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reality podcast

4 min

In this newsletter, you’ll find

1. Some more Vanderpump Rule things, this time about podcast drama

2. A thing I worked on that taught me a lot about anuses

3. My optimal Taylor Swift discourse

1. Access to the Cast: A pseudo-case study in the podcast world

We are returning to the Vanderpump Rules fandom assessment, this time venturing into the world of Vanderpump Rules podcasts. I am fascinated by small (but powerful!) ecosystem of Vanderpump Rules-centric podcasts because of the weird ways they’ve overlapped with the show itself. And perhaps one of the best-established among them is Sexy Unique Podcast, hosted by Lara Marie Schoenhals as she recaps and discusses each episode with a guest.

I’ve been following SUP for so long that I’m sometimes surprised to realize that there are listeners who don’t know that it’s actually a spin-off of another podcast. Pumped Podcast started around season 3 of Vanderpump Rules, and it featured Lara along with two other hosts (Craig and Blythe) as they recapped the episodes. With the combined power of their West Hollywood location and the willingness of the cast of Vanderpump Rules to engage with anyone engaging with them, the podcast soon ended up featuring many of the cast members themselves as they came on to comment on the various shenanigans. And season 3 had a lot of shenanigans (Miami Girl! Stassi’s attempt to escape the clutches of the show! Katie temporarily doing interesting things!). This was all great and fun at first, especially when they gave that behind-the-scenes insight.

But then it got weird.

Access to the cast came with its own cost. As Craig and Blythe became better friends with some of the cast members, their interpretations of the show itself seemed to be shaped by those friendships—a bias they themselves denied.

This led to awkward confrontations between cast members and Lara, and then inevitably to awkward confrontations between the hosts themselves—all of which they let play out on the podcast, like a secondary reality tv show.

You know that thing people say about podcasts, where it’s like you’re listening in on a conversation with your friends? The last Pumped Podcast episode was like watching your friends fight, and you’re just trying to scoot away without anyone noticing you were there.

In the creative divorce that followed, Craig and Blythe ended up keeping Pumped Podcast and turning it into Pump Rules Podcast. But most fans ended up following Lara to Sexy Unique Podcast.

The central question dividing the two podcasts seemed to be access vs commentary. Pump Rules went with access, choosing to focus on interviews with the cast members. Sexy Unique Podcast went with commentary, eschewing any contact with the cast members on the podcast itself. It’s tempting to argue that the reason SUP “won” is because commentary is more interesting than access, but that’s not inherently true. There are plenty of reality tv podcasts that have been successful by combining the two.

But access is weird because it is just so damn easy with this cast. You can go to the actual restaurant these people work at! You can see their drama play out on Instagram! You can listen to their own podcasts! There are so many ways to consume their lives outside of the show that I’m still trying to piece together what it means to even seek out a new season. Often, we can see the drama play out in real time on social media month before it airs, and often with more honesty than the final, curated version producers and editors gather into each episode.

When I originally drafted this months ago, I had another 300 or so words about how this relates to the complicated question of “canon” as it relates to reality tv. But in a post-Kristen/Stassi-getting-fired society, it’s hard to ignore the fact that their firing was directly linked to the access they gave to another podcast and the openness with which they described their own racist behavior in an interview.

Stassi’s racism and internalized misogyny has played out plenty of times on her own podcast as well. And the only mechanism of “accountability” seems to have come as a response to losing podcast sponsors. Meanwhile, when she’s called out for the same racism on Vanderpump Rules, she just cries about being called racist.

There’s an obvious (and probably cheap) parallel in all this to the concept of access in how certain reporters cover Trump. The stakes are much, much lower (until Jax inevitably decides to make his bid for presidency), but the involvement of reality TV personalities and how they thrive on access and scandal is all so interwoven and messy. The access is foundational, but it’s only as useful as the commentary.

2. Things I’ve Made

third acts in romance and my new favorite Korean drama- There was some mild twitter drama a few weeks ago about third acts in romance novels, and I wanted to belatedly weigh in so that I could talk about something only tangentially related.

How Do Microorganisms Poop Without a Butthole?- The age-old question…when I saw this episode on the docket, I didn’t think it would lead me down a research trail on the evolution of buttholes. I will always treasure the fun things I got to make Hank say in this episode.

3. What I’m Reading/Watching/Listening to

Answering Your Questions About Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’-I, like many people, have spent a lot of time in the folklore discourse. While the NYTimes Popcast had some first-round takes that I personally strongly disagreed with, they did a follow-up episode answering listener questions about the album that is probably my current favorite Taylor Swift discourse.

And here’s me going a little wild with my library holds because I’m so excited to be able to check out physical books again


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