We are all collateral damage in the war between Lisa Vanderpump and Yolanda, two highly narcissistic individuals who are battling it out to be the queen.
– Lisa Rinna
So here we are: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, season six. Inarguably the most reviled season in the Bev Hills canon, the season spins entirely around one question: does Yolanda Hadid have Munchausen syndrome? Or at least it seems to. But like most storylines from BH’s post-Camille era, the story and the truth are two different things. Season six is actually a long, agonizing chess match between Lisa Vanderpump and Yolanda Hadid (and her proxies), using Yolanda’s illness as a pretext. It’s not for everyone. In fact, given the general fan reaction, it might not be for anyone. But I find value in it, even if you need to read way between the lines, and it definitely goes down better on rewatch — bingeing helps the pacing problems that plague the early season, and watching with the perspective of hindsight lets you pick out the small ways the many strategic tricks of the season are pulled off.
With the exception of a few incredibly minor subplots like Kim sorting out her legal woes off-screen, the entire season is devoted to the slow unraveling of the Munchausen storyline — a convoluted tale with a decent payoff that comes long after most viewers have stopped paying attention. So this retrospective will be structured a little differently than most. I’m going to walk you through the story of the season, player by player, in roughly the order that each person becomes important to the story. This is famously a very confusing storyline, told out of chronological order, whose most important moments happen off-camera and are thus impossible to verify (nice throwback to season one; you’d think they’d have learned to bug these chicks’ homes by now). I’m going to try to explain everything as clearly as I can.
TL;DR: I will be doing a deep dive into the mechanics of the Munchausen storyline, from the perspective of someone who believes that the evidence points squarely at Lisa Vanderpump as the architect of the whole thing. It will be longer than a Beverly Hills reunion and drier than a David Foster dinner party. You are warned.
But first, a detour.
The Private Diary of a Housewife Interrupted: One of the more bizarre footnotes of the season is Kathryn Edwards, a woman cast entirely for her peripheral involvement in the O.J. Simpson trial. BH6 aired in 2016, when O.J. throwbacks were everywhere to coincide with the twenty year anniversary of the trial (if you haven’t watched the excellent O.J.: Made in America, you should; Kathryn makes an incredibly morbid cameo in the pages of Nicole’s diary). Specifically, Kathryn was called out as a spurned wife in Faye Resnick’s scummy tell-all book about Nicole Brown Simpson. Kathryn and Faye are instantly chucked into the Coliseum to settle this 20-year-old grudge; Kathryn fumbles the world’s easiest touchdown and allows Faye to slither away untouched, setting the tone for a season of meek ineptitude. She moves on to a C-story feud with Erika that constitutes BH6’s only non-Munchausen track, but it never goes anywhere and neither does she. Textbook one-and-done.
The Catalyst: Way back at the end of season three, Yolanda Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Now, three years later, the payoff. As I’ve said, I think Yolanda’s sickness is merely the pretext that Vanderpump used to assail a hated rival. But while we’re on the subject, do I think Yolanda has Lyme disease? I came out of this rewatch agnostic. I think Yolanda is sick, in some form or another — whether it has to do with Lyme disease, her leaking implant, intercepting alien radio waves on her fillings, whatever. I’m not a doctor so I won’t profess to diagnose the woman. The only part of the story that twigs to me as flagrantly sketch is that Anwar and Bella have the same diagnosis; a whole family with Lyme disease in Southern California feels… a little heavy-handed. That tick did the rounds. But other than that I’m whatever on the whole story, and I certainly don’t pursue it with the fervour some corners of the internet (*cough* Reddit) do.
But I think where Yolanda really lands in shit is the way she performs illness. Yolanda is someone who is always acting out some aspect of her personal mythology, and her sickness is no exception. She narrativizes her disease in a very dramatic way, lots of put-on nobility and too-graphic Instagram posts. People get shit on for the way they perform illness all the time, so I want to make clear that if you get sick, you should act however the fuck you want; I just think it’s amusing that Yolanda’s way of being sick is so consonant with her general narcissism and that’s probably what made her castmates flip out about it.
In any case, for all the hullabaloo around Haushen Maushen’s, Yolanda is mostly a human plot device this season. Other than a couple of game attempts to rise from her deathbed and some late-game divorce angst, Yolanda’s S6 battle is fought by others on her behalf.
Dial M for Munchausen: So here’s where the timeline splits in two: offscreen and onscreen. Shit’s about to get Zero Escape levels of complicated so hang onto your morphogenetic fields.
PART I. Offscreen: Lisa Vanderpump and Kyle are swapping dismissive remarks about Yolanda and her obnoxious Instagram posts of her IV drip (rather than Flat Tummy Tea like any self-respecting Housewife). LVP, of course, has been looking for a way to sink Yolanda ever since the Puerto Rico saga of season four. Enter Lisa Rinna, the wrong idiot at the right time, with some interesting theories re: Yolanda and Munchausen Syndrome. Vanderpump, ever the opportunist, instructs Rinna, via in-person conversations and several private phone calls, to bring up the Munchausen theory on camera, explicitly as a storyline/a ploy to bring down Yolanda. She implies, or Rinna believes she implies, that she and Kyle will back Rinna in this fight.
PART II. Onscreen: Lisa Rinna throws Yolanda under the Munchausen bus as planned, crediting as the source of the rumour some acquaintance of hers whom she steadfastly refuses to name (I think she eventually pins it on a hairdresser friend of hers, much later on*). Contrary to their alleged promise to stand by Rinna, Vanderpump and Kyle see the Munchausen story going sideways and sprint in the other direction, leaving Rinna to take the fall. Their work is sloppy and they don’t come out completely unscathed — they’re pegged as anti-Yolanda, if not entirely complicit — but for the most part, the fight is essentialized to Lisa Rinna slandering a sick woman and refusing to go on the record with her sources. This is how it’s treated on-camera for literally three quarters of the season.
*The official story is that Rinna picked up the story from a non-Housewife source and Vanderpump merely exploited this, but Rinna’s caginess about her source leads me to believe that Vanderpump probably planted the ideas in Rinna’s head to begin with. Thasjusmetho.
PART III. Offscreen, again (transpiring near the beginning of PART II): After some Munchausen sesh or another, LVP makes a fairly cryptic remark to Lisa Rinna: “Oh, thank God, I thought you were going to bring Kyle into it.” She later makes a similar remark to Kyle herself. This is interpreted by Lisa Rinna and Kyle (and me!) as a very Vanderpumpian (read: frustratingly indirect) way of trying to drag Kyle into the drama — either by subliminally suggesting to Rinna to name Kyle as her source, suggesting to Kyle that Rinna will sell her out, or otherwise attaching Kyle’s name to a story she’d so far managed to escape. It’s unclear why Vanderpump would do this during an era of relative peace between her and Kyle, but they also have a million ancient grudges on each other so pick your poison.
Anyway, Kyle picks up instantly what LVP is trying to do here and warns her to shut it down. Vanderpump backs off, and the whole incident is buried, never to be mentioned until the very end of the season. Remember this, though. It will become important.
Phew. Okay. The worst of it is behind us. Let’s take a break from that whole fucking headache and meet another newbie.
Riddle, Enigma, Cash, Etc.: Unlike Kathryn, Erika instantly made herself indispensable with a bold, confident first season. Yeah, Erika has the gays and the much older husband and the ‘cunty’ necklace and the string of honestly-only-okay dance bangers, but what she really has going is her brain. The woman is a cerebral assassin: deeply intelligent, well-spoken, and that rare combination of Machiavellian without malice. She doesn’t scumbag anyone, but she knows what it looks like when another smart person is scumbagging someone else. Yes, yes, I know, who could I mean. In any event, she has LVP’s “sniper from the side” M.O. dead to rights within ten seconds of entering the show, and always has these fabulous little headfuck “I see you” dinners with her where they subtly compare dick size. Erika is brought in as a friend of Yolanda and spends the season acting as her proxy; given that this is Erika’s first season and Yolanda’s last, it feels a lot like a dying Yolanda passing off her crown. I’m sure Erika can look to the clouds whenever she needs guidance.
(Sidebar: it’s so not worth giving its own section, but BH6 features a three episode Bethenny crossover arc where Bethenny condescends to Erika about her music and makes a real ass of herself.)
The Young and the Ruthless: Here’s an unforced error that ends up costing LVP. I know I like to act as though every pink shit that comes out of Vanderpump’s ass is all part of some elaborate power play, but I think the falling out between her and Eileen in season six is just one of the shittier parts of her personality catching up to her. In this case, Lisa decides to play her usual game of 20 Questions with Eileen over her relationship with Vincent (which started when they were both married to other people). Eileen calls her out as insensitive and demands redress, Vanderpump refuses to deliver an apology that isn’t smug and insincere, and their respective stubbornnesses become the unstoppable force/immovable object of BH6.
The reason I say this fuck up costs LVP so dearly is because Eileen ends up being instrumental in the effort to destroy her, and I don’t think she would have been motivated to participate otherwise. By the time the cast trip to Dubai rolls around, Eileen is salivating for Sexy Unique Revenge.
The Gulf War: So here’s where we stand in the lead-up to Dubai. Lisa Rinna has been left out to dry, and she’s not happy about it. Though a coward by nature, she manages to get up the stones to privately confess to Eileen that, while she doesn’t regret a second of her attempt on Yolanda’s life because she hates Yo’s fucking guts, Lisa Vanderpump has been behind the whole thing. Eileen, thrilled to have something actionable to use on Vanderpump, prods Rinna into confronting LVP and Kyle publicly, but they’re too quick and easily elude her.
And then, Dubai. Here, a perfect alliance equipped to bring down Vanderpump emerges. Erika, the brains of the operation, organizing arguments and keeping everyone on-message just like Yolanda before her. Eileen, who functions as Rinna’s handler: coaxing the truth out of her, strongarming her into acting on it, and coming in with aggressive hits whenever Rinna seems poised to lay off the gas. And, of course, Lisa Rinna, who was in on the Munchausen scheme and so has all the receipts. Messy, unreliable, but necessary.
So this is of course another one of those “Lisa Vanderpump did it all” episodes that I find very illuminating, but which doesn’t land quite as hard as the Puerto Rico ambush just because the whole storyline is so tough to follow. However, to jump back a few sections: the Dubai trip is the first time that LVP’s offscreen attempt to assassinate Kyle is revealed on camera. This, to me, is the most important part of this episode, and the one that anyone looking for the truth of the situation should pay attention to.
Because Kyle corroborates Lisa Rinna’s version of the story. She even admits that she shut down the attempted scheme, and that she’s known about it for months and never told a soul.* Beyond the creepy Stockholm Syndrome implications of this, look at the bigger picture. Kyle can have no ulterior motive for backing Lisa Rinna up on this. It makes her look bad, because it basically confirms that the three of them were plotting Haushen Maushen slander together. It makes Lisa Vanderpump look awful, at a time when Kyle is desperately trying to mend fences with her. It gives Rinna credibility, at a time when it is strategically very unhelpful to Kyle if Rinna seems credible.
And yet, Kyle backs it up. Simple reason? I think it’s true. Look at how Kyle confronts Vanderpump on it at the table, saying that she knows LVP tried to take her out and it hurt her but she’s willing to ignore it for the sake of their friendship. Kyle is crying. Vanderpump is pretty much catatonic. That reads genuine to me. Sorry, but neither of them is that good an actress.
And you can see it all over their season seven dynamic, comprised as it is of faux-cheerful resentful jabs from Kyle and deep, vocal, unflinching loyalty from Lisa that I read as something like gratitude. Kyle knew LVP tried to fuck her, and had the perfect opportunity to fuck her back, and didn’t. She didn’t let Lisa entirely off the hook, but she exercised a lot of grace and restraint. Lisa Vanderpump is used to people showing her fear, but rarely mercy.
It makes no sense to me that that weird, specific part of Rinna’s story would be the only part that was true. Rinna is an unreliable source at the best of times but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Vanderpump tried to take out Yolanda and got caught.
*You can argue that LVP’s statement about “bringing Kyle into it” was sufficiently vague not to constitute a scheme, but 1) it’s pretty clear that everyone involved believes otherwise and 2) that’s not even Lisa’s own argument. Kyle explicitly wants that to be Lisa’s argument so she can stay in denial about it, but Lisa outright denies saying it, which Kyle knows is a lie. What the fuck, am I actually footnoting this? Again? Time to wrap it up, Taylor.
The Aftermath: Ultimately, season six was (yet a-fucking-gain) a narrow victory for Vanderpump. It shouldn’t have been. She was exposed as a treacherous manipulative bully. The reunion ended with everyone kissing Yolanda’s ring. But a couple of things worked in her favour. First of all, she’s Vanderpump. The crowd loves her, which will always be her ace in the hole. Second of all, the story was so boring, confusing and long-winded that most people didn’t even notice or care that she was exposed. And third of all, what the audience truly came away with was deep Lyme/Munchausen fatigue. And at that point, Yolanda is the one who has to go, which was the whole point of the campaign in the first place.
I’m fine with the decision. I didn’t need any more torture porn of sickly Yolanda getting her fillings ripped out of her head. But I would like, just once, for Lisa Vanderpump to be held truly accountable for her shit in a way that has lasting consequences. Until then, this exposé that no one will read will have to do.