As a connoisseur of reality television, I can confidently say that Shahs of Sunset is in a league of its own. For nearly a decade, Shahs has provided some of the best hours of the Bravo network’s life, but now, as its ninth season plays out, the show’s true villain is starting to make himself known: Mike Shouhed.
An original cast member who has managed to withstand the test of time, Mike’s storylines are often about the self-made messes in which he finds himself in seemingly every season and squabbles with friends that feel repetitive. But the one common thread in the years’ worth of his time on the show is Mike’s endless quest for a partner, after a very public and troubling divorce from his first wife Jessica. (Her conversion to Judaism in order to marry Mike was a huge part of the earlier seasons.) Mike cheated on Jessica repeatedly, then demanded she not discuss it on camera and denied her accusations outright until he eventually, for the sake of his character arc, admitted that he had indeed been cheating.
Mike’s treatment of Jessica and controlling behavior were downplayed—although producers left in one very telling scene where Mike and Jessica were quietly sniping at each other at an event and Mike menacingly told her to stop talking while also moving her away from the cameras and the other Shahs. This wasn’t the first time audiences had seen Mike silence Jessica—there were a few instances where he simply shushed her or shook his head when she spoke—but it was one of his most aggressive outbursts directed at Jessica up to that point.
Now a similar dynamic is playing out this season with his current girlfriend, Paulina. On Sunday night, viewers saw yet another episode where Mike spoke for his partner, this time when it came to her absence at an all-girls slumber party: “We didn’t feel safe that everyone there had the right intentions.” But at no point did Paulina express her own independent thoughts.
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In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find much footage of Paulina freely speaking her mind at all, unless it’s in praise of Mike or a mention of her own children. In one scene from this season, Paulina said something negative about Mike during a one-on-one conversation with Destiney, then asked Destiney not to repeat anything, because she was concerned about Mike’s retaliation. Despite her best efforts to keep a lid on Mike, he retaliated anyway at Destiney’s Halloween party. He stormed out, but wouldn’t leave until his girlfriend left with him. This despite Destiney repeatedly asking him to leave her home. Instead of exiting from the backyard, Mike chose to enter the house again. When the two were in the car, he sharply told Jessica, “Don’t say a word until we get home.”
The biggest red flag in the episode, however, was not Mike’s temper or Paulina’s erasure, but how Mike chose to address Destiney after the party. As is often customary with abusers, Mike made a huge show of apologizing and “humbling” himself, at one point making it about his relationship with God and at another making himself the victim. “I’m scared,” he told Destiney during their conversation. Mike was scared of people “trying to destroy [his] relationship,” but was visibly agitated when Destiney tried to explain that she was scared of a screaming, aggressive man barging into her home after being asked to leave.
Much like Jessica, Paulina is being asked to preserve Mike’s good image while Mike and his closest friend Reza—who is always trying and failing to hold Mike accountable in the worst way possible—are doing everything they can to shatter it. What feels different this season, however, is that Mike’s vitriol towards women like Paulina, Destiney, and his co-star Golnessa isn’t being edited around to create a nicer, friendlier Mike. His behavior is making it to the final cut, painting a fuller picture of a man who spent seasons hiding behind his blinding white teeth and bulging muscles. Now if only the rest of the Shahs would simply stop enabling him at every opportunity.