How do you follow Scandoval? That was the question facing Bravo and the Vanderpump Rules producers when they convened to discuss season 11.
“Before we started the season, we had a meeting at NBCU,” executive producer and showrunner Alex Baskin tells The Hollywood Reporter of Bravo parent company NBCUniversal, “and we were like, ‘OK, we’ve gotten a lot of attention, there’s been a lot of adulation, and guess what? We have to do it again.’
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“So we stayed really focused, but it was hard. If I can say, it was the hardest season that we have had to make, because we had challenges all over the place. We had extra attention and scrutiny, we had a cast that was still picking up the pieces. And so we really had to work as hard as we’ve ever had to work for what, I think, is a great season and a worthy successor to last season.”
To say pressure was high following the 2023 season of Vanderpump Rules would be an understatement. The 10th season of the Bravo reality series that began by following a group of West Hollywood restaurant employees working for boss Lisa Vanderpump featured a scandal so big that it catapulted the show to record ratings for both the series and for Bravo, took over social media feeds everywhere and even prompted regular coverage from legacy media brands like The New York Times.
When news broke off-camera that Tom Sandoval had been cheating on nine-year partner Ariana Madix with their friend and castmate Rachel Leviss (formerly Raquel Leviss), Bravo picked up their cameras to capture a bonus episode that would lead into a three-part reunion, filmed in March 2023, that would end with Leviss having the final say.
At the time, with interest at an all-time high, producers debated if they should roll right into season 11 (which premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. on Bravo), or give the ensemble the usual breather between seasons.
“Before the reunion, we were debating internally whether we should just keep shooting the next season out of the reunion and we decided to take a minute,” says Baskin. “I remember we looked at each other during the reunion and said, ‘Yeah, there’s no question. We need to take a second before we keep going.'”
The mood was too “white hot at the reunion itself,” Baskin recalls. So production picked back up later that summer. “I don’t have any question that it was the right choice to hold just a beat. We were in a very different place just a few months later. Not that everything was resolved or everything had healed, but at least there was an openness to moving forward [when the season opens].”
One of the biggest worries for Baskin was that season 11 would play out in the shadow of Scandoval.
“My concern was that the entire season could be a relitigation of it, and we could get lost in the weeds of who knew what and when and all of that,” he says, teasing: “There is always another revelation in this group.” (See: Vanderpump Rules‘ season 11 trailer teases a “secret hookup” between Tom Schwarz and Scheana Shay.)
Those three months off, however, were not enough time for producers and Leviss to reach an agreement for her to return to the show. She is the only main castmember who isn’t back for season 11. As viewers will see, Sandoval and Madix are indeed back — even if they are living under the same roof and not communicating with one another.
Following her post-reunion sitdown, Leviss checked herself in to a facility for mental health and trauma therapy, where she remained for three months. Baskin says they had a “series of conversations” with her about her status on the show, but that “there was a lot of waffling and wavering and things depended on the day.
“Our first concern was her mental health. We wanted to make sure that if she was going to come back that it was the right thing for her. It seemed like, on her side, there were other concerns,” he says. “I know that money was at the top end of that, and she felt like she should be rewarded for the previous season. And then she went off and told her story just in a different forum. I think probably based on the counsel of people around her, she just couldn’t wrap her mind around doing the show and so she just went elsewhere.”
Leviss, who has since launched a podcast with iHeartMedia, Rachel Goes Rogue, has said she ultimately left due to both her mental health and because she didn’t receive equal pay to co-stars Sandoval and Madix. After the mega-success of Scandoval, of which she played a central part, Leviss claimed that the network is “laughing and running to the bank with this scandal, and I haven’t seen a single penny. So in that way, I feel like it’s not fair … I feel like I’ve been portrayed as the ultimate villain.”
Leviss, who began as a recurring star in season six and was upped to series regular in season nine, also said she was on the “outskirts” with the cast, and didn’t want to film again with Sandoval. “It’s too risky for me to go back, especially at the most vulnerable state I’ve ever been in my life,” she said on her podcast’s launch episode.
Leviss, it should be noted, as a main castmember was compensated along with her co-stars for the season. The cast is paid on a tiered scale based on the number of seasons they’ve appeared on the series.
Baskin says that as negotiations stalled, “we were fairly deep into the season and so at a certain point, it would have made less sense; it would have just been [her] popping in.”
Still, “I think it’s too bad,” he tells THR. “We thought that we were the appropriate vehicle for her to tell her story. We think it would have been the place that had the greatest impact. But at the same time, if she really didn’t want to be around the group, then it makes sense that she wouldn’t come back. It’s a personal decision that obviously only she can make. I hope she made the right one for her.”
Season 11 wrapped filming in the fall. The reunion episode will film later during the season’s release.
“I can confirm she does not make an appearance on the show this season,” says Baskin. Should the show continue beyond season 11, could he ever see her returning?
“I don’t think that’s in the cards, no,” he says.
Read Baskin’s full THR interview on season 11 and Vanderpump Rules‘ post-Scandoval path ahead.
Vanderpump Rules season 11 premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. on Bravo and streams on Peacock the following day.
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