After countless seasons across multiple cities, the Real Housewives franchise has produced more than its fair share of memorable moments that need only be referred to by the briefest descriptions. Scary Island. The table flip. These moments tend to live on in isolation in the forms of clips on Watch What Happens Live or in Twitter memes. That's good and right of course; it's the way culture moves and operates these days. But it's also fun to revisit these moments at length and break them down for context, extracting every last morsel, reaction shot, and enduring quip. Which is exactly what we're about to do with The Real Housewives of New York's infamous leg-throwing fight from season six.
The moment in question comes in the Season 6 episode titled "The Last Leg"; it's the final episode of the season before the reunion begins. The previous season had seen the RHONY lineup undergo one of the more sweeping changes any Housewives show had seen to that point: Bethenny Frankel had exited after Season 3, and now Jill Zarin, Alex McCord, and Kelly Bensimon were all fired, replaced by Carole Radziwill, Heather Thomson, and Aviva Drescher. It took a while for fans to warm up to the new trio, and when they were joined the next season by the categorically ditzy Kristen Taekman (tagline: "I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I'm pretty!"), the chill endured.
The first among the show's newbies to really pop was Drescher, who turned out to be a real kook, flying off the handle in the season five trip to St. Barth's after the other women objected to her dragging her husband along to a girls' weekend, an argument that culminated in calling Ramona and Sonja "white trash." She also had this rather macabre backstory where she'd lost the lower part of her leg to an accident with a wheat thresher as a child. She entered season six like a house afire, intent on starting beef with Carole over rumors that Carole employed a ghostwriter for her books, which turned both Carole and Heather against her. Then she slighted Kristen by bailing on her planned group vacation to Montana, saying her asthma would keep her from traveling, which none of the other women believed.
For whatever reason, the big blowup confrontations on Housewives always seem to happen at so-and-so's birthday/anniversary/charity gala/Girls and Gays Never Forget All White Party Seafood Soirée. In this case, Sonja's "Team Sonja" party at Le Cirque that was the setting for disaster, which is kind of fitting considering that "Team Sonja" was a loose collection of interns, aestheticians, and acolytes who helped Sonja in her various moneymaking and brand-building schemes, a traveling band of rubberneckers who certainly saw their investment pay off this night. The entire cast showed up, including LuAnn — who had been temporarily demoted to "friend of" status for this season – and who, of course, arrived in a chunky turquoise necklace. Sonja, naturally, arrived late.
Aviva is the last to arrive, however, and when she does show up, Ramona (unintentionally) runs some interference for her by loudly complaining to Sonja from across the room that she hasn't come to greet her friends yet. What's funny about this whole Aviva moment is that without her, this would still have been a deliciously entertaining Housewives setpiece, with Sonja holding court, delivering an endless speech painting her as the heroine in a tragic but triumphant tale, and her motley crew of allies milling around like the crowd at Dr. Frank-N-Furter's mansion in The Rocky Horror Picture Show as she rattles off their various titles ("image guru, veterinarian to the stars' dogs, psychic to the who's who, feng shui expert, facialist extraordinaire").
But steal the show Aviva did, and from her very first confessional, she decides to arrive like a full martyr. "I've been sick, and they're avoiding me like the plague," Aviva tells us, in a rather dramatic reframing of events. "It's asthma, ladies, it's not contagious. And by the way, I'm feeling better. Thanks for asking."
So while Aviva huddles in the corner, begging for a scrap of kindness from a world that offers asthmatics none, the other women talk about how they're all completely over her. Kristen says her issues go far beyond faking asthma to get out of a trip to Montana, while Carole jokes that she's got Munchausen's syndrome (a popular Housewives accusation!). Ramona maintains that the root of Aviva's problem is that she's not a "girls' girl" and she needs to have her husband with her at all social functions. This is why she made up the asthma excuse to get out of Montana, Ramona says. Not being a girls' girl was a favorite Ramona accusation over the years; she tarred Alex McCord with a similar brush years before for always bringing Simon around, and of course who could forget her charging Bethenny with not supporting other women (wow, Bethenny, wow).
At last the women all sit down to their table, where the real fireworks can begin. Heather and Kristen take the lead in the airing of grievances against Aviva, with Heather playing rational cop and Kristen playing repeat-Heather-but-louder cop. The crux of this whole scene is that Kristen is looking for an apology from Aviva for bailing on the Montana trip. The politics of vacations on Housewives is one of those things that is only kind of articulated on the show, since it deals with the meta aspects of being a Housewife, but basically Kristen wanted the vacation she planned to turn out well because it would reflect well on her as a Housewife, and Aviva not attending makes her look bad, and since she was already dealing with Ramona and the other women complaining to one degree or another about being in Montana instead of the Bahamas, Kristen was at a rather high pitch about it. Heather is pretty much taking turns serving as Kristen's counsel and also trying to make Aviva look as crazy as she thinks she is.
Aviva, however, did not show up to apologize, bluntly telling Kristen, "You've actually been a horrific person to me." And here's where this scene officially goes to the circus, as Aviva changes gears to a kind of mock-victimized tone as she reveals that her doctors have been lying to her about having asthma. Kristen, bless her, switches from furious to credulous and wants to hear Aviva out (she's not on screen, but Sonja is also buying this), but Heather sees what Aviva is doing and tells Kristen, "She's making fun of you."
Indeed, Aviva is making fun of Kristen and Heather and anyone else who might have doubted the frailty of her lungs. And she's brought props! There are two ways to view the moment that Aviva produces a pile of X-ray slides from her bag: 1) Aviva went to her medical practice and requested copies of her X-rays — not print-outs, but actual slides — which would have to have been produced at some cost, just so she could dunk on her cast members, or 2) Aviva went to a prop store of some kind and purchased fake X-ray slides of a pair of lungs, if such things are even available for purchase. I'm not saying I'm leaning in one direction or another, I'm just saying there are options. Anyway: Aviva has X-rays of her lungs (maybe), and this is the point where LuAnn begins to lose it.
The reactions of the other women around the table are myriad. Kristen seems completely discombobulated, Heather is annoyed, Carole is flabbergasted by this weird attempt at comedy, Ramona is bizarrely trying to be the voice of reason in convincing Aviva to cut the theatrics and just speak honestly, and Sonja has become distracted by the X-rays and won't stop until someone acknowledges her joke about whether they're slides of Aviva's lung troubles or her boob job.
Aviva then starts passing around business cards for her doctor, encouraging the women to call him and … I guess ask him to betray his hippocratic oath by revealing medical information about a patient? She then pivots to Carole and says that this whole smear campaign has been to discredit her because of what she's been saying about Carole using a ghostwriter. At this, Carole washes her hands of the situation, as does Heather, who dramatically gets up from the table. The ladies then huddle up and regroup, with Carole/Heather/LuAnn aghast at Aviva's weird behavior, Ramona trying to get Aviva to admit she can't go anywhere without her husband, and Aviva loudly insisting that her asthma has been caused by reflux.
Back at the table for round two, and by this point, Team Sonja has stopped even pretending to mingle with one another and are fully just taking in the show. And it's about to get better, as Aviva drops the entire stack of X-rays and medical reports in Heather's lap. This gives Heather the opening she was looking for to have her moment, as she stands and says, "You say that you have never lied to any of us at this table, and you find us really hurtful? I find that laughable." Heather's entire being is made of italics as she says "laughable," it's really something to see. As is Aviva's response. As Sonja warns her to keep it together, Aviva decides to answer Heather's prepared remarks with some of her own: "The only thing that is artificial or fake about me … is this."
Bedlam! Pandemonium! Aviva has slammed her prosthetic leg on the table! Heather is laughing her ass off. Carole all but says, "Check, please." Kristen thinks she's going to vomit. LuAnn is divided between her impulses towards decorum ("Can we get the leg off the table, please?") and the fact that she's about to break down into a giggle fit. The members of Team Sonja are getting their absolute life from this, in particular this one blonde onlooker who really ought to be demanding royalties from Bravo.
"Heather, why don't you take it, I'll crawl home," Aviva spits, and then throws her leg across the room, where it falls with a thud and then sits accusatorily at this room full of wealthy women and the people who serve them. "Are you not entertained?" the leg seems to shout at both Team Sonja and us at home.
LuAnn gets the last word in on the season before the traditional postscripts begin, in tears of laughter in her interview, cracking, "They say 'this is the last straw'? This is the last leg." If LuAnn hadn't already sewn up her ticket back into the main cast by this point, that quip probably did it.
This would be Aviva Drescher's last hurrah on the show, and honestly, even though it was LuAnn who wept, it was Aviva who, like Alexander before her, had no more lands to conquer. She'd delivered the moment that would live in infamy in Real Housewives history. No one could say she didn't leave it all on the table.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.