In Monday night’s Season 5 premiere of Vanderpump Rules, we were provided with a desperately-needed update on the ever-evolving bodies, faces, and personal lives of our favorite SURvers. In this alternate West Hollywood universe, cradled gently within the candlelit confines of a Sexy Unique Restaurant, the 2016 election is nothing but a faraway dream.
Jax’s girlfriend Brittany, for whom he recently purchased a boob job, now works at SUR, which is suffocating for him, so Jax spreads a rumor that he walked in on her hooking up with Kristen. Tom Sandoval has silver streaks in his asymmetrical bowl cut and it looks so insane that I had to rewind. According to Scheana, SUR hostess Lala is “still that skanky ho she was last year”; Lala remarks to DJ/self-described “white Kanye West” James that she doesn’t think Stassi is hot—“and I usually like blondes.” James sobs in a club. Katie accuses her fiancé Tom Schwartz of not helping her bully someone. All is well. I enjoyed the episode, as always.
Despite the fact that it premiered the night before one of the scariest elections in modern U.S. history—involving a looming orange hobgoblin with roots in reality TV himself—Vanderpump Rules, like most reality television shows, isn’t gonna get that real. Fundamentally, Vanderpump Rules is an escapist enterprise; why would they risk alienating us with political commentary? I tried anyway, of course—I mean, don’t you want to know what Lala thinks?—but when I reached out to Bravo to request interviews with the cast on the 2016 election, I was politely rebuffed. We were later told that Jezebel could only attend a “pub crawl” event with the cast if we refrained from asking political questions. (Though a good portion of Jezebel’s reality show coverage involves Bravo’s many reality shows, it’s not my intent to single out this particular network; ABC also turned down a request to interview Bachelor franchise cast members about the election.)
Although Pump Rules matriarch Lisa Vanderpump recently revealed in an interview that Bravo was reluctant to even let her promote her campaign to end the Yulin dog meat festival (since they “don’t like to make political statements”), Bravo-lebrities haven’t been completely silent on this year’s election. Pump Rules cast member Tom Sandoval told me earlier this year, albeit reluctantly, that he’d “probably” vote Democratic, and Jax has tweeted negatively about Trump, as has Southern Charm cast member Cameran Eubanks:
Thomas Ravenel, Cameran’s colleague on Southern Charm and a former South Carolina politician, has also tweeted about the election, albeit from a rather different perspective (“From a top FBI OFFICIAL: (paraphrase) The Clintons are a cesspool, a crime family not unlike The Bambinos”). Various Housewives have made their opinions known, as well.
Even Bravo gatekeeper/Watch What Happens Live! host Andy Cohen tweeted, and quickly deleted, his predictions as to who various Real Housewives are voting for (it appeared to have been an accidental DM). He wrote that the Jersey housewives are for Trump, and “I think all the RHOC are trumpies and gd knows who else. All the RHOA and RHONY are HRC. Most of BH too.” (Meanwhile, in more official network news, a Watch What Happens Live! press release recently revealed the winners of an election-themed “Real Housewives Awards”—Kenya Moore is “Secretary of Shade;” Heather Dubrow is “Secretary of the Interior Design”; Lisa Vanderpump is President.)
If their cast members are vocal anyway, why try to prevent more of this commentary? According to a publicist who’s worked with talent across the reality TV spectrum, including several Bravo shows, “the rules differ depending on how popular you are and how popular your show is and among what audience. I’ve heard the magic number is a million—if you have more than a million viewers, you can innately get away with more.” As this publicist tells it, a reality star’s speech is held on a longer leash if, like Thomas Ravenel, they already had an identity and an audience before transitioning into getting drunk on national television; thanks to the show’s chronicling of Ravenel’s spectacular failure of a Senate campaign, Southern Charm has itself been inherently more politically-minded. Willie Robertson from A&E’s Duck Dynasty—well over the million-viewer threshold—gave a speech at the RNC in support of Trump; over on E!, the Kardashians, of course, say whatever they want.
But if we already love to hate the ladies of, say, The Real Housewives of Orange County, what’s the harm in letting them chat with the media about their political opinions—particularly this year, when it’s all anyone’s talking about? Isn’t all drama good drama? “That’s not drama, that’s divisive,” the publicist replied. “Most of Bravo’s viewers are on the coasts, they’re affluent, they’re not Trump supporters. No one’s tuning in for that, so they have nothing to gain, and everything to lose.”
(We’ve reached out to Bravo for comment, and will update if we hear back.)
I guess it is, ultimately, rather comforting to know that no matter what global shitstorm awaits the rest of us, a group of horny Los Angeles perma-waiters will continue to call these “the best days of our lives.”