Chekhov’s Sex Dungeon is back on The Real Housewives of Atlanta—as a metaphor and plot device, as well as a literal space in which the women now find themselves. First conjured a few seasons back, the“sex dungeon” made its debut when Kandi Burruss and husband Todd Tucker were accused of preying on castmate Porsha Williams. Amid the allegations, the now-fired Phaedra Parks made it explicitly clear that Burruss’s sexual inclinations were lesbian in nature, and that her intentions were to drug and then prey on Porsha in the dungeon, supposedly situated somewhere secret in Burruss and Tucker’s sprawling mansion.
But it was all a hoax, as Phaedra soon admitted at the Season 9 reunion, after which she quietly exited stage left, only to be seen again in fleeting moments on NeNe Leakes’s Instagram.
This stunt has been echoed in the latest episode of Season 13, after the women moved into a vacation house in South Carolina. For months now, Bravo and select members of the cast have hyped the latest run-up of episodes, which feature long-simmering feuds finally exploding, a bachelorette party gone awry, and secret footage that alleges one or multiple women had sex with a dancer production had invited to the house.
In summation, the entire thing has been a fucking disaster for everyone involved. The previous, completely invented “sex dungeon” rumors were designed by a fellow cast member, Phaedra, passed off to Porsha, to sully Kandi’s reputation on the show and industry at large. But this latest “sex dungeon” themed bachelorette party, while meant to be playful, has actually served as a severe escalation in just how far the network is willing to go to exploit its core cast for drama, ratings, and viewership.
At the halfway point of Sunday’s episode, Kandi, alongside a few other women, quietly asked production to leave the house for the night, as is standard for every other trip taken in the history of the Real Housewives. The clock struck 12 and the camera crew and producers all dismissed themselves. Historically in the Housewives franchise, should drama occur in the off-hours, it must be captured by one of the castmembers on a cellphone, or it disappears into the ether, with no tangible proof besides retellings the next morning.
But unlike most other cast trips, viewers actually saw Kandi ask production to leave. They filmed themselves packing up, turning off cameras, and leaving the house completely. Ceiling cameras were also turned off in the main quarters, except for a few, which the women covered for extra privacy. Predictably, they missed one. And instead of respecting the women’s bodily autonomy and sexual privacy, especially after production had agreed to cease filming for the night, the network secretly filmed—and aired—what happened next.
Midway through the episode, viewers were then walked through that secret footage in excruciating detail by the editors, with accompanying blueprints of the house, room assignments, and sleeping arrangements, as well as audio of sexual escapades happening off-camera, filmed through the reflection of a window in the dining room just off the main living room.
Come morning the women, between themselves, agreed to honor the social contract of privacy they’d entered into the night before. But not Kenya Moore, who made a big show of conducting a “trial” in an effort to find out who might have slept with the dancer from the bachelorette party. All of the other women looked visibly uncomfortable, and at frequent points, outright violated. And still, Kenya and the network persisted in their sexual witch-hunt until their secret footage and house blueprints had been combed over more thoroughly than the JFK assassination tapes.
It was not the dramatic reveal Bravo believed it to be, but it certainly was what they wanted to happen, regardless. Already, it’s been heralded among fans of the network as an unprecedented look into what goes on when the cameras go dark, even if it came at the expense of Black women’s bodily autonomy and sexual privacy, two ethical codes the network has been careful not to cross on their all-white franchises.
We’ll see if those cheap, exploitative ratings were worth it.