How an instant-classic season of ‘Real Housewives’ led to one of its dullest reunions

Women in eveningwear sit on a stage covered in fake ice talking to a man in a gray suit.
Meredith Marks, from left, Jennie Nguyen, Lisa Barlow, Andy Cohen, Jen Shah, Heather Gay and Whitney Rose at the “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” reunion.
(Bravo / Nicole Weingart)
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Even by the tumultuous standards set by the women of Atlanta, Beverly Hills, New York and Potomac, this season of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” has been truly chaotic. These 23 episodes — yes, 23 — have been so packed with drama that somehow Jen Shah’s arrest for wire fraud, which played out as the rest of the cast was trapped in a Sprinter van on a long road trip to Vail, Colo., almost became an afterthought.

When that episode aired, it became an instant “Housewives” classic — a riveting hour watching Lisa Barlow “literally shaking” as she called all six of her lawyers while Whitney Rose explained the ins and outs of wire fraud with a worrying level of precision. Especially given how Erika Girardi’s divorce and questions about the lawsuits against her estranged husband dominated “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” it seemed self-evident that Shah’s legal woes would be the biggest storyline of the season.

And yet, since then, viewers have encountered one dumpster fire after another: epic hot mic rants, sketchy stories about Mary Cosby’s church, cringe-inducing breast cakes, questionable fashions and numerous allegations of racism.


So when Andy Cohen convened the women of “Salt Lake City” for the season’s three-part reunion, it was obvious he’d face challenges beyond not falling into the fake ice-fishing hole in the middle of the stage.

Here, resident “Real Housewives” correspondents Yvonne Villarreal and Meredith Blake discuss all the “Salt Lake City” mishegoss and what it means for the “Real Housewives” universe.

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March 6, 2022

Blake: I’d like to begin this conversation by clarifying something: I don’t do lead generation. I don’t do data monetization, either. Also, I have no idea what either of those things are. Nor, I suspect, does Andy Cohen. But I sure wish he’d pushed Shah a little harder to explain what they mean and what on earth her company is — if not, as the U.S. Attorney’s Office has claimed, a “fraudulent scheme, motivated by greed, to steal victims’ money.”

For an incredibly chaotic season of TV, even by “Housewives” standards, the three-part reunion was, unlike the fashion worn by the cast, oddly subdued — Barlow’s walk-off notwithstanding.

Cosby, who can always be relied upon to deliver WTF moments, didn’t bother to show up at the reunion and address allegations she is running a cult. It also feels like, for legal reasons, there was a lot Shah couldn’t say or that Cohen simply wouldn’t ask. It also felt as if Shah deflected every inquiry about the origins of her wealth with allegations she was being held to a different standard because of her race — a claim that may not be entirely unwarranted, given that she’s hardly the first housewife to spend ostentatiously, but would probably be more convincing if her cast mates were also facing a slew of charges to which their assistants had already pleaded guilty. (If Shah does wind up in prison, it will be interesting to see if Bravo gives her a spinoff, as they did with convicted fraudster Teresa Giudice.)

Some Bravo observers have marveled at the way Shah has managed to dodge the kind of scrutiny that Girardi experienced last season on “Beverly Hills,” from viewers and her co-stars alike — even though Girardi, unlike Shah, was never charged with a crime.


I am not sure I agree with the argument, but it does seem like Shah has tried to be relatively low-key this season — which I realize is odd to say about someone dressed like a Disney villain. Shah has been noticeably more chill — and likable — in her sophomore outing on the show, while also remaining emotionally vulnerable. In terms of garnering sympathy, it’s much more effective than posting self-pitying memes on Instagram.

Yvonne, what did you make of the reunion and how it handled the Shah allegations? Do you think Cosby’s absence from the reunion, or the fact that it was taped before Nguyen got fired from the show, meant it was underwhelming?

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June 22, 2021

Villarreal: The reunion felt as jumbled as the season. I don’t know that I was expecting any real revelations or hard-hitting questions about Shah’s case to come out of this reunion — I mean, at one point Cohen called Barlow’s hot mic moment the biggest jaw-dropping moment of the season. But I wish Cohen had been more explicit in explaining the details, even if Shah offered little clarity on it. It’s weird, the part that stayed with me from that whole portion on Shah’s case was her husband’s rectal bleeding story.

It all speaks to the bigger issue with launching a new city. It’s been interesting to see the chatter around “Salt Lake City” evolve in just two seasons. It debuted with the promise of a fresh look at the lives of affluent women with the added layer of religion brought to the forefront — most of the cast was raised in the Mormon church, but only one still practices. By the time the first season ended and news broke about Shah’s arrest, it seemed like they were playing catch-up to the type of drama some of their more veteran counterparts experience. We barely knew Shah, and already fans were learning about an indictment? But some fans say it’s made the show feel stunted and wayward too soon in its run — and I see their point. I’ve only spent two seasons with these ladies, but it feels like 10.

I’m not convinced Cosby’s presence or the ability to confront Nguyen about her postings would have made the reunion any more stimulating, unless there was actual remorse and growth from the respective parties, including from Bravo about the work it needs to do from a network perspective. Do you think it would have changed anything? And where do you think the show goes from here?

On a lighter note, were you surprised Justin wasn’t asked about being forced into that weird painting sexcapade?


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March 25, 2021

Blake: Honestly, I am just glad we didn’t have to watch that scene of Whitney and Justin rediscovering their passion for each other — or whatever that was — yet again. And I will never, ever forgive Bravo for making me watch it.

I am not sure Cosby’s presence would have elevated the reunion or encouraged a more thoughtful conversation, but it almost certainly would have made it more interesting. Just imagine the non sequiturs! But that’s kind of the problem the show is facing: how to keep things interesting and amusing without encouraging bad behavior, exploiting traumatized people or both. As ridiculous as Cosby’s backstory always seemed — she married her step-grandfather! — it’s also pretty disturbing once you think about it for more than a second.

I think you’re right that “Salt Lake City” came out of the gate extra hot. Who could forget the “you smell like hospital” feud that erupted in the very first episode? The show stars a group of women who’ve watched a lot of Bravo shows — and even appeared in them. For better and for worse, they are students who know the established rules of “The Real Housewives,” how to stir the pot and ensure plenty of screen time. Sheerly in terms of juicy, whiplash-inducing drama, this has been great for “Salt Lake City,” but I don’t know if this pace is sustainable — especially when we’ve already lost two cast members.

The internet has had a lot to say about the truly unhinged outfits the women wore to this reunion. But I think their atrocious fashion is a kind of a metaphor for this show as a whole: These ladies tried to take a page from the ridiculous fashions that have become standard at “Housewives” reunions, but they’ve come up with looks that are superficially similar yet somehow much messier than anything we’ve ever seen before.

On that note, Yvonne, whose outfit made you want to pour bleach in your eyes the most, and why was it Meredith Marks’? Also, who do you think was this season’s MVP? I feel like it was the Sprinter van.

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Nov. 18, 2020

Villarreal: Right?! Not since Vicki Gunvalson’s “little family van” tirade have I been so amused and surprised by the breakout potential of boxy vehicles on the series. Imagine how much more intriguing things could have been if Kevin, the driver of the Sprinter van that fateful day, had joined the ladies around the faux ice-fishing hole to recount his perspective. I think we all would have preferred hearing from him instead of more of Seth’s weird obsession with Whitney’s cleavage. But we’re not in charge of these reunions, Meredith!


I do think as the show enters its third season, it would benefit from the women dialing down their perception of what will make for compelling TV. Yes, “Housewives” viewers are keen on drama, but when it’s not manufactured — it’s only the second season, and everyone hates each other, except Whitney and Heather. I will be interested to see if and how Meredith and Lisa are able to reconcile and how much the season will explore Shah’s trial, if it’s not postponed. And I’m curious if recent “Housewives” seasons have prompted more vetting of the newbies that regularly join the casts.

I guess we’ll just have to wait for Season 3.