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The Scandoval of It All: Lessons Learned from “Vanderpump Rules” Epic Tenth Season

“Scandoval,” the name coined for a secret affair between two Bravo reality stars, was always going to be television gold. Now, it’s spurred a real gold rush for the network’s on-air advertisers, its owner, NBCUniversal, and its cast.

The reality show Vanderpump Rules has become a sudden and unexpected hit in its 10th season after “Scandoval,” referencing cast member Tom Sandoval, first set the internet ablaze. Viewership is up, advertisers are reaping the rewards and even low-profile cast members have inked big brand deals.

The series first launched in 2013 as a spinoff from Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, tracing the lives of the waiters and servers who worked at restaurants owned by Lisa Vanderpump, one of the original “Beverly Hills” cast members, the show soon became its own cultural phenomenon.

In early March, four episodes into the season, longtime show leads Sandoval and his girlfriend Ariana Madix split up after nine years together. Madix discovered Sandoval had been having a monthslong affair with fellow cast member Raquel Leviss, a close friend of Madix’s. Madix and Sandoval began the show as bartenders, while Leviss was introduced in season 5 as a cast member’s girlfriend before landing a job at a Vanderpump restaurant.

First reported by TMZ, the affair was soon confirmed by Sandoval and Leviss in apologies posted to social media—before the whole debacle aired May 17 during the Vanderpump season finale and subsequent reunion specials.

Viewership jumped 28% after the scandal emerged and grew every week, making this season the most watched in the show’s history, per Nielsen and NBCUniversal metrics. By the time the first reunion episode aired May 24, the season had garnered 2.7 million more viewers than it had pre-scandal. That episode also brought in 5 million viewers across seven days, making it the most-watched Vanderpump episode to date.

As an avowed Ariana fan, I was happy to see thrive amid the betrayal. One of the things that has been so remarkable – and may have contributed to the phenomenon – is that this season offers up the rare, maybe even unheard of example of a majority cast uniting against a common enemy. It’s even rarer to see women unite to back up one of their own.

So regardless of what tonight’s purported “bombshell revelation” will be in the finale, the Vanderpump season is an anomaly. In an oversaturated TV market, as I threatens to swoop in and replace striking writers, this show found a way to strike gold, pick up ratings, and raise ad revenue. It made viewers care. It showed immense, inventive production values done at breakneck speed.

This one’s for you tonight, Vanderpump.