Jezebel Investigates: What Is the Half-Life of a Real Housewife?

Photo: The Real Housewives of New York (Bravo), Illustration: Joan Summers

Bethenny Frankel recently exited The Real Housewives of New York City again—a decision unsurprising to viewers. She’d spent much of the recent seasons sequestered from the group due to a confounding fish allergy and taxing divorce. In a press release following the exit, she thanked viewers and expressed interest in other projects:

“It’s time to move on and focus on my daughter, my philanthropy and my production partnership with Mark Burnett, producing and starring in shows which represent a shift in the conversation for women.”

Andy Cohen, for his part, is hopeful she’ll return to the franchise. “I will hopefully live in the gratitude of her third return, because we are much like the mob—you can’t get out,” he said on his Sirius XM show on Wednesday. “I do hope and think that she will come back sometime.”

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Will she? Skinny Girl, the brand that made her a millionaire and part-time Shark Tank host, found much of its success between her stints on Housewives. Since returning, she’s launched numerous charity initiatives, denim brands, and deli meat products. Whether her second tenure as a Housewife can sustain her businesses is unclear, but there is evidence to prove that she can hold on to the fame that 24 annual episodes of television afforded her.

Scientists often describe the length of time it takes half of a radioactive atomic nuclei to decay as the “half life.” At least... that’s what I retained from my junior year chemistry class (which I failed). Regardless, Bethenny’s exit got me wondering: Could a similar formula to the model for determining a chemical’s half-life be applied to the Housewives franchise to determine a cast member’s “half-life,” aka the popularity and longevity of their brand after they’ve left the show? Bethenny is the most famous Housewife of all time. But how long will she be able to cling to that popularity when removed from the franchise entirely? Shockingly, this emerging field of mathematics is largely unexplored territory.

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Arguably, I am not a scientist. I can barely count, I cried through most of my high school psychics class, and copied my college stats homework from a dude who was in love with me (which I obviously exploited.) But despite these failings, I am an expert on the Housewives, with access to Google and a middling ability to string metaphors together. So why not try out a new career in advanced nuclear psychics! With chalk in hand and a bounty of ex-reality stars to explore, let’s investigate: What is the half-life of a Housewife?


Every scientific theory must have a complicated math equation to pair with it. (I saw this in a movie, so it’s true.) If we hope to discover Bethenny Frankel’s approximate half-life, we’ll need to start with our equation. Here’s the official one:

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Funny joke, scientists! This won’t work at all. Instead, I’ll single out a few past Housewives and apply a formula based on: the number of seasons they starred in, their post-Housewives business ventures, and their Instagram follower counts.

Let’s use former RHONY cast members—of which there are plenty—as our test group. The franchise’s popularity is rather unique, and a comprehensive analysis of all 112 Housewives past and present could fill a library!

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Heather Thomson:

  • Seasons: Season 5, Season 6, Season 7
  • Business Ventures: Nutritionary nutrition
  • Instagram: @iamheathert
  • Followers: 198,000

Heather Thomson’s first season on RHONY came after a dramatic reshuffling that resulted in almost half the Season 4 cast being fired. Her brand, Yummie Tummie, was mildly popular? I don’t wear skirt suits, so my knowledge of shape wear is slim, but the panties and bras were sold in Nordstrom. It even sued Spanx for patent infringement! However, she left the brand shortly after her exit, and therefore we can’t use it as an accurate measure of her popularity.

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Let’s instead turn to her brand of supplements and meal replacement powders, Nutritionary. It’s sold exclusively through ShopHQ (formerly known as Evine) and has an average rating of three out of five stars. Considering the many Housewives with QVC and HSN partnerships, her home on ShopHQ speaks to her lack of popularity.

Her half-life, I’d argue, was approximately six months—or, the time between seasons. Sorry Heather!

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Half-life: Six months

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Jill Zarin:

  • Seasons: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4
  • Business Ventures: Zarin Fabrics, Jill Zarin Rugs
  • Instagram: @mrsjillzarin
  • Followers: 576,000

Jill was an original New York Housewife (and a fan favorite for many years) until she was dramatically booted after Season 4 alongside half the cast. Despite this, her popularity endured on Housewives blogs and her cataclysmic fallout with Bethenny Frankel still generates headlines on a near constant basis. Zarin Fabrics, which she took over after her husband Bobby died last year, seems mildly successful if only for its longevity pre-Housewives and after she left the cast. Her Jill Zarin Rugs are also sold at Home Depot and Wayfair, where they hold an average of four out of five stars. It’s a confounding situation: She’s no longer on the show, but still receives press for her proximity to the show. Ignoring her constant meddling in the show’s affairs, I’d argue her half-life is about five years. Factoring in the platform the show still allows her, it’s probably closer to 10 years.

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Half-life: 10 years

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Kristen Taekman:

  • Seasons: Season 6, Season 7
  • Business Ventures: Last Night’s Look, Pop of Color
  • Instagram: @kristentaekman
  • Followers: 273,000

There isn’t much to say about Kristen Taekman: her husband was embroiled in the Ashley Madison scandal, she only lasted for two seasons, and her defunct nail polish brand’s Instagram handle “POCBeauty” confused many! Despite her somewhat impressive number of Instagram followers, blog posts on “Last Night’s Look” have no comments and are mostly outfits of the day.

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Her half-life is also the length of a season: four months.

Half-life: Four months

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Alexis McCord:

  • Seasons: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4
  • Business Ventures: None
  • Instagram: @mccordalex
  • Followers: 37,000

Despite appearing on four seasons of RHONY, the McCords left their reality show infamy behind and moved to Australia. The decision was among healthiest we’ve seen from former Housewives. It also makes this job quite easy: her half-life was about six months.

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Half-life: Six months

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Kelly Killoren Bensimon:

  • Seasons: Season 2, Season 3, Season 4
  • Business Ventures: Kelly Killoren by Kelly Killoren Bensimon, In the Spirit of fragrance, Baiser Rose candles, www.kkbloves.com, and a book: A Dangerous Age.
  • Instagram: @kellybensimon
  • Followers: 230,000

“Scary Island,” an episode in which her fellow Housewives bullied her to the point of a nervous breakdown (as she alleges), consistently ranks as the most popular (and memorable) Housewives episode ever. Despite this, her blog has no commenters (but is still in use) and her jewelry line, which was sold through HSN, is no longer available. Similarly, I couldn’t find a single trace of her fragrances or candles in any reputable online store. Her books, which are still in print, have an average rating of three stars on Goodreads.

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If you weigh the high turnover rate to her many ventures with the moderate success of her book , which garnered a sequel, I’d estimate her half-life at about five years.

Half-life: Five years


With our test group now documented, it’s time to work out the formula. What I’ve learned is that infamy and popularity while on the show are not interchangeable! What else: Instagram followers are an accurate but unnecessary gauge of popularity, and not only should the success of a business factor into the equation, but the amount of businesses as well. If I put these in a blender, close my eyes, and count to 10... a math equation appears!

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Using this, let’s plug in Bethenny’s numbers and estimate her impending half-life! (As for how we will numerically gauge popularity, infamy, and success, let’s use 0 to 100 as the scale. Scientists like big numbers!

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Bethenny Frankel

  • Popularity on the show: 100
  • Seasons on the show: Eight
  • Infamy on the show: 10
  • Success of business ventures: 100
  • Amount of business ventures: About three (SkinnyGirl Beverages, Skinny Girl Deli Meats, SkinnyGirl Denim)
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Computer, Calculate

Running...

Still Running...

55.8 Years

Wow! That’s a long time. I have absolutely no idea if this is correct. (And isn’t that they call these things hypotheses?) Regardless, I can say with a moderate level of certainty that Bethenny Frankel is going to be fine. And if she won’t be fine, she’s rich. Which in this country is often interchangeable with fine. But in the extremely rare event that she isn’t fine, she can always return to the Housewives—it worked out for her once before!

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