Photo: Karolina Wojtasik/Peacock
In honor of this inaugural season of Ultimate Girls Trip, Vulture has assembled a cast of all-star Housewives writers to rotate recap duties. This time up, freelanceLouis Peitzman.
There was this moment during the filming of RHUGT when Housewives Twitter was sure that a secret eighth all-star was going to parachute into the Turks and Caicos halfway through the week to stir things up. Sources said—and don’t bother asking who these sources were, because no one will cop to it now—that Tamra Judge was coming to save the day. Then there were whispers it would be Jill Zarin, making another late arrival to another scary island, and hoping not to be turned away at the door this time. Some even speculated that the surprise guest would be Lisa Vanderpump, returning to either make amends or butt heads with Kyle, which is the kind of Housewives fanfic it’s hard to imagine anyone earnestly believing, but listen, it was a pandemic, and we didn’t have a lot going on.
In the end, no secret final all-star emerged, and I offer this preamble only to point out that while I might not be the most exciting surprise guest to be joining the ranks of Vulture’s RHUGT recappers midway through the season, I do at least exist, fulfilling the promise Brian made when he alluded to a “special guest all-star” in his. The bar may be low, but I am skipping over it. (Did I just discover my Housewives tagline?)
Speaking of Scary Island, the fifth episode of Peacock’s fever dream of a mash-up series finds Ramona drinking her way toward Kelly Bensimon-level mania. If there were any hope of redemption for Ms. Singer after the cursed 13th season of RHONY and (more importantly) reports of two separate internal investigations into her, it is not to be found on RHUGT. This isn’t exactly Ramona at her worst (“Am I supposed to apologize for being white?” certainly ranks lower), but it’s a pretty perfect encapsulation of her myriad personality flaws. If she were gunning for a Shittiest Person on Bravo award—and to be fair, the competition is stiff—this episode would be her submission. For your consideration: firing Ramona.
Things start off well enough for Ramona, who begins the episode sharing some quality time with Kyle in the oversized closet where they film confessionals. “Literally at 3 in the morning I laughed out loud by myself in bed thinking about you,” Kyle says, and for a woman who is far more likely to inspire night terrors, that’s a lovely thing to hear. Yes, there’s still some tension with Kenya, who Ramona sure is trying to goad into a confrontation, but she’s not letting it get to her. And then things take a turn, as Ramona reveals the terrifying scope of her delusion: “I’ve worked on myself and I’ve come a long way,” she says in a confessional. “I’m a softer, nicer, warmer, more caring person.” (The producer laughs, which is honestly the kindest response you can offer to someone that out of touch with reality.)
It’s Kenya’s “rich bitch yacht day,” which maybe explains why she decides while en route to complain about the time her nanny embarrassed her by wearing flip-flops on a private jet. Yes, that’s Roy-family heinous, but perhaps she’s just leaning into the theme! What I still need explained, though, is how we managed to get all these Housewives onto a yacht without a single Below Deck cast member onboard. It’s another extremely popular franchise, with countless stews and deckhands to choose from. Do I have to think of everything?
Kate Chastain is nowhere to be seen, but there is staff aplenty to handle the copious drink orders. Ramona is being uncharacteristically kind to everyone, particularly for a woman who was recently called out for her use of the phrase “the help.” She asks for an extra shot in her margarita—foreshadowing!—with a gentle, “I don’t want to overwhelm you…” Kyle points out that perhaps there’s some overcompensating happening, and Ramona admits that seeing herself be rude on TV horrified her. Being on a reality show, she says, “you become more self-aware, absolutely.” The look on Cynthia’s face says it all: if RHONY has been a learning experience for Ramona, how exactly has she ended up here?
Self-awareness (or the lack thereof) is very much the theme of the episode. There’s a brief scuffle about the women interrupting each other that seems largely directed at Kyle—somewhere Dorit just felt a chill, then continued speaking—culminating in Melissa trying to diffuse the tension by offering, “I think it’s fair to say that we are all motherfuckin’ attention whores.” Cynthia doesn’t like that because she doesn’t think of herself as the center of attention, but at some point you do have to reconcile that with choosing to have your life filmed for the past decade.
If Ramona had any actual self-awareness, she wouldn’t be so delighted to play the game Kenya has drummed up like the backseat producer she is. The women will be pulling cards with shady statements made by the other Housewives on their respective shows, and they’ll have to guess which all-star said it and to whom. Naturally, the first card is a quote from Luann, lamenting Ramona reaching out to Tom’s ex-girlfriends to dig up dirt about him when he and Luann got engaged. Lu cops to saying it, explaining that while Ramona was ultimately right about Tom, what she did was still shitty. Ramona sincerely apologizes, the two women hug, and back in New York, Tom D’Agostino is swallowed up into the earth, never to be heard from again.
Just kidding! Ramona gets defensive and calls herself a “girl’s girl,” which is one of her more unhinged proclamations. She then proceeds to prove what a loyal friend she is by callously revealing that Luann fucked Tom the first night they met. Despite Kyle’s attempts at peace-making—confrontation makes her anxious, okay?—the situation escalates. When Ramona says she only said what she did because she’s jealous of Luann’s sexuality, Kenya rightfully calls that excuse a “crock of shit.” Ramona fires back a half-hearted “oh, fuck you,” which is probably meant to be playful but certainly isn’t taken that way.
The long-awaited yacht showdown between Kenya and Ramona isn’t as satisfying as it should be. Sure, there is undeniable joy in hearing Kenya say what we’ve all been thinking about Ramona for the past 13 years: “What’s wrong with you? You’re a fucking asshole.” But Kenya, by her own admission, loses her cool, eventually grabbing the drink out of Ramona’s hand. This isn’t Kenya being a shade assassin; this is Kenya realizing that she simply can’t put up with Ramona—that no one should ever have to put up with Ramona. The fact that Luann says she’s glad everyone can now see what she’s been dealing with is a laugh, because her frenemy has been an asshole on camera for over a decade. There is nothing new about any of this, there is just patience wearing thinner: for Luann, for the other women, and for the audience, all of whom could recite a Ramona apology by heart at this point.
It’s difficult to say where she goes from here—not from the yacht, which she escapes (indignity of all indignities) on a dinghy with the crew, but in the larger Bravo universe. It becomes clear that Ramona’s behavior in this episode is largely fueled by tequila, but that doesn’t change the fact that no one really wants to be around her anymore. This may very well be her Housewives swan song, and she’s not showing nearly as much grace as the birds who guard Villa Rosa. It’s Luann and not Kenya who delivers the real kiss of death for Ramona. “I feel sorry for her,” she says. “I feel sad for her because she hasn’t grown as a person.” Maybe it takes firebrands from other cities like Teresa and Kenya to help Lu see what we’ve all known for years: this is not a woman capable of change.
The rest of the episode does not help Ramona’s case. The night is supposed to be about Teresa’s Italian meal, but instead the focus is on Ramona’s drunken tantrum over glam. She refuses to pay until she gets a full invoice, and the dust-up keeps hair and makeup from getting to Cynthia, who then shows up late to pasta dinner and blames Ramona. It’s not really about the glam (or the pasta), of course. As Kyle astutely notes, it’s not about defending Luann either, no matter how indignant Teresa seems to be on her behalf. The problem that all the other Housewives have with Ramona is that she’s Ramona. They are five days into a vacation with this woman, and that is five days too long.
Not since Jill was exiled from Scary Island has a New York Housewife been so unwanted. Ramona finally realizes as much and excuses herself from the table, her performance growing increasingly pitiable as she tops off her tequila with red wine. She might console herself with the belief that everyone else is obsessed with her because they’re so boring—a suggestion she offers to the other ladies, presumably to get back in their good graces—but her mirror monologue (“You may not like me, but I like me”) is Travis Bickle by way of Neely O’Hara. It’s honestly a little hard to watch. You mostly wish Bethenny were there to yell at her to go to sleep.
Kenya gets some good digs in once Ramona has wandered off to lament her plight to the staff (and production, and anyone else who will listen). She calls Ramona an “entitled freaking frail old lady.” And while some of her insults feel a little juvenile—there is no shame in Depends, just ask Lisa Rinna—her simple assessment that Ramona is “very delusional and maybe possibly insane” cuts the deepest. The other all-stars express relief that they’ll probably never have to spend time with Ramona again. With her future on RHONY very much an open question, those of us watching at home are daring to hope for the same reprieve.