niche drama

RHOSLC’s Monica Garcia Set the Bravoverse on Fire

She sparked some of Real Housewives’ most-hyped drama. Did her star burn too bright, too fast?

Photo: Bravo/Meredith Andrews/Bravo via Getty
Photo: Bravo/Meredith Andrews/Bravo via Getty
Photo: Bravo/Meredith Andrews/Bravo via Getty

What makes someone a villain? It’s a question that permeates most of Bravo’s reality shows, where conflict and resolution is a gladiatorial contest. In the season-four finale of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, newbie cast member (and likely one-hit wonder) Monica Garcia was dramatically revealed via, say it with me now, “Receipts! Proof! Timeline! Screenshots! Fucking everything!” to be involved in Reality Von Tease, an anonymous gossipy Instagram account. The page originated, Garcia has claimed, as a way to publicly shame former cast member Jen Shah for mistreating her staff. In 2021, it began posting leaked footage of Shah — who, if you’re new here, is currently serving a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence for running a nationwide telemarketing scam that defrauded elderly and vulnerable people. But it soon expanded to spread malicious gossip (now officially known as “rumorssss and nastinesssss”) about Garcia’s current co-stars.

When Garcia and I talked, hours before the third and final part of the reunion aired on Bravo last night, she told me she always knew her involvement would come out. But for the rest of us, the Big Reveal — on the final night of a cast trip to Bermuda, when the ’wives gathered around a table shaped like the Bermuda Triangle while holding little pioneer rag dolls (you had to be there) — was a jaw-dropping reality-TV moment.

At the start of season four, Shah’s shadow still loomed over RHOSLC. Garcia was introduced as a witness in the FBI’s case against her. At first, she seemed like an open book: She spoke about the affair she had with her brother-in-law — which got her excommunicated from the Mormon church — and the struggles of being a single mom in the midst of a divorce. She seemed like an endearing, plucky underdog. Someone who had little to lose, who was going to shake things up and use the show to build a better life for herself.

In the early episodes, before a cast trip to Palm Springs, Garcia became tearful about her anxieties when hanging out with this wealthy new group. In an attempt to fit in with the richer ladies who conspicuously wore expensive (“$60,000!”) jewelry and lived in huge homes, she bought a Louis Vuitton bag. “That was one of my most raw, vulnerable moments,” Garcia tells me. “It really wasn’t about the purse. It was about feeling like you don’t belong, feeling like you’re trying to find your way, feeling like you have to fit in.”

Fans also watched Garcia’s fractious relationship with her mother, Linda Darnell. Garcia recalled being left with family in Pennsylvania at 12 years old while her mother chased her dreams in New York, a decision that gave her lifelong abandonment issues. In one scene, when she told the story of her mother once putting her in the trunk of a car while she made out with a guy, Darnell angrily responded: “That happened one time!” The pair’s Mommie Dearest–esque relationship is volatile and feels competitive too. And since the show aired, Darnell has repeatedly called out her daughter publicly on social media. (And Bravo, too, for not inviting her to the reunion.)

Watching the show, there is a constant conflict between Garcia’s two most dominant sides. There is “vulnerable Monica,” who seems endearing and a little fragile. Then there is “angry Monica,” who, in the heat of the moment, can say some truly horrible things to people. But Bermuda introduced us to a third character: A Monica who has kept secrets, schemed, and snatched her opening-credits snowflake under false pretenses. A version of her who — in the eyes of her co-stars, at least — is a villain who can’t be trusted.

Garcia has leaned into her villain role with varying intensity. On social media, she said that she couldn’t wait for fans to watch the finale, in which her online alter ego was unmasked. She has also bragged about how she “infiltrated a group of elitists.” But during our conversation, and at the reunion, she has seemed less comfortable with it, often making the case that lies her castmates have told — like Heather Gay finally admitting to lying about Shah giving her a black eye — are much worse. The reunion might not have delivered the reconciliation fans hoped for, but it was perhaps a reminder of how thin the line between villain and victim can be.

Garcia represents a new frontier for Bravo. Fans have become Housewives before, but never someone who was involved in running an anonymous fan page. In the wake of the show’s season finale, Bravo’s stars have felt uncomfortably close to its fervent online fandom — who now, on some level, might believe they, too, can work their way onto the show. Then, just hours after we spoke, the news broke that Garcia would not be returning to RHOSLC for season five. My feed was divided, with some declaring the show “over!” and comparing the news to the crucifixion of Jesus, while others breathed a sigh of relief. RHOC star Tamra Judge — who was herself fired in 2020 before being reinstated last year — posted: “You will be missed, BIG TIME — but remember, it’s never really over …”

Reading between the lines of a Variety interview with the show’s bosses, it seems like the door is being left open to Garcia. A possible “pause,” rather than an outright firing. “At this time, the women just need a cooling-off period,” Lori Gordon, the series’ showrunner, told Variety. And Andy Cohen? “Anything can happen,” he says. “And I love a comeback.”

For now, the ever-growing Bravoverse has plenty of places that Garcia might reappear to give us a new chapter of her story. A shot at redemption, perhaps, or more clues to help us solve the big mystery: Who is the real Monica?

In Bermuda, your co-star Heather Gay, who figured out you were involved with Reality Von Tease, asked who the “real” Monica is. At the reunion, Andy asked that same question. I was wondering what your answer to that is? Did we get to see the real Monica on the show?

I appreciate you giving me the chance to answer that. You did see a lot of the real Monica during the season. You saw me battling with being new in the group and feeling insecure about that when it came to the purse and trying to fit in with these women. You saw the real Monica when you watched me take all my girls to school and the stress and shuffle of being a single mom. Whitney and I actually had a really great moment in Bermuda that wasn’t shared on-camera, but she was having a rough time with the passing of her friend and we ended up spending the night together comforting each other in my bed. I think there were a lot of very real moments throughout the season, and there were a lot of moments that I wish I could have done differently or changed. The Monica you saw was going through so much and trying to find her feet with this new group, while navigating a divorce — and there’s a lot that comes with that.

Let’s talk about your mother, Linda. You said at the reunion that, even before filming, you knew people were going to “see some shit” about your relationship. Why did you decide to bring her on the show? Was there a small part of you that wanted us to see what you’ve been dealing with?

My mother is very up and down. When we started filming, we were in an okay place. I wanted the opportunity to show my Portuguese side, with my grandmother and my mom, and the fact that they literally lived ten seconds away. But as you saw, it went badly so fast — and that’s very, very accurate for how it actually is in my real life with her, on a daily basis, in our relationship. My mother and I have been through a lot. Truly hell and back. But I’m actually shocked at how many people are in the same exact situation. I felt alone with my mother, like I was the only person who had a mother like this. The show showed me that there are so many more people who deal with this kind of dynamic, and I think it was very cathartic for me as well as for the fans.

What did you think of the scene between Heather, Whitney, Lisa, and Meredith on the beach in Bermuda? Where were you when it was being filmed?

I don’t know where I was! I’m assuming I was getting ready when that all happened, probably getting dressed and makeup and all that stuff. For me, watching it back is a very different experience than I’m sure the fans. I can appreciate that we are making a show and it was incredible television, 100 percent. But I also have a lot of knowledge and insight as to what was really happening and going on. Watching it back, I definitely was rolling my eyes a lot, for sure.

Photo: Clifton Prescod/Cllifton Prescod/Bravo via Getty

When did you know the Reality Von Tease account was going to come out? It didn’t seem like it was a complete surprise to you in Bermuda.

Oh, I knew it was going to come out, 100 percent. What I wasn’t prepared for — and why you see I’m so shocked — was for my ex-best friend to give them a bunch of other information. I was caught off guard with what my best friend had done, not about Reality Von Tease coming out.

I suppose the obvious follow-up is: Why go on a show knowing you had this big, dramatic secret that would come out?

I truly did not think it was going to be a big deal, genuinely. This was a bigger deal than Jen getting arrested and going to prison. It’s comical, in a sense, that they are more upset at me about a snark page than they are about someone scamming elderly people out of millions of dollars. This was someone who they chose to stand by, but this is the be-all and end-all. I was prepared for it to come out and I was prepared to own it, because the page was never about them. It was about Jen! They want to say, “It bullied us for four years” — first of all, the page was only open for, like, a year. Second of all, it really was about exposing Jen. Lisa Barlow’s hot-mic rant was worse than anything we ever said on Von Tease.

You’ve been compared to Jen a lot by the cast. What does it feel like to be compared to someone who has hurt you so much, who you dislike so strongly? 

I feel like it’s an easy out. I don’t think that it’s even close to accurate, because if I really was like Jen, these women would have not been treating me the way that they are treating me! They let Jen get away with much, much, much worse. The women were scared of Jen, and they are not scared of me. I think it’s hilarious to say, “Oh, she’s just like Jen.” Because if I really was just like Jen, you guys would be kissing my ass and be terrified of me, and you’re not!

There has been a lot of discussion about how Jen managed to lure people in and get them to do things for her, or behave differently to how they normally would. What was it about her that gave her that power?

When you meet Jen, you are very captivated. You are very drawn to her. She makes you feel like you are best friends right out of the gate. She was so much fun. She was so energetic. She had this incredible way of making you feel like you were so important and special to her and that she got you, no matter what. You’re just completely sucked in, and then you start to see the mask slip off and see what’s really going on. I think she got messed up in some serious stuff. She knew what was coming, and I think that ate away at her. It contributed to the volatile person that she became in the end.

Was Jen a motherly figure to you? What was your relationship like?

It’s funny you say that, because, no, she wasn’t a motherly figure. If anything, she felt more like a child to everyone who was around her. Everyone had to take care of her and cater to her. Everyone had to monitor her temper tantrums. But reflecting back on the entire relationship, she was a lot like my mom, if that makes sense. It is kind of interesting to have that dynamic where, no, I don’t feel like she was a mother figure, but she was like my mother.

You and Heather have a lot in common: You both had tough experiences in the church, difficult relationships with men — and your parents. Do you think these similarities might have drawn you both to Jen? Or made you easy targets for her?

Yeah, I’ve never really thought of it like that, to be completely honest. That’s a very, very interesting take to me. But I feel like Heather’s loyalty to Jen was deeper than what you guys are seeing. To me, it wasn’t about being a “ride-or-die.” It wasn’t about “she was my friend and I was going to stick by her.” It was more sinister than that.

You said to Heather that you could understand why she lied about the black eye. Is it frustrating that people can see why she didn’t stand up to Jen, but don’t seem to understand why you and Jen’s staff started an anonymous Instagram account to call her out in a safer way?

That was actually a really interesting part for me to watch back. That day was so long and such a blur that I actually had forgotten about that particular moment. I think it’s very telling that for 12 hours I was completely beaten down by this group — and rightfully so, I am absolutely living in my karma right now. I’m ready to move past this chapter of my life. I’m sitting here like, “Please, karma, do your thing so I can move on.” But I thought it was very interesting that I still received zero compassion, zero empathy, and after getting beat up by these women for 12 hours straight, I still am able to relate and feel sympathy for what they went through. At the end of the day, there is humanity in recognizing the fact that we were all put in different situations by Jen that traumatized us, that made us act in ways we normally wouldn’t.

From a viewer perspective, it looked like Andy wanted you to say, “I’m sorry for the parts of the account that hurt you” — even if that wasn’t the original intention of the account, even if you didn’t post them yourself. But we didn’t see that from you. Are you sorry? 

So this is the thing. I am sorry that I ever involved myself in this account and that I got myself in this situation. The reason why I did not apologize is because I am not going to give a fake apology. At that moment, I did not have it in me to apologize, because the women were relentless. I felt like they still weren’t willing to hear me.

Even down to the black eye. They said I lied for “months,” but really, I was just getting to know them. I didn’t have existing relationships with them. But Heather lied to their faces, lied to production, lied to investigators, lied to producers, lied to Andy Cohen, lied to the fans for over a year. She has existing relationships with these people — but I am being completely massacred. You want me to apologize in that moment? I couldn’t do that. I didn’t have it in me to give a half-ass apology because it’s what people wanted to hear, because it would make me look better in the moment. I want to get to a place where I can actually sit down and have a civil conversation about this and give a genuine apology. But at the reunion, on that stage, in the situation I was in, it would not have been a real apology, so why even say it?

The reunion is about conflict but also resolution. Do you sympathize that fans — including your fans, who want to see you continuing on the show — wanted to see the door of friendship left open? Even just a tiny crack? 

Well, here’s the thing. Andy said at the end: “Is there anything Monica could have said?” Before he even finishes the sentence, they’re like, “No, no, no, no.” Then Andy asks again, “I have to think there’s something she could have said …,” and they were like, “No.” I’m hoping one day we can get to a point where we can have that happen and I can give an apology that they are willing to accept. It goes both ways, you know?

Photo: Bravo/Gizelle Hernandez/Bravo via Getty Images

Speaking of Andy, he looked pretty unhappy when you claimed that the show’s ratings were bad and it was about to be canceled before you joined. How did you feel about Bravo bringing up your casting email? Would you take that comment back if you could have a do-over?

You know what? I was actually really sad that they showed that email, because that wasn’t the email! That was literally three sentences of me just asking what I needed to do. You can’t apply with three sentences. I had to write an entire biography. I had to show several photos. I had to talk about my children, their ages, why I thought I would be good on the show, what I would bring to the show. I mean, that wasn’t the email that was in question, so that was frustrating.

You’ve been pretty transparent about working hard to get on the show. Why is there a shame attached to that? Even you dragged Angie for it, in the first part of the reunion. Why is it shameful to want to be a Real Housewife?

That is such a good question, because even Dorinda Medley just recently did an interview, where it’s like, “What is wrong with that?” What’s wrong with wanting to be on a show? Heather has admitted several times that she is and has been a huge Housewives fan for years. All of them are on there. All of them continue to be on there. So painting me as this fan trying to get on the show, that’s fine, whatever, but so are they!

One of the most impressive things about the Bermuda twist is that it didn’t leak beforehand. Jen knew you were involved in the account back in 2021, because she sent you a legal letter about it. Why do you think she didn’t leak that you were behind it?

Yeah, I think it’s amazing that everyone was able to keep that under wraps. Jen is … Jen, but she is also very smart. You think Jen gives a shit about a troll account over the fact that Heather is going to say that she physically assaulted her? The only thing Jen is going to care about is the fact that Heather is out here telling people that she punched her in the face.

Do you think Housewives stars are much more involved with these types of fan accounts that they let on? Maybe they’re not running them, but feeding them information or interacting with them, surely?

Look, here’s the thing. At the end of the day, I didn’t do anything that other people do not do. People have burner accounts. Housewives, Bravo-lebrities, whoever. Or they have troll accounts, where they’re feeding information to blogs and trying to push a narrative out there. I mean, we are all troll accounts at the end of the day. People go online and they stalk their exes or their best friends. “Let me find this guy. What’s his name?” Anyone with fingers and a mouse has been a troll at one point in time or another. So to make it seem like I am just this crazy, insane, one-of-a-kind person is absolutely ridiculous, because I have not done anything that other people in this world have not done.

There has been a lot of talk about rebuilding relationships with the women, but how can you build trust with the audience? Do you understand that a lot of fans feel like they can’t believe anything you say now?

I think that will come with the realization that I am not the only person in this franchise to lie, to deflect, and to deceive. I am far from that. I am one, yes, but I am not the only one. If they can find grace and forgiveness for others, and give them other chances, then I think that should be awarded to everyone. But I think it will take time.

Why did you lie about visiting Meredith’s store before? It seemed like such a shady thing to lie about.

Okay, I said this at the reunion and it didn’t get aired. When I pulled up to Meredith’s shop, production came up to me; they said, “Okay, we’re going to play this like you’ve never been here before.” And I said, “Well, I have been here before. I’ve been here with Jen.” And they were like, “It doesn’t matter. That’s not how we’re going to play it. We’re going to play it like it’s your first time here.” They did not air that, but that’s the honest freaking truth. I’ll sit here and I’ll take it, and people call me a liar, but that’s what happened. [Bravo did not respond to the Cut’s request for comment.]

Your castmates have said this is the best season of RHOSLC ever. Why do you think they struggle to give you any credit for that?

I don’t know, honestly. They can say I had nothing to do with it; they can say it’s because Jen is gone. They can say it’s because their relationships were better or whatever. But at the end of the day, they know the truth. I don’t need to clarify that. They just don’t want to have it come out of their lips. They’d choke on it, because it makes them so mad!

At the reunion, Andy asked Heather whether the forgiveness she’s asking for — for lying about the black eye — should be applied to you. She said she couldn’t answer that. What would your answer be? Could you forgive you?

I would forgive me. I feel like I have to say that, though, because obviously I’m going to forgive myself! But, yeah, the fact that Heather said, “I can’t answer that” is ridiculous. Heather literally was blaming a very serious allegation (the black eye) on other people, and that to me is way more severe than me releasing some audio of Jen losing it on her employees. There’s zero reason why I shouldn’t be given any grace. I didn’t put my hands on anybody. Lisa Barlow and her hot-mic rant, they forgave her for that. If they can forgive Heather for lying to them and putting them around someone who physically punched her in the face …

I guess my response to that would be that those women all apologized, right? Heather did say “sorry” for the black eye a lot at the reunion. It felt like that was your moment to do the same.

Look, here’s the thing. People are going to see it one way and I’m going to see it the other way. The reality that I’m in right now is, yes, I would like to apologize. But I don’t want to give an apology when it’s not ready to be received. It was very easy for Heather to apologize. She had people going over to the couch and hugging her. Why wouldn’t you be able to apologize in that situation? She was in a safe space to apologize where she was being heard and it was received. If I were to have tried to apologize, it wouldn’t have been accepted the same way.

If we don’t see you on Salt Lake City next season, would that be a “you” decision or a “Bravo” decision? 

That would be a cast and Bravo decision. It would not have been my decision.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A Convo With the Housewife Who Set the Bravoverse on Fire