Bravo's 'Vanderpump Rules' season 8 might be the beginning of the end for this reality TV gem

As destructive as they’ve been to themselves and to each other, the original cast remains strangely lovable. But something has shifted.
Vanderpump Rules - Season 7
Ariana Madix and Lisa Vanderpump in an episode of "Vanderpump Rules."Nicole Weingart / Bravo
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By Sage Young

Originally conceived as a spinoff of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules” quickly took on a life of its own after premiering in 2013. In a massive 2018 feature, “Vogue”called it “America’s perfect reality show.” Now in its eighth season, what’s commonly abbreviated as #PumpRules still chronicles the friendships, backstabbing and drunken escapades of an ever-expanding and fracturing group of sexy young adults who orbit the Los Angeles restaurants and bars owned by Housewife Lisa Vanderpump.

But in a somewhat inevitable development, the remaining original cast members are mostly well into their 30s and far too recognizable to work regular hours at Vanderpump’s central establishment, SUR (short for “Sexy Unique Restaurant). Unmoored from the show’s premise and perhaps thinking they may be getting too old for this, it seems they have one foot out the door.

It’s the reality show circle of life, and it’s finally brought about the season “Vanderpump Rules” fans have long been dreading.

It’s the reality show circle of life, and it’s finally brought about the season “Vanderpump Rules” fans have long been dreading. This new crop of episodes kicked off with an influx of new cast members, all of whom work either at SUR or TomTom, the bar Vanderpump launched with original stars Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz in 2018. And while new faces have appeared throughout the life of the show, there was always the sense that those personalities were being fully integrated into the existing social ecosystem. (For example, it’s difficult to remember a time before Lala Kent, who didn’t appear until season four, was in the fold.)

But this feels more like the passing of a torch. While the reigning stars mark major life events (Jax Taylor and Brittany Cartwright’s extravagant Kentucky Castle wedding, Stassi Schroeder’s book launch), the newbies are siloed into their own storyline. Flirting and fighting in the parking lot behind SUR, their exploits resemble a community theater production of season one and are about as entertaining.

A “Vanderpump Rules” anchored by a new cast is doomed to fail for all the reasons the original couldn’t help but succeed. (No one has announced their departure yet, for the record.) Seven years ago, grande dame Lisa Vanderpump was the only known name in the cast and the series itself was an unknown quantity. The bartenders and waiters who invited the crew into their lives were Hollywood-gorgeous but utterly unpolished. Most had dreams of becoming full-time actors, singers, or models that they pursued — to different degrees of success — whenever they weren’t on shift.

Their unfiltered exploits have yielded dozens of iconic moments: Schroeder backhanding Kristen Doute when she finally admitted to sleeping with Taylor, then Schroeder’s boyfriend, after denying it for a whole season; Taylor getting arrested in Hawaii for stealing a pair of sunglasses; Sandoval wiping his happy tears on their dog during Schwartz and Katie Maloney’s wedding ceremony; Scheana Shay performing an off-key rendition of her latest single on the SUR bar; and so on. The messiness, of course, was the point.

While there’s still plenty of drama to be mined from these increasingly complicated friendships, those long-serving cast members have moved into new stages of their lives. Most are married or in committed relationships. They’ve moved out of their bachelor pads and into actual family homes. And they’ve capitalized on their reality fame, joining the upper echelon of influencers. Schroeder has toured with both her popular podcast, “Straight Up with Stassi,” and her memoir/how-to guide, “Next Level Basic.” Sandoval and his partner Ariana Madix collaborated on a slick cocktail book, “Fancy AF Cocktails.” Cartwright and Taylor got their own one-season spinoff, “Jax and Brittany Take Kentucky,” in 2017. Doute designs an eco-friendly line of graphic t-shirts and has leveraged her reputation as the “unstable” friend for her own book project, “He’s Making You Crazy,” which is coming out in June.

This is all to say that there’s proven career value in being chosen for the inner circle, and there must be countless aspiring #PumpRules cast members waiting tables and slinging drinks in L.A. as we speak. But unlike their co-stars, new arrivals Max Boyens, Charli Burnett, Brett Caprioni, Danica Dow, and Dayna Kathan knew what they were getting into, which makes their actions and conversations feel calculated and far too controlled. Kathan, in particular, appears to be keeping an iron grip on how she’s presented. (It was also revealed early in her tenure that she’d been one of a group of women who hung out with existing cast members during a “guys’ night” last season, providing some insight into how she met producers and scored a full-time spot.)

But unlike their co-stars, new arrivals knew what they were getting into, which makes their actions and conversations feel calculated.

On the other end of the spectrum, Boyens and Caprioni weren’t fully prepared for the spotlight, however, and perhaps aren’t suited for it. Both were exposed for posting racist tweets (many using the n-word) in the years before they joined the show. They’ve since issued separate statements of apology, but their offensive and, in some cases, violent remarks have cast a pall over their presence. “Vanderpump Rules” is a guilty pleasure for many, but fans (especially nonwhite fans) should not have to grapple with such unforgivable sentiments while they watch the show.

Meanwhile, as destructive as they’ve been to themselves and to each other, the original cast remains strangely lovable. And though we’ve watched them misbehave, lash out, and — in some cases — hit rock bottom, the stars have been far too happy to share for their exploits to feel exploitative. Fans even feel some ownership over their journeys, and — this far into the run — nostalgia has creeped into the show. On-camera, Schroeder’s fiance Beau Clark has worn a shirt that bears the phrase, “Mood: Season One Stassi,” in tribute to the less mature and more belligerent version of her audiences experienced in the early days. You too can get it on Etsy. It’s self-aware without feeling too forced.

This segmented season proves that the “new class” can’t recapture the sloppy glamour of the show’s glory years. Whether you’ve been tuning in faithfully for seven years or binged the whole series in a summer, we’ve all watched the Vanderpump Rules cast grow up. It’ll be the end of an era for sure, but, as they grow out of the series, so should we.