I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
Every time I decide to make myself a burrito, one person comes to mind: Ally Hilfiger. If you were an MTV viewer in 2003 — the same year Jessica Simpson pondered life’s great Chicken of the Sea question — this reference might already ring a bell. It comes via the underrated treasure that is Rich Girls, a pre–Laguna Beach show about wealthy teens. In general, MTV in the early aughts was a reality-TV factory that pumped out iconic moments that would forever be etched into my brain. I may not remember my husband’s cell phone number or what I ate for lunch yesterday, but I can recall Dave Navarro and Carmen Electra’s morgue-themed wedding invitations (’Til Death Do Us Part: Carmen & Dave), a woman pulling out a bottle of ranch dressing from her purse while on a date (True Life: I’m Obese), and a teen throwing a tantrum after her mom surprises her with a Lexus on her actual birthday and not on the day of her big party (My Super Sweet 16).
These are moments deemed so personally significant that I would include them in my own autobiography, but none of them haunt me as much as when Ally Hilfiger, daughter of American fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, had a meltdown while trying to make a burrito. For those who are unfamiliar, Rich Girls centered on the Manhattan misadventures of Ally and her pal Jaime Gleicher. The girls — lacking any self-awareness — spouted off hilarious, meme-worthy quotes during a time when social media was just a twinkle in the internet’s eye. We bore witness to Ally and Jaime’s extravagant shopping trips, travel on private planes, and typical teenage drama. Jaime even planned to lose her virginity at prom, which was foiled when her date got sick from drinking too much coffee. (Coffee? Sure, Jan.)
At the start of the pivotal burrito scene, which opens with “It’s a Fine Day” by Opus III, Ally is on the phone with her dad. “You know when you kind of have like just, nothingness and like, not even anything to be upset about but you just are?” she asks the man who “invented cargo pants” (one of the aforementioned quotes). “What am I going to do with my life?”
From there, Ally realizes she’s hungry and decides to make a burrito. That’s when things get really wild. She takes a trip to Whole Foods to get ingredients, but doesn’t know what goes inside of a burrito. She’s not sure what kind of beans to get, or what kind of cheese goes on nachos. She ends up staring at a row of salsas for a million years. When she finally gets back to the house, her friend Danielle comes over. At first, it seems like everything is going well, but Ally starts freaking out while cutting onions. She hasn’t eaten all day. Clearly, she’s just hangry. Right? “All I want is my onion, and my tomato, in the beef with the rice, with the cheese, and avocado. And I want to eat it and I can’t do that,” Ally screams. Danielle tries to help. The scene cuts to the girls talking in the backyard. The burrito never gets made.
Over the years, I deduced that there were two types of people in the world: those who were ardent fans of Rich Girls, and those who had never heard of the show in their life. Whenever the series would come up in conversation with someone who was familiar, it would inevitably turn into a bonding session. Since it isn’t available on DVD or streaming anywhere, we’d resort to getting stoned and watching crappy uploads on YouTube. It was still entertaining. That is, until I found out the true story behind the infamous burrito quest. Maybe young Ally’s dramatized plight was nothing to laugh about — because, to hear her tell it, it was something much darker.
In her 2016 autobiography, Bite Me: How Lyme Disease Stole My Childhood, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to, as Ally calls it, “The Burrito Incident.” She writes that she was fine with filming at first, and was even charmed at her own funny, “dumb” quotes. But, she says, the Lyme Disease had begun to “stage a full frontal assault” and a lot of what we saw on the show was her stumbling through Lyme-induced brain fog. Ally describes the chain of events that led to the burrito — how it was her responsibility to plan something to film that day, how she started getting anxious about it, and how things spiraled into a panic. “I then asked myself the one question you really don’t want to ask yourself on camera: ‘What am I going to do with my life?’” she writes in the book. “I decided that the only thing that could help me was a burrito.”
If only Postmates had existed in the early aughts, perhaps this whole ordeal would have been avoided. Ally could have ordered a burrito from a local Mexican joint or, hell, even Taco Bell, and she wouldn’t have had to endure the double drama of going to the grocery store with a film crew and then enlisting Danielle to help make the meal — which only frustrated Ally even more. “I didn’t know why I was making the choices I was making and didn’t have a clue that at least some of my craziness was not my fault at all,” she wrote. After the incident, Ally says she began smoking pot to deal with her aching joints (another effect of Lyme) and “the need to escape the harsh reality of making reality TV.”
When the show ended, so did Ally and Jaime’s friendship. Ally had a nervous breakdown — which included her shitting on a silver platter and giving it to her father — and her father ended up committing her to a psychiatric hospital. This eventually led to Ally’s Lyme diagnosis at age 21. Today, Ally is married, hosts a podcast with her husband, and has a daughter. Every so often, I comb through her Instagram hoping to see a photo of one goddamn burrito.
I’m still waiting.