First came the story: TMZ reported on March 3 that Tom Sandoval, star of Vanderpump Rules and common-law husband of costar Ariana Madix, had been having an affair with his other costar Raquel Leviss. But that news seemed impossible—more like a Bravo-branded Mad Libs than actual reporting. Raquel was Ariana’s best friend; of the straight, male Vanderpump Rules cheaters, Tom Sandoval was the lowest-level offender (one drunk make out at the Golden Nugget nine years ago, plus an unsubstantiated rumor or two); and four episodes into the new season, Raquel seemed to be pursuing Tom Schwartz, best friend of Sandoval and soon-to-be ex-husband of yet another costar, Katie Maloney—a perfectly entertaining scandal in its own right because crossing Katie Maloney is akin to walking into a viper pit wearing bunny ears and mouse perfume …
But then came the name: Scandoval. The name meant it was real. First coined by writer Hannah Selinger, the term was sanctioned by Andy Cohen himself and disseminated worldwide by Bravo fans who’d been jonesing for a scandal just such as this one. The Scandoval meant that we’d had our Toms all wrong, that we’d been fed a fake Tom Schwartz story line in order to obfuscate Tom Sandoval’s very real tomfoolery. It meant that Sandoval and Raquel had carried on an affair not only under the nose of Ariana, but also under the noses of Bravo production, Cohen, and an entire audience in the midst of consuming Season 10 of Vanderpump Rules, which had fully wrapped filming before Ariana discovered an incriminating video of her good friend Raquel on her boyfriend’s phone. It meant … that we had something to sink our teeth into this season.
Vanderpump Rules is a franchise born and bred on the betrayal of cheating on your significant other while working as a bartender at a Sexy Unique Restaurant. Jax cheated on Stassi with Kristen, who cheated on Tom Sandoval with Jax, after which Tom sort of cheated on Kristen back with Ariana. Tom Schwartz seemed to treat his entire marriage to Katie like a game of hide-and-go-cheat-on-your-wife. The very franchise itself launched on an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills wherein Lisa Vanderpump hired staff from her restaurant to cater an event and Brandi Glanville was compelled to confront a young SURver whom she’d recently found out her ex-husband cheated on her with: one Scheana Shay herself.
A cheating scandal is nothing to write home about—or even that much to tune in for—when it comes to Vanderpump Rules. But Scandoval is different. Scandoval has enraptured audiences, penetrated the national discourse, and forced me to explain to other humans that there are two Toms on one show who’ve made out with the same Raquel, whose name is actually Rachel. (And for the record, “Scandoval” is alternately used to represent the cheating scandal, the cheating person himself, and even a general state of scandalous being. None of it is good.) To be truly stunned by a reality TV story line is a rare treat, but to get to follow it in real time on the show, with access to more information than the series’ characters themselves had—well, that is basically unheard of, and it’s created three distinct but constantly overlapping timelines that have left Vanderpump fans breathless at a point when the franchise was undoubtedly on its last leg.
The first timeline to consider is the one that kicked off with that TMZ article and goes through the present—the one where Ariana found out what had been going on between Raquel and Sandoval and immediately disseminated the sordid tale to a handful of close friends and VPR colleagues, after which those friends proceeded to leak that information across the airwaves for the last two months. It’s like if the Last of Us fungus could be spread solely through niche podcasts that have names you’d never heard of but that you now listen to religiously. The second timeline is the one we’re witnessing on Season 10 of Vanderpump Rules. The third timeline runs parallel to that second timeline but tells a different story entirely. It takes the information we’ve been infected by in Timeline 1 (the present) and applies it to the altered reality we’re watching on TV, where Raquel and Sandoval are having an off-screen affair (the past). In this third timeline, we must create something resembling the truth by searching for clues in the form of necklace charms and beer cans like we’re the goddamn Villa Rosa Pink Panther.
Because the thing that really sets Scandoval apart from other huge Bravo bombs in the past, like Teresa Giudice going to prison, or Tom Girardi being indicted, or Jen Shah defrauding the elderly, isn’t its lack of legal ramifications, or even that it’s a victimless scandal, because it’s not. It’s that in the case of Ariana and the rats she once trusted, we can already see the future—and there are actually some winners in this disaster. Dwelling in these overlapping timelines affords us the opportunity to support the right people at the right time, and knowing that the people who were hurt the most by this scandal are also the ones coming out on top of it excuses us for some of the delight we’ve inevitably taken in this mess. It is a perfect storm of surprising winners and true losers, so ahead of the Season 10 finale—and what promises to be an absolute barn burner of a reunion—join me in assessing who (and what) has won and lost the most in the Scandoval saga.
Winner: Ariana Madix
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: No one’s stock has risen more than Ariana’s during the Scandoval fallout. That’s not to say that realizing the man she loved (despite the fact that he shaves his forehead) was sleeping with the woman she once called a friend (despite the fact that she just has loose nickels rolling around between her ears) wasn’t a real and damaging personal tragedy. But—but!—I ask you: Would being cast in a Lifetime movie after a lifetime of not being cast in Lifetime movies as a direct result of being betrayed by a guy you really needed to break up with anyway not be a pretty solid consolation prize?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. After the Scandoval dropped, Ariana immediately went full lately-I’ve-been-dressing-for-revenge at a glamorous wedding in Mexico, was cast on the next season of Dancing With the Stars, landed a partnership with Bloomingdale’s, was invited to the White House Correspondents’ dinner, canoodled with a hot fitness influencer at Coachella (the same event where Sandoval and Raquel are rumored to have kissed for the first time last year), and garnered the unwavering support of a notoriously fickle reality-TV-consuming community. She doesn’t need to worry about what her ex is doing because we’ve got her covered with TikTok edits and a full Sandoval boycott that has no end in sight.
Loser: The Name Rachel
With apologies to my fellow Morally Corrupt host Rachel Lindsay, nothing took a more immediate hit post-Scandoval than the name Rachel. Once Raquel and Sandoval’s affair became household news, the lightest amount of digging into old yearbooks revealed that at some point between high school and moving to L.A. to make her way onto Vanderpump Rules, Rachel Leviss changed her name to Raquel Leviss for what she probably thought was forever. But now that Raquel has been exposed as Rachel, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone allowing her such an exotic consonant ever again. Oh, Rachel …
Winner: James Kennedy
Do we have James to blame for ever bringing Raquel into Ariana’s life at all? Yes. Can James be an absolute Tasmanian devil of destruction, house beats, and uncontrollable id? Of course. But has anyone been funnier than James Kennedy during the Scandoval drama? Absolutely not. We haven’t even seen the reunion yet, but he’s already run away with the whole thing by earnestly accusing Raquel and Sandoval of being “poo poo heads—both of you, poo poo heads!” The littlest DJ that could even managed to create a legitimate bop by dropping his own lyrical interpolation into PinkPantheress’s “Boy’s a Liar.” The group chat has been singing “Scan-do-val’s a liarrrr” for two calendar months, and as long as Sandoval remains a liar, we will not stop.
Replying to @madangel56 Here you go! I’m going to post a full highlight reel soon. #vanderpumprules #jameskennedy #scandoval #tomsandoval #pumprules #bravotv♬ original sound - Riley
Loser: Lightning Bolts
Not since Zeus have lightning bolts been this chaotic. The tinfoil hat that launched a thousand tinfoil hats was the early Reddit discovery that Sandoval and Raquel had both been wearing lightning bolt necklaces all over their Instagrams for just about as long as it had been rumored that their affair had been going on. And in the penultimate episode of Season 10 of Vanderpump Rules, it was revealed that Raquel bought her lightning bolt necklace herself for nearly $800 from some random boutique. You really just never expect weather to be this embarrassing.
Winner: Katie’s Intuition and Lala’s Voice of Reason
It’s not unusual for Katie Maloney to not like someone. It’s not unusual for her to scream at that person, or ignore that person, or call them any number of names and eviscerate their will to continue being a SURver. But you have to give it up for Katie’s instincts about Raquel this season. Raquel’s complete lack of respect for Katie’s former 12-year-long relationship with Schwartz wasn’t a direct indicator that she was having an affair with Sandoval, but when Sandoval snottily told Katie that she seemed to get a lot of joy out of Raquel being embarrassed, she immediately retorted, “Yeah, you seem to get a lot of joy out of Raquel as well”—and that was just delicious. Likewise, Lala never goes so far as to accuse Sandoval of having an affair with Raquel—it really is unimaginable, even to these women who can’t stand Raquel—but she does consistently call out that it’s strange how much time Sandoval spends with her, and that he lied in every way possible about not being able to get a ride home to see Ariana on the day her grandmother died when, in fact, he’d rejected a ride in order to hang out at a party with Raquel. During the season, most people write Lala’s and Katie’s suspicions off as them simply not liking Raquel, but as it turns out … they had good reason not to trust her, even if they didn’t totally know what that reason was at the time.
Loser: Tom Schwartz
Schwartz’s nosedive from charming dope to calculated little gargoyle has been as swift as it has been clumsy and deserved. Because, of course, this behavior is nothing new—he simply got away with it before by acting like he was too much of a goofy dum-dum to know any better. But there’s no getting away with it this time. If this bananas season has revealed anything, it’s that Tom Schwartz is no dummy; his betrayals are intentional, and he lies for his own gain. It’s yet to be determined exactly what Schwartz knew and when he knew it, but he’s already admitted to at least knowing that Sandoval and Raquel slept together the night she came back from Vegas and went to boys night. Which means that every time he pretended to be interested in making out with her afterward, every time he talked to Ariana, every time he defended Raquel instead of defending Katie … he did so with the full intention of helping Tom Sandoval cover up his affair.
Loser: Galaxy Lights
On that note, this affair begins as an almost direct result of the other VPR girls making fun of Raquel bringing her galaxy light to Las Vegas. Please note: Ariana was not one of the women who made fun of Raquel because Ariana was back in L.A., where her beloved dog had just died, on the night that Raquel and Sandoval first slept together. I’ll never look at the galaxy the same again.
Winner: Former Vanderpump Rules Cast Members
Perhaps there have been no more unexpected winners of the Scandoval than the many, many former cast members who have profited both figuratively and literally from a resurgence of the franchise’s popularity. The clip of Stassi’s reaction to Sandoval saying he kissed Ariana at the Golden Nugget—“that’s, like, an all-time low”—has been played repeatedly, both on the show and in my head. Jax and Brittany not only got invited back to the Watch What Happens Live Clubhouse, but also got their own Watch With Vanderpump Cast special episodes on Peacock, which were … actually kind of entertaining? And wildest of all, there was the return of Kristen Doute, twiddling her fingers like Mr. Burns in the final beat of the season finale trailer, there to comfort Ariana, the woman Sandoval once cheated on Kristen with at the Golden Nugget. Scandoval, meet your new all-time low.
Loser: All TomTom Entrepreneurial Endeavors
One story line that would have existed on this season of VPR with or without Scandoval is the Toms’ Sisyphean attempts to get their restaurant Schwartz and Sandy’s open. And now, following one owner’s complete public moral collapse and the other’s attempts to cover up said collapse, it’s feeling less and less likely that the Toms will ever make a profit. And that’s without even considering all the money going toward paying the horns section of Sandoval’s band, which is playing increasingly empty venues by the day.
Winner: Ken Todd
On the other hand, it’s yet to be seen whether Ariana and Katie’s entrepreneurial feminist sandwich endeavor will benefit from the immense amount of goodwill toward them at the present moment, but there’s one person who’s already benefited from this season’s many, many scenes about making sandwiches: Ken Todd. Inexplicably, Ken was the cast member tasked with dropping the bomb that while Ariana was out of town at her grandmother’s funeral, Tom Sandoval had Raquel back to his house: “In the jacuzzi … and she stayed all night!”
My dad knows more about the Manzo family than most #bravo fans ty @thetalkofshame for letting me post #vpr #scandoval #vanderpumprules #lisavanderpump #tomsandoval @bravotv #reality #dads #dadsoftiktok♬ original sound - Meredith Lynch
And we must hand it to the man: He remembers everyone’s names without any cue cards, and he does it all while leading a pet swan through the kitchen. They don’t call it Vanderpump Rules for nothing. (They call it that because Lisa Vanderpump told Ken Todd that he had to come in and deliver this tea to Katie so that she didn’t have to get her hands dirty.)
Loser: Glamping and the Phrase “Dip Out”
The jacuzzi sleepover in question is the first time that what we know was really happening between Raquel and Sandoval crosses over with what we’re seeing on the show. Which means we watch Sandoval lieeee, lie, lie when confronted with people finding out that Raquel slept over while Ariana was away. And for some reason, during all this lying, Sandoval cannot stop using the phrase “dipped out.” First, he says that Raquel dipped out after the hot tub, then he says she dipped out from the couch she was sleeping on, and it all still adds up to the fact that she slept and didn’t actually dip out until morning. When a crew goes glamping for Raquel’s birthday, the official story Sandoval settles on is that Raquel slept over in a guest room, which Ariana is totally cool with, by the way. That glamping crew consists of three people who know about the affair (Sandoval, Raquel, and Schwartz) and three people who don’t (Ariana, Scheana, and Brock). And listening to Raquel cry about how these people mean the world to her and Sandoval go full Tom-Cruise-on-a-couch talking about how fucking proud he is of what a badass Raquel has become is, quite literally, sickening.
Loser: The Pageant Industrial Complex
It’s difficult to tell how sincere Raquel’s quarter-life crisis is on the show, but considering the circumstances, it wouldn’t be outrageous to imagine that she is going through some sort of total collapse of self. However, in her confessionals, she’s not crying because she feels guilty about lying her ass off to her friend—she’s crying about how doing pageants made her care too much about what other people think about her. Or maybe she’s crying about aging out of pageants? At some point, I think she’s crying about how she never went to OT school … or maybe how she never wanted to go to OT school? It is honestly impossible to tell, but either way, Raquel—who aged out of pageants before she ever even got close to becoming Miss California—is not exactly a ringing endorsement for the system itself.
Loser: Howie Mandel
Now there’s a name that the average Bravo viewer may not have expected to see on this list! But alas, after a monthlong nightmare for Bravo PR, Tom Sandoval decided to take things to full sleep paralysis demon night terror territory and make an unsanctioned visit to Howie Mandel’s podcast (A thing! Apparently!) to give his first official statement on the Scandoval. And you’d better believe each statement was less enlightening and more disastrously narcissistic than the last. At every turn, Sandoval managed to assuage any of his own guilt and blame his cheating on a desire to protect Ariana’s mental health. And at every turn, Howie Mandel had absolutely no follow-up questions because, as becomes increasingly clear, Howie Mandel had never watched Vanderpump Rules before interviewing Sandoval about the biggest Vanderpump Rules scandal of all time. Possibly the only good thing to come out of the Howie Mandel interview was Sandoval shaving his mustache, which we now know was likely a direct result of James screaming, “You’re a worm with a mustache” at the reunion a few days prior. And now he’s just a worm. (Honorable-mention loser: mustaches.)
Winner: Watch What Happens Live
Watch What Happens Live has perhaps never created this much must-see TV because Bravo has perhaps never happened this live. Immediately following the Scandoval bomb, Lisa Vanderpump’s solo appearance on WWHL scored the series its highest rating in the 18-49 demo in two and a half years … only to be topped by Katie’s appearance a few weeks later … only to be topped by Kristen Doute’s appearance a few more weeks later. If I’d told Andy Cohen a few years ago that Doute’s appearance on WWHL would get him season-high viewership and that she would be glowing in a sleek tangerine blazer, I assume he would have laughed me right out of the Clubhouse. Thus is the power of the Scandoval. And with Ariana set to make her first appearance after the season finale, well, I’ll be tuned in for what promises to be a new record high and an even brighter blazer.
Loser: Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss
There’s simply no coming back from Scandoval, and if there were, Sandoval and Raquel haven’t taken that route. First, there are the ever-mounting gnarly details of the affair: Sandoval and Raquel first had sex in Raquel’s car on the night Ariana’s dog died, and Tom had to call Ariana to let him inside afterward because he didn’t have his house keys. Sandoval wasn’t with Ariana after her grandmother died because he wanted to hang out at a pool party with Raquel. Ariana finally found out they were sleeping together by finding a screen recording of an explicit FaceTime Sandoval took from Schwartz’s apartment (positively too gross to dwell on, considering the constant state of Schwartz’s apartment).
And since the Scandoval was revealed, a full-court undercover affair has been framed as “selfish” by Raquel, and simply a reaction to Ariana not letting him break up with her by Sandoval. Like it was all just one big oopsie they meant to handle better but forgot to. But Sandoval wasn’t exactly protecting Ariana’s mental health (as he claims) by abandoning her during her most vulnerable moments, lying to her about not being able to get a ride home from a party because he was taking a shit—A real lie! That an allegedly 40-year-old man really told!—and cheating on her with her best friend while filming a reality show. Nor was Raquel doing us gals any favors by attempting to reclaim the word “mistress” because she accidentally kissed a married bartender when she was, in fact, intentionally carrying out a whole-ass monthslong affair.
Knowing what we know now, Raquel was, I guess, simply terrorizing Katie in the name of making out with Tom Schwartz for no reason. She never liked Schwartz, there was never any potential for anything to happen between them, and even their make out was just a diversion. The most generous interpretation of Raquel’s behavior this season is that she was trying to hide an affair with her best friend’s common-law husband. The least generous interpretation is, of course, that she was just doing it for shits and giggles. And the reunion trailer does not suggest that we have any reason to be generous toward Raquel or Sandoval; it doesn’t suggest acceptance or accountability, or even a hint of groveling. It suggests that Tom will attempt to explain away the affair with the excuse that he was going to break up with Ariana eventually. At which point, we will all quote Scheana Shay (whose total contributions to Scandoval I consider a draw for now) in unison and say, “But you didn’t—you fucked her best friend.”
Winner: You, Me, and Vanderpump Rules
Like a phoenix from the ashes, a series that launched 10 years ago and seemed on the brink of collapse as recently as last season is now must-see TV. After a truly rough few years of VPR, what’s triangulating between Sandoval, Raquel, and Ariana is enough to glue us to our seats—and not just watch Vanderpump Rules, but breathlessly break it down afterward to figure out what went wrong, and when and how it happened. Viewers who’d given up on Vanderpump Rules have tuned back in: Prior seasons of the show are now consistently on Peacock’s top 10 most streamed shows. Literally everyone on the cast and tangentially related to the cast has started a podcast—and people are listening to them! We cannot get enough Vanderpump Rules, and it seems to have more than enough to give us. Season 10 may wind up being lightning in a bottle, but we’ll appreciate every minute. Because sometimes it’s nice to just all sit down on a Wednesday night and agree on something—and when that something can be sung in the cadence of James Kennedy, even better. Which is to say: Sandoval’s a liar, and Ariana deserves each and every Scandoval win that’s come her way.