rip the fourth wall

The Winners and Losers of Real Housewives: Ultimate Girls Trip

Photo: Karolina Wojtasik/Peacock

After seven whirlwind episodes — and a Watch What Happens Live installment shamelessly repurposed as an eighth, in lieu of a proper reunion — we have reached the end of our Real Housewives: Ultimate Girls Trip journey, and nothing will ever be the same. Peacock’s all-star mashup of four different Housewives cities could never have happened if not for the pandemic, a brazen attempt at revitalizing the franchise at a time when it became clear that watching these women fight in face shields was not going to cut it. Against all odds, the gambit worked, and RHUGT ended up shedding new light on Housewives we’ve followed for years, completely changing our understanding of what really goes on behind the scenes in the process. (If we had just learned how much Luann makes on Cameo, dayenu.)

Of course, not everyone emerged in a better place than where they started. While RHUGT ultimately undercut the competitive nature of the Housewives — Kenya triumphed in Cynthia’s Bailey Bowl Olympics, and then immediately gave her prize to Teresa — it’s clear that these women were each vying for the title of most genuine, most fun to be around, most not at all like the nightmare persona they’ve had to cultivate in order to keep earning a Bravo paycheck. With that in mind, here’s a look at the winners and losers of the first (and thankfully not last) all-star Housewives season.

Winner: Kenya Moore

The literal winner of Cynthia’s twerking and ball-sucking contests, Kenya became the figurative winner when she gave her prize away, reinforcing her RHUGT mission statement: She’s not the villain she’s been painted as. Sure, Ramona briefly brought out the worst in her, but who among us would not be triggered into blinding rage by the Singer stinger? Ultimately, Kenya came across as warmer and more vulnerable than The Real Housewives of Atlanta often allows her to be.

And yes, while her delivery may have at times been less than ideal, she was the only Housewife willing to truly put Ramona in her place. She stood strong in the face of Ramona’s weaponized white tears and refused to let her be the victim. Moral victory aside, the season would not have worked without her there.

Loser: Cynthia Bailey

Sadly, the other Atlanta Housewife had a less impressive run on RHUGT, culminating in one of the most depressing Housewives exits imaginable. Her final confessional about how she didn’t really bond with anyone and probably irreparably damaged her years-long friendship with Kenya was the sourest note to go out on, and her “I’m too old for this shit” parting words are that much more of a bummer when you know that she won’t be returning to RHOA.

As Shamira Ibrahim pointed out in her recap of the finale, the subtext here may be that Cynthia was going through contract negotiations at the time, and probably already saw the writing on the wall. (She certainly knew she was done when she was filming her confessionals.) It’s clear that Cynthia genuinely valued her friendship with Kenya, and the sudden realization that their relationship may have always been more of a practicality for Kenya had to sting. On the whole, though, all the sulking and sighing didn’t make Cynthia seem like someone Kenya (or Bravo) would really want to keep around. Bailey out, indeed.

Winner: Kyle Richards

In the years since she allowed the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cameras to capture her What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?–adjacent relationship with sister Kim, Kyle has done her best to come across as “the normal one” on the series. That has given her real staying power, even if her voice-of-reason role has irritated viewers, who rightfully note that shit-stirring while refusing to take a side is pretty damn snaky. On RHUGT, Kyle displayed similar fence-sitting behavior, but somehow it was less grating. Chalk it up to the mellow island atmosphere, or the fact that she just seemed like a good time to be around.

Winner: Melissa Gorga

Like Kyle, Melissa has long since resolved her sister (in-law) drama, making her one of The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s less dynamic personalities. But you don’t have to flip a table or pull a very long braid to make your mark, and Melissa’s overwhelmingly good vibes made her an essential addition to the RHUGT cast. She saw all the naysayers asking “her?” after her casting was announced, and decided she would emerge from the season as the most likable Housewives all-star of them all. Maybe Melissa should move away from dubious storylines like her search for a long-lost sister who never materialized, and instead focus on being an absolute delight.

Loser: Joe Gorga

You just know that unofficial Real Housewife of New Jersey Joe Gorga was clamoring for a Turks and Caicos invite. Can you imagine how he felt when he learned that production had let Mauricio engineer a fake business trip for some actual screen time, while Joe was relegated to a FaceTime cameo? [Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year voice]: This was very disrespectful.

Winner: Teresa Giudice

The RHUGT audience can debate who put Housewives on the map as much as they want — and frankly, they’re all right, to varying degrees. But the truth of the matter is that Teresa’s explosive reaction to Danielle Staub in the RHONJ season one finale forever changed the trajectory of the franchise. Her fiery temper and willingness to throw down helped transition Real Housewives from a docusoap about rich people buying things to a docusoap about rich people throwing wine at each other.

How nice, then, to experience a softer side of Teresa. It’s not as though we haven’t seen her shedding tears throughout her 11 seasons on RHONJ, but as she’s said multiple times and reiterated on the RHUGT finale, she’s never really enjoyed filming the show. There was something lighter about Teresa on the islands, a refreshing glimpse of why her RHONJ allies stick by her aside from pragmatism. Even when she did have conflict, it was illuminating: Her sparring with Melissa over the latter joining the show finally articulated the root of their conflict, and somehow ended up making them both look better in the process.

Loser: Ramona Singer

Cynthia may have been a drag, but no RHUGT cast member came off worse than Ramona. After a truly disastrous season of RHONY and the revelation that she was the subject of two separate investigations into alleged racist comments, Ramona really needed to prove that she’s not actually the worst person on Bravo. Instead, she called Kenya a “bitch,” drunkenly slut-shamed Luann, walked away during conversations that weren’t about her, and inspired multiple Housewives to say they felt sorry for her.

There is indeed something tragic about the way Ramona’s legitimately sad backstory has calcified into a stunning inability to change. But pity is not empathy, and Ramona’s wretched behavior is best observed from a safe emotional distance. Her cycle of being an asshole, apologizing, and being an asshole again has never been more apparent, and regardless of the hardships she’s been through, there’s a limit to the compassion anyone can feel for someone who treats those around her so abominably. If Ramona was teetering on the edge of being fired from RHONY, her wretched RHUGT performance should be the push that Bravo needed.

Winner: Luann de Lesseps

Some might call a tone-deaf cabaret star delusional, but when you put her side-by-side with Ramona, Luann ends up smelling like the rose bush she once fell into. All the criticisms levied against Ramona could be said about Luann at one time or another — the selfishness, the superiority, the questionable relationship to reality. But Luann has proved herself to be capable of growth, and therein lies the difference. While she may have objected to Teresa’s claim that she needs a backbone, it was the other women rallying behind her that really made Lu declare that she would never put up with Ramona’s bullshit again. (That, or she knows that Ramona is going to be fired and she’ll no longer be contractually obligated to do so.) Whatever lies ahead for the Countess (a rap single?), she’ll be better off without the baggage.

Loser: John

Imagine thinking you can get a little promo for your restaurant and ending up a pawn in a war among Housewives. There are worse things than being the rope in a thirsty tug-of-war between reality stars, but John was ultimately such a non-entity onscreen that he ended up prompting the question that so many Harry Dubins before him have inspired: “You’re really going to fight over this guy?” There is no greater indignity than that.

Draw: Michael

Speaking of men who made a deal with the reality-TV devil, Michael the concierge obviously expected to be the breakout star of RHUGT. That’s hard to do when you’re competing with Housewives at the top of their game, not to mention when you’re wearing a mask over your handsome face the whole time. (COVID safety is important, but we need to be honest!) There was something embarrassing about Michael’s attempts to create moments, like when he had Luann take a shot from his mouth, and his post-show statements have only upped the cringe factor.

But now he’s making money on Cameo, so let’s just say he broke even.

Winner: The Blogs

Over the last decade, a truly impressive number of Housewives fights have centered on “the blogs,” which can mean anything from tabloid publications to Bravo fan sites to random people on Twitter. The accuracy of the blogs is often called into question — and that’s fair, given that Deuxmoi will basically publish anything — but it turned out that the RHUGT rumors that popped up as soon as the women started filming were 100 percent accurate. Should we now consider every piece of information that emerges on the blogs as true? Probably not, unless Kenya is there. Nevertheless, RHUGT added some much needed legitimacy.

Loser: The Fourth Wall

One of the big questions about an all-stars season of Housewives was how the show would deal with the inherently artificial nature of the mashup endeavor. These women are colleagues, not friends, and putting them together in one place would pose a unique challenge to the already shaky fourth wall. The solution engineered by RHUGT producers was to demolish the fourth wall entirely, and on the other side was Ramona refusing to pay for glam. Once the dust settled, it turned out the fourth wall maybe wasn’t as load-bearing as Andy Cohen has always maintained.

He’s not entirely wrong, of course, that reality TV needs some kind of artifice, or else the show devolves into everyone talking about being on the show, and that kind of metatextuality wears thin. For a seven-episode miniseries, on the other hand, it’s basically perfect. It’s not just that RHUGT wouldn’t have worked with a fourth wall, it’s that watching Housewives talk about their experiences on the show was more thrilling than anything that’s happened on their respective series in years. The fourth wall can be rebuilt, but the foundation has never been shakier, so maybe we should just reconfigure it as a tasteful archway instead.

Draw: Peacock

RHUGT wasn’t the first appointment-viewing series on Peacock, which has also given us Girls5eva and the improbably good Saved by the Bell reboot, but it was one of the greatest Housewives installments ever and it didn’t even air on Bravo. For reality fans, Peacock has new cred, and the long-awaited fourth season of The Real Housewives of Miami, premiering this week, looks more promising than ever.

Even by inherently unreliable streaming service standards, however, the release schedule of RHUGT was a nightmare. Three episodes dropped early, and then the fourth was suddenly tossed out unceremoniously. A new episode dropped on Thanksgiving. The alleged eighth episode never materialized. No one really seemed to have a good handle on when the next hour of RHUGT was airing, which contributed to a surprisingly muted response to a series that should have lit up Housewives Twitter. Is everyone at Peacock okay?

Winner: Season 2 of RHUGT

However Peacock decides to release RHUGT’s next season — I’m gonna guess four-and-a-half episodes at first, then a trailer, then the remaining episodes in 2023 — and whatever they decide to call it, we will be eagerly tuning in. The next all-stars season will probably be more drama-heavy given that it’s been cast with some of the most chaotic (and most unvaccinated) ex-Housewives imaginable. But it will also be fascinating to see some of these hot messes in a new and potentially more humanizing context. While it’s too soon to know how things will shake out when it comes to winners and losers, it’s safe to say anticipation has been ratcheted all the way up.

The Winners and Losers of Housewives: Ultimate Girls Trip