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If you’ve glanced at your social media feed in the past three months, there’s a high likelihood you’ve encountered “Scandoval”. What is this strange term? And why is it following us around the internet?
For the uninitiated, “Scandoval” refers to the latest salacious drama to hit Vanderpump Rules – a spinoff of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (RHBH). Though it’s already well into its 10th season, buzz around the show has been crescendoing thanks to what appeared to be the mother of all cheating scandals.
Ariana Madix (left), Raquel Leviss (centre) and Tom Sandoval (right) have taken over the internet.Credit: Hayu
Amid the wreckage now lies multiple broken relationships, a divided cast, feuding fans, and a new label for the TV show: “the Super Bowl of reality TV”, the hashtag of which has attracted over 12.3 billion views on TikTok.
Cheating narratives are a reality TV mainstay, so why has the Scandoval saga blown the internet’s mind?
Hold on, what is Vanderpump Rules?
Vanderpump Rules (VPR) aired at the beginning of 2013 as a spinoff to Bravo TV’s iconic RHBH, which at that point starred VPR’s leading lady, Lisa Vanderpump.
The show follows the employees of Vanderpump’s swanky West Hollywood restaurant SUR (which stands for “Sexy Unique Restaurant”). All sorts of buffoonery takes place among the young staff, including shock firings, blackmail, shifting alliances and, of course, endless in-group sexual encounters.
The cast of Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules,” from left: Raquel Leviss, Scheana Shay, Ariana Madix, Tom Sandoval, Lisa Vanderpump, Tom Schwartz, Lala Kent, James Kennedy and Katie Maloney. Credit: Bravo/Tommy Garcia
The current (tenth) season consists of Katie Maloney, Scheana Shay, Tom Schwartz, Tom Sandoval (yes, the Scandoval is named after him), Lala Kent, Ariana Madix, James Kennedy and Raquel Leviss – all long-time cast members.
Notably, the show’s appeal began to peter out following season nine. Many fans attributed this to the fact that most of the cast no longer worked at SUR and many were in committed, long-term relationships (watching two people secure and happy is boring, apparently). However, news of a divorce between Maloney and Schwartz gave season 10 a slight boost before going to air.
Then Scandoval hit.
Why is everyone talking about it now?
In March, about a month after season 10 began airing, TMZ revealed a split between Madix and Sandoval, who had been in a long-term relationship, alleging he had engaged in a seven-month-long affair with fellow cast member Leviss, who happens to be close friends with Madix. This may sound pretty average, but this affair shook the cast to its core.
Sandoval and Madix had been dating for about nine years. Other than a few spats over their busy schedules, they were generally considered one of the most stable relationships on the show.
Meanwhile, Leviss and Madix’s friendship had flourished since the former joined season five. All seemed well prior to the bombshell, Madix even attended Sandoval’s cover band show (he’s part of a cover band called Tom Sandoval & The Most Extras – I can’t make this up) just a week before the affair was exposed.
Tom Sandoval (left), Tom Schwartz (centre) and Raquel Leviss (right) on the season 10 reunion of Vanderpump Rules.Credit: Hayu
According to cast member Kristen Doute, who spoke of the scandal on her podcast Sex, Love, and What Else Matters, Madix allegedly found out after finding explicit photos of Leviss on Sandoval’s phone, which had fallen out of his pocket. Rumours of the timeline proceeded to swirl, with some saying Leviss and Sandoval shared their first kiss shortly after Madix’s dog died, and others claiming they had slept together in the same house Madix was sleeping in.
What has happened since?
Fans immediately became enthralled (and infuriated) by this messy betrayal, tracing back through social media and analysing every photo, post and episode to find signs they may have missed.
They were left questioning whether Leviss and Sandoval were playing some kind of twisted game, gleefully offering hints about the affair on and off-camera. Some fans noted Sandoval had dressed as Leviss for Halloween, others pointed to the matching lightning-bolt necklaces Leviss and Sandoval had been wearing for a few months.
Fans were also quick to question the “other Tom” – Tom Schwartz. One of the major plot lines of season 10 had been the flirtatious dynamic between him and Leviss, but some pro-Madix fans began to wonder whether this was a decoy used to distract viewers from the forbidden relationship, especially given his bromance with Sandoval. However, Schwartz maintains he knew nothing of the affair until it was exposed.
The affair was more or less confirmed in early March when Sandoval posted a statement to Instagram, imploring fans to leave his family and friends alone and announcing his “hiatus” from work. A few days later, he posted another Instagram statement apologising to Madix.
“I want to apologise 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 also apologised, first via Entertainment Tonight and then on Instagram, admitting her feelings for Sandoval had always been sincere despite the hurt it caused. In April, she reportedly checked into a facility to receive treatment for her mental health, as a result of the criticism she had endured.
As for Madix, anonymous sources told People she had been completely blindsided by the news.
“This has been going on for upwards of 6 months — all the while, Tom was sleeping next to Ariana in bed,” the source said. “She was completely blindsided by this; devastated doesn’t even scratch the surface of how she feels.”
The majority of cast members backed Madix following news of the affair, with co-star Lala Kent encouraging people to chant Madix’s name at Sandoval’s future cover band shows. “I am activated. I am activated as f—-. Now that I have consent from Ariana … blowtorch, gasoline, grenade launcher, it’s all ready,” she said on an Instagram story.
And this is different from other reality TV scandals?
Firstly, this affair seemed to come out of nowhere, knocking fans’ understanding of the cast’s dynamic off its axis. Sandoval and Madix’s relationship was like a north star for VPR fans – when other cast members descended into chaos, their dynamic remained relatively stable and reassuring. With practically no earlier signs of disruption, viewers were unable to ease into the prospect of a break-up or seek an alternative “emotional anchor” for the show.
Secondly, the saga involved three people actively involved in the current season and unfolded during production, meaning the aftermath was filmed more or less in real-time. Many cheating scandals occur off-screen, between seasons or with unknown players: Ramona Singer of the Real Housewives of New York separated from her husband between seasons, and while Luann de Lesseps – also a New York housewife – found out Tom D’Agostino cheated on her during the show, he was barely visible on-screen.
From left to right: Lisa Vanderpump, Tom Sandoval, Tom Schwartz and Raquel Leviss on the season 10 reunion.Credit: Hayu
Considering the fan reaction so far, it’s as if they’re experiencing (and documenting) the pain and betrayal alongside Madix.
Finally, unlike franchises like the Real Housewives – which tend to select a motley crew of people solely for the show –VPR follows restaurant employees, many of which happened to be friends and working at SUR before the show began. Several of the relationships, though likely exaggerated for entertainment, are based on bonds developed over many years. The raw emotion expressed by co-stars and fans is a result of the relatability of the VPR cast – they’re just a group of friends straddling baggage you’d expect from decades-long friendships.
How long will this drama last?
Season 10 has technically wrapped up – culminating in a dramatic finale that depicted the fallout between Sandoval and Schwartz, Sandoval’s gaslighting of Madix, and many (crocodile?) tears – but for those not yet satisfied, the first episode of a three-part reunion drops on Thursday.
VPR has found its new villain in Sandoval attracting a slew of new viewers who came for the drama and stayed for the fallout. Just as sports fan return in droves for the Super Bowl each year, reality TV fans will likely return to VPR next season, hungry for a Madix touchdown.
Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.
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