After eight long months without The Bubbas & Company, Vanderpump Rules returns. At one point in the trailer for Pump Rules season 6, a sweaty, exasperated Tom Schwartz laments, “This is not good — it’s bad.” It’s purposefully unclear what Tom is referring to, but there are a litany of possibilities. Is Tequila Katie back and rage-texting her closest friends? Did Tom drink himself into oblivion again and throw a metaphorical lit match onto his relationship? Did Tom prophesize BFF Stassi Schroeder’s looming backlash over her “Male Witch Hunt” podcast episode? The thing is, all of these nightmare situations are extremely possible and a nod towards why these Vanderpump frenemies make such good television: everyone in the SUR crew is the villain of this story.
Okay, I know you’re about to claim not everyone in Rules is so bad, but that’s because those people are surrounded by even bigger villains. So, in contrast, certain individuals don’t seem like the bad guy or girl. Take everyone’s very favorite hair gel enthusiast, Tom Sandoval, who is a pretty okay dude who tends to cry over nearly anything and everything. Honestly, it’s nice to simply see a man so unafraid to get in touch with his feelings.
But, even Sandoval can ruin things for his close friends, because he is not immune to the pull towards the Dark Side that is apparently emanating from SUR. As we see in a sneak peek for the season 6 premiere “Masquerade,” Sandoval was caught by Lisa Vanderpump dragging the Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills star at her own restaurant. “I suddenly hear you kind of saying just a lot of negative things .... And it makes me think, ‘What the fuck am I doing here,” Lisa tells her employee when she confronts him the following day about his “bullshit.” This is the kind of gotcha moment someone expects for a Bachelor Nation villain, not the plausible hero of a reality show. In fact, it sounds a lot like the Kenny King vs. Lee Garrett runaround of Bachelorette 2017, minus all the racist undertones.
Interestingly, Sandoval doesn’t apologize for insulting Lisa at her place of business. Rather, he blames Lisa for essentially spying on him, despite the fact she was very obviously having a drink with her husband Ken Todd in one of SUR’s side rooms. “Well, you said you were leaving and you purposefully hid,” he says. “I’m venting to my girlfriend with the assumption we are alone.” No one points out that’s a wild assumption, considering he and significant other Ariana Madix were in a public restaurant, as opposed to their private home.
This kind of tension is especially problematic since it seems Lisa, Ken, Sandoval, and Schwartz are convened to tour a prospective restaurant space. At the end of season 5, Lisa asked the Toms if they would be interested in partnering with her for Tom-Tom bar. Now it looks like we’re seeing the fruits of that discussion. Schwartz, who witnesses the argument during what was meant to be a positive business meeting, clearly looks panicked over his friend’s tone-deaf defense. In a confessional interview, Schwartz admits, “I’m starting to worry he’s fucked this opportunity for us before it even started.” His concern isn’t totally off the mark, since Lisa storms out of the space saying she needs to totally “rethink” the entire Tom-Tom partnership. When Lisa talks about being invested in Sandoval, she uses the past tense.
Past Sandoval, the villain title can be applied to almost everyone else in the cast. Scheana Marie swears co-stars Katie, Stassi, and Kristen Doute have systematically bullied her. But, then again, Scheana went along with her former BFFs' bullying of Lala Kent until it wasn’t fun anymore. But, then again, Lala is crafted as an archetype of the Other Woman, so we’re apparently supposed to be suspicious of the newbie as well, because reality TV sometimes leans on tired tropes. Ariana generally tells all of these individuals, to their faces, she would very much like to have nothing to do with them. The only woman who doesn't veer into the monstrous is the sweet, Southern Brittany Cartwright, who has always felt like a supporting character beamed into the Pump world from a much nicer planet.
When it comes to the Vanderpump men, things aren’t much better. Jax Taylor is continuously accused of cheating on his girlfriends, and, when season 6 begins, the big question among the cast is whether the bartender was unfaithful to his latest love interest, Brittany. Jax keeps saying he's planning to propose, but, here we are. Tom Schwartz is usually the sweetest guy around, yet, tends to get drunk and tell Katie she acts “like a moron.” James Kennedy traffics in slut shaming whenever he wants to slight his ex Kristen, as does her fellow ex-boyfriend Sandoval. The same Sandoval who incorrectly compared a sad Schwartz to a “battered woman” and might tank his and his best friend’s biggest opportunity yet due to petty gossip.
Compare all of these Chrissy Teigen cryface-worthy storylines to the very similar Jersey Shore, which also followed a group of hard-partying friends through their many misadventures. Barely anyone in that cast would rank very high on the villainy charts. Yes, everyone can agree Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino ended Shore much sketchier than he started, or that Sammi “Sweetheart” Giancola deserved much better than the treatment she received from Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, but, no one seemed like a true villain. That’s why the crew ended Sundays with “family dinnah” — they were more of an alcohol-soaked dysfunctional famiglia than a study in the reality TV dark arts.
Although, we now live in a much bleaker, meaner time than when Jersey Shore premiered within the first year of Barack Obama’s administration and Twitter trolling wasn’t even a pastime yet. It only makes sense our reality TV reflects that change.
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