Season 8 of Vanderpump Rules, Bravo’s cocktails-and-conflict reality series that once upon a time spun off of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, has brought to me a dark revelation. It’s not that the elder cast members’ new Valley Village houses look identical, although they do. It’s not that I’m overly invested in Stassi Schroder and Kristen Doute’s friendship, although I am.
No, this revelation is so much darker, bleak enough to fit not just our modern political and social climate, but to match the nature of TV’s most haunting hour of weekly television. I have decided… that I stan Raquel Leviss.
I can’t fight it anymore. James Kennedy’s ditzy girlfriend, who first came on the show as a guest back in Season 5 and has stuck around as a recurring player ever since, has found her way into my heart, and I can put up no resistance. I can’t say I’m proud. But I am nonetheless here to make my argument for why Raquel, formerly someone I wished would leave the world of Lisa Vanderpump’s quickly multiplying West Hollywood restaurants behind, is now one of my rooting interests on Vanderpump Rules.
There’s a persistence to Raquel that I appreciate — a kind of nagging insistence that you notice her even when there’s not much to notice. Take her showing up to the Season 7 reunion in a tulle-covered dress that would be too much for a Real Housewives reunion, much less the junior leagues of Vanderpump Rules. It’s the kind of garment choice that practically whimpers for attention. It’s not bold enough or consistent enough with Raquel’s ordinary style to feel like a power move. This is her trying on a new face, like a girl who feels too grown for the kids’ table and pretends to be an adult so she can sit with the grown-ups. If you’re thinking that all sounds far too precocious and obnoxious... well, I won’t disagree with you, but give me a second.
That reunion also featured Raquel quietly-but-firmly asserting her place in the group, only to be angrily and condescendingly rebuffed by series veterans like Jax Taylor and Kristen Doute. In fairness to them, their anger was justified but misdirected: their issue is with James, not Raquel. But in spite of that, Raquel stood tall, claiming an understanding of how her pageant experience puts people off, and making it clear that she just wants to be friends with everybody. The fact that this came after a season where some of the other girls did make an effort with Raquel, only for them to decide that association with James was too much to forgive, made her sadness at being left out all the harder to swallow.
This is what I genuinely like about Raquel: She’s really not trying to push some agenda here. Raquel likes all these people, and she likes the world they inhabit, so she wants to be liked in kind. She’s not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to her own relationships, so she can’t see why her association with the utterly toxic James is preventing her full entry into Vanderpumpland. But the fact that the other cast members seem to only reject Raquel because of James indicates that there’s some goodness there that even they can see.
Another plus in Raquel’s corner: She demonstrates pretty impressive emotional intelligence when observing others’ lives, even if she can’t apply the same to her own choices. Whereas she sticks by James despite all evidence indicating he’s a cheating asshole, she is able to assess her boyfriend’s issues with the rest of the cast with remarkably sharp clarity. Don’t believe me? Go watch Season 7 again, particularly the latter half. Any time Raquel is giving a talking head about herself, it’s nonsense. But any time she’s observing others? She’s right on, impeccably so.
And then there’s the comedy of Raquel. Yes, she’s a bit of an airhead (okay, more than a bit), with a tendency to talk slowly and butcher common phrases. But that’s part of what makes Raquel stannable, in a similar way to a Sonja Morgan on RHONY. Just watch Raquel’s gentle explanation to Lisa Vanderpump in the Season 8 premiere as to why her pageant training has prepared her for the service world (“I greet my tables with confidence and a big smile!”). Hear how she proudly declares this is her “16th shift,” something she is clearly keeping tabs on in her head for no other reason than it delights her. Remember the dog birthday party that she threw last season? Raquel is funny, not because she intends to be, or because she’s fun to laugh at, she’s just naturally comedic. The fact that she doesn’t realize it only makes her funnier.
Most of all, though, there’s a lot about Raquel that is deeply, disturbingly relatable. Trying to find your way in a new group of cool friends, and stumbling over yourself as you do it? Spending too much on a new outfit for a big event, only to realize you wildly overdressed, but not changing because you spent too much to not wear it? Trying too hard at a new job because you tried to get it for far too long, and now you just don’t want to fuck it up? (Seriously, she tried to get a waitress job at SUR for so long, Lisa herself admitted Raquel just wore her down.) Raquel is not the side of us we want to put into the world, but she's far more familiar than most of us would like to admit.
Of course, there is one part of Raquel that is utterly not stannable, and everyone and their mother knows what that is — except of course for Raquel herself. She’s still dating James Kennedy, Notable Bad Person, and shows no real signs of wanting to end that relationship. If she did? The world would be her oyster! She would be the simple girl who put the series’ biggest villain in his place. Gay pride floats would be erected in her honor. (Not really, but spiritually.) Unfortunately, her blindness when it comes to her own choices prevents her from making this truly necessary choice, and thus we must keep her at a distance.
But Raquel, for the moment, you have won my heart. I want better for you because, after seasons of not understanding you, I finally do. You may not be as sharp as Stassi or as compelling as Kristen, but you bring something to the table that is uniquely you. May you have all the doggie birthday parties you could ever want.
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Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles.