Feb 15, 2012

How to Be a Housewife.

Photo by The Hollywood Reporter
Earlier today, Linda Holmes at NPR's excellent pop culture blog, Monkey See, published a smart, fun, and informative essay about how to win Survivor. It got my reality-television-watching-brain spinning. Anyone who's ever read this blog knows my reality TV of choice tends to feature rich, relatively beautiful women living dramatic lives (see also: all those posts I wrote about The Hills and The City), and that Bravo's Real Housewives franchise happens to be my current fixation. Now, Housewives isn't a competition show. There's no prize at the end (besides the chance of being the next Bethenny Frankel), but that doesn't mean potential applicants couldn't use a handy guide on how to succeed in the business. Instead of offering a list of tips, I've listed five categories in which cast members find themselves placed by co-stars, fans, media outlets, and producers. Consider it a handy guide on the types of personalities the franchise attracts, and what to do when cast opposite a herd of raging narcissists (though let's be honest, if you are auditioning for this show, you are probably a raging narcissist too).

The Fan Favorite (Bethenny Frankel, Lisa Vanderpump)

This is the woman Andy Cohen calls the "Greek chorus" of the show. She is usually the funniest, particularly when it comes to poking fun at the other ladies. She is smart, savvy, and more often than not, the audience surrogate. She says the things we the viewers are thinking while we watch. If someone looks ridiculous, is acting a fool, or doing something stupid, the Fan Favorite is there with a witty one-liner and a good-natured roll of the eyes. The danger of being the Fan Favorite is that the second most popular woman on the show (Jill Zarin, Adrienne Maloof) will come to hate and resent you. She will try to be as funny as you, but will come off like a bitch. She will call the other women behind your back and convince them to boycott filming with you, or attack you at the reunion. She is often humorless, less intelligent, and petty. Do not stoop to her level, and let her dig her own grave. Above all, maintain a thick skin, and do not - I repeat DO NOT - let your popularity go to your head. Bide your time, crack your jokes, look great, make your money, and eventually, some network will offer you a spinoff.

The MVP (Tamra Barney, Kyle Richards)

The MVP might be called Most Valued by the Producers. This is the woman that comes to everything. She attends all group functions (even those hosted by her enemies), and organizes a fair number herself. She views Housewives as a job. She's not the funniest, or the smartest, but the hardest working. She loves camera time. She usually will be at the center of the drama because she realizes that drama drives these shows. She loves being famous. She will do more interviews with online magazines and attend more red carpet events than the majority of her co-stars. She will agree to film the most manufactured of scenes, and say what the producers want to hear. She will be your friend when it's convenient for her, just as she will turn on you when it's convenient for her. She thinks she is the "relatable" one, but isn't. She will frequently tell you she is a good mother. She will have a fair number of fans because she's not the most objectionable woman, but she's not the most popular either. You will spend a good deal of time with her, but remember, she's not running the show. She just thinks she is.

The Sidekick (Cynthia Bailey, Jacqueline Laurita)

The Sidekick is often accused of not having a mind of her own. She is best friends with the Star, the MVP, or the Fan Favorite, and sticks to their side like glue. She is the person who asks leading questions over lunch, and then agrees with everything her lunch partner says. She never gets to sit closest to Andy at the reunions, or on Watch What Happens Live. Her Bravo blogs are always posted in a timely manner; they are long. She is a little dim, but also kind of fun and funny when given the chance to cut loose (drinking or international vacations are usually involved). She has either a teenage child or a husband who is an asshole; she cries when talking about this family member. She is easily manipulated, and thus needs to be protected from the Sociopath. She can often become over-invested in her co-stars' drama, leading her to participate in their conflicts. Eventually, the producers will prod her to create drama of her own, lest she become boring. Be wary of her at this point (see also: Alex McCord's later seasons).

The Sociopath (Kelly Bensimon, Danielle Staub)

The Sociopath is the woman most often described as "crazy" by everyone involved - her co-stars, the media, and viewers at home. She is a bit of a wounded bird, a bit of a lost soul. She is also the cast member most in need of intense psychiatric evaluation. She should probably not have been allowed on television; she is the car crash at which no one can stop gawking. She is delusional, manipulative, and on occasion, dangerous. There are probably blind items on Gawker about her drug habit/prostitution career/name change/shady financial dealings. The smart women avoid filming with her at all costs, or else pretend to be her friend in order to make themselves look good (and avoid poking the bear). She is the most likely to have a nervous breakdown on camera, and start shouting nonsensically. Do not take her on vacation and then give her a gift or hide her makeup bag. At some point, she will involve another cast member or (even worse) Bravo in a potentially litigious situation. When this happens, she will quietly be asked to leave. Remain calm and keep your distance until then.

The Star (Teresa Giudice, NeNe Leakes)

The Star is what happens to a Fan Favorite who lets her popularity go to her head. These women are your ego-monsters, your divas - they always sit next to Andy at reunions, and they often appear alone on Watch What Happens Live. They either never write a Bravo blog, or have a PR person write it for them. They appear in actual paper tabloids, not just online magazines. They are obsessed with their celebrity, and turning that fame into cold, hard cash. Every season, the Star isn't sure if she'll return to the show; she's always holding out for a better offer. She most likely makes the producers lives hell during filming. She gets into it with the Sociopath because she knows it makes good television. She is always a part of the fight featured in the last 10 seconds of the season preview. She waves her finger; she yells. She makes designer brands look tacky. She laughs at her own jokes. She gets divorced, gives birth, or gets plastic surgery on camera. Every once in a while, she says something genuinely funny, or all the other women gang up on her, and you are reminded why you liked her in the first place. She knows she's a big fish in a small pond, but she can only do Celebrity Apprentice once, and so she returns, season after season. Basically, you never want to be a Star. It costs too much and the return is too little. Everyone likes some attention and a pair of high heels, but is that really worth your soul?

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