Hurt people hurt other people. And plenty of people were hurting in the Vanderpump Rules Season 11 return, which means it should be a doozy of a season for these Bravolebrities as they find new ways to dramatize their feelings over Scandoval.
For viewers, there’s been plenty of time to discuss, digest, and dissect the fact that Tom Sandoval cheated on Ariana Madix with co-star Rachel Leviss. But for the players, everything is still fresh. Ariana learned about the affair on March 1 last year, and filming for this season began on June 28. So, Season 11 is all about digging into how Scandoval has damaged — and perhaps permanently altered — this long-standing group of friends.
The premiere wasted no time in doing just that. With shows like these, and in particular with the last season of Vanderpump, outlets report on major happenings ahead of time. So it was no secret that Rachel opted out of filming this season, or that Tom and Ariana are still sharing a house and communicating through Tom’s assistant, Ann. What was unexpected was Tom’s absence in the episode, as he wrapped filming in New Zealand on Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test.
Even with Tom and Rachel’s absences, Scandoval was in the air. Ariana has moved on with a new guy, New York-based Daniel Wai. But she still holds a lot of hatred towards her ex, along with anyone who is willing to defend or hang out with him. It’s a line she can’t hold forever for the sake of filming, but one that will lead to the majority of this year’s conflict.
That was apparent at TomTom’s when Lala Kent confided in Lisa Vanderpump that she regretted how she treated Rachel. The scene was meant to create drama and pull Rachel back into the narrative, even if she refused to film. (Lisa is no stranger to creating storylines; just ask anyone who filmed with her on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.)
There was no way Scheana Shay, whom Rachel filed a now-defunct restraining order against, was going to reach out. James Kennedy’s girlfriend, Ally Lewber, is still too new to the group to make a real impact. (Plus there’s the James of it all.) And Katie Maloney has just as much reason to dislike Rachel after Rachel made out with her ex-husband, Tom Schwartz, despite Katie asking her not to pursue him.
Enter Lala, and her voice memo to Rachel. Lala may be experiencing real feelings of guilt, but she was trying to get Rachel to open up about her side of the story for the sake of the show. The moment also served as a way to trigger Ariana into this season’s new potential storyline: Lala vs. Ariana. As the season previews promise, Lala isn’t about to let Ariana dictate the rules. And Ariana isn’t one to let Lala forget how she did exactly that during her split from Randall Emmett.
Meanwhile, another dynamic surfaced in the premiere: a budding friendship between Schwartz and James. Historically, Schwartz hasn’t always made the best decisions. He often plays the middle to be the nice guy, when he should stand up for what’s right.
Those faults aside, the guy has had a bad year. A divorce, his brother’s mental health issues, and the ongoing financial woes with the bar would be enough to empty anyone’s tank. As he pointed out in the premiere, one of the biggest fights he and his bestie Sandoval ever had was over naming the bar. He didn’t want to tie their names to the place, but Sandoval fought hard for it.
Now, with fans boycotting Sandoval, Schwartz & Sandy’s continues to take hits. The guys’ friendship has crumbled as a result. There was nothing sadder than watching Schwartz talk to his houseplants in the premiere, or seeing him try so hard with Ariana so that he can get back in the friend group. Who else does he have to hang out with other than James, who is clearly taking advantage of the broken friendship to try and cement his own Number One Guy status? (We’ll see what Jax Taylor has to say about that when he returns for a guest star appearance later on this season.)
The real question ahead isn’t how this affair has divided the group, though: it’s more about how long this divide will last and how these people will come back together, especially with Sandoval returning in Episode 2. While it’s true that Vanderpump has never seen a bigger ratings bump from a cheating scandal, Scandoval is far from the first affair this incestuous group has experienced.
Let’s not forget that Stassi Schroeder and Jax, and Sandoval and Kristen Doute, were together when the show started. Then Jax and Kristen cheated and everything blew up. Or that Jax hasn’t always been faithful to his now-wife, Brittany Cartwright. Or that Schwartz has been accused of cheating on Katie in the past. Or that Lala and James cheated on Rachel. The list goes on and on. The point is, this show has always capitalized on cheating scandals to push the storyline forward.
Judging by the preview for the season ahead, there’s more of that in store, too. Only now this friend group has a bigger platform, which means those hurt feelings will just get louder as the season progresses.
These are the best days of our lives, indeed.
Amber Dowling is a Toronto-based freelancer, CCA member and former TCA president. Her work has appeared in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Metacritic, The Globe and Mail, Playback and more. Follow her on Instagram: @amber__dowling.