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Cool Girls Finish Last
A three-week long Superbowl began this week. Well, really, it began last week, rounding out a perfect calendar month of highly produced, advertisement darling, spectacle television. Vanderpump Rules, a reality television staple on the Bravo network, aired part one of a three part reunion special, bringing together its cast of binge drinking, cheating, bartending (and occasionally bar owning) television personalities.
The series first aired in 2013, a spin-off of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills aimed at a younger, poorer audience. Rather than following the lives of the rich and highly favored, millions gathered weekly to watch the lives of Los Angeles’ finest restaurant servers and bartenders who had nothing to lose in the way of reputations. Vanderpump Rules became the Jersey Shore of the Bravo network, spending the next decade shocking audiences with more creatively vile human behavior than had ever been shown on television.
Think, a grown man sleeping with his best friend’s girlfriend in his best friend's bed, on camera. Think, cutting lines of cocaine the morning of your wedding, on camera. Think, two white cast members framing a black coworker for a crime she didn't commit for giggles, I guess. Basically, it's perfect trash television.
This year, the show’s scandals reached new heights when an eight-month affair was revealed between two cast members, Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss. Sandoval, an original staple on the show, was at the time in a nine year relationship with another cast member, Ariana Madix, with whom he owned a home. On the modern scales of justice, betraying your partner in home ownership is far more sordid than simple cheating. To make matters worse, the pair was in the process of freezing embryos, which naturally, was aired on television.
I fear I am losing some of my audience here, but I have more to say, please stick with me. Not only was Tom Sandoval cheating on his partner in love and real estate, but he couldn’t manage to stay sober for one consecutive week in order to fulfill his half of the IVF process. This man is 40 years old. I digress.
The scandal broke in March, and we’ve all been talking about it since then. Frankly, I don’t need to talk about it anymore here, there’s a Reddit page for that. What I do want to talk about is something that stuck with me from part one of the reunion special.
As Andy Cohen attempted to shepherd the cast through an unpacking of Sandoval’s motives, Madix (his 37-year old scorned partner in love and real estate) said something illuminating.
“[When we first met], Tom thought I was very cool. I had no responsibilities. I could stay up all night, bartend all night, and then be like, ‘oh, we’re gonna go do mushrooms together cause we’re all just great friends.’ You’re cool, you’re chill, and then when we started dating.”
This small statement, a little fleck of gold under a massive pile of shit, reminded me of my favorite thing I’ve ever read, which became my favorite I’d ever heard in a movie, which will now become my favorite thing I’ve ever written.
From the Gospel of the author Gillian Flynn, from the novel Gone Girl (2012), then the film Gone Girl (2014), then the Gifted Baby substack (2023).
“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”
“Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: ‘You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them.’ They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be.”
“Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs. Maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl.”
“How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: ‘I like strong women.’ If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because ‘I like strong women’ is code for ‘I hate strong women.’”
To the minor sect of my readership that identify as men, sorry if that made you uncomfortable. Dad, Peepa, uncles, coworkers — kidding, I only work with the best and brightest (women) – thank you for reading. I promise we’ll never discuss “the world’s biggest culinary gang bang” or anal sex again.
Reality television, even the most highly-produced samples of it, are defined by one simple thing – reality. And while 98% of American women have never experienced intimacy with Tom Sandoval, – notice, I won’t discount potential fornication with the remaining 2% of the American female population – many viewers have taken this ridiculous scandal very, very close to heart. There’s something universally revolting about an overly-manicured man, hemorrhaging thousands of dollars a day to headline a god-awful cover band, donning white polished fingernails, fresh off his 40th birthday, justifying an affair with the words “I just lost my mojo.”
And rediscover that mojo he did, in the (literal) depths of a doe-eyed 28-year-old former beauty pageant contestant with no responsibilities, bountiful eggs, and a the free time take mushrooms on a weekday. As Gillian Flynn decreed in the chapters that followed Gone Girl’s epic “cool girl” monologue, “he found himself a newer, younger, bouncier Cool Girl.”
The “cool girl” is an offshoot of the male gaze, a pesky little cog in the social programming of women which pushes us to shape ourselves; our desires, our appearances, our interests, our senses of humor, to align with those of the men around us. For some, known colloquially as “guy’s girls,” that desire, that aim to be perceived as “cool” by dudes, takes precedence over pretty much everything else in life. We hate those girls, and I can say that because this is my substack and maybe you stopped reading at the top of the Gone Girl excerpt anyways.
For Vanderpump Rules’ Ariana Madix, and every other woman who has found themselves the victim of some dude’s midlife crisis, I still think you’re cool. Better yet, I think the coolest thing about you is your rising 401k, your 750+ credit score, and the regularity with which you see your gynecologist.
Well there we went, over-intellectualizing reality television again.