Chely la Chismosa: A cultural dialogue

“The only queso I eat is chisme.”

Real Housewife of Oakland

Hi, my name is Araceli and I am a Bravoholic.

I have been a Bravoholic for over 10 years, with some gap years. This secret love was rekindled when I had a miscarriage and was miscarrying on my couch watching reruns of Real Housewives of New York City. Ever since then, I began to shed the shame that comes with watching reality TV, and more specifically with the Bravo Housewives franchises. It has been said by comedians and critics that Housewives are for people with low IQs. But, as a sociologist by study, I am so intrigued by the course of people’s lives and how they decide to react and adjust to perceptions of themselves.

Throughout the years the obsession has grown: following Instagram accounts, podcasts, memes, and more Bravo shows! Over time you can spot a fake. No not a fake bolsa, but a fake character/caricature of oneself. Is this señora a straight shooter, does she have skeletons in her closet, is she lying about her cosmetic surgery or her wigs? So many of us Bravoholics can spot a fake anywhere! And as of the last few years Bravoholics got their AA’s in law, watching crime after crime happen on our screens and on Page Six.

In the Bravoverse, there is now a canon of criminal records. Here are the top 4 Bravo alleged and confirmed criminals:

1. Real Housewife of New Jersey: Teresa Giudice, tax evasion and forged documents.

2. Real Housewife of New York: Luann DeLesseps, public intoxication and assaulting an officer.

3. Real Housewife of Beverly Hills: Erika Girardi, embezzlement, racketeering, and most recently aiding and abetting in 

4. Real Housewife of Salt Lake City: Jen Shah, wire fraud and money laundering.

Learned it in Jail

The infamous legal cases of Teresa Giudice and her undocumented ex-husband, Joe Giudice, gave the Bravoverse our very first legal scandal. In October 2009 they filed for bankruptcy, and quickly pulled the bankruptcy petition by 2011. In between those two years, the feds found out that the Giudices were not reporting over $1 million on their taxes for 2004-2008. Finally in 2013, the Giudices were charged with 39 counts of all kinds of fraud (mail, wire, and bankruptcy) for minimizing their yearly income. According to Teresa, she blindly signed documents and trusted her husband. This eventually led her to serve 11 months in federal prison, or as she called it, “camp.” After Teresa served her sentence, we saw her come home to her four daughters and Joe. He would then follow his imprisonment sentence for 41 months! His legal troubles were just beginning. On top of money laundering, Joe received a DUI and was caught using his brother’s ID to obtain another license while his license was suspended! Like, en serio, you can’t make this shit up! Come March 2016, Joe began his 41 month sentence in federal prison. As his sentence came to an end, Joe was deported in 2019 to his native Italy.

HOT TAKE: Teresa walked, so every criminal housewife could fly! She showed the viewers that Housewives can commit a crime and still create a character arc as a storyline for the rest of their TV career. As a first generation Italian-American and Italian immigrant, the Giudices did their very best to live out the American Dream and provide for their families. Teresa reminds me of every immigrant daughter who wanted to give everything to her family, and lives with Catholic guilt for finding herself behind bars. The Gorgas (Teresa’s family) and the Giudices were families that immigrated to the U.S. with very little money to their names. So it was important for Joe and Tre to financially provide for their parents, showing them that their sacrifices were worth it; a common trope for children of immigrants. I believe Teresa lives with guilt and feels at fault for her mother’s death, praying for forgiveness until the end of her days.

I stan Teresa Gorga Giudice, may happiness find her. 

Money can Bail You Out

On Christmas morning, 2017, we got the gift of a lifetime: LuAnn de Lesseps was arrested for assaulting an officer, public intoxication, and resisting arrest! The Bravoverse was cheering and relishing in an alcoholic tragedy. At this time in LuAnn’s life, she was divorcing her husband of less than a year. The night of her arrest, LuAnn went to do some emotional cutting by returning to her wedding venue from a year ago. Instead of celebrating an anniversary, she was in a state of grief and humiliation. So to spill the tea, LuAnn married Tom D’Agostino, an infamous New York playboy. He was caught cheating on Lu at the Ritz, and various other times while they were engaged. A fellow housewife, Bethenny Frankel, broke the news to her on season 8, episode 20. It’s prime drama, you have to watch it! To bring it back, LuAnn got so blacked out drunk, she couldn’t find her hotel room in Palm Beach, Florida. She broke into the wrong room and had to be dragged out of the hotel. Her arrest was iconic for slipping out of her handcuffs and then beating on the officer attempting to arrest her. In that moment, Countess LuAnn de Lesseps was for the people saying FTP! Anyways, she was charged with all those three counts and was sentenced to hella volunteer hours. You can google her arrest to watch the footage of the assault and being corrected when she was checking in by the police. They were not playing games with her. Over the last few years we have seen LuAnn struggle with her alcoholism and find freedom in her sobriety. It hasn’t been an easy road for her!

HOT TAKE: LuAnn’s arrest was the best thing that has happened to her. The former Countess, not only taught us that money can’t buy you class, but alcohol is not a prerequisite to be a housewife. You have iconic housewives like Caroline Manzo (RHONJ) and Margaret Josephs (RHONJ) that have been cult favorites because they are strong assertive women. But many housewives rely on alcohol to give them the wit for one-liners, the strength to face a challenge, or a coping mechanism when shit hits the fan. In this case, shit hit the fan for Countess LuAnn.

In addition, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room, a white woman from New York assaulted an officer in Florida, without any violent repercussions. LuAnn avoided jail time by accepting a plea deal after pleading guilty for all three counts. LuAnn was sentenced to a year on probation, service hours, AA classes, a MAAD meeting and no alcohol or illegal drug possession or consumption. After her plea deal was settled she went to rehab, something a Countess and New York socialite can afford. So much that she went a second time when her children sued her – that’s for another time!

Here are the NYPD 2017 Reports & Analysis in regards to misdemeanor arrests and race:

The Misdemeanor Assault arrest population is similarly distributed. Black arrestees (47.4%)

and Hispanic arrestees (35.5%) account for the majority of Misdemeanor Assault arrestees while White arrestees (10.4%) and Asian/Pacific Islander arrestees (6.5%)  account for the remaining significant portions of the Misdemeanor Assault arrestee population.

New York City PD is notorious for arresting and murdering people of color. Had this been a black man going into a stranger’s hotel room, trust me, he would not have gotten a plea deal the way LuAnn did. The Countess is able to make a drunken fool of herself over and over again, and then head to rehab for a cleanse like it is a vacation. Only recently, LuAnn has been kicked out of a piano bar for more borracha shenanigans!

It’s Expensive to be Me!

Okay, now here comes the latest crimes in the Bravo Universe: Erika Girardi

(aka Erika Jayne) and Jennifer Shah. They each have their own specials on Hulu; a must see for a  deep dive. Real Housewives of Beverly Hills aired season 11, May19-November 3, 2021, where we got to watch Erika file for divorce from her 82-year-old husband, the . According to her castmates, it was unexpected. And as the Bravoholics were making their GIFs and memes about the Girardi divorce, a week later EJ asked for spousal support and requested her soon-to-be-ex to pay for her legal fees. Todo sin verguenza! By the end of the month, the financial support was pulled.

The special thing about EJ’s situation is that there were consistent updates, allegations, and gossip circulating as they were filming. We were all excited to watch it play out live on Twitter and Page Six, watch the Hulu special, and rewatch it play out during RHOBH season 11. In December 2020, families of plane crash victims, that were represented by Tom Girardi and his firm, spoke out that they allegedly owed millions of dollars to clients. The lawsuit includes Erika Girardi alleging that she received the money to maintain her very lavish lifestyle. Of course Tom Girardi and his firm were finding themselves in financial woes, and filed for bankruptcy in January 2021! On top of that, the tabloids and blogs were accusing this divorce to be fraudulent due to the lawsuits happening simultaneously. As if it couldn’t get any worse, Tom was placed under conservatorship in February 2021.

Many months passed, and we hadn’t received any updates until July 2021. Victims of a PG&E explosion requested were informed by the judge that they could make an effort to collect their money from Erika Jayne. As of February 2022, Erika Jayne has been accused of aiding and abetting Tom Girardi in a $2.1 million lawsuit. To expand on your Bravo degree, watch The Housewife and the Hustler on Hulu.

HOT TAKE: Watching Erika Jayne act like a victim this last season as we watched headlines take center stage was super cringe. EJ is known for her ice queen demeanor and held on to it, hoping for sympathy from viewers. Although EJ is being convicted for aiding and abetting money, she is also trying to remain innocent. The hard part as a viewer was that Erika Jayne pronounces herself as a feminist and independent woman, but we watched her protect her soon-to-be ex-husband. She tried to paint Tom as charismatic, but also claimed  that he was a cold husband. 

Erika Jayne shows us a powerful and confident woman can still be subject to the financial patriarchy of their Sugar Daddy turned husband. We get to witness and learn from her mistakes, as she warns all viewers to check their bank accounts and make sure they are involved with finances. A lesson we already learned from Teresa Giudice. It is a common theme that when these women begin to divorce, they find new properties and assets that they were unaware of. And I agree that it is the responsibility of both parties to be open about financial successes and hardships; no matter who the breadwinner in the home is. Grab your bills from the colchón and invest!

Kim Kardashian is my Lawyer

“Where were you when Jen Shah was arrested?” 

I was in a Zoom meeting, freshly pregnant in March 2021. My phone alerts were going off the Saint Lunita, Spring 2022 chain, and my jaw dropped. I think the meeting was serious because I had to check myself, pero like, such a shock! Real Housewives of Salt Lake City was in the middle of filming their cast trip for season 2. The FBI, Homeland Security and NYPD arrived at the infamous Beauty Lab + Laser parking lot to arrest Jen Shah. If you haven’t watched season 2 of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, then you don’t know that Jen was tipped off minutes before law enforcement showed up on the scene! As seen on the show, Jen gets the call, asks her castmate to unmic her, shares with her friends that her husband is going under emergency surgery (LIE), and is picked up by an assistant. Moments after law enforcement left the scene, she was arrested. So juicy!

Jen Shah has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering for 10 years! So basically, Jen and her #1 assistant, Stuart Smith, had been targeting senior citizens as “leads.” They would sell these victims’ information to telemarketing companies and would continue to make a profit. According to the Hulu documentary, The Housewife & the Shah Shocker, the investigation started about a decade ago, where the FBI was investigating the source of these fraudulent cases. Seriously, watch it!

Jen Shah’s team is working over time to dismiss all charges and plead not guilty on all accounts. They have asked the court to not use evidence from Real Housewives of Salt Lake City or the Hulu doc. Everyone who has been charged has pleaded guilty and taken a plea deal, even Jen’s ride or die, Stuart, is pleading guilty. Jen Shah is maintaining her innocence. As of March 2022, the hearing will now begin July 11, 2022.

HOT TAKE: Honestly, Jen Shah’s trial needs to just happen already, be found guilty and fulfill a prison sentence; not necessarily all 50 years, but something. I think Jen needs to take responsibility for putting innocent, naive victims into financial distress. The hardest part to witness was on the day of her arrest, Homeland Security arrived at her rental home with AR-15s and they escorted her black sons out of their house at gunpoint. Like, fuck! Had it not been for her discretions, her sons would not be subject to those social and political traumas. In once of Jen’s confessionals she laments about her sons being potentially murdered by police, as we have seen play out many times on innocent Black lives such as Breonna Taylor and Ahmed Arbery.

At the end of this all, I quote Roxane Gay, public intellectual and author of Bad Feminist, “I think that the Real Housewives franchises allow women to be their truest selves. We see the mess, we see their amazing friendships and everything in between. When women are allowed to be their fullest selves, [it is] the most feminist thing we can do.” This resonates with me because we get to learn from their experiences, we get to witness women ride for each other and keep it real. I’ll elaborate more on this another time. As I said previously, we can spot a fake.

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