The Best Reality TV Drama Is Actually Happening on Podcasts

Podcasts from stars of Vanderpump Rules and Real Housewives are gaining listeners — and the power to shape the drama on screen.

When news broke this month that Vanderpump Rules stars Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss were embroiled in a months-long affair — completely upending the show about fame-hungry former restaurant workers with a gift for drama — Bravo’s cameras jumped to capture the action. But don’t worry, Bravo fans: You won’t have to wait long to find out what the cast really think about “Scandoval,” because they’ve already started spilling extra details.

Where? On their podcasts, of course. Former cast members Stassi Schroeder and Kristen Doute dropped new episodes of Straight Up with Stassi and Sex, Love, and What Else Matters, while Scheana Shay welcomed her co-star Lala Kent and Doute onto her podcast Scheananigans. Over the last decade, Bravo recap and analysis podcasts like Everything Iconic, Watch What Crappens, Real Moms of Bravo, Mention It All, and Andy’s Girls have became a vital part of fandom, and many of them even recorded “emergency” episodes in the wake of the Sandoval-Leviss news.

But more recently, Bravo stars and alumni have been getting in on the action themselves, to both shape their public image and make good money (through paid subscribers, advertisers, or deals with companies like iHeart). There are podcasts hosted by personalities from Below Deck, Summer House, and, most plentiful of all, The Real Housewives franchise. From feuding New Jersey sisters-in-law Melissa Gorga and Teresa Giudice’s respective podcasts On Display and Namaste B$tches, to Salt Lake City’s Wild Rose with Whitney Rose and Potomac’s Reasonably Shady, hosted by “green-eyed bandits” Robyn Dixon and Gizelle Bryant, it feels like most Housewives shows have at least one current cast member who is a podcaster. And because the hosts often interview their co-stars or appear on each other’s podcasts, they create an endless cycle of content.

“Being on a reality show, we can film for 30 hours but only 20 minutes make the cut,” says Orange County’s Heather Dubrow, one of the longest-tenured Real Housewives podcasters. “You can't possibly show everything, so I wanted a less edited version of myself to be able to connect with the audience on a different level.”

Teddi Mellencamp, who starred on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for three seasons, and Orange County’s Tamra Judge (who left the show in 2020 and returned for its upcoming season), co-host Two Ts in a Pod, which is consistently at the top of the Apple podcast charts and reports over one million monthly downloads. Mellencamp says people are always telling her how much better she comes across on the podcast compared to her Housewives stint, and she says she makes more money from podcasting than she did from her Bravo salary. (Brian Moylan, author of The Housewives: The Real Story Behind The Real Housewives, estimates that her Bravo salary was in the region of $300,000 at the time of her departure; reps for Mellencamp did not comment.) “When we first started the podcast, we were both two fired Housewives. We had no ties to anything and there were no rules for us to follow,” Mellencamp says. “People kind of wanted to hate it, but then they were like, ‘Dang, they're good! They're funny, they're messy.’”

Most of these Bravo-adjacent podcasts discuss pop culture or lifestyle topics, like motherhood and wellness. But as these shows have boomed in popularity, several have gone from unpacking the latest drama to becoming part of it — raising new questions about how reality stars should share (and monetize) their lives, and whether it’s possible for these podcasts and Bravo’s reality shows to coexist without one detracting from the other.

Andy Cohen, Scheana Shay and Raquel Leviss on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen in March.Charles Sykes/Bravo via Getty Images

Before there were podcasts, Instagram accounts like @queensofbravo, and glitzy conventions filling out the extended Bravo universe, there were “Bravo Blogs.” Each week, Housewives would watch an advance screener of a new episode and offer additional reflections and details on the drama. When casts reunited for multi-episode reunions, Bravo Blogs were a regular source of conflict, with ‘wives taking issue with what their co-stars had written about them.

Social media soon made these blogs feel prehistoric. Sensing this shift, Bravo launched after-shows and beefed up cast appearances on the Andy Cohen-hosted Watch What Happens Live, which essentially served the same function: giving space for reality stars to comment on interpersonal beef, thus creating more beef to be commented upon at a later time.

“The wild west days of ‘Let’s just do a podcast and who cares what we say on it!’ are over. There's too much money to be made and too much potential for talent to go rogue.”

Housewives still offer their two cents on Twitter or Instagram, but the podcast boom allowed them to do so in a format that more closely resembles their TV work. Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Brandi Glanville kickstarted the trend in 2013 with Brandi Glanville Unfiltered, though her future with the network is uncertain following allegations of misconduct while filming an upcoming season of The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip. (Glanville has denied any wrongdoing.) “Credit where credit is due, Brandi was the first person to agree to do a podcast and take a business risk on doing it for revenue,” says Dana Wilkey, a former guest star on RHOBH (and famous one-time owner of $25,000 sunglasses) who launched the podcast Dishing Drama in 2020. “So she deserves that credit. No matter how much I can't stand her, kudos to her.”

Podcasts have an immediacy that television doesn’t, and there’s an added level of intimacy that comes from reality stars interviewing each other. “Women who have been on the show know how the game works,” Moylan says. “They know the producers, they know the behind-the-scenes people. They're going to have a level of understanding and access that someone like myself, despite years of research, will never have.”

Bravo’s shows tend to be self-contained worlds — Housewives have often avoided referencing reunions by name, so as not to burst the bubble of filming — but social media and podcasts ultimately proved impossible to contain. In 2021, when Real Housewives of New York City alum Heather Thomson returned for a guest appearance in Season 13, she was blindsided when some cast members brought up accusations she had made about them on her podcast — something that likely would have been off limits during her original stint on the show. “Heather’s coming in as a punching bag,” costar Leah McSweeney said on the show. “She doesn’t even know what she’s about to walk into.”

To understand the current falling out between RHONJ’s Teresa Giudice, her brother, Joe Gorga, and his wife, Melissa Gorga, their podcasts have practically become mandatory listening. This season, Melissa was slammed for saying on On Display that she had supported her nieces during Giudice’s time in prison by participating in the spin-off special Teresa Checks In. (“If anything, we put food on their table,” Giudice recently fired back to Access Hollywood.) And when the Gorgas decided not to attend Giudice’s wedding last summer, which was filmed for the current season, they addressed it — where else — on Melissa’s podcast.

Meanwhile, the current season of Vanderpump Rules has taken podcast drama to a whole other level. On an episode of Scheananigans filmed for the show, Shay encouraged costar Tom Schwartz to make out with a newly single Leviss, which he promptly did, earning the fury of his ex-wife and costar, Katie Maloney. Now, in the wake of the Leviss' affair with the other Tom, fans have theorized that the podcast-inspired hookup was actually a false flag meant to distract from the secret relationship. It's a whole season’s worth of conflict and intrigue — and all it took was a podcast.

Gizelle Bryant (left) and Robyn Dixon hosting a live episode of Reasonably Shady in 2022.Brian Stukes/Getty Images

It was only a matter of time before tensions emerged between Bravo’s primetime programming and its stars’ podcast side-hustles.

Earlier this year, Real Housewives of Potomac star Robyn Dixon revealed that her husband, Juan, had an inappropriate relationship with another woman during the pandemic. For Robyn, who had denied rumors of Juan’s infidelity during the show’s most recent season, this was big news.

Except Dixon didn’t reveal this on the show. Instead, after Potomac had wrapped filming, Dixon shared the details on an episode of Reasonably Shady paywalled through Patreon. The decision to withhold a major personal event during filming — and to charge money for the full story later — infuriated some of Dixon’s co-stars, who felt that she had shirked her duties. Reunion host and executive producer Andy Cohen seemed visibly unhappy about it when he interviewed Dixon on Watch What Happens Live.

Wilkey thinks Dixon’s decision goes to the core of why reality stars want to host their own podcasts: “She wanted that power to control the narrative.” Moylan agrees. “Narrative is really important to these women,” he says. “She was like, ‘I'm not gonna talk about this on the show, where Bravo can edit it any way they want and my co-stars will all chime in. Instead, I can go on my podcast and tell the story the way I want to.’”

“Bravo doesn’t care when its stars are trash-talking each other. But they get upset when their talent starts talking about production and the ways things may or may not be manipulated.”

Dixon isn’t the only one taking advantage of a paywall. Shay offered Patreon subscribers early access to Scheananigans’ deep dive into the Vanderpump cheating scandal, though she was reacting to the news, not unveiling a withheld storyline, and she’s presumably fully participating in filming. “Robyn took it a lot farther than anybody had so far,” says Moylan, who calls the Potomac controversy a “watershed” moment for Bravolebrity podcasts.

Bravo appears to be setting terms, where they can, for Housewives who podcast. Now that Mellencamp’s co-host, Judge, is returning to RHOC, Judge says she is not allowed to recap the show on Two Ts, though others — like Judge’s co-star Dubrow, Guidice, Gorga, Dixon, and Bryant — all discuss their respective shows on their podcasts. (According to a network source, all Bravo talent have the same requirements when it comes to podcasts.) “When Tamra went back on the show, that was the deal that we all made, because we didn't want to lose the whole thing,” Mellencamp says. “But that was also before there was this resurgence of podcasts where Housewives are all talking about their current shows.” Still, the podcast and Bravo have a good relationship — Two Ts’ episodes from BravoCon are among the show’s most downloaded ever — and Mellencamp adds, “Bravo trusts me to know that, if they asked me to do something, I’m going to follow their rules.”

Moylan thinks that Bravo’s rules for Judge signal that the network is getting wise to what is happening in these spaces. “Bravo doesn’t care at all when its stars are trash-talking each other, but when they get upset is when their talent starts talking about production and the ways that things may or may not be manipulated,” he says. “I have a feeling that the wild west days of ‘Let’s just do a podcast and who cares what we say on it!’ are over. There's too much money to be made and too much potential for talent to go rogue.”

One solution for Bravo: Launching its own official podcasts, as other reality-TV universes like The Bachelor and the U.K.’s Love Island have done. “Bravo is always the last one to figure this stuff out,” Moylan says. “It's so funny to me that they weren’t like, ‘Hey, Teddi and Tamra, why don't you make this podcast for us?’”

Wilkey thinks Bravo will try to formally stop its cast from withholding personal details for financial gain on paid platforms. “I do think what happened with Robyn Dixon will translate to contract changes,” she says. After former Real Housewives of New York star Bethenny Frankel (who’s also in the Housewives podcasting game) sold the cocktail arm of her Skinnygirl brand for a reported $100 million, the network reportedly added what fans call the “Bethenny Clause” to contracts, stipulating that if one of the Housewives sells a business they have promoted on the show for more than $1 million, they can take a cut. (A spokesperson says Bravo doesn't comment on contracts.)

With Dubrow’s still going strong after seven years and Two Ts continuing to top the charts, “peak Bravo podcast” feels far away. Even someone like Wilkey, who hasn’t appeared on Bravo in a decade and whose podcast isn’t backed by a major distributor, says she can earn a decent living from it. “My podcast episodes are all behind a paywall and my Patreon does very well,” Wilkey says. “There's a lot of different approaches and niches and there’s room for everyone. But I do think you have to deliver great content to survive.”

Bravo fame has always brought new opportunities: book deals, spon con, other television work. “When I first started reality TV, it was looked down upon,” Dubrow says. “Now that has completely shifted. The possibilities these days are endless.” Yet the success of these podcasts suggests Bravo stars’ most valuable asset isn’t just their followings, but their deep knowledge of the form — they’re reality TV stars, but they’re also experts on reality TV. Of course the Vanderpump Rules cast would want to cash in on dissecting the “Scandoval”: They too, understand, that the only thing more coveted than Bravo’s footage is their reactions.

Mellencamp compares her career as a reality-TV podcaster to being a sports broadcaster. “Most of the time, the best ones played sports, right?" she says. “It’s like Andy Cohen always says: ‘Once a Housewife, always a Housewife.’ You have a certain something that you share with these other women that nobody else can understand.”