Why Everyone’s So Obsessed With #Scandoval | CONTROVERSIES


The internet is obsessed with scandoval…but what makes this scandal of scandals different from all the endless Reality gossip we’re always hearing about? At first glance, the Vanderpump Rules cheating scandal reads kinda like any other cheating scandal torn from the reels of reality TV: a man with a history of infidelity commits infidelity. In this case, the man is Tom Sandoval, the girlfriend is Ariana Madix, and the other woman is Rachel “Raquel” Leviss. But it’s also the perfect drama for today’s new era of tabloid gossip with its interlocking ecosystems of gossip and reality TV. It’s got fan theories. It’s got lawsuits. It’s got fights. And it’s got everyone’s attention. Here’s our take on all the gory details of Scandoval, and why we just can’t help to watch dirty laundry getting aired in public.

Catching Up On The Theories

Tom Sandoval has been a Vanderpump Rules series regular since day one. A bartender and aspiring actor, he’d already built up a reputation as a villain, albeit one who’d first tried to put on a “good guy” persona. Ariana Madix was his longtime girlfriend — although when they hooked up initially, Sandoval was dating a now departed cast member, Kristen Doute. Madix began as a guest star but became a series regular by season two. Raquel also started as a guest and was rumored to be hooking up with Sandoval’s best friend and business partner, Tom Schwartz. But then, midway through Season 10 being aired, TMZ revealed the Leviss and Sandoval affair, and so now, everyone is looking back to see what they might have missed.

One theory is that the rumored hook-ups between Tom Schwartz and Raquel were kind of a smokescreen. A thread on the official Reddit board for Vanderpump Rules said to be from a close friend of Raquel, claimed that the rumor that Schwartz and Leviss had made out at Coachella was started to deflect from what actually happened — namely, that it was Sandoval and Leviss who hooked up at the festival. And Schwartz’s involvement didn’t end there. In an episode of Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, he revealed that Sandoval told him that he was in love with Leviss this January and that since then, it was kind of an open secret amongst the cast.

Since the truth has come out, some more troubling rumors have also started to circulate, which paint Sandoval in a pretty bad light. Allegedly the affair was revealed when Maddix found an explicit video of Leviss on Sandoval’s phone. Then, Leviss sent legal letters to all of the Vanderpump Rules cast claiming the video had been taken without her consent, with TMZ putting two and two together to suggest that the only person who could have taken that video…was Sandoval. Which would mean he’d be in violation of California revenge porn laws.

The other question is that Leviss has decamped to a kind of rehab. In her public apology, she claimed she was “learning things about myself such as my patterns of codependency and addiction to being and feeling loved.”

Right now, people wait for new Scandoval episodes to drop — filming on season 10 resumed once the scandal broke, leading some people to suggest that the whole thing is being manufactured to boost ratings. There’s always an unspoken tension in reality TV about what is and isn’t reality – but the drama of Scandoval seems to be so juicy because it’s apparently not crafted by expert TV producers. The way it’s captured the public imagination may be because it’s the most – if not the only – unscripted and truly genuine thing to have happened in the show’s history…

Reality TV Happens Offscreen Now

The craziest thing about this whole Scandoval is that, so far, it’s happened off-air, and it feels like the media and the Vanderpump Rules team are trying to catch up. When the cast found out about the affair, Scheana Say allegedly punched Raquel, leading Raquel to file a restraining order against her cast mate.

Much of the drama seems to have come out of the reunion episode that takes place at the end of every season. Now, before the reunion was filmed, Leviss gave an impromptu interview to a photographer who happened to catch her on the way out of a nail salon. Rather than the response being carefully crafted or media managed, it appeared genuinely off the cuff, which again lends some credence to the idea that all of this wasn’t scripted and that producers genuinely did know nothing until everybody else did. The reunion itself was, by all accounts, a bloodbath. Us Weekly reported that the cast screamed at the new couple for hours, refusing to let up. TMZ revealed that Andy Cohen had to separate two cast members to prevent a physical altercation from taking place

If it’s a mess for the audience, then it’s been even more of a mess for producers. In a conversation Tom Schwartz had with Sandoval, he explicitly states that he thinks the reason he and Raquel aren’t clicking romantically is because she has her eye on someone else. While in the same conversation, Sandoval shares some hard truths about his relationship with Ariana. Without the full context, this might have just come across as one friend venting to the only person he thought he’d be able to vent to. But now everything takes on a completely different color.

If we look at other reality shows, there’s a pattern of the camera missing many of the most dramatic moments. When Frasier star Kelsey Grammer left his wife Camille for another woman in the very first season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, the show only had Camille telling us about it later in a confessional. More recently on that show, Erica Jayne has dealt with explosive lawsuits about her husband’s off-camera alleged misdoings, while Lisa Rinna spent episode upon episode trying to cause drama over things she claimed Kathy Hilton said off-camera. So does the camera ever actually capture any of the dirt?

When it comes to stars like The Kardashians, vigilant fans will see stories about almost everything that’s covered months later in their reality shows. Meanwhile, a big focus of all the Real Housewives series is on what happens after the episode airs – how what’s said in confessionals to the camera might shift interpersonal dynamics, who takes shots at whom on social media, and what’s said in post-show interviews like Watch What Happens Live. So the world of Reality TV isn’t even truly about a show’s content on its own. It’s about intertextuality - the tabloids, interviews, leaked rumors, and social media clapbacks combined with the highly edited TV show – and it’s precisely that intertextuality that has helped push this scandal beyond the Bravoverse, pulling in interest from people who previously may have only a cursory interest in Vanderpump Rules. Maybe its popularity says something more about where we’re at in our culture.

How Quarantine Changed Reality TV Forever

While we may feel like we’re in a post-pandemic world, we’re still living with the repercussions of COVID-19, and one of those is how it fed the intersecting Reality TV and Tabloid Gossip machines. When lockdown began, reality TV was in a really interesting position. Lots of shows were in the middle of filming, and so had to deal with the ramifications of the pandemic in real-time. This fundamentally changed the dynamic between the audience and reality stars. Where previously people would tune in to watch how the other half live, now this privileged, entitled elite was all of a sudden going through something incredibly relatable. They were asking the same questions, dealing with the same confusion and fears we all were. The Guardian’s Wendy Syfret wrote: “Year after year, season after season, cast after cast, we’re happily offered the same recycled tropes, dramas, mistakes, and happy endings. So when the real world penetrates this shellac shell, it’s not engaging, it’s terrifying.”

At the same time, with people starved of escapist entertainment, tabloid gossip rose up to fill that demand. The now infamous Instagram account Deux Moi, claimed that a cast member sent in a Scandoval-related blind item way back in December 2022, was a product of the pandemic. Previously a fashion blog, the pandemic led to its creators soliciting anonymous celebrity gossip, transforming it overnight into a modern-day Gossip Girl.

What’s interesting is that over the past few years, there’s been a real public reckoning with the tabloid era of the ‘00s, how brutal it was, and how it exploited celebrities and damaged their mental health. Undeniably, that era was fuelled by the rise of reality TV and a new breed of socialites like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. But it was also helped along by the increasing ubiquity of the internet and how gossip blogs disrupted the existing tabloid industry. What’s happening now feels eerily familiar. So despite us re-litigating that era…are we simply repeating it, but in a slightly different outfit?


Since Scandoval broke, people have set upon Tom Sandoval as the arch-villain of the piece, review bombing his businesses to the point where Yelp removed the ability to review them entirely. This is the downside to our current era where the parasocial relationships people build up with stars of their favorite shows create a sense of entitlement to step in and enact retribution.

Given we know how bad that last era of reality TV and tabloid gossip was, the damage it did, and the ripple effects it had in wider culture… is it an era we really want to dive back into? Scandoval may be fun to watch, but the aftermath may not be so pretty.


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