The Real Housewives of Orange County Reunion Recap: Behind the Screams

By
Tamra Barney, Shannon Beador, Andy Cohen, Vicki Gunvalson. Photo: Isabella Vosmikova/Bravo
The Real Housewives of Orange County
Episode Title
Reunion Part Two
Season
11
Episode
20
Editor’s Rating
4/5

Ladies and gentlemen, you might not have noticed the subtle changes made to this Real Survivors of Fashion Island reunion special, but I believe that the producers of the show have taken things to another level. These women have always lived in the post-fact world that we're currently seeing in politics. They know how to reinvent the past, tell lies to cover their misdeeds, and claim that they never said things that they really said. It's not so easy anymore. The producers are now playing fact-checker and we're all the better for it.

Look at what happens when Shannon and Kelly Dodd, the sound that rational thought makes as it leaves your body, start arguing about a text that Kelly sent to Tamra with a picture of Shannon that said "keep eating" under it. Or look at what happens when Kelly accuses Heather of storming off set and telling a producer she needs to be fired. In the previous decade, these sorts of accusations would just be from one couch to another, like a hot potato with a scorching case of herpes. Now we're getting actual proof about whether or not these things transpired — the producers flash that text right up there on the screen to prove Kelly wrong. They also show the raw footage of Heather wagging her inscrutable finger, which gets more of a workout than Tamra Barney sweating to get into her spangly bikini, and giving a verbal beat down to the producer.

One of the things I always hated about the reunions is that the women fight about things we didn't see. They'd bring up off-camera beefs or something that someone said on social media. Unless you read every word of all of their blogs, parse every subtweet, and practically live on some of the shadier gossip sites, there is no way to know all of these things. That means we can't possibly make a judgment about who is right, who is wrong, and who is so morally disgusting that you want to bathe her in holy water and then force her to read every book on Oprah's bookshelf. (That last one is Kelly, in case you were wondering.)

But the producers won't stand for that anymore, and I love it more than Terry Dubrow loves leather jackets. Finally, we're getting some context about what really happens on the show. Finally, we're given enough facts that we can draw our own conclusions about what happened.

I can now discern that, yes, Kelly felt like Heather had threatened her job by yelling at a producer during the sushi party. First of all, it is very illuminating to see how Heather treats the producers when she thinks the footage isn't going to be used. She treats them like she does everyone else, as if they're a bunch of idiots who need to be scolded and put into their place. The way she talked to that man — someone she works with — was pretty darn gross. I understand that she was angry and tensions were high, but still.

Then, at the reunion she says that what she meant was, "We're better than this. Our show is better than this." But is it really? This is a show that became famous for Vicki freaking out about a "family van," Tamra throwing wine in Jeana Keough's face, and the idiotic delusions of Alexis Bellino. This is not Touched by an Angel. This show is about women fighting with each other, being inappropriate, and aspiring to a life where they can afford just as many blinged-out #ClassyAF hats as they could possibly desire. This show is not above calling people the C-word at a dinner party. This show is not above Vicki FaceTiming her wonky nipples (that she doesn't want to talk about!) during a dinner party. Does Heather think she's on Masterpiece Theater?

That said, Kelly Dodd, a sculpture of Stalin made out of earwax and toenail clippings, is the absolute worst. However, she is very effective at fighting on a reunion special. When squaring off against Heather, she comments on each phrase that comes out of Heather's mouth and passes judgment whenever she uses a word like "disgusting." This keeps Heather from making her point and distracts her with petty squabbles about the words she chooses. This is a strategy that many Republican operatives use on CNN and it is as effective as it is infuriating. Basically, it prevents any arguments about any points of substance — because Kelly would surely lose — and keeps everyone bickering about semantics and points of order.

Nevertheless, Kelly is not winning herself any allies. Vicki refuses to stand by her more controversial statements and Meghan has completely disavowed the things that she said about Tamra's daughter and her reaction to the way other women have treated her. When Meghan says that Kelly doesn't fight fair, Kelly says, "I didn't know there was rules."

Of course there are rules. There are rules of decency. There are rules of decorum. There is the rule we call "golden." They're not laws, they're guidelines, but when Kelly constantly breaks them by talking about Shannon's hairy chin or calling her fat, she can't be upset when people don't want to film with her, hang out with her, or talk to her. She can't break people and then be surprised when they treat her as shiftily as she treated them. That's the Golden Rule. See what I did there?

Also, Kelly walking back her apologies is deplorable. She says she felt badly about what she did, but she doesn't feel badly anymore because of the way they treated her subsequently. Since Kelly loves a trite and tired phrase, she should know that "two wrongs don't make a right." Also, if you did something awful, that doesn't mean someone else doing something awful nullifies it. If you hit someone with your car, you have to continue to acknowledge that is bad, even if you learn the victim has a closet full of Crocs. Bad behavior is not excused by more bad behavior.

As much as my loathing of Kelly has deepened, I did feel a bit of sympathy for Vicki during this hour. I've been accused of hating Vicki and I think that is unfair. I am deeply fascinated with Vicki. She is as wonderful and pathological a being as the reality television arts will ever see. However, I often think her behavior and how she thinks that people shouldn't focus on her shortcomings is a bit horrible.

We're going to get another Brooks blowup next week, but this week she asks, "Do we have to keep talking about him forever?" The short answer is "yes." It's not like what happened with Brooks was one transgression where she can say, "I didn't know. I made a mistake," and then move on. It's not like forgetting to pick up your kid at soccer practice or eating the last donut. The Affair du Brooks was years of lies and manipulation from Vicki to the people closest to her in her life. It is a long series of mistakes and she has not taken accountability for any of them. It's going to take years for this to heal, and until she takes accountability for her part in allowing Brooks to be in their lives and use the platform of this reality show after everyone repeatedly warned her that he was no good, then she's going to have to keep reliving it. Vicki prolongs it all through her failure to act, not the other women through their failure to get over it.

Still, I actually had Vicki's back for everything else. She has some experience with marital infidelity, so why shouldn't Shannon try to learn from her rather than just say there is no comparison? Every marriage is different, and just because Vicki got divorced doesn't mean Shannon has to do the same. But you would think Shannon would do anything to save her marriage, including talk to Vicki.

Also, everyone needs to shut up with this bullshit with Brianna and the house. So what if Vicki bought her a house? My parents have helped me out of all sorts of financial jams. So what if it's a bribe? All of us will act in crazy ways and do things that our mothers want us to do even if we don't want to. It's called having a mother. Sure, Vicki might be more manipulative than most, but show me a parent who hasn't bribed their child in ways large and small and I will show you someone for Tamra Barney to worship after she loses Jesus again. God, here I am defending Vicki Gunvalson. What a very strange world we live in when the producers force us to confront the truth beyond our feelings.