‘Vanderpump Rules’: Why we just can’t get enough of ‘Scandoval’ — but did it go too far?

Looking back at the cheating scandal between Tom Sandoval, Rachel Leviss and Ariana Madix before the drama continues in Season 11

Vanderpump Rules stars Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix (River Callaway/Variety via Getty Images)
Vanderpump Rules stars Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix (River Callaway/Variety via Getty Images)

“Vanderpump Rules faced a lull before Season 10, and while viewers hoped for a revival, the shocking revelation of “Scandoval,” Tom Sandoval cheating on Ariana Madix with Rachel Leviss, dominated pop culture discussions for months.

Reflecting on the inception of Vanderpump Rules, the introduction to the cast involved a cheating scandal, notably Scheana Shay having an affair with Eddie Cibrian while he was married to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Brandi Glanville. One could argue that infidelity is a recurring theme integral to the essence of Vanderpump Rules.

This trend persisted throughout the series, featuring Jax Taylor’s infidelity with Stassi Schroeder and, eventually, his wife Brittany Cartwright, Kristen Doute cheating on Sandoval with Taylor, and Tom Schwartz cheating on his then-wife Katie Maloney. The list goes on.

Given the historical backdrop of the show, what set this cheating scandal apart, capturing the attention of both the loyal fanbase and newcomers who hadn’t watched a single episode of Vanderpump Rules before?”

‘There was a clear winner and the clear winner is Ariana’

According to Dr. Tamar Salibian, an expert in media and cultural studies and a viewer of Vanderpump Rules, the appeal of the scandal involving Sandoval and Madix is tied to the duration of their relationship and Madix’s perceived “personable” nature both on and off the show.

Despite being labeled as cold or condescending by her ex and Sandoval, Salibian notes that Madix’s character on the series is presented as personable, relatable, and somewhat aspirational. Salibian sees Ariana resonating not only as a character constructed for reality TV but also as a genuine human being.

In the same context, Dr. Evie Psarras, a celebrity and social media expert and Vanderpump Rules viewer, emphasizes that what sets this scandal apart is the clear winner—Ariana. As a loyal partner to Sandoval who never cheated, Ariana stands in stark contrast to Sandoval’s previous relationship with Kristen Doute. The narrative crafted by Sandoval made viewers believe he was a changed man deeply in love with Ariana.

The real-life elements of the cast, such as Madix suing Sandoval over their jointly owned home, contribute to the show’s intrigue. Psarras highlights the authenticity of Vanderpump Rules, stating that the cast lives out their mistakes in real time, creating a captivating storyline that goes beyond what is shown on the episodes.

In Psarras’ words, “They literally do go live their lives, make these mistakes, air it out for people to watch.” The ‘Scandoval’ scandal, therefore, provides a glimpse into the genuine behind-the-scenes dynamics, adding an extra layer of fascination for viewers. It reinforces the notion that Vanderpump Rules captures real people and real-life situations that are both compelling and impossible to ignore.

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VANDERPUMP RULES — “Reunion” — Pictured: (l-r) Tom Sandoval, Tom Schwartz, Raquel Leviss — (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo via Getty Images)

‘For it to be super successful and really resonant for viewers, it requires a level of vulnerability’

In the aftermath of the backlash faced by Sandoval and Leviss, particularly with strong support for Madix, Dr. Tamar Salibian emphasized the necessity for reality TV personalities to display a level of accountability and vulnerability to resonate with the audience.

While reality TV is a heightened representation of real lives, the success and resonance with viewers often hinge on the authenticity and vulnerability displayed by the cast. Salibian noted that reality TV characters attempt to perform vulnerability and authenticity to connect with the audience.

In the case of Rachel Leviss, Salibian highlighted a perceived lack of understanding or portrayal of vulnerability. Unlike some cast members who exhibit depth and layers, Leviss is not seen as a clear villain but lacks the relatability or aspirational qualities found in other cast members.

The article references a scene between Scheana Shay and Tom Sandoval on Vanderpump Rules, where Shay becomes emotional and vulnerable while discussing the situation with Madix. This contrasted with Leviss’ actions, including her podcast, which was described as not particularly remorseful and more like an attempt to “fight back in.”

According to Dr. Evie Psarras, Leviss struggles to discuss the affair from a new perspective and hasn’t shown remorse. The article notes that Sandoval continued to receive entertainment opportunities, including joining the cast of “Special Force: World’s Toughest Test,” while Leviss didn’t experience the same level of post-scandal opportunities.

Psarras expressed frustration with the differential treatment, stating that social media tends to be unkind to any reality star, and despite Rachel facing backlash, Tom Sandoval continued to profit from scandal while Rachel did not.

The article ends with an incomplete sentence mentioning the “typical misogyn.”

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BRAVOCON — “BravoCon 2023 from Caesars Forum in Las Vegas, NV on Friday, November 3, 2023” — Pictured: (l-r) Lisa Vanderpump, Tom Sandoval — (Photo by: Chelsea Guglielmino/Bravo via Getty Images)

Did ‘Scandoval’ go too far?

While Andy Cohen has acknowledged that the reactions to the “Scandavol” drama became “out of control,” the real question is whether people have gone too far with their negativity towards Sandoval and Leviss. Is this extreme reaction simply a part of the reality TV machine’s construct?

According to Dr. Tamar Salibian, there is a considerable amount of harm inflicted by individuals behind screens who express negative opinions on social media. She emphasized that cast members, by participating in these shows, essentially sign up for a certain level of scrutiny and criticism that comes with the reality TV landscape. Salibian noted that cast members often struggle to break free from this dynamic.

Regarding the response to the Vanderpump Rules scandal, Salibian pointed out that the aggression witnessed is not isolated to the cast or online fans but is intertwined with and influenced by the broader culture. The reaction is shaped by the cultural context surrounding the show. She also highlighted the carefully constructed and highly produced nature of reality TV, where what is presented is both real and an illusion. The producers create a particular narrative, and the audience’s reaction is part of navigating the impact of that narrative.

The article explores the complexities of the reality TV landscape, where cast members face heightened scrutiny and negativity as part of the price of participating in the genre. The cultural context and the constructed nature of reality TV contribute to the multifaceted reactions to scandals like “Scandavol” on Vanderpump Rules.

VANDERPUMP RULES -- Season:11 -- Pictured: (l-r) Katie Maloney, Ariana Madix, Tom Sandoval, Lisa Vanderpump, James Kennedy, Lala Kent, Tom Schwartz, Scheana Shay -- (Photo by: Gizelle Hernandez/Bravo via Getty Images)
VANDERPUMP RULES — Season:11 — Pictured: (l-r) Katie Maloney, Ariana Madix, Tom Sandoval, Lisa Vanderpump, James Kennedy, Lala Kent, Tom Schwartz, Scheana Shay — (Photo by: Gizelle Hernandez/Bravo via Getty Images)

‘Women empowerment’ or Tom Sandoval redemption arc coming in Season 11?

As Season 11 of Vanderpump Rules approaches, with the hope for more women empowerment, Dr. Evie Psarras anticipates the potential redemption of certain characters by Bravo, a trend often seen in reality TV. She expresses a desire for a season where characters like Ariana and Katie take charge and receive vindication, particularly for Katie after enduring a challenging marriage with Tom Schwartz.

Psarras expects that Bravo may attempt to redeem Tom Sandoval, although she personally finds him irredeemable. She foresees the network crafting a narrative to cast him in a different light, acknowledging the pattern of reality TV seeking character redemption to ensure their continued participation in upcoming seasons.

Despite the specific dynamics and drama within the show, Psarras reflects on the enduring popularity of reality TV, emphasizing that people watch to learn about themselves. She suggests that viewers engage with real people in relatable situations, gaining insights into their own reactions and decision-making processes. Psarras underscores the human desire to explore the human condition through these narratives, even if the audience has never experienced similar situations themselves. The unfolding drama prompts viewers to reflect on how they might respond in comparable emotional turmoil.

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