Last week, a background character and allegedly axed Real Housewives of Salt Lake City lead became a topic of conversation over on Reddit, after users discovered she had a prominent QAnon hashtag in her Instagram bio. Elsewhere on the internet, intrepid former churchgoers uploaded audio of Mary Cosby’s sermons at the Pentecostal church she now leads, after she was married off to her deceased grandmother’s husband. They are... illuminating, in the least.
So it goes for a new Bravo franchise, whose bright-eyed explorers of newfound fame and notoriety soon see their dirty laundry strewn across gossip blogs and Reddit threads, where inquisitive internet sleuths fervently chip away at their onscreen personas. After Wednesday night’s episode, I’d almost think that the assortment of truly singular Salt Lake City characters expected this, with how obviously desperate they all are for a shred of reality television relevancy.
There’s plenty to talk about after the show’s second episode, following a premiere I believe is the new gold standard of desperate, rich people reality television. The women went skiing in Chanel, where Pastor Cosby proudly declared that she only rocks Karl Lagerfeld’s iconic designs on the slopes because they are the only brand that doesn’t cause wedgies. She also argued some more with her obvious enemy Jen about leg amputations and what hospitals smell like. Meredith went to dinner with the husband she hates, where they fought over whether or not she would let him look at her text messages, implicating that she is seeing other people without his knowledge.
The real meat of the episode, however, happened in a ski lodge, where servers and chefs were asked to stay well beyond the restaurant’s closure to serve women who showed up for a ski lodge dinner in fur and hats as tall as the steeples of the Mormon Church.
Whitney, who has a stripper pole in her basement, began the suppertime shenanigans with an argument aimed at Lisa Barlow, who she felt “judged by” for things like that stripper pole, or a rumor that claimed Whitney and her much-older husband were Mormon swingers. (A story Whitney refuted.) In the ensuing debacle, Lisa delivered a line that proved her a necessary component of the cast makeup, but also as a bona fide reality television star. “ I cannot help how you guys perceive me, and I’m OK with how you perceive me.”
That shut Whitney up because how else is a person expected to fight against such a retort without breaking the four walls encircling them. With cameras peering down their backs, Whitney could not, for instance, mention that Lisa is obviously building a “bitch villain” persona for television purposes. (Whether this is at the producers’ behest or her own is unclear.) Nor could Whitney reveal too much about those pesky swinger rumors, without giving viewers the ammunition they crave. And so, with Whitney down for the count, Heather tried her hand at slaying the dragon in a room.
For a person who spent much of the early episode reminding producers what reformed Mormon she is—“I love Black men and gay people”—Heather is curiously preoccupied with her perceived purity, and moral perfection. Last week, Lisa told Jen and Meredith that back in college, Heather was known for flashing her tits around the dorm room. This obviously got back to the alleged tit flasher, and it enraged her because she would have been kicked out of college for tit flashing, or something? Despite her protestations otherwise, Heather was attempting to control the narrative around her. She sits in the center of the opening credits lineup, and the world of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City is carefully constructed around her and her extended circle of socialites. It simply wouldn’t do for the titular cast member to be painted as a party girl and wastrel in the show’s first season, a branding that will likely stick for life among exuberantly petty Real Housewives fans. Not when, in her first scene ever on camera (at least that viewers she), Heather told producers that her life is spent in pursuit of perfection.
Once again, Lisa delivers a mortal blow to Heather, much like she did Whitney: “Until you figure out what I trigger in you, we cannot be friends.” It’s an insult powerful enough to cause even the most resilient reality television star to crumble to dust. And Heather did just that.
But more than Lisa’s one-liners, I’m most preoccupied with the banality of their on-screen feuds. Now that viewers have a solid vantage point on the trajectory of the season, I’m quite sure these women will spend the next dozen or so episodes bickering in ski lodges about broken tequila bottles, stripper poles, and hospital smells. It’s all so desperately tragic, their needless vying for any scrap of drama to cling to and make a name for themselves over amongst Bravo’s crowded lineup. That desperation only reeks more, when they rent rooms in the ski lodge after a long day on the slopes, so teams of makeup artists and hairstylists and assistants can gussy them up for a dinner party, where they arrive in fur coats that cost as much as a house.
Not only do they cling to the most bizarre interpersonal feuds, they know they must look good doing so if there is any future for them on reality television.
I’ve long maintained that a clear desire to be on reality television is not a worthy critique of a Real Housewives star or anyone who chooses this life. For some, their blatant desperation might seem boring or tiresome, but I find it all so endlessly fascinating. These aren’t just typical Real Housewives, who are not just desperate but expectedly out of touch, rich, and often bigoted. These women live at the apex of American zealotry, in the shadow of a Church that demands strict adherence and moral perfection from its thralls, and still they chose this for themselves. That should say just as much about who they really are, as the people they might be off-screen when the cameras aren’t rolling.
Like that pesky, off-screen alleged QAnon supporter or Mary’s leaked church ramblings, the personal lives of these women will soon be splashed across not just television screens, but the internet at large, on gossip blogs, or Twitter, or Reddit. Meredith will not be able to run from her extra-marital dealings forever, and if the rumors about Whitney are true, the participants will make that known eventually. Business dealings will leak, family traumas will surface, and the lies they have constructed around themselves will rot, and fall away. And still, these women chose this life. They signed up for television, after 15 years of Real Housewives, and knew full well the likely consequences. With a bigoted religious institution in the mix, their acceptance of the cameras around them almost reads like punishment kink. Or, at the very least, how the heady mixture of wealth and religion has eroded the fabric of their entire beings.
Real Housewives of Salt Lake City is obviously entertaining. But more than that, it’s instructive, and holy hell, do I love to learn.