Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 8, Episode 20 of Bravo's "Real Housewives of Orange County," titled "Reunion Part 2."
"How do rumors get started/They're started by the jealous people and
They get mad seein' somethin' they had/ And somebody else is holdin'
They tell me that temptation/ Is very hard to resist
These wicked women/Ooh, they just persist"
--"Rumors," Timex Social Club
This delightful mid-eighties R&B classic brings to mind both the fuel and the fire of the "Real Housewives" franchise: widespread rumormongering amongst the cast, both on and off-camera. The "she said/she said" carousel these women voluntarily mount shows no signs of slowing down -- and what better forum to showcase the slights, deceptions, and truth-shading than in the faux-chandelier glare of the reunion show set?
So let's get going! Part II of the Reunion Special starts now ...
Andy Cohen opens genially with some "whooping it up" footage. We see flashbacks of Tamra's tongue-on-the-ice-bar-wall incident in Whistler, cringe-worthy shots of Mexican strippers doing some questionable erotic moves, and general smoky-eyed, wobbly-ankled debauchery.
Then, a viewer question for Tamra: "What does it sound like when a Mexican stripper bounces his junk off your ear?"
Tamra explains that she couldn't hear it because she was screaming so loud. We are off to a classy start.
Alexis is asked about her husband Jim's "best body part." She nervously pats her up-do and demurs that Jim wears a "Size 14 shoe." The rest is left to our imagination and/or persistent nightmares.
Lydia is queried about her mother's frequent pot smoking. Lydia shrugs it off, relating that this particular habit is better than being an alcoholic. Vicki interjects that she has never smoked "weed," has never been "around it" and never "understood it." To which Andy replies, "Got it," as the audience rolls our collective eyes. As if Donn wasn't firing up a doobie -- or fifty -- at their Lake Havasu house.
We are then treated to a flashback reel of Tamra being crazy and destructive, and then; tearfully and sincerely addressing "Women's Expo" charity event attendees about her difficult past, suicide attempt, and anger issues. Andy tenderly asks why Tamra opened up so much this season.
Tamra doesn't quite know why, but shares that her husband Eddie is accepting of her tumultuous past. She pushes back tears as she discusses her troubled son Ryan, and how his ups and downs seem to mirror her own. Andy slips into armchair psychologist mode and wonders why Tamra has "no filter" when she's angry but seems to have difficulty expressing love. A surprisingly docile Tamra relates that she's just grateful Eddie loves her as she is. Aw. That's nice.
Andy then brings up the 100th Episode Special, and questions if the women regret anything after years in the Bravo spotlight. Vicki reveals that 2013 was a "bad hair year." The ladies all nod in silent agreement (sorry, Vic).
Andy wonders if watching this titular flashback episode opened old wounds -- in particular, footage of Gretchen's fiancé Slade and his former live-in girlfriend, Jo. Just to put a little lemon juice in the paper cut, we see footage of Jo in a French maid costume. Gretchen holds it together and says, blithely, "It's in the past."
Andy then deems Gretchen the locus of drama in the season, and we see more evidence of Gretchen being, in Vicki's words, a "Liar-face." Everyone is still suspicious about Gretchen's non-existent role on "Malibu Country" and her exploiting this as an excuse to bail on Tamra's wedding dress shopping day.
Gretchen deflects, saying she doesn't understand why Alexis, who had earlier been kicked out of Tamra's CUT Fitness dinner party, would be invited to the bridal bonanza. Just my humble theory, but perhaps Alexis was invited because she is on a reality show and that activity was on the call sheet.
Gretchen then pulls out a manila folder full of text message transcripts and reveals that Tamra texted her saying she did not want to invite Alexis, and that Gretchen ought to "Remind me, when it shows me making up to her, that I hated her."
Tamra then alleges that Slade doctored the text message. I personally do not think Slade is capable of such a technological feat, but whatever. Now Tamra and Gretchen are screaming at each other. Tamra says that Gretchen always steals focus when something goes great in somebody else's life. She accuses Gretchen of planting tabloid stories, most damningly, that Eddie was paid to propose to her.
Heather interjects, clearing up the (tired, so tired!) hot-button issue of the role on the (now cancelled) "Malibu Country." Heather says that the show's executive producers offered her a solid recurring role, and that Gretchen was merely called up for a paltry "three-line cameo."
Gretchen seems to have been given a thesaurus as of late, as she deems Heather "Degrading and condescending."
Andy asks if Gretchen considers any of the ladies her friends. She replies weakly that she likes Lydia and Heather. Alexis says she feels "disposable" and that Gretchen only uses friendships when they are convenient for her.
Andy then probes further, wondering if Tamra and Gretchen can ever be friends again. Tamra says she always genuinely apologizes for her Gretchen-transgressions ("Trans-Gretchens?" ha) but these gestures are never reciprocated. Andy then declares that the two are at a "fork in their friendship," and my hopes for a non-mangled-metaphor evening are dashed.
We return from a much-needed commercial break to Andy introducing a reel of Alexis deeming everyone as a "bully." In hindsight, Andy asks if this loaded word truly applied. Alexis says she endured a year of the cast talking smack about her, tweeting mean things about her, etc., yet summons her dignity and says she's ready to move on.
A not-so-nice viewer writes in and says Alexis doesn't know the definition of "bully" but does apparently know the term "victim." Alexis calls Gretchen a liar and says, "In four years of footage there's not one moment of me being a horrible person."
"That's because you're fake on camera," Gretchen says, tartly.
Finally! It is so refreshing to get an acknowledgement of the fact that these women are filmed, a gratifying nod to the extent to which the camera -- the silent but omnipotent seventh cast member -- must influence and inform each interaction and machination on the show.
Vicki then counters that if Gretchen weren't filming, she would not have put Slade in a helicopter and proposed to him. "The elaborate engagement was done for TV," Vicki says.
Lydia pipes up with, "Your story wasn't that great this season...so you needed something."
Heather chimes in, stating she felt like the Gretchen-Slade engagement was a "major life moment" and yet when she watched it on the show, she felt "hollow."
Tamra cuts to the chase and asks, "When are you two getting married?"
Gretchen shakes her head and says she doesn't know.
Viewer question! Did Slade buy Gretchen an engagement ring? Gretchen pauses and reveals that they bought it "together." The ring is, in Andy's sarcastic words, "Very understated." It is a Hershey's Halloween Mini Mr. Goodbar-sized cushion-cut yellow diamond that would make even J-Lo take dramatic pause.
Finally, we are treated to a flashback of Gretchen's proposal to Slade, prompting Gretchen to break down in a fit of fake crying. Sorry, folks, there are no actual tears coming down that perfectly powdered and contoured face. Not a one. Just some strategic choking and inner-eye-dabbing. I have seen more realistic emotion on an Allstate commercial.
The cast appears nonplussed as Gretchen non-cries, but all manage to muster a compassionate response. Vicki and Heather offer their solidarity, and Gretchen reveals that she was the most (fake sob) "sad" that Alexis was not there for her. Alexis then starts to actually cry, and relates that she misses the old Gretchen, the one who was her "best friend."
"My mind is doing spins right now," Alexis says. I think at this point we can all get on board with that sentiment.
Next week -- the three-part "Real Housewives" reunion concludes. Brianna and Brooks are on the couch! Vicki walks off the set! Andy looks irritated! Please stay with me, dear readers. The finish line is in sight -- let's muster the strength, Visine, and tenacity to go through this final lap, together. Who knows, I might cry when it's all said and done.
Part three of "The Real Housewives of Orange County" reunion airs next Monday at 8 p.m. ET on Bravo.