No one in E!'s House of Villains is more aware of their underdog status than Shake Chatterjee. Shake, a veterinarian from Chicago, clashed with the other cast members during his single season on Love Is Blind, but he's under no delusion that he's in the same league as supervillains like Omarosa Manigault Newman or Tiffany "New York" Pollard. As he told Primetimer before the premiere, "These are 10 of reality TV's most notorious villains, and I'm on this list, but I'm low on the totem pole. And I knew that, and I felt that walking into the house."
Shake's inexperience with "the rules of reality TV," as Omarosa puts it, is on full display in the premiere. He hesitates when he's invited to join an alliance with Omarosa and Jonny Fairplay (of Survivor dead grandma fame), and as a result, Omarosa, the winner of the first challenge, puts him up for elimination as punishment for not kissing the ring. Afterward, Shake admits he's been "treating this like a vacation" rather than a competition, and he resolves to adopt a more "cutthroat" strategy moving forward.
This week, Shake puts that new attitude to work by acting on his frustration with Jax Taylor, who appeared on Vanderpump Rules from 2013 to 2020. Shake already has an issue with Jax's snoring (seriously, he should see a doctor about that) and the brute strength he showed in the plastic ball challenge, but when he brags about parlaying his Vanderpump Rules infamy into six-figure deals, Shake doesn't even pretend to hide his contempt. "I've made about, probably, $450,000 on Cameo alone," says Jax. "My wife [Brittany Cartwright, who also appeared on the Bravo show] makes a lot of money. She crushes it. She just got a $2 million job from Jenny Craig."
"Yeah, I've been on Love Is Blind, but I'm a veterinarian," Shake says in a confessional. "Hearing him talk nonstop about all the different deals him and his wife have brought in — it really makes me wonder: how bad do you even need this $200K?"
Their one-sided discussion confirms Shake and Jax's respective places in the reality TV food chain. House of Villains is only Shake's second show, and no matter how many people may have watched Love Is Blind Season 2, $450,000 (or $2 million, for that matter) is likely a figure he could only dream of. And that's to say nothing of their salaries: While Love Is Blind participants are reportedly paid a flat rate of $1,000 per week (per a lawsuit filed by another Season 2 contestant, Jeremy Hartwell) for about six weeks of work, Jax and his Vanderpump Rules cast mates made a reported $25,000 per episode in 2020.
The reminder that he and Jax aren't playing the same game sparks an idea for Shake: If he can convince a few people that Jax doesn't deserve to be here, he can rid himself of his snoring, Cameo-famous roommate for good. It's a good plan, but Shake's sloppy execution further exposes his naivete. He corners Love & Hip Hop: Miami's Bobby Lytes (someone with less notoriety than Jax, but a strong understanding of the social strategy game playing out in the house) in the bathroom and practically screams about his previous conversation with Jax, insisting the ex-Bravo star "doesn't need the money."
Little does Shake know that Jax can hear everything from the next room, and after eavesdropping for a few seconds, he accuses Shake of not knowing what he's talking about because he doesn't "pay California taxes." The two continue to fight as they head downstairs — "Nobody's rich enough to do anything!" says Jax, to which Shake responds, "Some of us need it more than others!" — leaving Bobby to wonder aloud about what just happened. "How do you talk about somebody and not make sure that they're not listening?" he asks. "Are you dumb?"
After the redemption challenge — during which Jax, for all his reality TV experience, is unwittingly sabotaged by Jonny Fairplay — the fight between Shake and Jax escalates. The villains exchange more words by the hot tub, with Jax once again acknowledging the unspoken hierarchy among the cast, and reality TV participants as a whole: "You are one and done! Talk to me when you've been on a show for as long as I have!" Clearly, Jax believes he's in a position to educate Shake on the ins and outs of stardom (call it reality TV-splaining), and he can't seem to fathom why the "free knowledge" he's imparting might come across as condescending.
But if Shake really sees House of Villains as "School of Villains," as he told Primetimer, he's already adapted to the learning curve. In a talking head interview, he claims that the hot tub confrontation was all part of his plan to "target Jax in front of everybody" and expose him as a physical threat before the elimination ceremony. When Jax puffs his chest and says that he'll "gladly go back to jail" for fighting Shake on the streets of Hollywood, Shake leaves the pool area victorious: "That worked out perfectly," he tells the camera with a smug smile.
Viewers have to wait until next week to see if Shake's bold move pays off, although Tiffany's last-minute screed against the "demon possessed" Jax indicates he has at least one contestant on his side. Of course, even if he pulls off an upset and wins House of Villains outright, Shake still won't have the same name recognition as his new enemy, but successfully outplaying someone as villainous as Jax will no doubt elevate his standing in the reality TV pecking order.
New episodes of House of Villains air Thursdays at 10:00 PM ET on E!. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.