niche drama

Ariana Won Bravo’s Super Bowl

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Bravo

The moment Vanderpump Rules fans had been waiting for came early in the Bravo series’ much-hyped season-ten finale. Within the first five minutes, producers showed exes Ariana Madix and Tom Sandoval sitting opposite each other in the living room of their shared Valley Village home just two days after Madix found out Sandoval had been cheating on her with her friend Raquel Leviss for months.

For eight uninterrupted minutes, those fans watched as Madix, with all the poise and acuity and fearlessness any of us could hope to have in a similar situation, absolutely leveled Sandoval. When he said he was scared to apologize because it made her angry, she crowed, “Let me be angry!” When he described the affair as “selfish,” she responded, “Selfish is the nicest word you could use.” She summed up the situation so plainly that Sandoval couldn’t even provide a coherent response:

“I’ve been with you for nine years,” she said. “We were friends when you were literally wearing combat boots and skinny jeans and didn’t have a dime to your name, driving a 1997 Honda Civic. I loved you then, when you had nothing. You got a little bit of money, a little bar, a little band, and then this girl is gonna act like, enamored with you, like, ‘Oh my God, he’s so aah,’ ’cause that’s what you want, huh? You want someone to just gas you up.”

Things got even more brutal from there. Sandoval tried to defend his “friendship” with Leviss and blamed Madix for not being able to give him what Leviss apparently offered freely. As his arguments got flimsier and more erratic, Madix remained steady, delving even deeper into her feelings about the end of their nine-year relationship. She said everything she needed to say, and only at the very end did she allow herself to cry, a moment that further endeared her to viewers.

“I was ride or fucking die for you,” she told Sandoval. “I regret every moment that I stood up for you, defended you, supported you. You’re worth nothing. And I want you to feel that deep in your soul. I want you to hear those words coming from the mouth of the woman that fucking stood by you and loved you and was ready to build the rest of my life around you.” Chills, Emmys, etc., etc.

Fans were practically levitating while listening to this monologue. “THIS IS BETTER THAN I EVER COULD HAVE DREAMED OF,” wrote Samantha Bush, who runs the Bravo fan account @bravohistorian on Instagram. “It’s been 8 minutes and I’ve never been so captivated by anything.”

Bush captured the emotions of a legion of Madix fans. After dealing with the initial shock of the affair (by leaving bad Yelp reviews for Sandoval’s bar, for some of us) and waiting patiently-ish for several weeks to see it play out onscreen (by poring over each episode for clues and listening to the cast’s many, many podcasts, for even more of us), fans seemed to be in awe of Madix as she readily processed and explained her emotions in real time. That she was able to finally say her peace, to both Sandoval and the audience, felt like triumphant vindication.

The fact that the moment came together at all is something of a reality-TV miracle. Speaking with Variety, Vanderpump Rules executive producer Alex Baskin credited Bravo for going all in on the scandal as soon as producers learned of it in March. According to Baskin, Madix found out about the affair on March 1, called production on March 2, and cameras were back up and rolling on March 3. “For us to be able to go to the network and to say, ‘You guys, this is a moment’ — of course, we didn’t know what it would become, but we knew we needed to capture it,” Baskin said. “They got us all of the necessary approvals and clearances so that we could tell the story in real time. That’s why what you’re seeing is pure verité.”

The payoff has clearly been worth it: Ratings are up 77 percent for the season. Madix told the New York Times that, surprisingly, filming made sense to her in the midst of this personal crisis. “A lot of times I feel as though with our friend group and with our show, I’m in a position where someone said something or there was an argument, and I wasn’t there to see it, so I struggle to know how I feel about that kind of situation,” she said. “In this situation, I felt so strongly. I knew exactly how I felt.”

The episode went on to capture the fallout among the rest of the cast as well as conversations between Madix and Lisa Vanderpump and former cast member Kristen Doute, but it was those first few minutes that cemented the episode as an all-time classic. After her incredible performance on the finale, Madix got to do a victory lap on Watch What Happens Live! with Andy Cohen, where producers packed the studio audience with die-hard Madix stans and beamed in footage from “Team Ariana” watch parties happening around the nation. Madix herself was decked out in a black lacy “revenge dress” that Instagram commenters compared to Princess Diana’s from 1994. (Madix described the look as “sexy funeral.”) In promotional videos on Bravo’s Instagram, she showed off her look to Taylor Swift’s revenge anthem, “Look What You Made Me Do.”

Madix even hinted that she is doing better than before: When Cohen asked her about her rumored new boyfriend, Daniel Wai, she grinned: “I’ll just say that I am very happy and very satisfied.”

It was, all in all, a surreal two hours of television, but for Bravo fans, finale night was the Super Bowl and Madix the star quarterback. Lucky for everyone, the moment doesn’t have to end just yet: There are still three episodes of the Pump Rules reunion left to air.

Ariana Won Bravo’s Super Bowl