At its best — or worst — reality TV is filled with scandalous affairs, brutal betrayals and light girl-on-girl violence.
But rarely do the exploits of its stars generate interest beyond fervent fans and Andy Cohen’s bank account.
That changed, however, this week, when the world was strangely gripped by Scandoval, a cheating scandal that’s torn apart the cast of Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules,” a decade-old reality show with aging stars and dwindling viewership — until now.
Those who deemed themselves above any interest in the Two Toms, what really happened at Scheana’s wedding and who cheated in Vegas have found themselves unable to escape the news of Tom Sandoval’s infidelity with longtime partner Ariane Madix’s best friend, Raquel Leviss.
Huh? If you’re scratching your head — and thinking of your college diploma — but also strangely intrigued, read on.
What is ‘Vanderpump Rules,’ anyway?
The Bravo reality show launched in 2013 as a spinoff from the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” It follows the exploits of attractive people in Los Angeles who work at SUR, a West Hollywood restaurant and lounge co-owned by former “Housewife” star Lisa Vanderpump.
To get an idea of what kind of clientele SUR attracts, know that Vanderpump has explained that its name is both Spanish for “south” and an acronym for Sexy Unique Restaurant.
SUR’s servers and bartenders were initially a hard partying bunch with dreams of modeling, acting and music careers.
Vanderpump acted as both mother hen and referee to her staffers, counseling them as they dated and mated — almost exclusively with each other.
As the seasons wore on, the stars began to all have similar facial features as they spent their Bravo earnings at the cosmetic surgeon.
The cast also started to settle down, some got married, bought houses and moved to the valley. Others had pesky past allegedly racist incidents surface and were kicked off the show.
In short, the franchise was sagging and flagging, but Scandoval has plumped it back up like a perfectly targeted Juvederm injection from a Rodeo Drive dermatologist.
The episode that aired Thursday — the first since “Scandoval” broke — saw more than a 30% bump compared to the week before, viewership the show hadn’t enjoyed in two years.
Who are the main players in Scandoval?
Tom Sandoval, 39: A former bartender and male model from Missouri, he’s been known to flatiron his hair and wear matching motorcycle helmets with his bestie Tom Schwartz, 40. The bosom buddies co-own two popular LA-area bars, TomTom and Schwartz and Sandy’s.
Ariana Madix, 37: Sandoval’s girlfriend of nine years. A bisexual, relatively down-to-earth blonde, she brought a relative touch of gravitas to the vapid cast. The couple seemed in it for the long haul — as much as anyone on a reality show is. In 2019, they purchased a $2.075 million five-bedroom modern farmhouse in Los Angeles’ Valley Village neighborhood.
Raquel Leviss, 28: She’s a former beauty queen who entered the SUR scrum in 2016 as the girlfriend and later fiance of another cast member — foul-mouthed, sobriety-challenged British DJ James Kennedy, 31. The pair broke up, but she became a show staple and also forged a close friendship with Madix.
What the heck happened?
On March 1, Sandoval was performing with his cover band, Tom Sandoval & The Most Extras, at TomTom in West Hollywood. (Shockingly, another Sandoval ex, former cast member Kristen Doute, has called him a narcissist.)
His cell phone fell from his pocket as he performed and someone gave it to Madix for safekeeping.
Before the gig, Sandoval gushed about Madix to Page Six, saying, “We definitely have our ups and downs, for sure, but I think we’ve been really good about respecting each other.” But, in retrospect, the cell phone was a Chekhovian gun that, of course, had to fire.
While typically trusting, Madix looked at it and saw a sexually explicit video featuring Leviss. Upon further scroll, she realized that the pair had been having an affair for some time — reportedly for months.
A source told Page Six that Madix was “blindsided” and “heartbroken,” but “good guy” Sandoval has a history of cheating.
He and Madix first started hooking up while he was in a relationship with former cast member Doute, 40. Doute later accused him of cheating on Madix with a woman dubbed “Miami girl.”
Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Leviss and castmate and friend Sheana Shay, 37, who is also Madix’s bestie, were in New York to appear on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live.”
The pair went out for drinks and Shay lost Leviss, but she found her outside the establishment talking on the phone with a hysterical Madix.
Leviss alleges that led to a confrontation and Shay punched her in the face and “pushed her against a brick wall” causing injury to the back of her head.
Leviss filed for a restraining order against Shay and included photos of her bruised, cut eye in court documents. Shay has denied the attack.
“Currently, mutual friends & co-workers are telling me she doesn’t regret the physical attack on me,” Leviss said in the document, “and would do it again if she found that further emotional distress was caused to our mutual friend.”
Sandoval and Madix have split and two days ago, he was photographed making a late-night visit to Leviss’ apartment.
How bad is the fallout?
Angry fans have been flooding the social media and Yelp pages of Sandoval’s bars.
Sandoval took to Instagram with a rather uncompelling apology asking angry “Pump” viewers to bear in mind that his business partners did not know, nor did they condone his actions.
“Please direct ur anger at me and not them,” he wrote adding “sorry for everything.”
Days later he finally addressed Madix in another apology saying, “Most of all, I want to apologize to Ariana. I made mistakes, I was selfish, and made reckless decisions that hurt somebody I love. No one deserves to feel that pain so traumatically and publicly.”
Leviss released a statement saying, “There is no excuse. I am not a victim, and I must own my actions, and I deeply regret hurting Ariana.”
Madix has not publicly spoken about the affair. She and Sandoval have broken up.
And why do people care?
Fans have been invested in Madix and Sandoval’s love story because the pair have represented arguably the most stable relationship in “Vanderpump” history.
Furthermore, the story and its revelations have unfolded in real time like a live-action soap opera, where fans get to weigh in.
Instead of asking for privacy, the cast and other involved parties have done the opposite.
They’ve leaned into the brouhaha — taking sides and regularly providing updates and opinions on podcasts and social media.
Leviss angered castmate Lala Kent, 32, after her lawyer sent her a legal letter requesting she and her castmates delete the sexually explicit video of Leviss that they may have obtained.
“Raquel, tell your little Mickey Mouse lawyer that if he has stuff to send over, he can send things to my lawyer, same with the rest of my friends and cast alright?” Kent, 32 said in a since-deleted instagram video.
It’s essentially become the Super Bowl of reality TV, existing on multiple platforms.
You don’t need to be a fan of the game or know the rules to enjoy. Just crack open a bottle of pinot grigio — a favorite of the gals who have rallied around Madix — and pull up a seat.
It’s unclear if Sandoval and Leviss will embark on a proper relationship, but fans will be licking their chops over the Season 10 reunion, which will reportedly air in May.
While filming had recently ended for season 10, producers picked up their cameras and started recording scenes around this storyline. They even brought back the exiled Doute — one of the castmates booted for alleged racist behavior — to be included in this latest chapter.
But Vanderpump, the show’s matriarch, cautioned fans to stop with the threats and anger, and to remember that while Scandoval may be entertaining, it’s real life with real humans.
“It’s a show,” she told Bravo boss Cohen. “But they’re all hurting. And I’m not saying we should let them off the hook. Condem their actions but don’t condem the people.
“All this aggression, it can have serious ramifications.”
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