Americans tend to have a pretty one dimensional view of people in politics. They assume we all do nothing but watch cable news, read econ books, and sip champagne at fundraisers. While I do participate in all of that, I also watch Bravo’s notoriously chaotic reality show hit, Vanderpump Rules.
For those of you living under a rock, the show is currently experiencing a resurgence in pop culture and on TikTok thanks to a recent affair amongst the cast members that has been dubbed as “Scandoval.” All you really need to know is this: series original Tom Sandoval cheated on his long-time partner, Ariana Madix, of almost 10 years with her friend Raquel Leviss who recently ended her engagement to another cast member, James Kennedy—who was also friends with Tom.
The affair blew up the internet with fans flocking to Tom’s restaurant, Schwartz & Sandy’s (which he owns with another cast member, Tom Schwartz) online in order to tank their Google reviews. Others have left graffiti in the bathrooms that reads #TeamArianna, while some have chosen to troll Tom at local shows he’s performing across the US with his band. Whatever the chosen mechanism of protest, the sentiment is universal: everybody hates Tom.
Meanwhile, the outpouring of support for Ariana has been universal. Fans have flocked to buy her merchandise for an anticipated restaurant she’s opening. According to a reunion episode for the show she taped a few months ago, she’s already made $200,000 off of that alone. She reportedly stands to make $1 million from the controversy when all is said and done. Uber Eats, SoFi, and BIC razors all rushed to produce commercials centered on the scandal featuring her and other endorsements continue to pour in.
Personally, while Vanderpump Rules has certainly earned its reputation as a trashy reality show, I think entire college-level courses could be taught on its marketing and the psychology of its characters and their relations. But to take just one component out of that to examine here, I want to look at the marked difference of how its characters are treated by society and even within the cast as they’ve experienced similar events.
Before Scandoval broke in March, another (more famous member) of the cast, Lala Kent was living through her own affair. In 2021, Lala delivered a baby with her long-time fiance, movie producer Randall Emmett (who also appeared on the show). Shortly thereafter, news broke that Randall had been prolifically cheating on Lala, even beginning a new relationship the month she gave birth according to her. As bad as that was, it was really just the tip of the iceberg.
Her story has now been made into a Hulu documentary called, “The Randall Scandal: Love, Loathing, and Vanderpump.” In it (and other reports) he is accused of everything from fraud, to running a casting couch on his sets, to selling drugs, to sexual abuse. Lala is still embroiled in a custody battle with her ex to this day.
But notably, Lala’s plight did not result in a slew of commercials or an outpouring of support. And if you ask her, she thinks she knows why that is.
On a recent episode of her podcast, Give Them Lala, she discusses the differentiation in how she was treated vs. Ariana. Her cohost mentions how little sympathy James Kennedy has been given for his emotions over his ex-fiance’s (Leviss) affair with his former friend (Sandoval).
Lala says, “It’s because he’s kinda like me…we have intense mouths and it’s like we’re looked at as the people who deserve it.” (James and Lala are both certainly firecrackers on the show who’ve caused more than a few controversies of their own).
She continued, “It’s just funny how the outside world looks at certain people….you have to be a perfect victim for people to sympathize with you. Being a perfect victim is very, very hard.”
“Unless you are a perfect victim, you don’t get sympathy,” she finished.
Lala might be on reality TV, but she tends to be one of the wisest voices in the room, often stumbling upon deeper truths without realizing it.
Whether or not you keep up with Bravo, it’s important we acknowledge and combat the human tendency to do this—to write off injustice, or pain, or harm unless the victim is perfect. This mentality is prevalent throughout society, but especially in our criminal justice system where a majority of people will grasp on to any wrongdoing in a person’s past to excuse violence or wrongdoing against them.
In fact, we often even see actual crimes against lower-status workers, like sex workers, go completely ignored when they occur.
Someone shouldn’t have to be perfect to get sympathy (or more importantly, justice) when they are harmed—especially since none of us are perfect. From claims that a person used marijuana in the past, to the length of a woman’s skirt, to the profession in which a person works, none of these things should cause a victim to get less attention, resources, or sympathy when they’re hurt.