good idea.) Anyway, Jax and his beloved decide to meet up with Kristen because, like everyone else, he feels better about himself when he sits across from her. The guy Kristen is growing to hate might show up later. They toast to Jax's suspension because this guy is so senseless that he's choosing to look at his suspension as an excuse to be on vacation – which means it's a good thing he now has sunglasses. And how does he begin his faux-cation? By telling Kristen that Kevin has a girlfriend and the guy shows up and Kristen sees her opportunity to finally get him off of her sofa for good. She doesn’t mind losing this one in the least! Now she will have more time to stalk her ex-boyfriends while telling herself in a mirror, "I'm 5'9" and fucking beautiful," because Kristen’s Contrition Tour (there’s still a ton of seats available) will just be hours and hours of her repeating positive affirmations to herself.
It's a very good thing that Stassi, Kristen’s newest roommate, has begun apartment hunting because sometimes Stassi’s in the way when Kristen wants to talk to the pretty girl who looks like her in the mirror. The apartment Stassi found is pretty but it’s small and there's no place to put her shoes and you can tell she's taking all of this seriously because she's dressed like a librarian. She also decides that she needs to go see Lisa about everything that happened with her sex tape – the one that wasn't even a sex tape, but was footage of Stassi masturbating, though she's kind of too much of a child to say that word so she says she was "m-ing," which actually makes whatever she was actually doing sound way dirtier. It seems the guy who had the tape was trying to extort her for $900 and Lisa paid him off, making Lisa the best boss in the universe and this guy the shittiest extortionist who ever lived.
Also: Schwartz and Katie still haven't had sex.
But before Stassi can go grovel to Lisa, first it’s time to celebrate! It’s Scheana and Shay’s first anniversary and they go out to a lovely dinner where she reads to her addicted husband the list of all the cocktails she wants them to imbibe. And sure, the guy might have a real substance problem, but this is a special day! It's their anniversary! He can attempt to fix the misery that is his life tomorrow! After all, isn't the 13th step of Alcoholics Anonymous that one should have a gimlet on any and all anniversaries?
Also: James is a model.
And now it's time for Stassi to show up at SUR and have an impromptu conversation with Lisa that she's totally planned out in her head. (I know we’re asked to believe that Lisa has no idea Stassi is coming by, but I refuse to believe that the Executive Producer of this show doesn’t know everything that’s going down and didn’t actually help execute this little meeting.) At any rate, why such a talk needs to happen on camera is sort of beyond me if it’s in fact a real apology, but Lisa tells her to sit and asks her where she would like to start before railing into her for fucking up a relationship with a boss who genuinely had her back. Lisa’s voice is level as could be while Stassi's trembles like she's falling down a rugged mountain. She tries to pay Lisa back the $900 and Lisa all but laughs at her. Not enjoying herself in the slightest as she sits before someone who no longer sees her as charming in the least, Stassi finally gets up to leave and she tells Lisa she’s leaving because Lisa so clearly hates her. "You're not important enough for me to hate. Sit down," replies Queen Vanderpump, a woman who will never need to schedule a contrition tour of her own because, even though she’s chosen to be affiliated with such shitheads, she is now – and will forever be – just so fucking fabulous.
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.