At the beginning of the pandemic, I told my then-11-year-old niece that COVID would be her 9/11, or her 2000s housing bubble. “It’s the defining news event of your generation,” I said. “Everything will be different for you now. You’ll be able to trace so many changes in your own life and in society to what’s happening right now.”
I don’t like admitting to being wrong, but I didn’t know what I was talking about. Last Friday, TMZ published a story that changed my life forever: “Tom Sandoval & Ariana Madix Call It Quits…Allegations He Cheated With Costar Raquel Leviss.”
This is the generation-defining news story I was talking about. Not necessarily for her, since she’s a reasonable person, but without question for me.
A recap for the uninitiated: For a little under a decade, Vanderpump Rules castmates Ariana Madix and Tom Sandoval (previously thought to be the less wretched of two interconnected Toms) have been a couple. Of all the people on the long-running reality TV show, Ariana has been the least objectionable by a mile: She’s very beautiful, and the least unreasonable among a crop of some of the most irrational people to have ever lived in LA. (Yes, I realize what I am saying here.) But according to Sandoval’s ex and former cast member Kristen Doute, they both cheated on each other throughout their relationship, and she often suggested that he’d cheated on her with Ariana. (In reunion episodes, the couple denied Kristen’s claims.) Still, the allegations of infidelity only really stuck to Kristen. (Kristen is no longer on the show; she was fired after calling the police on a Black costar for no real reason, along with some other Vanderpump old hats.)
Meanwhile, in 2016, castmate James Kennedy, a DJ (term used as lightly as possible) with a butt chin, began dating Raquel Leviss, a “Bambi-eyed bitch” according to former frenemy/now straight-up nemesis Lala Kent. James is an almost cartoonish reality show villain; he’s arrogant, loud, cruel, British, vicious, and he once spat on Kristen’s door when they broke up. (On that note, these fucking idiots keep dating each other as if there aren’t 35,000 people in West Hollywood alone.) James and Raquel broke off their engagement in December 2021, during last season’s reunion, which meant that Raquel — whose real name is, I cannot stress this enough, Rachel — was primed to be the hero on the show’s latest season, after years of being maligned as an interloper, a faux-innocent, and worse, a "stupid" little girl. Of all the people to upend the Vanderpump universe, who’d thought it would be Raquel? Raquel, who was cheated on repeatedly by James? Raquel, who wore a Swiffer Duster Starter Kit to the Season 7 reunion??
The 10th season of Vanderpump Rules, currently on air, has in just a few brief episodes seemed almost suspiciously better than the last few seasons, which were bogged down by racist cast members and downright devilish ancillary men. Raquel has spent much of this season so far embroiled in some now-possibly manufactured storyline where she’s attempting to make out with the other Tom: Tom Schwartz, who is Sandoval’s business partner and the ex-husband of fellow cast member Katie Maloney, who’s friends with Ariana and Raquel. Katie and Ariana are about to open a sandwich-and-cocktail shop together called Something About Her. Does this make sense?? No??? GREAT!!!
Not since the great Sister Wives divide of three months ago have I been so titillated by celebrity gossip. Sandoval possibly cheating on Ariana — a woman who remortgaged her home so that her loser boyfriend could finance his bar to sell this misspelled sad-ass chicken Caesar salad — is infinitely more interesting than the Selena Gomez/Hailey Bieber eyebrow drama I have previously been tricked into caring about.
There’s no scandal better than a reality show scandal, because unlike traditional celebrities, reality celebrities absolutely will tell us what happened. They’ll give us details. They’ll show us receipts and screenshots and found footage. They’ll want us to pick sides, and so far, the side to pick is clearly Ariana’s. As Marie Kondo always says: I love mess.
That Sandoval may have cheated isn’t, in itself, a real surprise — he’s a man pushing 40 who owns two uninspired bars in Los Angeles built off the back of his reality television notoriety (one of the bars is called Schwartz & Sandy’s, for Christ’s sake) and performs in a band called Tom Sandoval & The Most Extras, something no one asked for. He has a mustache, and I hate him. So far, his only real apology has been in an attempt to stop viewers from spamming his business’s Yelp pages with bad reviews.
This affair further proves my long-standing theory that most straight men go absolutely feral around 38, when their midlife crisis bubbles up and explodes, hitting everyone around them with shrapnel. But every detail of Sandoval’s alleged seven-month-long affair with Raquel is positively obscene: He dressed up as his paramour for Halloween, they’ve been wearing twin lightning bolt necklaces for months, and it’s alleged that Ariana found out about the affair when Tom’s phone fell out of his pocket during a performance with his definitely real band. The rumor, for now, is that Ariana looked through Sandoval’s phone and found sexual footage of Raquel that she had sent to Tom. The Vanderpump subreddit is alive with theories, some of which are truly outlandish (like the one suggesting Scheana Shay hit Raquel in the face with a brick), while others hold more water (like maybe her little thing with Schwartz was a decoy). The details of this scandal are so morbid that it normally would bum me out beyond words, except this entire thing is happening to the most wretched friend group in the continental United States. As such, it is…hilarious.
If you haven’t been watching Vanderpump Rules the way I have, salivating, face pressed up against the screen as I whisper suffer suffer suffer, then this recap might seem complicated and hardly pleasurable. But for thirtysomethings like me who’ve watched with rapt attention as this “friend” group tore each other apart for years, only for said friends to now allegedly commit one of the worst betrayals in reality television history, this moment is catnip.
Every few minutes, I read another tweet like this one saying this season’s reunion will be filmed in two weeks, and I roll around on the floor of my apartment, phone in hand, purring, rubbing my face against the base of my precious, precious television. This is my Christmas.
The Vanderpump Rules cast is built from people who wanted to be famous; when the show started back in 2013, most of the cast were in their late 20s, hoping to become successful actors or singers: Scheana Shay wanted to make music (justice for “Good As Gold”), James was going to be the “white Kanye West” (seems to be going great, James!), and Schwartz wanted to be a business owner who could still take shots in the middle of the day. The Vanderpump cast has always been filled with god’s least favorite children, adults who still act like teenagers and don’t understand why everything doesn’t go their way when they don’t work very hard and when they’re not very nice and they’re all trying to undercut each other.
But there’s a particular juiciness to this sandal involving Sandoval, Ariana, and Raquel. Sandoval is perhaps the most arrogant man left, now that Jax Taylor, whose blood may or may not be made of cocaine, is no longer on the show. Historically, Sandoval has been a terrible boyfriend despite having the most “stable” and long-standing romance on the show.
There have been rumblings that perhaps Sandoval and Ariana were in an open relationship, but no substantive suggestions of cheating. Ariana, meanwhile, is the closest to a human facsimile amongst the entire cast, present and past: She usually comes out as the victor in Vanderpump squabbles, except when she leans too hard toward protecting her loser boyfriend. And Raquel is a true reality television wild card; she’s clearly one of the most shrewd people on the show. She secured a spot on Vanderpump after watching it from afar, tying herself first to James, then getting a job at Lisa Vanderpump’s Sur, and now, by allegedly going whole hog with some guy who told his girlfriend he couldn’t emotionally support her through a tough time because his friends were “crushing shit” with bulldozers in a construction yard somewhere and he absolutely had to join.
Schadenfreude is simply not a strong enough word for this.
Have you checked in on the reality TV–loving millennial woman or gay man in your life since Friday? You should; most of us haven’t eaten or stretched out our rapidly aging tendons since hearing the news. We’re hunkered down, rewatching the first four episodes of this season of Vanderpump Rules, trying to catch Sandoval or Raquel wearing those lightning bolt necklaces or a furtive glance between a couple we somehow didn’t see coming.
But above all, we’re left feeling vindicated. We slogged through this show, through its countless permutations and dips, during the storylines that were so tedious we could barely pay attention. Remember when they wanted us to care about Dayna? DAYNA???? Andy, please. Read the room. We put up with several racist cast members, a glut of sexist ones, and Jax’s perhaps-fake hockey social media job. We have earned this. Short of Ariana, no one has put more work into Tom Sandoval than us, the loyal viewers who made it possible for this not-quite-6-foot-tall Vincent Price cosplayer to open two restaurants and allegedly cheat on his girlfriend while she’s sleeping in the other room. We were here for it all, and now, at long last, we get to be here for the fall. ●