And then there were five. Bethenny Frankel’s shocking departure from the “Real Housewives of New York City” confirms the summer of 2019 will go down as a time of devastation for fans of the original “Real Housewives.”
Vicki was demoted, Lisa Vanderpump left without even saying goodbye. Now Bethenny. Will this madness have no end? (In some good news, Federalist Radio Hour guest Leah McSweeney is reported to be the newest New York City cast member.)
We know that when life gives us limes, we make margaritas, so let’s at least use Bethenny’s exit to take a step back and evaluate the original housewives at what they do best—polarize viewers. All good housewives are polarizing, and these eight OGs have stuck around largely because their interactions are crazy enough to be compelling year after year.
With three suddenly dethroned from the top of their respective franchises, it’s as good a time as any to dive into what makes them make viewers tick. Ranking the housewives by their ability to polarize us is like ranking kittens by their cuteness. But I’m brave and think almost exclusively about Bravo, so why not? (Rhetorical question.)
8. Kyle Richards
Kyle is remarkably well-liked for someone who’s spent a decade on one of Bravo’s most brutal franchises. She gets added points for emerging with her general likability intact while allowing family conflicts to be a recurring storyline. That says a lot about her personality. To be fair, it also seems entirely possible Kyle’s collection of tasteful muumuus possesses powers that protect her from the public’s ire.
7. Ramona Singer
Despite being one of the most aggressive housewives, Ramona manages to be a fan favorite. It’s a pretty remarkable feat. After 11 seasons, castmates and viewers just accept Ramona is going to be Ramona, and appreciate moments like this one for the wonderful comedy that they are. May Turtle Time never end.
6. NeNe Leakes
It’s tempting to rank NeNe higher on the list—after all, she’s the queen of conflict. (See: this incredible exchange with Claudia Jordan.) But I don’t think viewers are actually that polarized over her. Like Ramona, NeNe is accepted as a necessary force for entertainment. She is compelling. She is hilarious. She is very rich, b-tch.
5. Bethenny Frankel
Bethenny’s random exit/non-marriage announcement will cement the love-her-or-hate-her legacy she’s cultivated since 2008. Her abrasive personality can be off-putting, but her no-nonsense attitude and sense of humor added an important element to the cast chemistry.
She was really the first woman to establish the importance of the bemused outsider role, someone who could see the drama for what it was, but could also get sucked right into it herself. Bethenny is also a fairly sympathetic character: the juxtaposition of her personal tragedies with the incredible success of Skinnygirl has been powerful to watch.
4. Teresa Giudice
I think Teresa is like Ramona and NeNe, and generally enjoys the support of fans (including Jackie) who’ve watched her flip tables, go to prison, and raise Milania into a pop sensation. Nobody loses her temper like Teresa Giudice. (Not even Lisa Rinna.)
But her bad behavior is on another level. A wise friend advises that Teresa is arguably the most controversial housewife from the view of the broader public, which has to factor into her ranking here. Plenty of fans probably side with Melissa Gorga in their various family disputes as well.
3. Luann de Lesseps
Luann’s behavior in recent seasons (and off seasons) has catapulted her closer to the top of the list than she would have previously been. The woman threatened to kill a cop on Christmas Eve. Her high-profile struggles with alcohol seem to have spurred delusions of grandeur instead of humility.
While fans are increasingly laughing more at her than with her, Luann’s music makes it impossible to want her gone. (Her reliably hilarious interactions with Sonja and Ramona are a big advantage too.)
2. Lisa Vanderpump
This one is obvious. Vanderpump’s strategizing began to wear on some fans before PuppyGate even started to consume RHOBH for an entire season. Others staunchly defended her honor. What makes Vanderpump especially polarizing, apart from the way fans split over the dog drama, is how well she came across in early seasons, and the popularity of her role on “Vanderpump Rules.”
1. Vicki Gunvalson
Nobody polarizes fans like the original real housewife, Victoria Gunvalson. After her relationship with Brooks crashed and burned in spectacular fashion, Vicki seemed to start hemorrhaging fan support.
But for many (myself included), there’s still something incredibly endearing about how hard she tries to be loved. Of course, you can see how Vicki’s questionable relationship with the truth and penchant for bomb-throwing make her difficult for some fans to watch. But I just can’t quit her.