The original Gossip Girl has more than its fair share of over-the-top drama, but no episode is as iconic and celebrated as “The Treasure of Serena Madre.” The 2009 Thanksgiving episode from Season 3 serves up a cornucopia of secrets during a fraught dinner scene. Soundtracked by Jason Derulo’s “Whatcha Say,” the moment sees a Thanksgiving feast quickly devolve into chaos as the characters air one another’s dirty laundry, causing many of them to leave the table in a huff.
More than a decade on, the scene has become a perennial source of entertainment as the holiday season looms, with fans finding new ways to revisit and meme it, from tweeting “your sweet potatoes are bland” to recreating the scene with their own family secrets on TikTok.
“I love that it comes up every year,” says Joshua Safran, who co-wrote the episode with Robert Hull and now serves as the showrunner of HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot. “It’s a warm hug every time the memes come back around.”
Original Gossip Girl creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage tell Bustle that they have been stunned by how the episode has cemented itself in pop culture history. Back in 2009, they were worried that the scene’s melodrama wouldn’t translate as funny to the audience. “It was [a relief] that it seemed like other people also enjoyed it and got the tone of it,” Savage says. That fans have continued to reference the episode and even get their families involved is just a bonus. “When all of these TikToks showed up, that was really incredible and really kind of moving.”
Gossip Girl’s ability to remain a pop culture mainstay is no surprise to Safran, who credits the show’s precise plotting for why the episode is so rewatchable. Every revelation, from Lily’s secret trip to Serena’s affair with a married congressional candidate, opens up the story in brand new ways. “It’s this thing where every piece connects,” he says. “When you get to five minutes before the end, everything you have seen comes together to create an incredible completed puzzle.”
Savage notes that the scene’s editing also made it especially conducive to going viral. Though big dinner scenes are “notoriously difficult” to shoot — actors have to do the scene over and over again for the cameras to capture every person’s reaction from multiple angles — the end result was worth it. “We’re like, ‘Cut back to Lily drinking again; cut back to Cece smiling; get this person’s reaction,’” Savage says. “It was all about trying to build and milk that scene [for drama] as much as humanly possible.”
The final ingredient was choosing the Jason Derulo song that heightens the sudden swell of emotions around the dinner table. Schwartz says that “Whatcha Say” pays homage to his and Savage’s previous series The O.C., which famously used Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” — the song that Derulo’s “Whatcha Say” samples — in its Season 2 finale. (You may remember SNL’s 2007 parody of it.) After watching director Mark Piznarski’s cut of the Thanksgiving scene, Savage knew Derulo’s version fit perfectly in the world of Gossip Girl. “To be able to put that song — just a very bold musical statement — over this scene in a way that would bring with it all of these kinds of resonances and cultural allusions felt like that could be either really great or really terrible,” Savage says. “And again, we liked it. So we went for it.”
It worked. “It fed into a nice dialogue between the two shows,” Schwartz says. “‘Whatcha Say’ has been very good to us — in all its forms.”
While the first season of Safran’s Gossip Girl reboot also features another messy Thanksgiving dinner scene where everyone’s secrets are revealed, Season 2 picks up after the holiday season and therefore won’t serve more Thanksgiving melodrama. But fans can rest assured they will have another to look forward to if the HBO Max series is renewed for Season 3. “As long as Gossip Girl runs, there will be Gossip Girl Thanksgivings,” Safran says. “Where other shows have Christmas, we have Thanksgiving. We will hold onto that.”