Who’s the Worst Person on Vanderpump Rules? A Scientific Analysis.

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I understand that a lot of you are using this pandemic to read one of the Great Books, catch up on some prestige TV, or even do this thing called “cleaning the house.” I, however, have been binging the greatest television show known to man, Vanderpump Rules.

The thing I love about Vanderpump Rules is that it is filled with objectively horrible people—and yet I love each and every one of them. Or, at the very least, I’m wildly entertained by their awfulness. (But I’ve developed actual…feelings for them too? I just bawled my eyes out at Tom and Katie’s wedding. I’m not proud of this fact.)

Anyway, I’m through 5 seasons so I feel qualified to rank the cast on their overall awfulness, with 1 being the least awful and 10 being the absolute worst.

This is completely scientific data and you can now accept this is as canon.

[EDITED TO ADD: I AM NOW FULLY CAUGHT UP ON SEASON 8 AND WILL ADD AMENDMENTS ACCORDINGLY]

  1. LISA VANDERPUMP

By far, Lisa is the least awful person in the Vanderpump Universe. She gives lots of money to LGBTQ causes as well as animal charities, she runs her businesses like the HBIC that she is, she wears hot pink power suits with wide-brimmed hats, and basically carries herself like some sort of 80s soap opera diva who’s about to get into a catfight with someone named Crystal.

I LOVE her.

But this is not to say she isn’t awful! She is!

For one, she has way too many exotic animals for a person who does not live on a farm. She has miniature ponies that wander her property at will and a gajillion Papillon dogs that she dresses in bowties and tulle skirts and an actual SWAN that she sometimes brings into West Hollywood. That can’t be right! She bosses around everyone, including her much put-upon husband, Ken. She’s constantly demanding that people bring her tea and white wine and she often cuts people off mid sentence, like a real life version of Ru Paul’s “SILENCE!” on Drag Race. She has never pumped her own gas or so much as ironed a shirt. Her husband buys her Rolls Royces on a whim. (Okay, half these horrible things are actually just goals.)

Worst behavior: Swanning around West Hollywood with an actual swan.

Best behavior: Lisa’s finest moment, the minute I knew I had to stan her for life, was when she hopped onto that Vanderpump Float at the West Hollywood Gay Pride parade the morning after the Orlando Pulse massacre. While most of her employees cowered at home, she defiantly got on that float and spit in fear’s eye. What a woman.

[Post S5 amendment: I still love Lisa but her insertion of herself into her young castmates’ lives has been increasingly obvious and desperate as the series has gone on. I preferred above-it-all and aloof Lisa. But it’s her damn show so she can do as she pleases, I guess.]

2. TOM SANDOVAL

Like all the cast members, Tom has many horrible qualities. His Season 5 hair alone could be grounds for bumping him several notches down this list. He’s one of the vainest humans alive (but to his credit, he knows it). His band is horrible. His modeling runs the range from Blue Steel to Blue-ish Steel. I once saw him act in front of a green screen and the green screen did more emoting.

But Tom is also a sweetie pie. He cares deeply about his friends (arranging to get Schwartzie’s triplet brothers to his wedding was a Gold Medal level of friendship). He cries easily and often—I love that in a man! He’s pretty witty—I probably laugh at his confessionals more than anyone else’s (other than perhaps Stassi’s). And, unlike Jax, he’s actually trying to be funny.

Worst behavior: He was incredibly cold and cruel to Kristen after their breakup. I know that Kristen is a hot mess, and possibly even deserved it. But he should’ve had a little sensitivity to the fact that he moved on very quickly (with the woman he cheated on her with no less) while she was still mourning. Instead, he was a total dick.

Best behavior: Second only to the procurement of the Brothers Schwartzie was his behavior at Pride after the massacre. When he cried that day I got the strong sense that it wasn’t out of self-pity or fear but genuine anguish over what had occurred in Orlando. Dude is an empath in the extreme. And then he (along with his girlfriend Ariana) had the balls to show up to work that day, even though it must’ve been a little scary. Beyond that, he had the presence of mind to pull Lisa aside and tell her how proud he was to work for her (with tears in his eyes, natch).

[Post S5 amendment: I think Tom might be a bit more…eccentric than I even realized. Spending $15,000 on a motorcycle with sidecar just because you have a vision for your grand Tom-Tom entrance is A LOT. Also, assigning Schwartz the sidecar without even consulting with him is a little insulting. I’d be pissed if I was relegated to “sidekick in sidecar” status. Me thinks Tom loves being an impresario a little too much. In a way, owning part of Tom-Tom has brought out the most obnoxious side of him. He’s still a sweetheart, though.]

  1. SCHEANA SHAY

This might be controversial? I get the feeling lots of people hate on Scheana. Okay, she’s tacky. Okay, she had lifesize glamour shots of herself and her (now ex) husband hanging in her apartment. Yeah, she uses enough Botox to cure all the migraines on the West Coast. Sure, she styled herself as a pop star despite not having an ounce of “talent.” But I actually find her rather touching—she’s a person with sunshine and rainbows in her heart who just wants everyone to get along. Perhaps because of that, lots of people think she’s fake. I don’t agree. I think she is a genuinely kind person—albeit not necessarily the sharpest tool in the shed—who is often walked all over and taken advantage of.

Worst behavior: Encouraging her addict husband to keep drinking because he was no fun when he didn’t drink. Guuuurl.

Best behavior: Every time she forgave someone who was a dick to her. Which is to say, pretty much every episode.

[Post S5 amendment: Okay, I finally got to see how annoying Scheana can be. Both her clueless obsession with Rob and her insistence on calling her little model buddy (don’t make me look up his name) her best friend over and over again grew tiresome fast. What I’ve learned about Scheana is that she believes that if she says something often enough, with a cheerful enough voice, and a big enough smile on her face, she can actually will it into existence. Life doesn’t work that way, girl.]

  1. KATIE MALONEY

I know a lot of people think Katie is a bitch because she steps all over her dear, sweet, puppy dog of a boyfriend (now husband) Tom. But here’s the thing about Tom Schwartz: He’s a nice place to visit but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live there. I mean, imagine being married to an indecisive man-child, who never steps up for you, runs away from all responsibility, can’t hold down a job other than the occasional modeling gig, and thinks baby talk is the answer to all conflict? Trust me, it would drive you to tequila, too.

Worst behavior: Tequila Katie is real and it’s … terrifying. Apparently she sends hateful text messages non stop for several hours. She also throws drinks in people’s faces. But even sober Katie is no picnic. I’m pretty sure she was sober when she kicked Tom out of her car and told him his penis was broken.

Best behavior: Katie seems like an actual adult who can handle responsibility? This makes her something of a unicorn in Vanderpump Land.

[Post S5 amendment: Katie might be meaner than I realized! I’m halfway through S8 right now and the way she surgically cut Kristen out of her life is ICE COLD.]

  1. TOM SCHWARTZ

It’s impossible to hate Schwartzie. It’s like hating a basket of kittens. He’s cute. He’s funny. He’s the life of the party. But he also works my last nerve. It took him six years to propose to Katie and once he finally did, he spent the majority of the engagement making passive aggressive comments about how expensive the wedding was going to be and how he didn’t really want to go through with it. Then he asked Ariana to be a groomsman—essentially circumventing Katie’s desires. The one time in his life he got an actual job he had a panic attack and literally ran away. When conflict arises, he’s generally seen helpfully…doing nothing. Imagine being married to that! It would be hard!

Worst behavior: Suffice it to say that being drunk, sloppy, self-pitying, partially in drag, and stumbling around New Orleans like a broke-down showgirl during his bachelor party wasn’t exactly his finest moment.

Best behavior: His lunch with Stassi. She chose him as a vehicle to mend fences with Katie, assuming he’d be an easy mark. Instead, he was firm, held his ground, and actually stuck up for Katie! Who knew? 

[Post S5 amendment: None. A Schwartz is a Schwartz, of course of course.]

  1. ARIANA MADIX

The thing about Ariana is that she doesn’t feel any need to be nice—ever. It’s wild. I’ve never seen someone who’s so self-confident that she literally DGAF about other people. To be clear, I’m all for a woman who is secure and independent, but she wears her sense of superiority—particularly when it comes to other women, I’ve noticed—like a badge of honor. Her whole deal is, “If I don’t like you, why should I bother faking it?” All of civilization is based on that unspoken contract, Ariana! It’s important!

Worst behavior For a woman who clearly prides herself on being chill and cool and above it all, she sure got awfully bent out of shape when she found out that Kristen was doing improv.

Best behavior: Every time she tells Tom she loves him but doesn’t want to marry him. It’s refreshing!

[Post S5 amendment: Okay, Ariana makes a lot more sense now that I know she suffers from depression. I genuinely worry about her. I hope she’s getting the help she needs because she’s more than just a Cool Girl, she’s a cool girl.)

  1. KRISTEN DOUTE

Here’s how bad Kristen is: Sleeping with her boyfriend’s best friend and lying about it wasn’t the worst thing she did. No, instead, the greater sin was turning the tables and accusing said boyfriend (Tom Sandoval) of cheating on her, making him a guilty, weepy, apologetic mess. Then we come to find out that she didn’t just cheat on Tom with Jax, she cheated on him multiple times! With multiple guys! The hell? Then she moved onto James, who she was clearly just using in a futile attempt to make Tom jealous. Then she did everything in her power to break Tom and Ariana up (remember the mystery woman from Miami?). It was all so incredibly self-destructive and messy, I kinda felt sorry for her. The good news? Kristen got into therapy around Season 4 and seems to be doing a lot better. (As of Season 5, at least.) She’s actually a pretty cool girl when she’s not Hot Mess Central.

Worst behavior: *Waves generally at the above writeup*

Best behavior: I sort of love how unintimidated she is by Lisa Vanderpump. Lisa would scare the shit out me. Katie’s all like, “You don’t like me? Sucks for you.”

[Post S5 amendments: No real updates but I just saw a YouTube video where she gave a tour of her new house and it’s boho-chic-errific. Go Kristen!]

  1. STASSI SCHROEDER

Stassi is a spoiled brat who bosses her friends around and pretty much expects the whole world to revolve around her. She seems to think that having a birthday means everyone should worship you for a week. She demands utter fealty from her friends—her enemies must be their enemies, her opinions must be their opinions. She dumped Katie because of a perceived betrayal, kept waiting for an apology that (thankfully) never came, and finally crawled back to her two years later. But was she humbled? Self-reflective? A better woman? Not at all. The minute she got back in Katie’s good graces she drove a wedge between Katie and poor Scheana, who was left in the cold.

Worst behavior: She constantly pretends to like people when she wants something from them and then dumps them the minute they are no longer useful to her.
Best behavior: To her credit, she is responsible for two of my favorite Vanderpump lines:

  1. “We are not rich in money but we are rich in awesomeness.”
  2. “Jax shouldn’t feel bad about being a sociopath, I mean, Tom Sandoval is probably a narcissist, Kristen meets most of the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, Ariana has a superiority complex, Katie has anger management issues, Scheana’s a hypochondriac, and I’m an alcoholic, so he’s in good company.”

Girl gives good confessional.

[Post S5 amendment: Stassi is definitely growing up and goofy, splotchy, dad-jeans-wearing Beau brings out the best of her. There are still some mean girl flareups and temper tantrums, her birthday is still a freaking minefield, but she’s a lot more pleasant all around. That being said, it’s never not going to irk the hell out of me that she has a book contract and I…don’t.]

  1. JAX TAYLOR

What to say about Jax, the human embodiment of he male id? He is all appetite—for sex, for alcohol, for going to the gym, for carousing with the boys, for objectifying women, for getting regrettable tattoos and copious amounts of plastic surgery, for creatine, for more sex (and oh, for gossip—dude gossips like a sorority sister). He cheats on all his girlfriends—and lies about it with a convincing amount of shock and righteousness. He treats his current girlfriend (as of S6) like she’s the hired help and buys her a boob job that he insists was her idea. (For the record, she wanted Cs; he convinced her to get DDs.) Is he a sociopath, as Stassi diagnosed? Not quite. He definitely didn’t seem particularly remorseful when he slept with one of his best friend’s girls, but he did tear up at Katie and Tom’s wedding, so there are some human emotions lurking down there someplace. Probably.

And while Jax is clearly a horrible human being—the second worst in the Vanderpump Universe!—he’s also weirdly. . . lovable? He’s like this big, shaggy, dumb lug of a guy who just wants to have a good time all the time. It’s remarkable—and perhaps a testament to his inexplicable charm—that he has managed to keep all his friends, as he’s screwed over (or literally screwed) every single one of them. He should be studied in psychiatry classes.

Worst behavior: Jax went through this weird period where he thought that if he did something terrible but then told the truth about it, not only should he be absolved of all wrongdoing, he should actually be applauded for his remarkable honesty.

Best behavior: I’d say helping to bring Schwartz’s brothers to the wedding—but that was clearly all Tom’s idea. So instead, I’d say his Eternal Jaxness is a source of great amusement to me. Stay Jaxxy, Jax.

[Post S5 update: Jax is a married man now and he seems relatively more mature and stable but I don’t trust it. Not one bit. His overreaction to Tom confronting him about the homophobic priest? What was that all about? He’s also a lot less fun than he used be. Bring back sociopath Jax!]

  1. JAMES KENNEDY

It took me a while to figure out how awful James is for two reasons: One, god help me, I have a soft spot for a skinny boy with gravity defying hair and a bonus British accent.

Two: He actually wasn’t that bad when we first met him. He basically just followed Kristen around like a lovesick puppy.

I first began to realize the depths of his awfulness when he cheated on Kristen, tearfully and contritely lied about it, and then gleefully said to the camera, “Yeah, I nailed her!” (or maybe it was “banged” or “took to pound town”—you get the idea).

It was all downhill from there as James revealed himself to be a misogynist, constantly saying girls were too ugly to bang, Donald Trump-style (mind you, these were the girls he actually HAD had sex with), as well as a mean drunk, a pugilist, and a complete and utter brat. (When someone makes Jax seem like a sober elder statesman, you know there’s a problem.)

The worst part? Instead of acknowledging that he’s a total asshole when drunk, he claims that people don’t like him because they’re “jealous.” (His enabling mother agrees.) Yes, James, Lisa Vanderpump fired you from Sur and Pump because she was jealous. Nailed it.

Worst behavior: Referring to himself as the “White Kanye.”

Best behavior: *Crickets*

[Post S5 update: I’m glad he’s getting sober.]

BONUS Pumper

LALA KENT

When I wrote the original post, I didn’t know Lala well enough to write about her but now all I want to do is write about her. What a fascinating, inscrutable, complex character she is. I’m pretty sure if I knew Lala in real life she would scare the shit out of me. Girl will kill you where you stand and calmly light a match on the sole of your shoe as she watches you die. That being said, she has layers: The suckling of actual baby bottles? The need to have her friends physically stroke her at the dinner table? And I thought Tom was eccentric. But then she turns around and is this kind of fearless, take-no-shit woman who stands up for what’s right, and suffers no fools. She’s also the best musical performer of the Vanderbunch, which is not saying much. Anyway, in closing: She’s sometimes the worst person in the Pump Universe and sometimes the best! How fun for her!

 

Is This the Greatest Reality Competition Winner of All Time?

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Thoughtful picture of the hosts, so the thumbnail doesn’t spoil anyone.

I’ve been home sick all week with what I hope is not the coronavirus (fingers crossed!) so I was able to binge watch all of Netflix’s Next in Fashion.

The show is serviceable enough, a shameless rip off of Project Runway that improves on some elements of the hit Bravo show (namely, its diverse, international cast) and comes up short on others (teams? Really, people? Did we learn nothing from Drag Race’s All Stars 1?).

But there is one thing you can never take away from Season 1 of Next in Fashion: It has single the greatest winner in the history of Reality TV.

No, I’m serious. A fiction writer, conjuring a kind of Bridget-Jones-esque, “you go, girl” underdog could not have created a more lovable and compelling character than Minju Kim.

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Nonthreatening!

When we first meet Minju, who is South Korean, there is zero indication she’s going to take the crown. She’s partnered with her friend, the puckish Chinese designer Angel Chen. The two women are very close, but Minju seems like a sidekick, a big sister to Angel or maybe even (god forbid) an auntie figure. Where Angel is young, glamorous, and impossibly cool—in her oversized kelly green puffer coat and with her punky hair, she resembles no less than a young, Asian Bjork—Minju’s appearance can charitably be described as librarian chic. She wears artful cat-eyed glasses and apron-style frocks and shabby sneakers. It’s hard to figure out her age. Is she 30? 40? Her hair sometimes seems greasy.

She is established, right away, as the more technical of the two designers. The idea is that while Angel dreams big and bold, Minju has the sewing skills to carry the looks off. This seems like the kiss of death.

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 I could never pull off that hair

Also, Minju’s personality doesn’t exactly scream winner: She’s self-deprecating and shy and girlishly giggly. She expresses a lot of insecurity and doubt. She defers, almost always, to her partner. She talks a lot about her cats.

But then something unexpected happens: Angel and Minju make it to the final eight, at which point, the teams are separated.

Now Minju is on her own. It seems evident that Angel will make it to the finals and Minju, the technician who is not a visionary, will soon go home.

In fact, that’s not what happens. They both advance in the next round and Minju display stunning creativity on her own. And in the round after that, Angel is the one sent packing, as Minju advances against London designer Daniel Fletcher into the two-person finale.

I want to be clear about this part. If this were, in fact, a rom-com style work of fiction, Daniel Fletcher would be a lot less appealing than he is in real life. I mean, he has ALL the elements of a villain: handsome, privileged, preppie. But dude is just so darn nice. I mean, seriously, Daniel is just the sweetest sweetheart who ever sweethearted, always looking out for his fellow designers and generally acquitting himself with humility and grace. So yeah, the movie version of this season is going to have to take some creative license with his character—if not quite turning him into a full on villain, at least making him a bit more of a wag.

That being said, as a menswear designer with an established label, Daniel does have a built in advantage in the finals. A lot of his patterns have already been designed and it seems that while Minju is still conjuring concepts out of thin air for her 10 final dresses, Daniel has already rattled off four completed looks.

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Damn Daniel!

All reality shows do this kind of bait and switch, making you think that someone is hopelessly behind or otherwise screwed, until they miraculously pull it off for the finale, and Next in Fashion is no exception. Minju frets and sweats and panics until the actual runway, at which point, she sends out a remarkable collection. (Can’t really fault the show for that. It’s baked into the mix.)

But then they throw in another element to add to Minju’s underdog mystique. We meet her family, including her sister, who is her business partner on the label they run together. Turns out, Minju’s sister is, quite literally, the boss of her and constantly tells her kid sister to dial down her creativity to keep their clothing more wearable and saleable. There’s an astonishing moment when, as Minju’s Frida Kahlo inspired collection—all bold colors and artful patterns and fascinatingly inventive silhouettes—stomps down the runway, Minja’s sister bursts into tears. Not just because she’s proud of her sister (although she certainly is that) but because she realizes that she’s been HOLDING HER BACK. Basically, Minju is like this creative little caterpillar who has been constricted—by society, by self-doubt, by her own sister (and no doubt by gender expectations in Korean culture that I am unfamiliar with)—who finally gets to blossom into her fullest, most beautiful butterfly self.

When she wins—I mean, of course she wins!—there isn’t a dry eye in my (or anyone else’s) house. Brava, Minju! Best. Reality. Competition. Winner. Ever.

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I can’t even with the cuteness

 

 

Go Team? Thoughts on Netflix’s Cheer

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Courtesy of Netflix

Cheering can be lethal.

That’s not a sentence I would’ve uttered before watching Netflix’s riveting docuseries Cheer, but there you have it.

I’d seen this level of competitive cheerleading before—the kind that involves throwing girls high in the air and “basket catching” them, often while in a human pyramid formation—and I thought, “Wow. That can’t be as dangerous as it looks.” Wrong. It actually is that dangerous. People get injured all the time. Concussions, contusions, dislocations, and fractures are routine. It’s just a matter of time before someone actually dies. (Edited to add: It’s already happened.)

That’s the most insane thing about this series. There’s not an episode where someone (or multiple someones) doesn’t come crashing to the ground with a terrifying thud (those mats on hardwood floor don’t provide much cushion) and we wait, our hearts in our mouths, to find out if they’re okay. Notably, the kids themselves don’t always know if they’re okay. Every fall is followed by moans and tears of pain and dread and fear. Essentially, these kids are put through hell.

Cheer follows the Navarro (Texas) Cheerleading squad as they head to the national championship in Daytona Beach, Florida. The team has won numerous times before, including last year. Anything but first place would be considered a failure, upping the already enormous pressure.

Guiding the team to victory year after year is steely head coach Monica Aldama, a truly compelling figure who is the series’ secret weapon.

Monica looks nothing like what one might expect a cheerleading coach to look like: She resembles no gym teacher I’ve ever seen and she doesn’t even give off a perky, compact, former-gymnast vibe. Instead, she is tall and lithe and glamorous, with silk blouses, fashionably wide-leg pants, and perfectly highlighted hair. She looks a bit like Jennifer Aniston crossed with Nancy Lee Grahn from General Hospital (Google her). She seems, in some ways, like she’d be more at home at a Wall Street conference table than a sweaty gym, not surprising because she also possesses an MBA.

She’s a tough love kind of coach—having her kids do pushups when they drop someone, for example; never indulging their tears—but we’ve seen that sort of thing before. What makes her so fascinating is the almost queenly way she presides over the high-stakes practices—her face nearly inscrutable as one kid after another thwacks to the floor. By the end of the series, I really did come to believe that she cared about her kids in her own way (I was on the fence for a while), but what she cares about most deeply, even obsessively, is winning. So every time someone falls you can see her brain beginning to calculate the fallout: How bad is the injury? Will the kid need to be replaced? If so, who will replace them? Will she be able to whip the new person into shape? She is, essentially, moving pieces around a particularly perilous chess board.

And yet, her charges absolutely adore her. One girl says she’d take a bullet for her. A boy says she’s everything he wants to be when he grows up.

Cheer, of course, allows us to get to know these kids—all of them, to an extent, as well as Monica’s loyal right hand man, a former cheerleader himself (whose devotion to his boss made me think of no less than Gary on Veep).

But it focuses primarily on five kids.

There’s Gabi, the most famous cheerleader, an Instagram influencer whose parents are dangerously invested in her cheering career and social media success.

Then there’s Morgan, a stoic and determined girl who pushes through fractured ribs to please her coach.

There’s LaDarius, a gifted athlete (the kid can tumble for days) who is also a childhood trauma survivor. Quick to anger, he channels all of his pain into his sport.

There’s Lexi, who has been in and out of trouble all her life, who found structure and a surrogate family on the cheer squad.

And best of all, there’s Jerry, a big-hearted sweetie pie who manages to spread positivity wherever he goes (he’s the kind of person about whom millennials say is “too pure for this world.”) One of the series’ biggest mysteries is whether or not he’ll make “mat” or be a backup at Daytona. (You’ll root for him hard.)

Interestingly, many of these kids are survivors of trauma—family death, abandonment, sexual assault. Two of these kids—as well as the team’s student-coach—admit to having felt suicidal at times. I’m not quite sure why so many troubled kids are drawn to the Navarro team—is it because they specifically crave the discipline and certainty of Monica’s methods? Or is this statistically true across cheerleading?

Frankly, as a non athlete, it’s hard for me to really understand the appeal of the sport at all. These kids mostly seem miserable at practice—crying, self-flagellating, getting hurt. On top of the pressures of the sport and various pressures at school and home, they also have to deal with the dark side of social media. (When Lexi’s nudes are anonymously exposed on Instagram, Monica personally takes her to the police to report the incident, one of the coach’s finer moments.) It’s a lot.

And yet, they love it. It guess it comes down to that agony and ecstasy thing. Cheerleading, like all sports, contains the highest of highs, the lowest of lows. After watching the show, directed with incredible intelligence, restraint, and empathy by Greg Whiteley, I’m still not sure if I think cheerleading should be a thing. At the very least, there should be a national conversation about the dangers of cheerleading, in the same way that there’s been a conversation about football. But man, these kids sure can fly.

You’re Watching Reality TV Wrong

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All fans of reality TV competitions tend to make the same two mistakes. (If your immediate response to this is, “Is watching reality TV competitions one of them?”—good one! Also, you’ve had your fun, now leave.)

Alright, where was I? The two mistakes. To be clear, I am not excluding myself from these mistakes. I have made these mistakes in the past. I will probably make these mistakes again in the future. I simply want to pass along what I’ve learned.

The first reality TV mistake is ROOTING FOR YOUR FAVORITE. Wait, what? That’s crazy talk.

Hear me out. Of course, it’s natural to want your favorite to win. You want them to take down all comers, reach the top of the reality TV mountain, get bathed in a victorious sea of confetti. But here’s the rub: With a few notable exceptions, reality TV winners tend to disappear from our TV screens. This is particularly true of the winners of, say, The Bachelor or The Bachelorette series, at least some of whom do annoying things like “get married” and “have children” and “live happily ever after.” As for the losers? Well, after the tears, the regrets, the self-recriminations—the possibilities are endless. They can show up on Bachelor in Paradise! They can appear as a contestant again! They can become The Bachelor or The Bachelorette! (If their name is Nick Viall, they can do all three!) And this is also true on Drag Race (my favorite show), where the winners simply, well, win, whereas the losers—if they are good enough at drag and popular enough—get to come back on All-Stars. One of my favorite queens, Manila Luzon, appeared on Season 3, then All-Stars 1, and then All-Stars 4! She lost all three times! Huzzah! If I like seeing Manila Luzon on my TV screen—and I do! I really do!—why on earth would I want to her to win? (It’s true, I had an absolute cow when Manila was unfairly voted off of All-Stars 4. Sometimes I forget my own rules. I am but a mere mortal—and Naomi Smalls did her dirty.)

The other mistake reality TV competition fans make? WANTING THE VILLAIN TO GO HOME. Villains make for prime entertainment. They annoy viewers, they antagonize fellow contestants, they cause a ruckus. Ruckuses are the best! Have you ever noticed that once reality TV villains get voted off, the shows become less good? The perfect example is the current reality TV boogeyman, Luke P, of The Bachelorette. Luke P is, objectively, the worst. He decided right out of the gate—way too soon—that he was not only in love with Hannah but that he was the clear frontrunner, and he’s been stunned, hurt, and baffled (he’s easily baffled) every time Hannah doesn’t treat him like the king he believes himself to be. He’s downright troglodyte in his opinions about women and sex—he thinks women’s bodies are temples and that they should save themselves for marriage (but he, Luke P, has had sex many, many times, thank you very much). And he’s constantly gaslighting Hannah, insisting he didn’t say the all horrible things he actually said when she calls him out. The WORST. But! Luke also causes confrontations and fights at the cocktail parties, and drives Hannah to (telegenic) tears. Thanks to Luke, the studly Tyler C looks that much better (he called Luke out on his slut shaming) and the otherwise sorta dull Garrett delivered the best line of the season: “Sweet dreams, Luke.” (This was said with a shit-eating grin after Luke begged Garrett not to share certain details of his toxic behavior with Hannah.)

And yet, week after week, people on Twitter get enraged when Hannah saves Luke. Don’t they realize that Luke has MADE this season? Luke is the gift that keeps on giving. Every time Hannah pins a rose on his steroid-enhanced chest, it guarantees another week of beautiful chaos.

In closing, of course, there is something in human nature that compels us to root for our favorite and against the villain. Resist! Go against your instincts! You’ll be a hell of a lot more entertained because of it.

They Earned Everything! Rating the Queens of Drag Race Season 11

2700-1Was this a great season of Drag Race? Maybe not quite in terms of talent, especially when we’re talking runway, but I did find the season pretty damn entertaining. There were lots of big personalities, and while the fights were plentiful, the cast seemed to genuinely enjoy each other as well. The Reading is Fundamental challenge was a perfect case in point. The reads? Terrible (and oddly Seussian). The silliness and merriment that permeated the challenge? Positively infectious. What’s more, every queen brought something to the table, even the so-called filler queens. With that, I thought I’d grade the performances of the dolls, in a few different categories.

Soju-RuPauls-Drag-Race-Season-11-Meet-the-Cast-VH1-Tom-Lorenzo-Site

Soju

Performance: Soju was something we’re going to be seeing more and more in the coming seasons of the show: a Drag Race superfan turned contestant. So far, I’m afraid we’re 0 for 1. Her martial arts inspired entrance look promised something interesting—cultural references mixed with androgynous drag—that she never got a chance to deliver. Her first runway outfit was a hot mess (and her evoking the great Kim Chi as an influence was downright sacrilegious) and she was nunchukked before we even got to know her.
Grade: D

Entertainment value: When Soju confessed on stage that she had a leaking cyst (#$%!), did she know what she was doing? Was she an evil genius intentionally creating a meme, or was it just nervous rambling? Whatever the case, it worked, and the “cysters” joke oozed throughout the season.
Grade: B

Lowpoint: Confessing to an anal cyst
Highpoint: Oddly, confessing to an anal cyst

Kahanna

 

Kahanna Montrese

Performance: Sometimes a queen just needs a little more time in the oven, and that was clearly the case with Kahanna. I almost feel sorry for her; maybe the Kahanna of five years from now would absolutely slay (with Coco Montrese as a drag mother, I’d all but count on it). As it is, does anyone remember a single thing she did on the show?
Grade: D-

Entertainment value: In a cast filled with out-of-drag hotties, Kahanna was arguably the hottest of them all. Hey, trade of the season is nothing to sneeze at.
Grade: C

Lowpoint: Attempting to start a fight with Mercedes at the reunion. Not cute, girl.
Highpoint: It actually came after the show: her spirited and funny music video, “Scores!,” with Manila Luzon, Sharon Needles, Trinity Tuck, and others. Kahanna must be doing something right to get all those A-listers to her shoot.

RuPaul Drag Race Season 11 cast photo -- Pictured: Honey Davenport CR: VH1

Honey Davenport

Performance: In a word, disappointing. Honey has a reputation for being a pro’s pro and a great queen in NY, but she never really showed what she was made of on drag’s biggest stage. She clearly got in her own head, put too much pressure on herself, and paid the price. (Indeed, if there’s one queen I’d like to see get a second chance from this season, it’s Honey.)
Grade: D

Entertainment value: By the time she came back for the makeover episode, she had acquired a (sexy) beard and more confidence. Even in the reunion, she seemed more playful and relaxed. Maybe the power is in her beard? Hey, get it, girl. Bearded queens are hot.
Grade: C-

Lowpoint: Hers was the saddest elimination of the season, both because of the cruelty of it (she was the only girl to go home in that trainwreck of a group lip sync) and the way she broke down backstage. Drag Race can be a cruel, cruel mistress. (True confession: I actually loved Honey’s all-black “fringe” look.)
Highpoint: The power of the beard.

mercedes

Mercedes Iman Diamond

Performance: The show’s first ever Muslim queen brought the lewks but seemed shy and out of her element throughout her brief run. Still, it was wonderful that by her last episode she felt comfortable enough with her sisters to open up about the struggles of being a Muslim queen (beyond the fears of coming out to her friends and family, she was on Do Not Fly list ffs!). Mercedes seems like an absolute sweetheart and she’s gorgeous, to boot. That being said, not quite sure Drag Race is the right venue for her.
Grade: C-

Entertainment value: If you make it on Drag Race and don’t create a meme, did you ever even exist? “Op-a-lence! You earn everything!” is not just a cute and funny meme, it’s poignant. Yes, Mercedes, who no doubt had to work harder than anyone for her slot on the show (and drove herself so hard on the road she literally almost died), did EARN everything.
Grade: C-

Lowpoint: Screwing up the Britney “spears” joke in the evangelical skit. You had ONE JOB.
Highpoint: “We didn’t have Rachel Maddow where I grew up. We had goats.”

 

ariel

Ariel Versace:

Performance: Despite her relatively short stay, the human Bratz Doll made quite an impression. Her Sandy in Trump: The Rusical was spot-on, and particularly impressive considering that she nearly had a psychic break during the rehearsal. Her duet with Silky in the “Diva Worship” was another high point, proving that the two rivals could come together when it counted. But her Monster Ball performance was downright disastrous, an indication that she couldn’t move away from her candy-coated Instagram persona. I mean, who the hell is scared of a mermaid?
Grade: C+

Entertainment value: Wig Gate was the lamest controversy of this (or any?) season, but she’s only marginally responsible for it (after all, it mostly happened after she’d packed her bags). For the most part, I really enjoyed Ariel’s twink meets Jersey Housewife realness. She accused Silky of being annoying (fair!) but then had the integrity to own up to it. Plus, she was always good for a “Oh god whatever”-style eyeroll or a snarky one-liner. Our very own Mean Girl Greek chorus.
Grade: B

Lowpoint: She’d probably say falling in the lip sync (which the show milked like it was the Zapruder film). I’d still say that damn mermaid outfit. Seriously, what was she thinking? (Bonus lowpoint: Trying to make “n’yessss” happen. In a word, “n’nooo.”)
Highpoint: Trump the Rusical. She was a deer frozen in the headlights in rehearsal and really came through in the performance when it counted.

Scarlet-Envy

Scarlet Envy:

Performance: I’m still baffled by her entrance look. Like, seriously, somebody explain it me. That being said, after walking in like a hot guy who’d been put in drag against his will (complete with inartfully drawn on boob contour), this gorgeous queen ended up turning out some super glamorous, old-Hollywood looks and nailing the acting challenges (and not for nothing, she should’ve won the Monster Ball IMO).
Grade: B-

Entertainment value: Yes, Scarlett was feeling her oats a little too hard at times (apparently turning off her fellow contestants in the process), but so what? It’s drag. Modesty is not one of the requirements. I for one enjoyed watching her swan around the workroom like a lower borough Gloria Swanson.
Grade: B

Lowpoint: Losing that lip sync to Ra’jah. I honestly thought she pulled out enough stunts to stick around.
Highpoint: Winning the “Good God Girl, Get Out!” acting challenge after being picked last. The power of that.

rajah

Ra’jah O’Hara

Performance: Ra’jah took some big swings this season—and frankly missed more often than she made contact. But still, I appreciate a girl who makes a pair of burlap SLACKS for a Farm to Runway challenge. In a season without a whole lot of good lip syncers in the bottom half, her (let’s face it) slightly above average lip syncing prowess scored her three unlikely wins.
Grade: B-

Entertainment value: It’s hard to fathom how boring the first half of the season might’ve been without Ra’jah, who clashed with pretty much everyone (especially Yvie). And while she served lots of classic one liners “an ugly girl can never come for a pretty girl” and (my personal favorite) “bootyhole!” all while perched behind a series of ridiculously enormous pairs of glasses, my heart kind of broke for her, too. It was clear that Ra’jah was constantly succumbing to that inner saboteur, as Ru says. She was quick to escalate, lashed out when she got hurt, and blamed others for her own misfortune. But damned if she didn’t do it entertainingly.
Grade: A-

Lowpoint: Telling choreographer Yanis Marshall that she was a trained dancer, falling flat on her face, and somehow blaming HIM for this turn of events. (See, also, blaming Scarlett for her own poor performance in the Drag Olympics.)
Highpoint: Staying just long enough to likely earn a slot in a future All Stars. I mean, how can Ru resist?

Screen Shot 2019-05-29 at 12.41.50 PM

 

Plastique Tiara:

Performance: About to state my unpopular opinion: I’m not super keen on Plastique’s drag. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful. She’s beautiful. The whole damn system is beautiful. But I’m just not inspired by it. It lacks a certain creativity. What’s more, is it really that much of a challenge to go from a porcelain-faced, insanely pretty 21 year old boy to a porcelain-faced, insanely pretty 21 year old woman? That being said, other drag queens seem to really admire her, so what the hell do I know?
Grade: B

Entertainment value: I have a feeling that Plastique is actually kind of quick and funny IRL, but on the show she was a bit of a wet noodle. Unlike Soju’s cyst, her personality didn’t pop (sorry), although she did always come across as a good kid. As for the whole “Did Plastique Repeatedly Lie??” drama, let’s take it one accusation at a time:
•Yes, she really DID think Ariel left those wigs for her.
•No, her boyfriend didn’t say that her parents accepted her drag (he merely said he HOPED they would be more accepting after the show).
•And yes, I can believe that there wasn’t much talk of Mariah Carey in a strict Vietnamese household.
My verdict: Plastique Tiara, you are NOT a liar. (But also not the most entertaining thing going.)
Grade: C+

Lowpoint: Probably licking the pavement during her cat fight with Vanjie. Ick.
Highpoint: Literally all of episode 7, which was practically a Plastique Tiara bottle episode. Her drag mama Alyssa Edwards showed up. Her boyfriend left her a message in Untucked. And she won the mother-tucking maxi challenge. No wonder Raj’ah was so jealous of her that week. (Also, mad points to Plastique for handling Raj’ah’s attack so well, which she inherently understood was not really about her. The kid is mature beyond her years.)

Shuga-Cain

Shuga Cain

Performance: Shuga brought polish, professionalism, and smarts to literally every runway and challenge
Grade: B+

Entertainment value: So it turns out that polish, professionalism, and smarts are a little…dull? Look, it’s hard to not like the terminally sunny Shuga, who had an actual heart contoured on the tip of her nose and who always just seemed so damn happy to BE THERE—but she didn’t exactly  bring the thunder. Probably the most controversial thing about Shuga was how Drag 101 her vocabulary was. With all her “Yes mawmas” and “I lives!” it seemed as if she had studied drag culture from another planet and landed on earth to show off her homework. One bummer for Shuga: On any other season—namely one that didn’t feature one Nina West—she’d be a veritable lock for Miss Congeniality.
Grade: C+

Lowpoint: Getting kicked off basically for not bringing the entertainment.
Highpoint: Getting kicked off for not bringing the entertainment. Work with me here: The fans went freaking nuts when Shuga got kicked off. And with good reason. The riggery was in full effect. She delivered the third best performance in the Dragracadabra challenge (after Nina and Brooke) and clearly didn’t deserve to be anywhere near the bottom. (Weirdly, the show even allowed her to flatly state that fact.) But if you must get kicked off a show (in a highly respectable 7th place), all you can hope for is that the fans cry foul and rally behind you. Might the Shuga Was Robbed Train rumble all the way to the All Star Station?

nina

Nina West

Performance: Nina had a great arc. She came to the show with tons of pressure—she auditioned something like 9 times (!) and is a well-respected queen, philanthropist, and drag impresario in Ohio—and it took a little time for her to find her footing. At first it seemed like she might have something akin to the Miz Cracker arc—that is, a queen we’ve heard is VERY funny off the show but doesn’t fully deliver on it—but she broke through with a wonderful Snatch Game, and then truly triumphed in the Dragracadabra! episode, where she was able to showcase the full range of her skills. Drag wise, she was a mixed bag, serving camp but not much glamour. But her Leigh Bowery-inspired facekini was a real show-stopper. Also, mad credit to her for taking Michelle Visage’s critiques and actually improving her silhouette. We stan a self-improving queen.,
Grade: A-

Entertainment value: Friendly, smart, kind, and wise, Nina West seems like someone you’d definitely want as your best friend. Did that translate to her being the most compelling TV contestant? Well, as a queen once said, “This is not Ru Paul’s Best Friend Race.” She had a few standout moments of drama—including her multiple doubletakes after discovering that “Brooke and Vanjie are kissing in Untucked!” (somehow, the fact that she referred to the show by its proper will never not slay me) and her (mild) spat with Brooke after the Canadian ballerina bulldozed her way into a juicier part in the LADP! Episode. Mostly though, she was someone it was easy to root for and like. Hey, a little wholesome entertainment never hurt anyone.
Grade: B

Lowpoint: That final lip sync. Oof.
Highpoint: Rihanna has slid into her DMs. Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez is a stan. Nina’s whole run was a highpoint.

vanjie

Vanessa Vanjie Mateo

Performance: Okay, author bias alert: Miss Vanjie is my absolute fave of the season, and I could write actual sonnets about her, so excuse my favoritism. But my girl really slayed, didn’t she? Arguably, Vanjie had more pressure on her than anyone else: Imagine losing on the first episode, creating an international phenomenon with your “sashay away,” being invited back, and then…sucking? Instead, Vanjie rose to the occasion again and again, proving that she was MUCH more than a backwards-walking meme. Drag-wise, Vanjie serves sexy R&B diva realness, which is perfect for her body and her persona. (Not everything needs to be haute couture, folks.) Yes, there was a bit too much red—and okay, way too many swimsuits—but you can’t deny that the doll looked fierce. Her Libra costume was one of the best looks of the season. And her lip sync to “No More Drama” was powerful and unforgettable because of the raw, real emotion behind it. In skits, she was best when she was just able to improv and be herself (“I thanked myself!”), although she stumbled a bit when her projects required, well, structure. It still really gets my goat that she didn’t win for her flawless makeover of Ariel Versace. Hello, 911? I’d like to report a robbery.
Grade: A-

Entertainment value: Jinkx Monsoon called her the DMX of drag. I call her the world’s sexiest muppet. Whatever you call her, literally everything that comes out of her mouth is comedy gold. It’s no wonder she was the season’s unofficial narrator. I’ve already entered two “Vanjie-isms” into my regular lexicon: “Pressed like a panini” and “You’ve got to pick a struggle. You can’t struggle at everything.” I’m also pretty sure her line from the reunion, re: Brooke—“I wanted The Notebook experience. He gave me a Post-It”—is being stitched onto a pillow as we speak. During the course of the season, Vanjie forged a special bond with her Dream Girls A’Keria and Silky, but she seemed to get along with everyone. (When she had a fight with Yvie in Untucked, she sincerely and maturely apologized to her the next day. Don’t sleep on the fact that Vanjie’s real power is in her sweetness.)
Grade: A+

Bonus category: Let’s Talk About Branjie: My theory as to why people became obsessed? Not just because this was the first ever Drag Race romance, or even because both “Brock” and “Jose” are total dishes in real life, but because it played out like an actual rom-com. You’ve got Vanjie, the scrappy, loud, highly emotional girl from the streets dating Brooke, the classy, reserved, elegant lady of the manor. I could write that rom-com. (Hell, I’ve seen that rom-com.) It’s a shame it didn’t work out between those crazy kids—and bless Vanjie for wearing her heart on her sleeve, it only makes her fans feel closer to her—but it was amazing to have a front row seat to their brief (but very real!) love affair.
Grade: ❤️❤️❤️❤️

Lowpoint: Her LADP alley-cat was a veritable litter box of all her worst tendencies: chaotic, messy, and nearly nonsensical.
Highpoint: Her second sashay! All eyes were on Vanjie when she was eliminated in the next to last episode and she didn’t disappoint. I guarantee she hadn’t planned that routine, a master class in escalating comic stakes, it just kind of happened. Have you ever seen Ru laugh so hard?

silky

Silky Nutmeg Ganache

Performance: Silky  takes up a lot of space—in every sense of the word. She’s loud, she’s brash, and a lot her humor comes from her physicality—jiggling her titties, brazenly taking off her clothing, and flopping around on the ground. (Hey, if it worked for Chris Farley.) Yeah, okay, she can be annoying too, but I’d argue she’s more funny than annoying. Her drag is, well, nothing special. She can beat that beautiful mug and, uh, she wears a lot of gowns. I was never inspired. In challenges, she’s a natural improviser, a bit better at honing her personality into controlled performance than her pal Vanjie, but I think she got a pass way too many times in the competition because simply because she cracks Ru’s shit up.
Grade: B+

Entertainment value: Silky is entertaining! I repeat, Silky is entertaining! She particularly slayed the mini challenges, where she was able to channel her manic silliness into bite-sized performances. That being said, she’s not the most self-aware queen out there. After clashing with Yvie all season, she finally “forgave” Yvie for committing the sin of…occasionally criticizing her? Girl, check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Grade: B+

Lowpoint: When it came time to lip sync for her mother fucking life, she definitely WASN’T ready.|
Highpoint:
Her Oprah impression can pay her mortgage—and probably yours and mine, too.

Screen Shot 2019-05-29 at 12.45.56 PM

A’Keria Chanel Davenport

Performance: While only 30, A’Keria kind of felt like the matriarch of the season, presiding over her children with a mixture of protective concern and head-shaking disappointment. With a wit as dry as a good sauvignon blanc, and a finely honed deadpan to the camera, she was sneakily one of the season’s best narrators. Drag wise, she serves unclockable pageant excellence—that mug! that (popular) wig! those gowns!—all the more impressive when you realize that she made most of her own garments. The twerking queen also proved she could deliver comedy, scoring an upset win in the LADP! challenge. Her ass alone deserves monuments.
Grade: A

Entertainment value: Anyone else as low-key annoyed as I am that they only bothered to mention that A’Keria was raising her nephew on the next-to-last episode? I felt like that added a lot of dimension to her personality. Still, it wasn’t really a surprise. A’Keria strikes me as a natural-born leader, one of these sensible, competent people whose friends and family lean on a lot. Her personality isn’t huge, but her sly sense of humor and ironic take on the competition were welcome company throughout.
Grade: A-

Lowlight: Stirring the pot between Ra’jah and Plastique and then not owning up to it.
Highlight: Her first runway, with wig upon wig upon wig had Ru gagging and the other queens shaking in their stilettos.

yyvie-oddly-1548366476

Yvie Oddly

Performance: I had a clarifying moment listening to the “What the Tuck” podcast this week, courtesy of guest host Drew Droege: Yvie isn’t really all that odd. I’m sorry, it’s true. At best, she’s Yvie Mildly Oddly. What was the craziest thing she did this season? Drag a car into the workroom? Pretend to be a triceratops? Sport three boobs? She’s kind of the made-for-television version of odd, which I suppose works, what with this being a TV show and all. Competition wise, Yvie came out really strong out of the gate, winning and placing high on multiple challenges. However, after her Snatch Game stumble, she never quite regained her footing…until the Queens Everywhere episode, where she slayed so hard, she reestablished herself as a frontrunner. Always leave them gagging.
Grade: A-

Entertainment value: Yvie brought multiple storylines throughout the season. The first was her ongoing clashes with, well, everyone. Yvie was often right in her assessment of the other queens, but her timing was rarely good, and sometimes downright awful. (In particular, she kicked Ra’jah multiple times when she was down.) She managed to insert herself into every argument, even ones that she was tangentially (at best) involved in. At the same time, one thing you have to remember is that Yvie was just 24 when they filmed! It explains a lot. She gives me big “I have a question, but first a comment” grad student energy.
Of course, Yvie’s other storyline centered around her illness, which gave her debilitating bone pain and also, the flexibility of a car dealership blowup doll. It also gave Yvie that touch of vulnerability that made us root for her. As of this writing, she’s the most popular queen among the final four.
Grade: A

Lowlight: Everytime Yvie started a sentence with “Girl, here’s the real tea…,” America crouched in fear.
Highlight: Slaying that final challenge. Greatest comeback since the 2016 Cavaliers.

Also I’ve made a meme:

Absolutely nobody:

Yvie:

s5jbcgbw2sy21

 

Brooke-Lynn-Hytes

Brooke Lynn Hytes

Performance: A clear frontrunner out of the gate, Brooke’s biggest problem might’ve been her complete lack of relatability. I mean, if any of you can relate to this gorgeous, graceful, statuesque, sexy, and polished queen from the North, well…congratulations? That being said, the Snatch Game episode was a turning point for several reasons: It gave her a humanizing Achilles heel (improv) and then a chance to shine on the runway and in that epic lip sync. Suddenly, we were invested in her “comeback,” which she delivered brilliantly in the next episode (and I oop…at Nina West’s expense). On the runway, she turned toot after toot, and got even better once Alyssa Edwards told her to lean into the her ballet technique in her presentation. Her “Queens are Everywhere” verse was (allegedly) a setback. I’m so white I thought it was great?
Grade: A+

Entertainment value: If one was being uncharitable, one could interpret Brooke’s behavior through a completely calculated lens:
•Not quite relatable queen hooks up with the most beloved queen of the season.
•Improv neophyte befriends the best improviser of the cast, soaking up all her knowledge and, at one point, even stealing her thunder.
•Given her choice to pair up queens for a makeover, sneaky queen saddles her rival with the worst partner of the bunch.
I prefer to think that Brooke just has good taste in romantic partners (and BFFs) and played her cards in a smart, but hardly Machiavellian way. Look, somebody had to get Soju!
Anyway, add it all up and Brooke managed to make herself a compelling and central figure in the S11 storyline.
Grade: A

Lowlight: That Celine Dion impression could get her deported.
Highlight: So many to choose from! That sickening wig reveal! That monumental lip sync for her life! Every single time she kissed Vanjie! But I’m going to go with her pillow fort in Untucked. “Why can’t we just bottle up our feelings like normal people?” she moaned, slinking into the couch and sipping on her drink. And all of Canada replied, “Relatable.”