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The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Is No Place for Levelheaded Crystal Kung Minkoff

Three seasons in, Crystal isn't willing to get in the dirt with her co-stars — which means it's time to move on.
  • Crystal Kung Minkoff on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (photo: Emily Shur/Bravo)
    Crystal Kung Minkoff on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (photo: Emily Shur/Bravo)

    Season 13 of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is underway, and already a lot’s happened in just a handful of episodes. Kyle Richards is aggressively self-producing her divorce storyline with the zeal of a newly tattoo-curious, teetotaling gym enthusiast. Erika Jayne has made the apologies she needed to, is in communication with the Catholic Holy Ghost, and has now given up fighting with her co-stars for Lent. Dorit Kemsley is now a brunette whose repertoire of accents includes American Southern. Sutton Stracke wore pants.

    And then there is the group's youngest member, Crystal Kung Minkoff, whose 40th birthday was the occasion for a girls trip to Las Vegas where everybody in the cast mixed it up in some way… except for her. Housewives vacations are often clarifying when it comes to group dynamics, and this Vegas trip really underlined the fact that Crystal doesn't have a place within this group, and in many ways she never has.

    Crystal’s most consistent storyline in the course of her three seasons on the show has been her rivalry turned friendship with Sutton, and that doesn't seem to be producing anything this year, despite Sutton having one of her trademark mega-meltdowns in Vegas. Most seasoned Housewives would take the occasion of a co-star "ruining" their birthday weekend to insert herself into the drama and have a moment. But aside from one or two comments to Erika at lunch, Crystal was content to let it be Sutton's problem. It's only the latest reminder that Crystal might not really be cut out for Housewives (a compliment personally, a criticism professionally), and the time for a conscious uncoupling with the franchise is in order.

    Crystal's a bad fit for these women, which doesn't leave her anywhere to go. She's noticeably younger than the other women in the cast, and while producers hoped she'd inject some youthful energy into the show, the other women have largely rejected this booster. But not even that rejection has led to meaningful conflict with the other women.

    To survive on these shows, a Housewife needs constant (or at least regular) conflict, one in which they have a fighting chance. There's no faster way to get bounced from a Housewives show than to consistently wind up on the losing side of a dispute (just ask Joyce Giraud or Eden Sassoon). In her first season, Crystal's squabbles with Sutton were more than enough. She bristled at Sutton's personality and then confronted her about invading her personal space during a trip to Lake Tahoe. This set Sutton off, spinning her out into some irrational and very TV-friendly reactions ("jealous of WHAT? Those ugly leather pants?"), and made Crystal look like the victor.

    But Crystal failed to play her victory correctly. She kept harping on how Sutton had made her feel "violated," a word choice to which the other women objected for its cancel culture connotations. A savvier Housewife would have pivoted, but Crystal chose to double down, alluding to an unaired incident with Sutton that was "dark" without elaborating. When the story was finally dragged out at the reunion, it amounted to Sutton telling a cringe-worthy story about racial harmony among her daughter's friends in the pool. Crystal seemed to be fixating on vibes and microaggressions that were definitely there (Sutton referring to her daughter's "Chinese" friend; Sutton saying she didn't see color), but which the other women refused to accept as all that serious.

    The biggest difference between Crystal and the other Beverly Hills ladies has always been generational. Crystal has an unapologetically millennial take on conflict. She's comfortable calling out microaggressions and using terms like "violated" when discussing how other people have behaved towards her.And while Crystal is often right on the merits in these arguments, she's butting up against a brick wall of Gen X women who see her as an example of an oversensitive generation.

    Crystal is in the right, but that doesn't change the fact that she has no ground to gain here, because the other women won't grant it to her. When even Garcelle Beauvais — who is by all indications the most level-headed of this current cast, and as a Black woman is someone who has plenty of experience with discrimination and microaggressions — isn't taking up Crystal's side in these arguments, you know things are bleak.

    Then there's the fact that after three seasons, Crystal remains tremendously guarded when it comes to her personal life. The often insidious trade-off that comes with Housewives fame is that you have to give up a part of yourself that most people would not want to surrender in order to be good TV. This season, Kyle is serving up her marriage on a silver platter. Erika imperiled her own legal defense because she refuses to give up her spot on the show. Garcelle is putting the uncomfortable truths that her sons don't think she's always been a great parent right there on the screen.

    Crystal isn't sacrificing her marriage, which by all indications seems to be just fine, to the gods of good content. She broached the subject of her eating disorder last season, but understandably there was only so much of such a deeply personal issue that she was willing to give up to the cameras. This kind of reticence isn't a personal failing; it just makes her less than ideally suited for a TV show that both implicitly and explicitly asks its cast members to drag their every personal drama into the public square.

    Having reached that impasse last season, there seemed to be a last-ditch effort on the producers' part to stir up some drama from outside of the house. Crystal had mentioned to Lisa Rinna that prior to her debut on the show, she'd fallen out with 14 of her friends. Andy Cohen brought this up at the Season 12 reunion, and Kyle Richards pounced on Crystal's explanation — essentially that her old friends turned on her when she was cast on Housewives — implying that Crystal wasn't being forthcoming with the real story. There was some speculation at that time that Bravo might hire one of Crystal's old friends to join the cast and goose that particular storyline for Season 13, but for whatever reason that hasn't happened.

    And so we arrived at Season 13 with Crystal adrift. The most engaged we've seen her so far, aside from the five minutes she spent on stage getting freaked by the Magic Mike Live dancers, was in a low-stakes segment talking about getting a matchmaker for her brother. Otherwise, we've had Erika making a few comments about Crystal being boring, but nothing that would start a fight. Crystal's mostly been reduced to being the levelheaded one, which aside from losing all the arguments you get into, is the second-worst position to be in on a Housewives show.

    Crystal's biggest conflict this season actually happened at BravoCon, where the network's resident bitchy sociopath Jeff Lewis took a shot at her during one of his stage presentations ("Did you all see Episode 1 of Season 13? Do you notice how Crystal didn’t talk the entire time? It was the best episode I’ve ever seen!"). In a text-message conversation, the two made up (sort of), but Crystal jokingly called him a "c*cks*cker," which she then bragged about in a press-line interview, causing a few days of "is she allowed to say that?" hullabaloo, but not much more.

    It’s clear that, while she seems like a good person, and has been in the right more often than not on the show, there’s no place left for Crystal’s story to go. Even in the super teaser for the season, Crystal's one big moment is a dinner-party outburst where she yells, "This group wants me to scream all the f*cking time!" Which feels like yet another extension of the same argument she's been having with the other women for three years: They want her to get into fights like the rest of them, and she's not really interested in fighting on their level. There's nothing else for Crystal to do on this show, except walk out the door, into a hopefully less stressful life.

    The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills airs Wednesday nights at 8:00 PM on Bravo, with episodes streaming next-day on Peacock. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer 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.

    TOPICS: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Bravo, Andy Cohen, Crystal Kung Minkoff, Erika Jayne, Garcelle Beauvais, Jeff Lewis, Kyle Richards, Sutton Stracke