Caught in the conversational pause that happens when mingling at a party, all I had to do was turn to the girl next to me and ask, "Do you watch Vanderpump Rules?"
Since #Scandoval broke, it's been examined by fans worldwide with the fervor of an army of criminal profilers. To categorize the latest season of the hit Bravo show is to call it as it is: cinema at its finest, a study on the human condition, and a chart-topper of cathartic insults such as, "You would have a more productive conversation with a pig." For those who don't consume Bravo as a soothing pacifier (shoutout to Lala's bubbas), hello from the rock you're living under. This article will not waste precious time on a recap; true crime is afoot.
Affairs, betrayals, and drink throws are Bravo's backbone. Still, I would argue Tom Sandoval cheating on his life partner Ariana with her best friend Raquel is the most infamous in the network's history. For years, fans have witnessed a narcissist get away with cheating, gaslighting, and hidden misogyny. Anyone can play it up for the cameras for a few seasons, but now, after ten seasons, audiences have dossiers on behavior patterns, and it's made investigators of us all. So, this time, when Sandoval tries to blame a mid-life crisis or Ariana for turning a blind eye (also known as trust), we're done with his excuses.
Peter Pan: The Patron Saint of Fuckboys
The men of Vanderpump Rules have always reminded us of Peter Pan, and the syndrome has been referenced as far back as season two and as recent as a couple of weeks ago when Jax Taylor gave his opinion of Tom on The Toast. The Patron Saint of Fuckboys is a charming comparison; the adventures, a Tinkerbell to gas him up, leading a bunch of lost boys (or boys' nights), etc. But these men are now in their early 40s, and behind the pixie dust are boys who need to grow up.
You may remember Peter Pan as the adorable boy who snuck into bedroom windows and brought joy to your childhood, but it may surprise you that in the book, Peter Pan was kind of a dick. J.M. Barrie's novel was equal parts a cautionary tale for adults as it is for children.
Ego-centric, selfish, naive, and always looking for the next adventure, Peter Pan never takes anything or anyone seriously. He takes Wendy to Neverland to play mother to the lost boys, "I have brought at last a mother," he proclaims. Wendy plays along, devoted to caring for all the lost boys. Meanwhile, Peter keeps forgetting her name. And by the end of the story, he had entirely forgotten Tinkerbell, his ride-or-die! He puts himself first and surrounds himself with those who do the same. In her words, Ariana was "Tom's number one stan," and audiences know this all too well. Remember when she made Tom co-author her cocktail book because he threw a fit when she had her own thing? Like Wendy underplaying her achievements to protect Peter's ego, Ariana validated Tom taking the spotlight.
The lost boys believed in Peter Pan, and Peter Pan believed in make-believe. He enjoyed being the center of their attention, but when it came to real responsibility, like putting food in their bellies, he had them pretend to eat real food. It only takes one look at Tom Sandoval's cover band Tom Sandoval & The Most Extras, to see another boy who dabbles in delusion. Because he always wanted to be in a band, despite not having a real grasp on any instrument, not even a vocal one, he decided to pay seven band members out of pocket to play make-believe with him. All the while avoiding his real job and commitment to his best friend, Tom Schwartz, at their newly opened restaurant, Schwartz & Sandy's.
Interestingly, the only time Peter Pan doesn't want to play make-believe is when Wendy jokingly makes the boys refer to him as 'father.' He couldn't stand even the hint of responsibility nor the idea of being an equal partner to Wendy. He asks her, "It is only make-believe, isn't it, that I am their father?" and later affirms, "I don't want to be a man."
Where responsibilities go to die
To witness how Sandoval talks to the women on the show, he is in no danger of being called a man. Much like Peter Pan egging on Captain Hook for fun, he's thrown daggers at the ladies of Vanderpump Rules and inserted himself at the center of attention season after season. He supported Tom Schwartz when he cheated on Katie and incessantly disrespected their marriage until Tom and Katie divorced. He accused his ex-girlfriend, Kristen Doute, of having borderline personality disorder during the Season 2 reunion, even when he was just as much of a cheater, and accused Stassi of being an attention seeker, which, hello, pot meet kettle. While the women have made their fair share of mistakes, they've since grown up after facing the consequences of their actions. But Tom still yells, "Take accountability!" to everyone as he avoids it at all costs.
Even when #Scandoval broke, Tom continued to lie, coaching Raquel on what to say and lying about the affair's timeline. The big reveal in the last 5 minutes of the reunion is that, surprise, surprise, Tom fabricated a narrative. But by this point, these women had been gaslit so many times they didn't believe a word that came out of his mustached mouth anyway. Neither did James, for the record.
The island of Neverland A.K.A. Tom's idea of quality time is where responsibilities go to die. At a particular confrontation where Tom and Ariana discuss their lack of intimacy, Ariana asks for more quality time. To this, Tom counters with his definition of quality time as "taking mushrooms together and watching the sunrise" and "hang gliding." By his standards, their lack of connection is her fault for not partying all night with him.
A Bravo fairytale with its brand of divine justice
Tom may have found another lost boy in Raquel. Seeming to have taken her moral code from a Miss America pageant, Raquel is another lost person seeking her identity in the men she dates. Peter Pan promises to return every Spring for Wendy, but unfortunately for Raquel, at the end of the book, Peter Pan easily swaps for Wendy's daughter when he forgets to come back for her for too many years. In Peter Pan/Tom's world, everyone is replaceable as long as they get to keep their fans.
Freed from indulging a little boy's ego, Ariana can now find a real happily ever after. Something about this scandal feels like a fairytale with Bravo's brand of divine justice. Ariana has always appeared the most levelheaded on a show where everyone has done horrible things and kept her side of the street relatively clean. Like Wendy underplaying her achievements to protect Peter's ego, Ariana validated this ridiculous man. Audiences have witnessed the countless times Ariana has had his back, and they aren't going to fall for the same old tricks. Tom cannot manipulate the audience to believe she deserved any of this.
In a world with dangerous pirates, there are also lost boys who're equally destructive. They're great for an adventure or two, but when the stakes are raised, they dip out of life's responsibilities. The problem with prioritizing people like this is that they will always prioritize themselves, so they get double priority. How can anyone build a relationship with someone who only lives for the thrill and doesn't want to grow up? The novel shows you can't. Wendy grows up; she starts a family, and Peter Pan becomes a story about a boy she once knew. Peter Pan stays the same, frozen in make-believe and never living for anyone but himself.