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The iPhone Is the True Star of ‘Vanderpump Rules’

Without text message receipts, secret voice memos, and countless speakerphone conversations, the show might not be able to exist

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Who is the most important cast member of Vanderpump Rules? It’s a question every VPR viewer has pondered at some point. Is it Jax Taylor, bartender, resident screwup, and arguably terrible human? Is it Stassi, former waitress and queen bee? Or maybe it’s a dark horse, like the relatively new addition, hostess Lala, with the mystery boyfriend and shallow girl power mantras? I posit that it’s none of these candidates—nor is it waitress and aspiring singer Scheana or a Tom (there are two) or anyone else. It’s the iPhones viewers see wrapped in all their manicured little paws.

The Bravo reality show is ostensibly about Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’s Lisa Vanderpump’s life when she’s not fighting with her fellow housewives. The show chronicles the lives of a group of friends who work—or worked until they were fired—at SUR, Lisa’s West Hollywood restaurant. They are servers, bartenders, hostesses, managers, and general gofers for Lisa. But what really defines them is their collective iPhone addiction. They are a generation of 20- and 30-somethings raised with Wi-Fi in their pockets and cameras in their faces. Text message screenshots are story line catalysts; the Smoking Gun Uber is canon. iPhones not only propel the story lines on Vanderpump Rules, but the digital machinations of its cast also offer a fascinating look into a class of failing-upward Angelenos. Technology shapes their stories. It is a master class in digital manipulation and deception. Let’s dive in!

In the current season, airing on Monday nights, one major story line is that the deplorable Jax cheated on Brittany, who may be the one truly good person on the show. The entire cast consistently affirms this by coming to her defense through all of Jax’s transgressions. Initially, Brittany waffles on whether this most recent alleged tryst actually happened or whether it’s just a rumor—but then she gets ahold of Jax’s phone.

Screenshots via Bravo

Before diving into the frightening all-blue mania of this iMessage screen, a couple of quick notes about Jax’s phone: Of course there’s no case; of course the screen is cracked. Later, we watch a furious Jax hurl it across the room. Maybe this sort of behavior is why his phone looks the way it does.

Shut up, Tom.

This man likely should not own a smartphone. Back in Season 4, Jax was arrested and accepted a plea deal on a charge of second-degree theft for stealing a pair of sunglasses, which he then gave to Brittany, who posted photos of herself wearing them with Jax on Instagram. In Season 5, a dick pic he’d texted to a former paramour ended up publicly aired in front of all of his friends and Brittany. And then, yes, of course, this string of texts to Faith (the woman he cheated on Brittany with) alternate frantically between accusations and begging. When the ratio of blue to gray is that stacked, you’re in trouble.

Shortly after, Brittany calls her mom. Brittany often eschews a phone case, but on this occasion, she opted for this clear one. Her device is crack-free and rose gold; clearly she is better able to care for her iPhone and isn’t prone to outbursts in which she hurls it against a wall. Her mom is in her phone as “MOM” in all caps followed by a poodle emoji. (The screenshot below is from a later scene but offers a clearer view of the poodle.) Adorable.

Poor Brittany.

To secure her place as the purest (if most delusional) cast member, she has Jax in her address book as “Jax” with a kiss emoji.

Here with another phone case (how many phone cases do these people have?!), we see her background is a photo of her dogs. Brittany is decidedly lawful good.

The “gimme-your-phone” story arc used in this season is not new to Vanderpump Rules. Way back in Season 2, Stassi demanded Kristen hand over her phone so she, Stassi, could determine if recent ex-boyfriend Jax was trying to cover up that he cheated with Kristen. (Have you noticed a theme?)

In case you don’t watch the show—if so, why are you here??—the texts from Jax were lies and he had, indeed, cheated on Stassi with Kristen. Ups to Kristen for the Mophie case. Moving on.

The above example is one of the many times VPR gives us a nice, clear view of a text thread. I live for those; here’s another great instance from Season 5, when Scheana texts Kristen a novel about how she’s ignoring Lala out of loyalty to Katie. It’s great because it includes unaired information about how James, the resident British DJ, was too drunk to get on a plane (and also how Scheana is going to work on her “roll ups,” insider SUR lingo for the way they roll up silverware in napkins, the process that serves as a setting for many on-air gossip sessions). Also, yeesh, put that phone on battery-saving mode, Kristen.

Returning to the current season, as if things could not get worse for her, Brittany learns that Faith secretly recorded a post-coital chat with Jax (ew). Lala, a SUR host, and Ariana, a bartender, bring this to Brittany’s attention, and the three huddle around Lala’s phone (Lala got it from James, who says he got it from Faith; he reportedly stole it from her, though).

Some notes: It’s weird that this is a QuickTime file, since Faith says she used the voice memo app to record it. Maybe James, a DJ, converted the file before he sent it to Lala? Who knows. But the bigger note: California is a two-party consent state, and I have to assume Faith recorded this file without Jax’s knowledge. That would explain why VPR couldn’t air the recording itself, instead relying on the characters to fill us in on its contents. (Which were, of course, awful.) Illegal? Maybe not. Shady? Definitely. But at least it led to this photo of the group huddled around Brittany’s speaker with Lala’s phone plugged in to air the conversation for everyone to hear:

It’s like a VPR version of the Last Supper. It’s beautiful.

It looks like most of them have the exact same Apple phone cases; did they get them for free? Were they all sent free iPhones with cases direct from the company? Given how much screen time smartphones get on this show, it wouldn’t be a bad move.

I have to imagine these kids constantly swap phones by accident.

You know who doesn’t have the same case? Lisa Vanderpump, duh.

It is both beautiful and could function as weaponry. This woman is unreal.

She also, of course, has the gold iPad. No case. Many fingerprint smudges.

Text message threads have long played a crucial role on Vanderpump, even though it may be most obvious this season. The best example is the case of married couple Katie Maloney, a waitress, and Tom Schwartz, day job unknown. Schwartz is easily the cutest and sweetest of the VPR men (save for Peter; Peter hasn’t done wrong by anyone!), however he reportedly has cheated on his wife (again). In earlier seasons, his infidelity caused Katie to send what the cast has dubbed “rage texts,” a digital assault many of them were subjected to.

As Schwartz put it after being the target of one of her tirades: “The bubble never stopped for one second.” Tom is not the only one who has been personally victimized by Regina George Katie Maloney. Below, a rage text (which also translates to a drunk text in Katie’s case) sent to Ariana and Tom in Season 5. (This is Ariana’s phone—171 unread messages?! I have anxiety for her.)

And here’s one Katie sent to Scheana this season. Note: Prior to this screenshot, Scheana explained the cause of the text was that she had said Katie had no friends, which she “meant as a compliment.” Sure, Scheana.

It’s really unfair when the show displays close-ups of Katie’s texts but eliminates most of whatever the recipient sent her. No one on this show is innocent, and some of Katie’s rage-texting is not without cause. Her now-husband once hooked up with a girl in Vegas, a fact that came to light only because Kristen (who functions as the show’s amateur internet detective; she admits to using location-sharing to track her boyfriend, Carter) snooped through Jax’s phone in Season 4 and found some texts about Tom she wasn’t supposed to. Nearly every major story arc on this show has its roots in a text message.

Why do these people allow their friends access to their phones?! Either you’ve done something worthy of a Kristen investigation, or some degree of snooping will occur and your business will now be everyone else’s. For example, in Season 5, James handed his phone to Stassi and Kristen, and they immediately lost their minds over an NDA Lala has allegedly forced friends to sign in order to be around her mystery boyfriend.

Never. Give. Kristen. Your. Phone.

Their cavalier attitudes toward privacy extend to their devices in general. In Season 1, Stassi totes her laptop to the rooftop pool in what is one of the few instances in the entire series where someone uses a laptop for something other than DJing. (Occasionally Schwartz has a laptop open next to him on the couch; it’s not a Mac, either. Did he get a Dell?)

No one has ever successfully worked poolside. You can’t even see your screen. To wit, Stassi eventually ambles over to an awning, where she orders another drink to complete her story in the shade.

This is not the first time the show has portrayed overly casual poolside device use.

That’s awfully close to the pool. And here’s Ariana’s brother on both his phone and laptop at a pool party. Leave your laptops at home, people.

Though Katie’s rage-texting makes a brief appearance in this season’s opener, I would argue it’s unfair that Katie has become labeled the rage-texter, because the tactic goes all the way back to Season 1. The rage text fuels story lines, and we have Stassi to thank for its introduction. In recent seasons, she’s cooled, but let’s remember how it all began when she was targeting Laura-Leigh.

While this cast’s iPhones may update, the maneuvers they use them for never will. It’s oddly comforting.