Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

The Passion of Scheana Shay

Graphic: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock)
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Shockwaves radiated throughout the Bravosphere last week when a Vanderpump Rules editor admitted to purposefully giving Scheana Shay an embarrassing edit on the show. The news only emboldened the #JusticeforScheana movement of late—which calls for better treatment and more respect for the series OG, who is often portrayed as a “boy crazy” try-hard, circling the more important characters on the show. If Stassi and Beau are depicted as “heroes,” Scheana Shay is the clown.

She-She fans have since swarmed, reports confirm the editor was fired, and Scheana posted an IG story photo of herself set to Dashboard Confessional’s “Vindicated” as she looked directly at the camera with a hopeful and knowing gaze. “And I’m right, swear I’m right/Swear I knew it all along,” the song’s lyrics played out across her story.

Here’s the thing: I don’t deny Scheana’s thirst. There’s been realism to it and it can get cringy. In past seasons (like in the “Rob edit,” for example), the reckless determination in Scheana’s eyes was all too palpable as she navigated her way through fuckboys and marriage fantasies. This year, even with the editors’ purposeful craft, an undercurrent of desperation—a kind of gripping—could still be felt, as she assured us how Brett was just a best friend and how she bought an Apple watch for her other best friend Max and how not jealous she was of newbie Dayna. There was also a racy and sexy music video filmed with her best friend Brett that felt like it was somehow wearing the discarded trashy lingerie of another sexy and unique music video.

All of this (even the music video) felt like it was constantly skating on the edge of tears—something editing could frame, but not invent. No matter which way you splice, a woman on the verge inevitably seeps through the celluloid.

But Scheana also seems to act as an emblem onto which the viewers, her co-stars, and apparently those who shape the show can project their desperation, humiliation, and terror. Her castmates armor themselves from this so-called reality by presenting perfect, idealized relationships in their storylines or happy-ending marriage plots. Likewise, the “over-produced” quality to this season serves as a kind of shield the show itself can hide behind as its evolution becomes a painful, yet necessary move.

“I feel devastated for Scheana because she’s one of those people [who] wants everything to be perfect,” Lisa Vanderpump said in Season 4, Episode 6 of the show. “She’s had the perfect wedding and she’s trying to create this perfect life. And sometimes … you have to face the harshness of reality.”

And what reality might that be? The one where you realize how the original cast, i.e. the show’s true pull, has grown into something different and the setting of SUR—and therefore your place in some of their lives—no longer makes logistical sense? Or is it the one where Jax and Brittany cry and scream at each other while doing the deep, introspective work on themselves as their Disney princess marriage fantasy begins to inevitably collapse?

Or the one where Stassi forgoes her cheeky “I’m a demon!” comments to face the deeper trauma of why she pushed Beau’s proposal so hard and might still cling to the fantasy of being “rescued” through her engagement?

Or what about the one where Schwartz allows himself to feel the deep rage he has for Katie in an emotionally turbulent, yet ultimately therapeutic conversation as they navigate why they hold on to their marriage so tightly?

The #JusticeforScheana movement ultimately rings true. Scheana Shay is suffering for our sins. She’s exposing the matrix. Her willingness to cry on camera over being an overwhelmed, 34-year-old divorcée or slamming an inhaler in a rainbow thong one-piece while admitting to extreme jealousy and rage is the energy this show needs. It’s also the kind of vulnerable clownery the producers need to encourage and the editors need to keep in the cut—despite whatever “special hero” narrative they originally intended, according to the editor who was fired.

It’s also what viewers need to recognize in ourselves as we cringe at Scheana while ultimately cringing at ourselves. We’re all thirsty. To deny that we’ve wanted what Scheana’s wanted or felt what she’s felt—and in a truly Dashboard Confessional-esque way—would be to deny the complicated and annoying and necessary essence of who we really are. We can medicate it with Vanderpump Rosé and escape to Lit Method for two-a-days and numb out to endless episodes of reality TV, but the fear and the dread, reflected back through Scheana Shay’s doe-eyed gaze, remains.

Cynthia Cook is a writer and filmmaker who loves reflecting on Bravo shows as compelling meditations of wealth, power, and loneliness—you know, among other things.