The narrative about motherhood on ‘Vanderpump Rules’ is entirely wrong

“Scandoval,” the quippy nickname given to one of the most shocking infidelity scandals on reality television, catapulted Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules into newfound fame last year. The show, which aired on the network in 2013, initially followed a group of broke, incestuous bartenders and servers working at the sexy and unique West Hollywood restaurant, SUR. The high-stakes drama and record viewership of season 10 even scored Bravo its first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program. And while dedicated fans of Vanderpump Rules – those who had long professed to critics, “No, the point is that they’re all bad people!” – finally felt some validation, it soon turned sour when they realized that there wasn’t much else to hold onto upon watching its latest season.

Season 11, which wrapped up its three-part reunion on May 28, overwhelmingly put a bad taste in viewers’ mouths, so much so that Bravo put production on “pause” for the foreseeable future. Throughout the season, fans were initially annoyed by the cast’s easy-to-forgive sentiments toward Tom Sandoval, who had cheated on his long-time partner Ariana Madix with fellow cast member Rachel Leviss. But what had really angered viewers (namely, those who have children) during the final reunion episode were comments made by the show’s voice of reason, Lala Kent.

“There is something that Lala did tonight that I will never, ever be able to understand, especially as a mom,” began TikTok user Erika Bazaldua Holland, in a viral video with more than 775,000 views. “You do not get to use your children as a weapon to make other people feel bad about their decisions.”

In the episode, the 33-year-old expressed her frustrations with her fellow cast members for their lack of authenticity while filming, and how nobody “stepped up to the f***ing plate” during the season – intentionally breaking the sacred fourth wall.

“If you don’t give a f*** about your position on the show because you’re thriving, I’m gonna need you to give a f*** about mine,” Lala told her co-stars, as she explained how her Bravo paycheck (and her profitable “Send It to Darrell” sweatshirts) are used to help support her three-year-old daughter as a single mom.

There’s no denying that Lala – real name Lauren Elyse Burningham – has faced her fair share of injustices during her tenure on Vanderpump Rules, which began when she joined the show in season four at 22 years old. Her former fiancée, disgraced Hollywood producer Randall Emmett, was exposed to be dating a 23-year-old the same month their daughter Ocean was born in March 2021. While she’s happily welcoming another daughter in September via sperm donor, Lala’s bitter custody battle continues to rage on, as she’s been given the major stipulation from her ex not to feature their daughter on the show.

However, according to Vanderpump Rules fans, that doesn’t give her the right to hold her cast members accountable for decisions she made as a mother.

“Everything Lala has done, any mistakes, any bad behavior, and her need to make money off the show is okay because she is a mom,” wrote one viewer on the widely-popular (and snarky) Vanderpump Rules subreddit page. “I understand being a mom is hard, but being a person is hard too and the hypocrisy is not okay simply because she has a daughter and Ariana doesn’t.”

“Lala’s need to provide for her kids is not everyone else’s responsibility. I don’t understand why she is putting that on everyone else,” another TikTok commenter agreed.

The Bravo network – helmed by its larger-than-life figurehead and executive producer, Andy Cohen – has earned its place at the top of pop culture lexicon for amplifying the real-life stories of women and mothers. Ever since the first episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County aired in 2006, cameras have captured tear-jerker moments like Vicki Gunvalson collapsing on the floor when her own mother died, Jacqueline Laurita advocating for autism awareness through her son’s diagnosis, and the emotional reunion between Teresa Guidice and her four daughters after she returned home from a 12-month stint in prison.

Lala Kent, a cast member of the Bravo reality series Vanderpump Rules
Lala Kent, a cast member of the Bravo reality series Vanderpump Rules (2023 Invision)

These dynamic storylines from real-life mothers have always struck a chord with Bravo’s majority female viewership. So what is it about Lala’s non-traditional relationship to motherhood that has made fans turn against her?

Josh Lora, who is a market research professional by day, has become a notable TikTok presence for his breakdowns on the intersections of Bravo and sociology. For him, it’s not that Vanderpump Rules viewers don’t want to see authentic stories about motherhood existing on a show that’s mainly known for drunken hookups and cheating scandals. Really, it’s that by guilt tripping your fellow cast members (who are, essentially, your co-workers) for not sticking by the reality TV playbook, it absolves you of all accountability.

“Lala saying: ‘Well, I’m only here to feed my kid,’ it turns so many people off,” Lora told The Independent. “It’s this interesting tension between needing the fourth wall to captivate us and draw us in, versus seeing the actual bare bones mechanics of filming the show and contract renewals and all of this stuff that we ostensibly care about. But it actually really soured us on everyone and everything involved.”

For the majority of Vanderpump Rules viewers – adults between the ages of 18 and 49 – the idea of admonishing your child free co-workers for not meeting a certain deadline at work or failing to contribute to a presentation, and then accusing them of jeopardizing your livelihood as a parent, seems entirely unthinkable.

“We are all adults, we all have jobs. I don’t think it’s anyone’s responsibility to provide for someone else’s kid. Lala is trying to get them to care more about her child than they should,” said Lora. “At the end of the day, yes they’re friends, but they’re also co-workers. So using the argument: ‘You have to do this because I have to feed my child,’ isn’t necessarily the most salient [rationalization].”

When Holland posted her viral TikTok video, sharing her thoughts about the Vanderpump Rules part three reunion, it wasn’t to stir the proverbial pot or to stoke some online controversy. It was because, for perhaps the first time ever as an avid Vanderpump Rules watcher, the show made her contemplate her own position as a new mother herself.

“As moms, we watch Bravo and we take on a new perspective. I certainly have a new perspective watching Bravo as a mom at 32 than I did when I was single and 30. We cannot expect other people to come at this with the same force that we do as moms,” Holland told The Independent. “Being a mom is the best part of my life, and Lala would say the same thing. But to then put that responsibility on somebody else is just not appropriate.”

Tom Sandoval attends the premiere party for Season 11 of Bravo's Vanderpump Rules on January 17, 2024 in Los Angeles, California
Tom Sandoval attends the premiere party for Season 11 of Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules on January 17, 2024 in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

Of course, it’s easy to assume that the Give Them Lala Beauty founder’s passionate remarks to her co-stars were made out of frustration with her own unfortunate situation. Much like Ariana, Lala – who was 19 years younger than her ex-fiancé – was also the victim of an infidelity scandal. However, unlike Ariana, she didn’t receive a sponsorship deal with Duracell, appear on Dancing with the Stars, and make her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in Chicago over it. Even Lala herself said it in the season 11 finale of Vanderpump Rules: “I have never experienced someone who gets cheated on and suddenly she becomes God.”

For Holland, who has chosen to give the single mother the benefit of the doubt, she perceived Lala’s widely criticized comments about motherhood as rather the “peak of her projection” in that moment.

“The conversation about motherhood is a very personal one. You see the chords that are hit with Lala and Scheana [Shay]. Their kids are their Achilles heel, and it should be,” she said. “But I think what we saw from them is that a lot of their motivation is driven from a place of love, but also a place of fear.”

Following the negative response to the Vanderpump Rules reunion, Lala took to her podcast, titled Give Them Lala, to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding her behavior towards her castmates (and her fans) this season. During the podcast episode, which aired on May 29, Lala admitted that filming season 11 was “bittersweet” and watching the episodes back was “one of the most difficult things” she’s had to do.

While she initially dedicated episodes of her podcast toward recapping Vanderpump Rules as it aired, she explained that she had to hit pause on the coverage due to fans on social media “coming for her” as a parent.

“I feel that me as a mother is completely off-limits. And when I see people talking about something they know nothing about, my blood starts to boil,” Lala said. While she admitted that both the cast and viewers may not always “be in alignment” about what occurred on the show this season, she still acknowledged how fans of Vanderpump Rules are the reason for her success.

“This show is something I am extremely grateful for. It has allowed me to live a life that I really would sit at home in Utah and dream about. I love making this show,” Lala continued. “The opportunities that have come along with it. It’s not lost on me that the show got me the opportunities, but not only the show, you guys watching the show, you tuning in, you giving a s*** about the show. I am able to provide a beautiful life for not only myself but my family because of you guys.”

Lala’s representatives did not immediately respond to The Independent’s request for comment.

Was this a semblance of the accountability that fans were craving from Lala? Maybe so. Despite her supposed apology, however, the future of Vanderpump Rules remains uncertain. Even the final episode of season 11 was perceived by viewers as a farewell tribute to the show, in which the last five minutes included an emotional montage set to a piano ballad.

Indeed, Lora pointed out that the original premise of Vanderpump Rules was to document young adults “trapped in this arrested development,” and many of them still are – from messy breakups to struggling businesses. That doesn’t mean that some Vanderpump Rules viewers aren’t interested in watching its stars navigate the difficulties of motherhood as well. In fact, that’s partly why fans tune in to Bravo’s extensive Real Housewives franchise in the first place.

But on a show like Vanderpump Rules, where taking accountability for one’s actions is a rare occurrance (Jax Taylor, anyone?), perhaps we should be expecting exactly that from even the most self-proclaimed “grown” of its cast members.

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