The #Scandoval, aka the Vanderpump Rules cheating shocker that catapulted the previously flailing show into appointment TV, is the most attention-grabbing, brand-boosting scandal Bravo has seen in a long time—possibly in the network’s history. Aside from the actual drama, though, the elevation of the Vanderpump Rules cast from niche Bravo stars to bona fide celebrities has been equally fascinating to observe.
Ariana Madix, the scorned ex of Tom Sandoval and former best friend to Raquel Leviss, is revolutionizing what The Cut calls “revenge spon,” nabbing partnerships with brands like BIC, Raising Cane’s, Uber Eats, and Bloomingdale’s. Lala Kent is hawking hoodies that read “Send It To Darryl,” a quip she made at Leviss’ lawyer in a viral Instragam video. Scheana Shay’s podcast Scheananigans has become a top destination for Scandoval tea. And Katie Maloney, fresh off her divorce from Tom Schwartz, has found herself in a new power couple of sorts with Madix, as the two prepare to open their West Hollywood sandwich shop Something About Her.
But perhaps the most notable cast member to be reappraised throughout this whole ordeal is James Kennedy. The 31-year-old DJ entered Season 10 of Vanderpump Rules as more of a background player, discussing his sobriety issues for the umpteenth time and introducing viewers to his latest partner, Ally Lewber. Now, thanks to the current state of events, he’s being lauded as one of the funniest people on TV, earning glowing write-ups in Time and Interview magazine for his childish, very British insults (“worm with a mustache,” “poo-poo heads”), most of which are aimed at Sandoval and Schwartz.
Part one of the reality show’s reunion special, where he charged at Sandoval multiple times and led the cast into literally booing him, earned good marks from viewers. All of this has led to him being dubbed by fans (and even Time) as the “No. 1 Guy” on Vanderpump Rules. (That is, if Jax Taylor doesn’t return next season.) How did we get here?
Ever since his arrival on Vanderpump Rules as Kristen Doute’s younger rebound from Sandoval, Kennedy has proven himself to be reality-TV gold. Over the course of eight seasons, we’ve watched him challenge his older castmates, repeatedly get fired from his DJing gig at Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurants, and deliver the sort of razor-sharp clapbacks you’d expect from a seasoned Housewife.
But his comic sensibilities have always been undermined by the stark reality of his alcoholism and a pattern of disturbing behavior toward women—from fat-shaming to slut-shaming to his documented verbal abuse of Leviss throughout their relationship.
That dark side came into focus during part two of the reunion last week, when Sandoval accused Kennedy of slapping a waitress’s butt when they appeared at an event in Atlantic City together; Sandoval added that the woman signed some type of paperwork promising she wouldn’t sue the DJ. Later on, when Cohen rehashed an argument Kennedy allegedly had with Lewber at the Canyon Club during the season, Sandoval said a security guard had witnessed Kennedy grab Lewber’s arm or wrist while he was yelling at her. (Kennedy, for his part, owned up to the yelling.)
One can only assume that Sandoval—the reunion’s rightfully designated punching bag—only brought up these issues to draw some heat away from himself. Interestingly, though, Kennedy didn’t deny the first accusation. (Nor did Schwartz, who was also present when it allegedly occurred.) Instead, Kennedy randomly retorted that he “provides a show” while Sandoval and Schwartz apparently do nothing. Kent then chimed in, telling the two Toms that they shouldn’t judge Kennedy for his drinking, while Madix also pointed the finger back at Sandoval, reminding him that while Kennedy may be harassing women, he was the one who slept with her best friend. It should, of course, be stated that cheating and sexual harassment are not really comparable, given that one is predicated on someone’s consent. Nor is Sandoval’s infidelity such an extraordinary crime that the allegation against Kennedy should’ve gone unquestioned by Cohen and the rest of the cast.
And yet, morality is often a zero-sum game on reality TV. Villains can be exonerated as soon as someone else does something slightly more egregious (i.e., the way some fans are proclaiming that Jax Taylor is suddenly a good guy in light of Sandoval’s transgressions.) Vanderpump Rules, in particular, forces viewers to make concessions for their problematic faves quite regularly. If someone is particularly entertaining, like Kennedy, they can usually get away with behaving poorly, just as long as there’s another person behaving worse.
Likewise, I was fully prepared to put Kennedy’s previous offenses—including an upsetting story Leviss shared this season about their last dispute and how she had to essentially escape their apartment to break up with him—for three riveting reunion episodes. But as Sandoval continues to be nailed to the cross, it’s become more difficult (and hypocritical) to watch Kennedy be showered with praise while the show is supposedly undergoing a reckoning for its shitty men.
Former cast member Doute commented on her ex-boyfriend’s newfound acclaim in a recent interview on the Good Guys podcast. “It’s not gonna last long,” she predicted. “He can ride the wave this season, because why is he the number one guy in the group? Because he’s the only one not screwing up this particular season? Wow. Congratulations you’re a grown man, and you have one good summer of not messing up as badly as everybody else. The truth always comes out, no matter how long it takes.”
It’s not just that Kennedy’s “No. 1 guy” status will probably be short-lived, given his tendency to resort right back to being awful after one OK-ish season. As Ronnie Karam pointed out on the popular Bravo recap podcast Watch What Crappens, the casual brushing-off of his behavior is “dangerous.”
I felt this way while watching part two of the Vanderpump Rules reunion at a packed bar where a giant room full of women proceeded to cheer for Kennedy, despite the allegations we learned about him during the episode. No one seemed to flinch at Sandoval’s claims about Kennedy because they were more excited to rage against the headline-making cheater.
But as long as the fanbase is in a man-hating mood, why can’t Kennedy be called out, too?
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