The 'Vanderpump' cheating scandal is on everyone's lips. Experts explain why 'Scandoval' is so fascinating.
You might have noticed that the name Tom Sandoval — as well as the “Scandoval” term he's inspired — has been taking over pop-culture headlines and social-media feeds. That's because the 40-year-old Vanderpump Rules star, it was revealed, was cheating on his girlfriend of 9 years, Ariana Madix, with one of her best friends, Raquel Leviss, all while filming the show’s 10th season.
The situation does feel unique, due to the fact that Bravo has captured months and years of film that can possibly uncover more details about the affair and about how those involved deceived people around them. But the nature of the situation and how fans are involving themselves isn't unlike what we've seen before with cheating scandals — including those involving Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian, Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo, Jay Z and Beyonce and, most recently, Benjamin Millepede and Natalie Portman.
All have prompted a denouncement of the cheater and alleged mistress, as onlookers take part in using what clues they have to investigate what went wrong. But why is everyone so invested?
Because people love gossip.
What is 'Scandoval'?
A blend of the words scandal and Sandoval has been widely used to refer to the offense of one of the show's frontrunners. Sandoval — who is often referred to by his last name to differentiate him from Tom Schwartz, on the same cast — has been on Vanderpump Rules since its inception in 2013, when Real Housewives of Beverly Hills alum Lisa Vanderpump led a spinoff featuring the glamorous staff of her Los Angeles restaurants and bars. Sandoval has showed off his skills as a bartender, musician and restauranteur himself. He was also caught up in an early love triangle when his ex-girlfriend and former cast mate Kristen Doute cheated on him in season 2. Sandoval faced cheating allegations himself as he started dating Madix, a newer cast member at the time, before he and Doute had separated.
Years later, Sandoval and Madix had established themselves as "life partners," buying a home together in 2019 and co-writing a cocktail recipe book. As of season 9, the two were having discussions about marriage and family as Madix revealed that she froze her eggs. By the end of season 10, all of that has shattered after Madix discovered that Sandoval was cheating on her with Leviss — a season 5 addition who was formerly engaged to fellow cast mate James Kennedy and who is one of Madix's closest friends.
How did it become so big?
"It's sort of a perfect confluence of events," celebrity reporter and creator of "Gossip Time" newsletter, Allie Jones, tells Yahoo Life. "Ariana found out about the scandal on March 1, she called her producers on March 2, and by March 3 cameras were back up and running to capture the aftermath of the scandal and the affair. And then, of course, Bravo works that into the season."
The network swiftly modified the season's ending after capturing footage of a newly heartbroken Madix confronting Sandoval and finding comfort in friends. Bravo also featured Sandoval and Leviss revealing parts of their secret dynamic to audiences for the first time in the episode, which hit a series-high rating of 4.1 million viewers.
"Wednesday nights on Bravo are very much alive," Andy Cohen said during an appearance on Dear Media's Not Skinny But Not Fat podcast.
A three-part reunion, which began May 24, has promised to leave no stone unturned. The final part airs Wednesday night.
"Bravo was really smart in making sure that all sides of this were captured and available for consumption in a timely manner," Jones says.
Why do people care?
"I firmly believe that our fascination with gossip is part of human nature, it's part of who we are. It's not a character flaw. It's a social skill," social psychologist Frank McAndrew tells Yahoo Life. "It's as much like breathing as anything else."
While cavemen couldn't have anticipated the inner workings of reality television, nor the scandals that cameras would capture, McAndrew explains that gossip and the knowledge that comes with it has been important throughout human history.
"People who were fascinated at the private lives of other people simply did better than people who didn’t, and over time, those genes are the ones that got passed down to us," he says. "So like it or not, we’re the descendants of busybodies. It's just in our nature to be that way."
Meltem Yucel, postdoctoral associate at Duke University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, notes that it plays an important role in our relationships and interactions with others.
"When someone gossips, they're signaling to others which rules they care about," she tells Yahoo Life. "Negatively gossiping with your friends about people cheating can show others that we think cheating is not OK — we wouldn't cheat ourselves, and that we would not tolerate our friends cheating on their partners, or our partner cheating on us."
It's a "safer" way to enforce rules and standards without sacrificing personal relationships, she says, because of the distance between audiences and the people engulfed in drama on screen.
"When you gossip about people you actually know, it's a risky thing to do ... You might have some repercussions," Yucel says, noting that taboo topics like sexual relationships inherently draw more interest. "These kinds of situations also inspire a lot of questions from us. What would I do if I knew my friend did this? What would I do if somebody did this to me? What would I do if my friend knew and didn't tell me? So it also lets us put ourselves in these situations and again, in somewhat of a safer way, because this isn't happening to us."
But also, celebrities matter to us. Despite the one-sided nature of parasocial relationships with TV stars and celebrities, McAndrew assures audiences that there is a real connection that drives the curiosity and intrigue displayed during these scandals.
"You know more about a lot of celebrities than you probably know about your next door neighbor," he says. "And that means they are part of your world, and that's why we need to know more about them."