In honor of this inaugural season of Ultimate Girls Trip, Vulture has assembled a cast of all-star Housewives writers to rotate recap duties. First up is longtime RHOC, RHOBH, and RHONY recapper, and president and founder of the Housewives Institute, Dame Brian Moylan.
I have to admit, my expectations for Real Housewives: Ultimate Girls Hustle — or UGH, as I like to call it — were decidedly low. The best seasons of Housewives are when the women have deep, organic connections to each other and ever-shifting dynamics that cause tension. Sure, these ladies have rubbed elbows and bumped booties on the dance floor at the Bravo Upfronts, but do they have any sort of connections other than all being part of the same demonic sorority? Turns out the answer is no, and it turns out that it doesn’t really matter anyway. The reason these women are all-stars is because they bring it no matter what, and hey now, they’re our all-stars, get your show on, go pay (for Peacock, because it’s worth it).
Before we get into the episode, a quick programming note. It wouldn’t be an all-star season of Housewives if it was just me, dame Brian Moylan, president and founder of the Real Housewives Institute, here recapping. We needed an all-star roster of recappers for this little experiment in cross-brand synergy and Andy Cohen enrichment. For this season I’ll be rotating duties with Vulture’s other excellent Housewives recappers, Shamira Ibrahim and Olivia Crandall (and perhaps a special guest all-star as well).
What I think makes this episode, and the UGH experiment in general, so excellent is that it puts our ladies in a whole different setting; it looks familiar but feels totally different and makes you pay attention to different parts in a different way. It’s sort of like the first day after you get your undercarriage waxed. The biggest difference is that the women’s talking heads aren’t in their homes but in this weird Caribbean blue abyss, like they’ve been tossed off the boat ride from hell and are clinging to Tamra’s old breast implants until a yacht can come and rescue them. (I know I’m mixing my Housewives metaphors, but this whole thing has me discombobulated.)
The next big difference is that there are no taglines. Instead, we get something we’ve never experienced in our decades as Housewives fans: a theme song. Based on the ditty we hear, which is a Jamaican steel drum-inspired chant with a man crooning about “Housewives in the house, mun,” I can see why. Is this the cultural appropriation that kids are talking so much about? It sounds like this song is by Chet Haze featuring the picture of Adele with Bantu knots.
The biggest difference, though, is that the women are out of their respective elements, outside of their usual dynamics, which allows us to see them in an entirely different light. Take, for instance, Melissa Gorga, who I think has always been underrated, long-lost sister who never appeared be damned. At the very beginning, we see Teresa Giudice say, “Not everyone here is an OG. Melissa’s not an OG. I’m just saying.” Teresa will not let Melissa live! When they’re in the car on the way to their villa, Melissa says, “When we’re old ladies, we can say, ‘Remember when we did all that stuff, and we really didn’t like each other, and then we tried real hard, and we liked each other?’” Teresa just nods her head in a way that says, “I still hate you for coming on my show.”
That’s the Melissa that we always see — but then Kyle shows up and it turns out that she and Melissa are actually pretty close. They’ve gone out to dinner with their spouses and even vacationed together. Seeing her and Kyle trying to figure out who is leaking stories about their first 24 hours in the Turks and Cake Holes was fantastic. (BTW, we all know it was Kenya.) As they say, they’re the normal girls. They’re the fun ones. They’re the ones who you actually want to sit next to at dinner. Melissa doesn’t need to kowtow to her sister-in-law here because there are so many other stars that shine just as brightly as she does.
Speaking of which, I’m so glad that some of these women aren’t afraid to come for Teresa. Before they even board the plane, Ramona Singer tells Kyle she thinks that Teresa is like the Scarecrow. You know, if she only had a brain. She’s right! She’s totally right! But all of the women on RHONJ would never come out and say such a thing because they know that if Teresa won’t film with them, they’ll get booted faster than Andy’s most recent twink 20 minutes before the nanny’s shift starts.
Oh, Ramona. Yeah. Ugh. How do you solve a problem like Ramona? How do you take a fart and pin it down? As soon as they get on the private jet, she’s causing trouble. She tells all of the ladies that the only reason they are there is because RHONY put the franchise on the map. She’s not wrong, but to go around saying, “You’re welcome. You’re welcome,” to everyone and rubbing it in their faces is not the move.
Then she talks about her wannabe BF John, who owns Da Conch Shack, and how when she met him she knew it was over with her ex-husband. Kenya Moore asks her, “Were you married at the time?” Ramona replies yes. Then Kenya asks, “And you were flirting with him?!” all shocked. Ramona takes offense and shouts, “Yeah, because I was getting divorced, bitch.” There are only a few laws of Housewifery: Never renew your vows; never get on a boat; never go to Palm Beach; and never, under no circumstances, do you come for Kenya Moore. That’s worse than feeding a Gremlin after midnight.
But all of the women together put Ramona in perspective. When they’re all choosing rooms and Ramona makes her regular mad dash for the best room — well, in this case, it’s the second-best room because Cynthia Bailey threatened to stab Kenya’s daughter with a pair of oversize scissors if she didn’t get the best room — everyone is absolutely flabbergasted. Countess Luann de Lesseps says something like, “I’m so used to being embarrassed by Ramona I don’t even notice anymore, but now there are other people around, I feel really bad.”
Yes, most everyone looks a little bit worse when they are taken out of their natural context, except, miraculously, for Kenya. When they finally go to the, oh, I’m sorry, Da Conch Shack so Ramona can push out her bosom at a very handsome middle-aged man with arms the size of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup pie, Kenya is not having it anymore. Ramona apologizes for hogging the rooms and being a jerk and tries to use her usual “I’m the apologizer” line, but that line has no power here, as Kenya is quick to demonstrate. Here is an excerpt from their exchange:
“There are people here who don’t want to be in the same room as you, who don’t want to be in the same taxi as you. Do you want people to think you’re a complete asshole?” Kenya asks.
“I’m not an asshole,” Ramona replies.
“Well you behaved like one.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“It’s not how I feel, I think everyone feels that way. You are being an asshole. If it looks like an asshole, walks like an asshole, talks like an asshole, it’s an asshole.”
Do you know how long I have waited for someone to tell Ramona Singer to her face that she’s an asshole? Thank you, Kenya! Yes, Kenya is a shade assassin. She can sometimes be cruel to her castmates for no good reason (see, for instance, the Cookie Lady), but here she is using her shade powers for good, not evil. She is completely justified and, for a change, her heaping dose of shade is not unwarranted.
After this, Cynthia takes on her normal role as the peacemaker even though, for some reason, she is dressed as a fortune teller. So, Miss Cleo takes Ramona for a walk and tells her that she needs to calm down and reads her tarot cards. They say she’s an asshole and needs to apologize. Ramona makes her way over to the table to, once again, offer penance for calling Kenya a bitch and stealing a good room. She, however, does not apologize for calling Kenya by the name of her nemesis, Porsha, not once, but twice. Also, she is one of the only two cast members of color, and Ramona is, well, in some hot water for being racist on RHONY. I mean, does the cast of RHOA look to her like the interchangeable blonde ladies of Selling Sunset look to me?
The women get up to a lot of their usual tricks. Teresa can’t say the word “concierge” so she calls Michael, their ridiculously handsome manservant, a “butler.” Ramona says that she and Luann were on a “cooler water show” because she has no idea what a watercooler is since she keeps all of her employees chained to their desks and drinking lukewarm tap water. Kyle did the splits. Well, she didn’t, but you know that she is going to sometime soon.
It was the women behaving like they always do but in a different context. When Melissa and Kyle are sitting down, she says that they’ve watched these women for all these years, and they’re just like they are on TV. Yes, I say the same thing whenever I meet Housewives. (But does that mean that Melissa plays someone else on her show?) The biggest difference here is that UGH is acknowledging that there is a show, there are multiple shows, and all of these women are famous. There are leaks to TMZ because, hello, these are Housewives. They are allowed to talk about production; Kyle is allowed to ask Cynthia and Kenya who on their casts they get along with. More of this, please! This is exactly what we want. There isn’t that strained context from their usual shows that they’re just a “circle of friends” who hang out together multiple times a day because their lives are so interesting. The context of the show is reality television itself. When we boil it all down, Ramona being an asshole, Kenya reading someone, Cynthia making peace, Teresa being dumb, Luann parading around in a bikini, Kyle being cool and normal (for Hollywood), and Melissa, I don’t know, washing her vajayjay with perfumed soap is pure distilled Housewivery at its finest. How could I ever have low expectations of that?