I mean it with deep affection when I say that Scandal is a lunatic television series that spits in the face of narrative logic and good taste. The fact that Shonda Rhimes’s TGIT middle-child is ending feels impossible, in that Scandal has never appeared to approach any kind of limit; instead, Scandal has always has existed as a sort of Möbius strip of plot and tension, a wine-drunk snake permanently eating its own tail. And yet, I have tuned in, rapt, to every single episode aired over its seven seasons. Why? Obviously it’s because of Olivia Pope.
In any other context, Olivia would be a frustrating and unbelievable character, a flawless bombshell genius woman who has a preternatural talent for blowing up foreign dignitaries’ planes while buying thousands of coats. But on Scandal, Olivia Pope is perfect: perfect face, perfect teeth, perfect outfits, perfect brain, perfect way of being super rude to everyone who tries to get close to her, perfect stompy-heels walk, perfect inability to not sleep with the president, perfect ability to metabolize gallons of alcohol without ever sleeping, perfect at murdering innocent people and being like, “I did it for YOU, MELLIE,” perfect at evading the long arm of the law. Olivia Pope is aspiration porn, if your aspiration is to look amazing and make tons of money while slowly dissociating from your moral compass.
However, there is one thing about Olivia that evades perfection, one thing that has always disturbed me: She does not eat like a grown-up. Olivia’s diet consists of the following five food items: gargantuan bowls of popcorn (consumed nightly), goblets that perpetually runneth over with blood-red wine (same), a tense steak eaten once a week with her father, the occasional Gettysburger (a fake fast-food chain that loves America), and a tall glass of bourbon, if a lot of people have died at her hand recently. That’s it.
Despite eating like a depressed frat boy being interviewed on Watch What Happens Live, Olivia has the bod of a statue and is consistently energetic in her pursuit of justice with a side of nonchalant murder. So with the Scandal finale looming on the horizon, a strange compulsion came over me: I needed to figure out whether I, too, could be an extremely high-functioning candidate for both gallbladder removal and high-security prison. If I ate and drank like Olivia for a week, I wondered, would I also inspire equal parts fear and lust in everyone around me? Would my nightly bowls of popcorn chased with bowls of wine turn me into a brilliant, hot, killing machine? More importantly: Would I actually survive to figure it out?
In case I didn’t, I wrote it all down in this diary. If this is published posthumously, please free several cows in my name.
(Disclaimer: On an intellectual level, I know that this diet, much like every single thing that happens on Scandal, should not be tried at home. Understanding that I literally could not survive on one bowl of popcorn per day and one steak per week, I decided to mix it up by eating some form of popcorn, steak, or hamburger for every meal, plus the requisite bourbon and/or wine at night.)
Day 1: Standing in the Sun
8:00 a.m.: I wake up excited about hamburgers, which I don’t eat very often because “health.” I’d planned on walking to the grocery store and buying my giant rations of steak and popcorn for the week, but it is, unbelievably, snowing. I hang around my house, waiting for it to stop snowing so I can go buy my sodium-packed groceries.
1:00 p.m.: Still snowing. I have grown weak. I sustain myself by listening to Olivia and Fitz’s theme song, entitled “The Light,” which is where I am headed if I don’t eat soon. I have to go to work in a few minutes, so I have no choice but to break my Olivia Diet before I have even begun it. I eat a piece of cheese and an apple. Olivia would be horrified at the idea of combining two food groups, neither of which involves preservatives.
1:01 p.m.: It occurs to me I could have just bought popcorn on my way to work, but it’s too late now. Just like it was too late for Olivia to claim moral rectitude after she beat former Vice President Andrew Nichols to death with a chair.
6:00 p.m.: I head to a screening of Amy Schumer’s new movie, I Feel Pretty. I’m not a film critic but suffice to say that it is occasionally sweet but surreal, and features an extended SoulCycle arc so dead-eyed and craven that I feel the need to cross myself in the theater (sorry, Jewish grandma). I have still only consumed one cheese and one apple today, and I am too late to the screening to get any popcorn. I’m starving, and the movie’s stark, late-capitalist message about finding self-love at SoulCycle makes me feel even emptier.
8:00 p.m.: After the movie, I decide I will start my Olivia Diet at Shake Shack with a bacon cheeseburger, just as my Jewish ancestors would have intended. Just as I’m about to go in, I bump into an old friend on the street. She’s flushed and happy, heading out of FlyWheel. A little on the nose, ancestors, but message received!
Seeing as it is a Monday night, and women have been unduly brainwashed by the patriarchal reign of the diet industry, which starts every Monday, I am surrounded by white dudes in puffy coats ordering double cheeseburgers. A lovely Scottish woman working behind the counter stops me to tell me that I look “so great, like you’re from Oregon.”
I look down at my flannel and jeans and wonder if Amy Schumer hired this woman, as well as paid my friend to exit FlyWheel in front of me, as some sort of extended guerrilla marketing campaign. Either way, the woman and I embark on a long conversation about horseback riding in Oregon (where I have never been), and I begin to feel healthful and empowered, like I could easily murder somebody and feel fine about it.
On my way home, I Google the red wine that Olivia subsumes nightly. I find a tweet from Shonda Rhimes, where she explains that Olivia’s favorite “ ’94 du Bellay” is totally fake, which is good to know, because it sounds totally fake. In an interview, Rhimes says that her own personal favorite is “Dead Letter Shiraz,” which is unavailable anywhere in America, as far as I can tell, so thank you Shonda for giving us yet another impossible dream.
I buy a different Australian wine, trudge home, eat the entire hamburger and cheese fries, and drink a massive glass of wine, filled to the top. The no-cleanup factor is wonderful. I feel fabulous and freed by eating so recklessly, and also drunk.
6:22 a.m.: I wake up with a stomachache of a new variety. It feels like somebody is dragging a wet towel through my organs.
Day 2: It’s Handled
8:00 a.m.: Popcorn for breakfast :(
12:00 p.m.: Again, I forget that I can just pick up a hamburger on the way to work. It’s hard to remember things when your brain is synthesizing straight corn. I ask my co-worker Maya for quarters to buy more popcorn from the vending machine at work. When I explain why, she displays concern for me, but hands me the quarters anyway. I am popcorn.
5:30 p.m.: I have another screening tonight, so this time, I very smartly leave work early to get food beforehand. However, I quickly realize there is no time for a steak, and I can’t fathom another hamburger after my Mid-Dawn Disaster, and consuming popcorn before 9 a.m. has ruined it for me forever.
In a hot panic, I stop at Lelabar, where I sort of know the bartender, and where they have some extremely random food options, like beet tartare. None of it fits the requirements, though, so I ask the bartender for an “Olivia Pope wine.” She requires no further direction. “Olivia Pope is classic,” she says, “and she would never drink anything New World. She drinks big reds and Bordeauxs.” She hands me a giant glass of a blood-red wine, perfect for covering up the murders I will soon commit with impunity. It’s an Old World vintage 2001 Rioja, $28 per glass. I drain it. It technically counts as fruit, so I am temporarily safe from scurvy.
7:00 p.m.: My co-worker Emily joins me at Lelabar, and I watch her eat the beet tartare with seething envy. We have more wine before we head to the screening of You Were Never Really Here. It is a violent film featuring Joaquin Phoenix committing multiple hammer-murders. In my popcorn-wine haze, it a particularly troubling watch; I am reminded that I do not, in fact, have what it takes to go around ordering hits on people — at least, not yet.
9:00 p.m.: I stumble out of the screening, haunted by images of Joaquin Phoenix bopping people on the head and my own primal need for sustenance. I decide to stop at Lucien, a French restaurant in my neighborhood that I’ve never been to. People tell me it is very scene-y and hip, so obviously I go there entirely alone with unbrushed hair.
9:30 p.m.: I have just housed an entire steak frites, except for a very small portion that I decide to take home to eat for breakfast (help). Full of joy and animals, I strike up a conversation with the man next to me. His name is Cameron, and he informs me that he only dines “here, or at Balthazar, or at the Carlisle.” Cameron pauses for a moment. “Or the Halal truck,” he adds. Cameron calls me “darling” 17 times in five minutes, and after curiously studying my hair, tells me I’m “funny and happy.”
I explain why I probably appear so happy, and briefly detail my assignment. “I’ve never seen that show …” he says, sipping his martini. Sensing our connection waning over a middling network drama, I ask him what he does. “I do a lot of things, and nothing. I love to sing and I love to walk,” he says. He kisses me on both cheeks and flounces off to a booth.
I soon notice that everyone at Lucien, guests and staff alike, is kissing each other on both cheeks, despite at least 80 percent of them being non-French. I ask the bartender about it. “This is an international destination,” he says.
I ask if he’s ever seen Scandal, and he looks at me blankly, like I’ve just asked him if he’s ever hit a dozen people on the head with a hammer.
Before I leave, I somehow find myself in a long argument with the man on my opposite side about the proliferation of virtual reality. He also has never seen Scandal.
2:00 a.m.: I wake up in the dark, plunged into a world of nausea and fear.
Day 3: My Gut Tells Me Everything I Need to Know
9:00 a.m.: Staring at the leftover steak, gagging. The idea of putting the steak into my body is less appealing than death. Where are Joaquin and his hammer when I need them?
11:00 a.m.: I finally work up the appropriate detachment from my physical self and eat the leftover steak, distracting myself with thoughts of the woke wall art in Fitz’s new office. I decide that in Fitz, Shonda has presented us with yet another impossible character: A DTF But Suspiciously Chaste White Zaddy Republican Who Owns a Framed Black Lives Matter Poster.
3:00 p.m.: The day passes in a haze, seeing as I have barely slept since Sunday. I wonder if I am allergic to meat, or allergic to popcorn, or just allergic to eating tons of meat and popcorn exclusively.
I do know this: My body is failing me. My mind is certainly soon to follow. The idea of committing even a light shoplift is laughable in my current state. I don’t know how Olivia does it. Imagine calmly telling your father that it is okay if he murders your pregnant best friend, with a stomach full of corn.
8:00 p.m.: Popcorn for dinner. My boyfriend Adam comes home from a trip and looks at me, worried. “You okay?” he asks. I nod slowly, sipping my wine, staring at the city below me, wondering if I’ll ever escape this prison I’ve built for myself.
Day 4: Bitch Baby
8:30 a.m.: Popcorn for breakfast…………………………………………………
12:00 p.m.: I meet my friend Genevieve for a quick lunch, where I order steak tartare in a fugue state. I greedily consume the accompanying bread, and the little decorative salad greens surrounding it, breaking my own rules — much like Olivia did that time she forced First Lady Luna Vargas to take a suicide pill and left her to die alone. The tartare, so firm and yet so goopy on its little plate, taunts me, like it knows something I don’t. I will get Huck to string it upside down and torture it later.
5:00 p.m.: There’s a Champagne toast at work for New York Mag’s 50th anniversary, and even though I don’t particularly like Champagne, I drink it because Olivia wouldn’t turn down alcohol if it were poured down her throat by Satan himself. There’s also cake, which I don’t eat. The only thing Olivia Pope hates more than her own terrorist mother is a simple carbohydrate.
6:30 p.m.: My dad is in town for work, so I meet him for dinner. I am very excited to eat a fraught steak across from him while arguing over who is better at killing people in the name of The Republic.
Unfortunately, the place I wanted to go — where they serve steak — is too crowded, so we end up at a random Italian restaurant near Lincoln Center, where the steak is literally $50. Insanely, hamburgers are only available after 8 p.m. I’m trapped. A demon possesses me and orders penne alla vodka. I eat it rapidly, as if I won’t notice. It is so life-alteringly fantastic and meat-free that I forget to talk to my dad about our shared lust for revenge.
To repent for my pasta sin, I watch another man eat his steak. He is not pleased.
8:00 p.m.: Seeing My Fair Lady with Tara. I wonder: On which side of the Fairness is Eliza Doolittle allowed to eat steak? Is it Fair or Not Fair to eat steak?
In the bathroom, I realize with a jolt that Bong Joon-ho would be furious with me for this diet. I have been committing murder after all!!!! I am so temporarily distraught that I wash my hands with mouthwash.
11:00 p.m.: Tara and I stop to get drinks after the show. Olivia drinks bourbon when she has committed a felony, and I am nothing if not a felonious consumer this week. I order two bourbon-based cocktails and clink my ice around dramatically.
12:00 a.m.: I am full of warm, loving carbs and whiskey. Even under the harsh, disappointed gaze of Okja, I sleep through the night.
Day 5: Over a Cliff
8:00 a.m.: I wake up in a cold sweat, knowing what awaits me. The corn kernels are tiny skulls, my teeth a hammer, bopping them all to death.
I have two meals left in my Olivia Diet.
12:00 p.m.: I poll Vulture’s staff for a good hamburger (knowing that a “good hamburger” is a near-impossibility for me at this point) near the office. They ask me if I “feel like a shell” and tell me that my diet sounds “very binding.” Touched by their concern, I share that I have never wanted a salad more in my entire life. One by one, said co-workers proceed to order salads and eat them in front of me. “I got a tofu salad from SweetGreen,” Alex slacks me. “The veggies are so fresh and crunchy!”
1:00 p.m.: I am choking down a burger from Black Tap. I have never been more aware of my own mortality.
3:00 p.m.: Standing in the office bathroom, staring at myself in the mirror, wondering what I have become. But also Googling “Olivia Pope giant wine glasses” to buy.
7:00 p.m.: I meet Adam at THNK1994 Museum, where my friends and curators Matt and Viviana are throwing a Stormy Daniels fundraiser. They alerted me beforehand that there would only be Coors Light available, so I bring my own bottle of wine to finish the week strong. A stranger drinks from it, and I feel Olivia inside me, urging me to hold a press conference exposing a dark secret from this man’s past. Too tired from hamburger, though.
9:00 p.m.: Walking out of the museum into the brisk night air, I smile, remembering how good it felt to not eat an entire steak yesterday. I turn to Adam and declare that I must break my Olivia Diet early. I cannot eat another meat product, at least not for a long time. I have made a grave mistake, borne from wild hubris; it is neither fun nor right to eat so many dead animals or so much dead corn. As Olivia herself put it when Mellie asked her to kill Cyrus Beene so that he would not destroy her presidency by claiming she had hijacked his plane when in fact he had done it himself, “I do not kill. Not anymore.”
“Okay?” he says. We go to a nearby Italian restaurant for dinner. I order chicken liver mousse without thinking about it. Only later, in a cold meat sweat, do I realize it was made from the livers of dead chickens. I scream.
Somewhere, hundreds of miles away, Olivia Pope stares out her window at the city below, cupping her goblet of ’94 du Bellay with both hands, cackling wildly.