In the densest layers of the muck-and-scum-filled reality television ecosystem, a few Bravolebrities have risen like deranged phoenixes to the tippy top. They bob there proudly upon the fungus-ridden slimy surface and take comfort in the asinine belief that the only thing that matters is that strangers know their name. The creatures currently crowding that swamp include:
· The Desperate Ones. Jill “Why Not Me?” Zarin is the president of this subsection of the murky ooze and that title is a huge honor, at least according to the PR rep who earns a living by lying to Jill every hour on the hour. She tells Jill that her scrawny dog is way more adorable than Giggy could ever hope to be and everyone in the whole wide world recently took a vote and agreed that The Real Housewives of New York has suffered tremendously in her absence because what society at large craves is a disingenuous woman who speaks in a nasal whine and shows off fabric that could very well cause a seizure in whomever stares at it for a beat too long. Later, that same PR rep will go home, take a fistful of Xanax, and shriek bloody murder into a pillow before drifting off to sleep so she can be well rested for the whole thing to begin again tomorrow.
· The Rage-Filled Ones. Remember how adorable it was when Theresa Giudice, Future Felon, flipped a table and bellowed “Prostitution whoooooooore!” in the middle of a family-friendly eating establishment? How about how charming it was when NeNe Leakes lunged for her dear friend’s throat and threatened death by strangulation? Yeah, Bravo executives remember it too and that’s why both of those heathens earn amongst the highest salaries in history for participating in a reality show, a profession in which one is handsomely rewarded for committing assault.
· The Severely Emotionally-Stunted Ones. I actually pressed pause on my TV and ran to my bookshelf so I could find and then quickly reread Leon Festinger’s theories about cognitive dissonance after Brandi Glanville pointed a bony finger in Lisa Vanderpump’s face at a party and yelled, “My dad is great! He’s better than you and better than Ken!” because a few things became staggeringly clear in that mini psychotic moment: 1) Brandi needs to lay off the Botox because there are almost no signs of emotion able to pass across her tight face anymore and how will her ex-husband know for sure that she’s doing amaaaaazing without him unless he can see visual proof of faux happiness? 2) Absolutely stunted in her development, Brandi viewed Ken and Lisa as parental figures and maybe that explains why she behaved like a total fucking child around them and never once admitted it was her own behavior that caused their friendship to splinter. I suppose I can also add Brandi’s BFF to this list because I’ve never seen anyone in real life as emotionally challenged as the totally-sober-and-how-dare-you-even-question-her-even-though-she’s-been-on-a-reality-show-for-years-and-a-lack-of-sobriety-was-her-only-storyline-unless-you-count-mixing-chicken-salad-with-her-hands-as-a-scintillating-narrative Kim Richards. (And just for comparison’s sake here, when I say that I’ve not met anyone as screwed up as Kim – a woman who has never met a method of projection she didn’t try to steal from Target – you should know that I teach high school and not every adolescent has earned an A in sanity.)
· The Born-Again Ones. I sort of hate the suddenly ultra-religious ones the most of all and I realize such a reaction means I have just violated at least one of the Commandments, but when some asshole hypocrite monster who chose a man faking cancer over her own child and then lied about summoning a doctor in the dead of night so she could snag herself some sympathy and a casserole, well, I’ve already lost patience completely so her pantomiming the crucifixion and comparing her pain to that of Jesus’ just really fucking makes me wish she’d drown in that swamp. But on the bright side, let’s hear it for the brand new face Ms. Gunvalson is going to debut for the new season! May a wolverine never ever tear it right off. Amen.
· The Legitimately Crazy Ones. “Crazy” as a distinction can be somewhat complicated, so allow me to say that there is innocuous crazy and then there’s I-will-destroy-myself-and-anyone-who-signed-a-contract-to-be-around-me crazy and Bravo celebrates both varieties, but the swamp’s surface is dotted with the second group because the first group already sank to the bottom. The legit-crazy group is represented by Kelly Dodd, a woman who screams in your face that you are a cunt and then wonders why you don’t apologize to her; Phaedra Parks, a lawyer who knowingly committed acts of slander while a camera was aimed at her face and then quoted the Bible; Ramona Singer, a raving lunatic so jerky and manic that I’ve considered embracing religion myself just so I can visit a house of worship and pray to the heavens that she’s actually bipolar so her behavior will finally make sense to me; and Kim Zolciak, an Instagram husk of a human who has claimed to be in her thirties for longer than I’ve been alive and swears she’s had no facial plastic surgery even though we all have eyes and can see her. These crazies own the swamp and nothing short of an Armageddon will ever convince them to vacate the premises.
But while Bravo and its entire ecosystem is still ruled by Housewives, participants from some of the other shows heavy in the channel’s rotation have made it their business to try to crawl into that swamp, even if they just have to hang off the side like a slug or a very ambitious barnacle. I mean, Jax Taylor on Vanderpump Rules actually caused me to consider becoming a lesbian or joining a convent for Atheist Jews just so I’d never risk ending up in a bed with a guy like him for even a single night. Josh Altman from Million Dollar Listing is so smarmy and arrogant that I’d sooner live in a hut made out of twigs I gathered myself before setting up permanent camp beside that swamp than ever have to be in the guy’s presence for real. And I imagine the relics future civilizations will find from our time on this planet will undoubtedly include a charcoal sketch of Faye Resnick’s face, which means at least later generations will know for sure where to place blame. Still, maybe nobody on TV right now is as bloodcurdlingly terrible as a few of the cast members from Southern Charm, a group of damaged and damaging adults who can recite someone’s lineage at the drop of a hat but can’t tell the difference between right and wrong.
As I mentioned in the first piece I wrote about this series (Prince Charming is a Fucking Pig), I watched every single episode recently in one fell swoop during a miserable bout with a flu that lasted four days, so every bit of the show is ultra-present in my mind. I can therefore state definitively that Thomas Ravanel is a misogynistic prick who, since episode one, has viewed anyone with fallopian tubes only as a conquest and never once as an individual. When he speaks of Kathryn, the barely-adult and barely-sane person he impregnated twice, he never mentions that he misses her warmth or her views of the world. No, Thomas announces that he misses “her physicality, her long red hair.” He considers potential mates by wondering if they “could be the future Mrs. Thomas Ravanel,” like none of these women have a name, like marrying him is a contest where the prize ends up being a lifetime of staring at a man in his fifties who threatens to beat people up on social media. He proclaims that what he wants most in the world is a woman who feels privileged to be with him even though any generic psychoanalyst will tell you that what Thomas really craves is for his Lincoln-hating daddy to finally crack and just tell him he’s proud of him.
Though a repeated exposure to his face and to his drawl caused me to grow as cold blooded as a garden-variety reptile, I don’t maintain that Thomas is all bad. He’s raising his children and they seem well cared for and happy. I’m not sure I would allow cameras to film my child having an emotional breakdown in a parking lot for a reality show, but that was his choice and he can apologize to her in eighteen years when they sit together on a therapist’s couch. My main issue with this Ravanel guy is that I see him as a dangerous liar who chooses to associate with very young women who believe his lies because his words sound like things they wished their daddy would say and then he reels them in using some power I cannot quite understand before eventually allowing them to see that he didn’t mean a single word of what he promised. He will not marry you. He will not provide you a home. He will not listen to a word you say about a nanny or that nanny’s nineteen-year-old daughter unless a court order mandates that he has to pretend to listen to the words tumbling out of your mouth. And no – he will never pull out when he tells you he’s going to.
As for the mother of Thomas’ children, not even the smallest part of me buys that The New Kathryn and her temporary harmonious spirit are for real, but I’d still root for her joy over Thomas’ any day – and I’m not just saying that because she scares the shit out of me and I’m quite certain that if she stared hard enough at my picture, my liver would freeze up and she’d reach deep into my body and pull that liver out with her bare hands and then shove a stick into it and eat it as a popsicle on a hot day at the plantation. But despite her newfound love of yoga and choosing to only order alcohol after a stay in rehab when she’s on vacation and wearing a microphone, nobody has completely forgotten about Crazy Kathryn. We know the crazy still makes up more of her being than blood and water. We remember her wailing on a yacht while dripping in a white fur coat that she would not allow Thomas to leave her. We recall her horror at being told her child’s room was going to be painted a lovely shade of periwinkle and how she gazed across the lawn and saw Landon wearing a blue dress and immediately deduced that it had to be Landon who convinced Thomas to paint her child’s room that evil color because the voices coming out of Landon’s dress told her she was right and they matched all of the voices in her head. We watched as she accused every woman in Charleston and those in the surrounding vicinity of sleeping with Thomas during her pregnancy. I suppose such accusations could be true, but I know that my hymen grows back every time I look at the guy so there’s at least the slight possibility the girl is just paranoid. In any event, there’s not a shot in hell those two won’t end up back together, even if it’s just for long enough to them to conceive yet another child who will also get to be filmed as it has a tantrum in a parking lot someday soon.
At least Kathryn and those hard eyes of hers that tell the real truth are somewhat interesting. Craig and Landon, on the other hand, could easily be two of the most pathetic individuals ever to appear on television. During the first season, Craig reminded me looks-wise of a wannabe Patrick Bateman – and I’m a girl who sometimes enjoys a sociopath, so I understood the appeal – but he’s since morphed into a pitiful guy who wears (periwinkle) boat-neck sweaters and embroiders outfits for his cat because Gizmo is the only breathing being he regularly comes into contact with who doesn’t “correct” him whenever he behaves like a moron. Remember when Craig announced that he should run JD’s bourbon company because, as he said, “I’m crazy smart!” and then told his girlfriend it was going to happen even though he’d only worked for the company for about a month and he knew nothing about bourbon or life in general? Remember the pouty look that settled on his face when his first boss admonished him for not yet taking the Bar exam after Craig called him up to tell him about all of the amazing developments in his professional life, the ones that hadn’t happened? That pout is now ever-present and I guess it’s because Craig is not celebrated for simply existing like he thinks he should be. He’s suffering greatly for our amusement and he’s become almost impossible to root for when he does things like complain about how unfair it is that his girlfriend thinks he should do insane things like arrive at events on time and not sleep until noon. I’ve considered starting a bracket to take bets on which person on this show will end up in a sanatorium due to a massive nervous breakdown first, and I’d just like to announce that all my money’s on Craig, a former shell of himself who will probably be placed in a padded room the next time Naomie corrects him for not turning off the oven when he went to sleep because she is such a bitch who only wants to make him feel badly about himself and the money he makes in that nocturnal off-shore market trading will surely be able to cover the damage from the fire.
Other than himself, Craig’s greatest nemesis seems to be Shep. There are some harsh things I, a viewer of this show, could say about Shep. The guy drinks too much. Grabbing at some girl who was hanging out with one of his friends at a bar was unquestionably a dick move. Justifying that move by claiming he was testing that girl’s fidelity was an uncircumcised dick move. And apologizing for all of it by using the explanation that he was just going after a bright shiny object that was in front of him because he wanted to was the move of a dick filled with infected smegma. Still, I can’t help it – in spite of those terrible actions and the knowledge that he’s filming a spinoff that’s actually called Relationshep, I kind of like the guy. Maybe it’s his friendship with Cameran that appears genuine or perhaps it’s a few interviews I’ve read with him where he comes off intelligent and politically aware. Or maybe it’s just that anyone seems like a fucking genius when sharing screen time with Landon.
Oh, Landon – you are coming across horribly, my dear. Do you realize that? Do you see that even when you are onscreen with a mother who had custody taken away from her because of drugs you somehow manage to look the most tragic? I have tried and tried to comprehend why you annoy me – and, I’m guessing, the vast majority of the viewing audience – with just your presence and I think I’ve finally arrived at some answers:
1) You say things on filmed dates that one should only whisper to herself under the light of a full moon. See, I’m not sure what you were hoping to accomplish by announcing that your eggs were drying up during the salad course, but if you noticed – like the rest of us did – Drew did not shed a single tear when you ended that relationship and your weeping about ovulation could be part of the reason.
2) While I do not agree with Kathryn that your voice sounds like that of a dolphin because I love dolphins and I refuse to disparage them in such a manner, I can say that every time you open your mouth, an angel in the heavens probably dies by committing suicide because hanging oneself by a halo might be more enjoyable than hearing you elongate every single syllable of every single word and then stringing those words into a sentence that comes out as a bleating whine.
3) Sweetheart, you considered dating Thomas Ravanel, a man who knocked up a castmate of yours twice and has behaved for four seasons like a remedial caveman when it comes to his esteem for women. No pony made out of gold whose tail you could braid while giggling incessantly in the sun could possibly be worth being with that guy for real.
Now, I happen to believe that Landon and Thomas never engaged in any sort of sex despite all those hidden messages lurking in the periwinkle dress that spoke to Kathryn. More than that, had something gone down between them, I don’t think Landon should have to explain her choices to anyone except for whatever smidgen of moral fiber currently lurks inside her. I do believe in a Girl Code, but it’s really only applicable when it comes to girls you have a relationship with and a respect for, not a person who points at you while she’s wearing a skirt not seen since the days of saloons and tells the world how much of a whore you are because of the hidden messages she saw in your dress one evening. Don’t get me wrong – sleeping with Thomas sounds like a hideous thing to do – but I think Landon had the right to do it; I just don’t think it happened. My biggest reason for feeling this way is that Landon, though a pretty girl, strikes me as perhaps the least sexual woman in the universe. She looks, acts, and sounds like a witless child, and it’s just hard for me to imagine her doing it with anyone.
I don’t know what’s next for Landon and I don’t know what will happen to Craig. What I do know is this show will end up warping them in ways they cannot even begin to comprehend. Kathryn, so authentically bonkers, would probably have exactly the same life she currently has had she never appeared on this show and Thomas is so gaggingly egocentric that he’d never deign to live a fully private life. The impact of living publicly will not define and destroy Thomas and Kathryn in the way I believe it will eventually destroy whatever is left of Landon and Craig. I think both will remain on this series until it wilts like a flower that was planted in a swamp. They will misguidedly continue to believe that just one more season will allow them to sway strangers into finally liking them, but not one of their desperate machinations will work in the slightest. Their only real hope should be that one day Bravo will dig them their very own swamp, a puddle of funky mud that Landon will deem Roam-worthy.
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. Her Twitter is @nell_kalter