‘What Can I Not Handle at This Point’: Ariana Madix on That Affair
After a few uncertain years, the Bravo reality series “Vanderpump Rules” seems to have been given a new lease on life.
Over the last two months, the news broke that Tom Sandoval, a co-star on the show, cheated on Ariana Madix, his girlfriend of nearly a decade, with their friend and fellow cast member Raquel Leviss. Viewers’ interest in the show has waned in recent years. But with this new twist, there’s no longer a question of if there will be a season 11. Rather, it’s a question of what that will look like.
While the show — following the drama of people who had been and are currently working at the West Hollywood restaurant SUR, owned by Lisa Vanderpump, a breakout star from another Bravo reality show “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” — has seen its fair share of controversies, none have had this level of impact and consequence. The cast isn’t just a group of young adults anymore; the stakes are higher, and “Scandoval,” as the affair is called, dismantled not only their romantic relationships but their financial futures, friendships and real lives off camera, too. In turn, audience interest has piqued.
Ms. Madix has long been a fan favorite on “Vanderpump Rules” for openly talking about her struggles with grief and mental health. And now since the affair has come to light, her popularity has soared.
Now her star is on the rise. She has scored brand deals with companies like Bloomingdale’s and Bic Razors, released her own line of merchandise, co-starred in a Lifetime movie and even attended the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. She’s also in the midst of opening a sandwich shop with her friend and fellow cast member Katie Maloney.
Season 10 finished filming last fall, but cameras picked up again in March after producers learned about the affair. In an edited interview, Ms. Madix spoke for the first time in months about Mr. Sandoval and how she feels about being on reality television.
Why do you think the public has latched onto this cheating scandal?
I think our relationship was so longstanding that people, including myself, saw it as end game. I also think the people involved were so duplicitous and deceitful. [Mr. Sandoval] was also someone who was constantly preaching about integrity when it came to other people taking accountability and I think that shift in him — having no integrity — is something that shocked people. Plus, there are also so many people who can relate to the situation and can put themselves in my shoes.
Your professional success seems to be coming at the cost of your personal life. How are you grappling with that?
It is a lot of pressure because for any public-facing woman or any woman in general who goes through something, there are a lot of expectations around how you’re supposed to handle things. It is a lot of pressure when someone puts you on a pedestal; eventually you’re going to fall off. I’m just trying to remain centered in myself and make sure that I’m just being me and living life, and sometimes that’s going to mean making mistakes and not doing what everybody wants me to do. But it is really incredible to have that support and I feel as though it did come at a cost, a very unexpected cost.
How did it feel to pick up filming again after news of the affair broke?
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. In this situation, I felt so strongly. I knew exactly how I felt.
What was it like to film the show’s season finale with your ex?
When he sat down on that couch [during filming] and tried to give the sad sack act, I knew he was going to try to sell a bit. I knew he was trying to be that person so that I would be the angry person; I could see what was happening in front of my face, and it was really frustrating. Honestly, when he started yelling at me, I felt a little bit satisfied that he was finally going to be the real him.
Kristen Doute, Tom’s ex-girlfriend, also appeared in the finale with you. Your friendship has come a long way. Why was it important to film this scene? She was at my house [after I found out about the affair]. I think at that point my blood was 80 percent rosé and nicotine because I was burning the wick at both ends. She was asked [by producers] if [she would film] and she said, “This is up to you.” I love her dearly. Their relationship was much different than my relationship with him, but at the same time, I think there is a common denominator when it comes to certain problems. What’s crazy is their relationship ended 10 years ago, and yet, somehow, he’s managed to not grow in those areas at all.
What was it like to film the reunion?
It was kind of a weird day because I feel like most of the time in any other reunion, we go through the whole season. But in this reunion, it was really just everybody against one or against two [cast members]. We’ve never been united like that ever.
Do you think there’s room for redemption for Tom or Raquel?
I think any chance that either of them separately had for that ended when they started giving trash interviews victimizing themselves, her TMZ [interview] and his Howie Mandel [interview]. I think had they not done or said all of those horrible things, maybe one day, but I think the answer ultimately is no. In our friend group, the answer is no.
Are you open to filming with them?
No. I have nothing to say to either of them. Our show is very real and follows a real group of friends, and neither of them are in the group of friends, so, good luck.
Has this experience changed how you feel about being on reality TV?
I’ve always had a little bit of that anxiousness about saying something that would upset someone or whatever, and I still have that to some degree. But I also feel as though the worst possible things that could happen to somebody happened to me on this show: the loss of Charlotte, my dog of 18 years, the loss of my grandma, this whole thing happening very publicly. Part of me feels like, What’s the worst that can happen? The worst already did. So going forward, it feels a little bit like, What can I not handle at this point?