Category: Bravo

'Top Chef: Texas': Lindsay's jig is up

Top Chef Texas

Thank goodness a random piece of arugula didn’t cost Paul a chance to win “Top Chef: Texas.”

With only three remaining contestants left in Wednesday’s semi-finals, the judges were forced to find the smallest faults with the chefs’ elimination dishes, and for a minute it looked as if Paul’s grossly unacceptable, criminally negligent garnish—at least that’s how Tom Colicchio saw it—would send him home. 

For one of the few times in recent weeks, the “Top Chef” challenges—both the Quickfire and elimination tests—did not feel inane, and the judging (outside of Colicchio’s strange arugula obsession) was not mercurial or unreasonable.

Lindsay was dismissed not for failure, but for her halibut being less great than Sarah’s cannelloni and Paul’s crab. And Sarah was justly rewarded for taking a risk, even if her frozen mousse was the consistency of a paving stone. “I thought your dish was really brave,” Colicchio said, somewhat fulsome praise for baked pasta.

The only real drama now is not whether Sarah can win, but whether Paul can lose. As in past seasons, there’s always room for a last-minute choke, like a golfer with a tournament-winning, tap-in putt who suddenly gets the yips and misses the cup entirely.

Most “Top Chef” viewers can recall Richard Blais’ stagger in season four, Stefan Richter’s not clinching it in season five, or (a dreadfully ill) Angelo Sosa coming up short in season seven. 

Paul has shown no signs of faltering at all.

With Wednesday’s elimination win, Paul is as hot as any “Top Chef” contestant ever has been heading into the championship. He’s won three straight elimination challenges and six of the last eight. He’s faced elimination just once all season, while Sarah has been on the bottom five times.

This is of course a subjective contest, and if there’s any weakness in Paul’s game, it’s his ability to control spiciness. His Quickfire dish on Wednesday was too fiery, while his winning elimination dish not quite piquant enough.

Sarah’s food tends to be too bland too often, and it will be interesting to see how carefully they season their dishes next week.

Let’s just hope if Paul uses arugula, he does so for a reason.

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--John Horn

Photo: Paul in "Top Chef: Texas" Credit: Virginia Sherwood/Bravo

 

Q&A with Bethenny Frankel as her Bravo reality show returns

Bethenny Frankel gears up for another season of her Bravo reality series

Bethenny Frankel is probably the quintessential Bravo-lebrity. A product of the network's "Real Housewives of New York City" tableau, the reality star -- whose fiercely acerbic wit is undeniable -- has managed to forge herself into a commodity beyond the Bravo confines, writing three bestselling books and building her Skinnygirl line of food and drinks into a multimillion-dollar money-making machine. She's even launching her own talk show this summer.

And the reality TV cameras remain by her side. "Bethenny Ever After" returns for a third season Monday, Feb. 20, and it follows the reality star as she deals with her frantic business life (lawsuits and all), her marital struggles and motherhood.

Show Tracker spoke with Frankel during her recent visit to Los Angeles. Read on to get her thoughts on her success, the reality spotlight and when she might turn the cameras off. 

The show is back. Did you ever think this spin-off about your wedding would turn into this multiple-season thing? Or is that the power of being a Bravo-lebrity?

I can’t believe it because it just means we’re getting that much older. I’ve had that many shows under my belt, I must be getting old. But it’s an amazing show. I’m really proud of it. It’s as true as television can possibly get.  It’s uncomfortable for me, at times, but the viewers like it. It’s the real “ever after": it’s the after of me selling my business,  it’s the "after" of just having a baby, it’s the "after" of what it really means to be in a marriage. It’s important to be truthful if you’re going to do this. And you know, people made a big deal out of our boat being lost at sea and how it was staged. It's ridiculous. They just need to watch.

You had been on the Martha Stewart edition of “The Apprentice.” How are the experiences different from show to show and network to network?

All I knew was being under a microphone and under the cameras, 24 hours a day for months when I was on “The Apprentice.” This is a little bit different because I just have a microphone on me and it’s very low-key.  I thought doing reality TV would be the greatest success of my life or the biggest mistake. I had a business already but "The Apprentice” gave me a platform, so when I switched to “The Real Housewives of New York City” I was scared that I was going to destroy everything I worked so hard for. But I knew if it didn’t destroy everything, it would make everything explode. And it did. Look at me [motions to a bottle of her Skinnygirl Sangria]. Like, how did I get here? How did I get to this place? It's insane. And I'm so grateful.

Continue reading »

'Top Chef: Texas': Let the silliness finally stop

Top Chef Texas

Take your pick for what was more ridiculous: the way “Top Chef: Texas” determined its three finalists, or the fact that Sarah made it in while Beverly didn’t.

The current season of “Top Chef” has been one of the least compelling in a long time. The show’s producers don’t deserve all of the culpability—they couldn’t have known when they cast the show so many months ago that most of the current chefs would have the effervescence of flat soda water.

But like chefs who fail to improvise when handed a batch of inharmonious ingredients, the “Top Chef” decision makers compounded the problem by steering the season away from cooking and toward gimmickry.

Wednesday’s three-step elimination challenge marked the nadir of absurd tests, a Winter Olympic-themed competition that almost seemed to parody a season of oddball trials. Cooking on a moving gondola, hacking ingredients out of blocks of ice and shooting a gun at ingredient targets might have sounded fun in the “Top Chef” production offices, but in reality it played more like British Columbia version of “Wipeout” than a highbrow contest.

If the show runners really wanted to have fun, they should have asked Paul to chop vegetables with speed skates, Sarah to beat egg whites with a curling broom, Beverly to skewer kebabs on a ski pole and Lindsay to cook salmon on a snowboard plank. All while flying off an 80-meter ski jump. Blindfolded!

Having thrown the equally bizarre real challenges at the four remaining chefs, the judges then had the nerve to forget what they had forced them to do. Paul was criticized for the uneven cooking of his lamb—meat that was grilled on an induction burner in an unheated gondola. Sarah was penalized for soup with frozen cream that separated as soon as it was thawed—as frozen dairy tends to do on this planet.

But even with so many inane obstacles, the real injustice was the selection of the third finalist. We have no quibble with Paul and Lindsay’s inclusion, as they have been the best “Top Chef” contestants pretty much every week. They deserve to be in the finals.

We’re far less sure about the judges’ choosing Sarah over Beverly. We know that the assessments shouldn’t factor in personality, which is clearly why Sarah wasn’t eliminated weeks ago. In her face-off against Beverly, Sarah twice complained that Beverly was cheating—once by intentionally tripping her up on skis, the second by somehow having more bullets to shoot at ingredients. “I feel like she had way more shots than I did,” Sarah whined. Maybe Beverly's targets were bigger, too?

While we obviously couldn’t taste their food, the judges seemed less impressed with Sarah’s rabbit than Beverly’s arctic char. Head judge Tom Colicchio praised both cooks for taking risks, but clearly Beverly took more—trying a new technique of slow roasting and avoiding her typical Asian influences. Sarah, on the other hand, did what she typically does, and played it safe, braising her rabbit (and, according to the judges, not at all well).

“I want this so bad,” Sarah said when she made the finals. “Thank you for seeing that.”

But “Top Chef” isn’t supposed to be a show about wanting. It’s supposed to be a show about executing. And the show itself, like so many of the season’s contestants, failed to do that at nearly every turn.

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--John Horn

Photo of Beverly in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit: Beverly Sherwood/Bravo.

 

'Top Chef: Texas': Finalists look to cook some winning vittles

Edward, Sarah, Lindsay and Paul in "Top Chef: Texas"
Now the fun can finally start.

With the once-massive “Top Chef: Texas” field pared down to its four remaining contestants, what has been an otherwise pitiful season of cooking at last has a chance to become a little more interesting.

We’ve known for a long time that Paul was the favorite not only to reach the finals but also to win the whole thing, and even if Lindsay barely squeaked into the championship Wednesday night, her presence at the end is not that unexpected.

What is bit surprising, though, is that Beverly managed to stay alive in the “Last Chance Kitchen” spinoff, and that Sarah’s typically cautious work has been rewarded so favorably.

Beverly has been one of the season’s most fascinating characters, in the way that Charlie Sheen’s sobriety has been -- you have a slight passing interest in everything working out, but you’re more captivated by the unvarnished personal drama.

That Beverly, who often is as close to cracking as an egg tossed from a skyscraper, has managed to get past Nyesha, Chris J. and Grayson in the Web-only spin-off series is significant.

The challenges often are particularly stressful, requiring good instincts and steady nerves. Even if Beverly’s cooking tends to be ethnically one-dimensional -- typically, Asian twists on pretty much everything -- she has shown exceptional technique.

There was something especially delicious about the anguished look on Sarah’s face when she found out that Beverly was back. In her usually generous manner, Sarah remarked, "I’m not happy to see Bev."

The dig was inspired by Sarah’s personal and petulant dislike of Beverly, but it might more accurately describe the very real threat Beverly presents.

Sarah hasn’t won an elimination challenge since the eighth week (with her pork sausage-stuffed cabbage), and every one of the remaining chefs, including Beverly, has a more recent triumph.

As for Lindsay, she’s amazingly consistent: Not counting Wednesday night, she has faced elimination only once -- in the very first episode in which it was possible.

That’s right, she has not been on the bottom. Even though she has only two wins, it’s steadiness -- or the lack thereof -- that almost always determines who wins it all, and who doesn’t.

And in that regard, no one touches Paul. We wish he had a bigger personality, but we can’t complain about how generally lackluster the cooking has been this year and obsess about something that has nothing to do with gastronomy. With Wednesday’s top finish, Paul has six elimination wins -- as many as all of the other three remaining chefs combined.

We will miss Edward’s dry wit (and the fact that he doesn’t like Sarah), but his expulsion now opens the doors wider for Paul. He’s the chef to beat, but we also can't help but root for Beverly, or at least hope that somehow she can be the one to send Sarah home, where she can stew in her own resentments and anger.

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-- John Horn

Photo: Edward, Sarah, Lindsay and Paul in "Top Chef: Texas."

Credit: Victoria Sherwood / Bravo

'Top Chef: Texas': Crooked as a barrel of snakes

Lindsay in “Top Chef: Texas”
Like a bad meal that has so many flaws you don’t know where to begin, the current season of “Top Chef” went off the rails from the moment we sat down — 29 chefs were brought in at the start, a de facto confession by the show’s producers that they had no idea how to cast the show — and never regained its direction.

Wednesday night's episode encapsulated the season’s struggles: a bizarre challenge that had nothing to do with cooking, and cooking itself that was far from impressive.

We understand that all television shows need to reinvent themselves to remain fresh. If you look at NFL broadcasts, you’ll see all sorts of new flyover cameras, sideline reporting and diagrammed replays. But the heart of any broadcast remains the football game, as it should be.

“Top Chef: Texas” is no longer a cooking competition, though. It’s a game show, an obstacle course, a juggling contest — that just happens to have food as a theme.

Like other “Top Chef" watchers, we’ve come to fear the ridiculous tests to which the show will subject its chefs. For years, “Top Chef” has put an artificial and unreasonable emphasis on speed.

When you give a chef only a handful of minutes to prepare a meal, you automatically eliminate any number of techniques that great chefs rely upon: brining, braising, baking, butchering — and that’s just the Bs!

In season 9, however, time has been among the more benign constraints. Instead, we get gimmicks. There have been cooking suggestions sent in by Twitter, ingredients spinning around on a conveyor belt, meals prepared from the contents of a backpack of survival food. Maybe next week the remaining chefs can open cans with their teeth, chop onions with guitar string and barbecue ribs over candles.

On Wednesday, the remaining five chefs had to ride around town on bicycles, try to find a kitchen in which to cook, and pack everything up on a bike again and deliver it to the Alamo, all to serve food to ... Pee-wee Herman? ("Oh, my God," my 7-year-old said. "That guy is so creepy.") While we’re reluctant to quote Sarah about anything, she put it best when she said of Pee-wee's bike-delivered elimination challenge, “I would never have had the opportunity to do anything this absurd in my life.”

“Top Chef” should not be about absurdity but virtuosity, particularly this late in the season when in theory only the best chefs remain. Maybe the show had to drum up some false drama because Paul and Lindsay, the season’s best chefs by far, are not exactly bubbly personalities.

But the core interest in “Top Chef” is watching great cooks face revealing tests, not riding bikes while balancing a tray of chicken breasts on one hand. That feels more like the circus — "Big Top Pee-wee," maybe.

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--John Horn

Photo of Lindsay in “Top Chef: Texas.” Credit: Virginia Sherwood / Bravo

'Top Chef Texas': Remaining cooks looking a bit whomperjawed

Top Chef Texas
"It's all about the details now."

That was head judge Tom Colcchio's admonition to the remaining six contestants in "Top Chef: Texas," but we're not so sure that's the main issue right now.

The season's consistently best cooks--Paul and Lindsay--are fanatically focused on the smallest things, which distinguished the cooking of Wednesday's winner, Paul, (who put eggplant in his low-fat Korean barbecue kalbi to give it mouth feel) and runner-up, Lindsay (who substituted chickpea flour in her meatballs to keep them light). Yet the details aren't really all that was missed by the lower finishers, particularly Sarah and the no-longer-with-us Chris J.

Those two cooks failed in their ambition, not just their execution.

The elimination challenge required the half-dozen cooks to prepare "block party" food for 200 guests. Yet again, and somewhat annoyingly, the time restraints were absurd--2 1/2 hours to prepare the dishes. "An insane challenge," as Grayson said, "a little intense" in Lindsay's opinion. Even if the constraints were tough, at least four of the chefs (the partners of Sarah and Lindsay and Grayson and Chris J.) could have come up with dishes a bit more ambitious than their respective meatballs and chicken salad.

Throughout the ninth season of "Top Chef," the contestants have cooked as if they were more worried about failing than inclined toward winning. They remind us of studio executives who look at every script that passes over their desk trying to avoid a bomb rather than find a hit. As Colicchio upbraided Grayson for picking chicken salad as her dish, she was quick to remind him that her rivals' meatballs were hardly more daring. That's probably why Edward, who at least attempted to make a healthy version of a more difficult dish--another version of kalbi--wasn't sent home, even though his dish appeared to be the least edible.

And while we're on the subject of healthy eating--the evening's tie-in was to entrees by "Top Chef" sponsor Healthy Choice --it didn't look like any of the Texas diners had eaten a healthy dish since the Mexican-American War. We don't intend to be cruelly weightist, but if you're asking amateurs to judge low-fat food, maybe the "Top Chef" producers could have found some locals who actually eat it. 

Furthermore, there's a real debate about whether Healthy Choice entrees actually are that good for you. Some critics say they are typically high in sodium, are frequently built around simple carbohydrates like pasta and feature such small portions--350 calories, in some cases--that consumers may eat two of them or have an entirely separate meal a few hours later.

But we digress. Paul's win and Lindsay's strong showing reinforce our belief the two will make the finals. As much as we dislike Sarah, she was on the bottom Wednesday night only because of the way the challenge was set up--she even may have cooked better than Grayson, who was in the winner's bracket. Yet whoever wants to win this thing better turn their cooking up a notch. As I tell my Little League-playing son says, it's better to strike out swinging that take a walk.

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'Top Chef: Texas': Diners are all hat, no cattle

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--John Horn

Photo: Chris J., left, Edward and Sarah in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit" Victoria Sherwood/Bravo.

 

Bethenny Frankel getting her own talk show? Yes

Betthnanny
Bethenny Frankel, the former member of "The Real  Housewives of New York" who has starred in two other reality series about her life, is getting her own syndicated talk show this summer.

The daily one-hour "Bethenny" will begin this summer and air in a six-week preview on select Fox stations, including KTTV in Los Angeles. The show, which lists Ellen DeGeneres as an executive producer, will feature Frankel's "no-nonsense perspective on everything from pop culture and current events to relationships, beauty, fitness and lifestyle segments."

Frankel first gained attention as the first runner-up of NBC's "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart." After three seasons on "The Real Housewives of New York," she starred in spin-offs "Bethenny Getting Married?" and "Bethenny Ever After." A third season of "Bethenny Ever After" will premiere on Bravo next month.

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Photo: Bethenny Frankel. Credit: BravoTV

Tragedy has not dragged down 'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills'

Taylor armstrong
“The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Taylor Armstrong is sobbing uncontrollably and screaming during a lavish, Moroccan-themed party. The catalyst of the meltdown was fellow housewife Camille Grammer, who had openly discussed Taylor’s claims of abuse against husband Russell Armstrong in a previous episode. “You have no idea what she’s done to me!” Armstrong wails about Camille.

This scene from the Bravo series’ second season was all the more unsettling because viewers knew what lay ahead: Weeks after it was filmed, Russell killed himself.

Reality TV thrives on friction, but how much drama is too much? In the wake of Russell’s suicide, the network was presented with an ethical quandary that would also test the limits of viewers’ interest in reality spectacle. As it turns out, the controversy did little damage to the series’ ratings. The second-season premiere drew 2.2 million viewers, up 46% from the first-season debut. It has averaged 2.2 million viewers in the season that concludes Monday night, about the same number of viewers it drew the previous season.

“It was unlike anything we had ever encountered before,” said Andy Cohen, Bravo’s executive vice president of development and talent and an executive producer on the show, reflecting on the network’s struggle to decide how to proceed.

 News of Armstrong’s suicide in August came just as the anticipated second season was about to premiere. In the days after Russell’s death, implications and decisions were being weighed as the network faced difficult choices: scrap the season, edit either Taylor or Russell or both of them out, or proceed with the season as planned. Los Angeles Times TV critic Mary McNamara called for the season to be canceled, writing: “The allure of the ‘Real Housewives’ shows has been, in part, their celebration of the unreality of life — all those dinner party conversations that were just as manufactured and misguidedly narcissistic as the surgically altered faces … offstage a man was slowly moving toward self-destruction. How can we now watch and think of anything else?”

The network brass went into lockdown for three weeks, consulting with other housewives and with the show’s producers. Ultimately, they decided to proceed with the footage more or less as they had originally planned. Taylor’s story line focused on her as a woman dealing with domestic abuse and a dissolving marriage.

Continue reading »

'Top Chef: Texas': Which cooks are walkin' in tall cotton?

Top Chef Texas
Are we excited, or just resigned?

There are now only six contestants left in “Top Chef: Texas.” And like much of their cooking during the ninth season of the reality series, it’s hard to get that energized about any of them in absolute terms.

In relative terms, it’s even more disheartening: Consider some of the chefs who preceded this season’s cooks, and you realize how much less dazzling the current bunch are than the brothers Voltaggio, Richard Blais, Stefan Richter, Stephanie Izard, Carla Hall, even Fabio Viviani — we could go on, but you get the picture.

Wednesday’s show, where the challenge was to cook a meal fit for an evil queen (in a naked cross-promotion by Bravo owner Comcast, the guest judge was Charlize Theron, the star of an upcoming movie from Universal Studios, also a Comcast entity), the preparation across the board for the very first time this season was superior and inspired. 

“In all the years of doing this,” lead judge Tom Colicchio said, “this has been one of the finest meals I’ve had the pleasure of eating.”

To find anyone to send home, the judges picked some mighty small nits, ultimately axing Beverly for … using arrowroot as a thickening agent?

We’re hoping the remaining six don’t soon return to their mediocre form, as one of the last half-dozen inevitably must win by more than default, while four will advance to the finals. And don’t discount Beverly, who beat long-running “Last Chance Kitchen” survivor Nyesha and could potentially return to the finals.

Here’s our handicap of the remaining chefs, ranked in order from least to most likely to win:

Chris J.: He always seems to be trying to be too clever and generally failing not only at being witty but also competent. Like everyone else, he put out a great dish Wednesday (a stuffed apple dessert), but once you get past the sizzle and the strange hair, there’s not much meat on the bone, is there? Time may be running out for him and his liquid nitrogen.

Grayson: We still can’t forgive her hula-hoop-sized steak a few weeks back, about enough beef to make a Lady Gaga meat dress. She’s never been that impressive, and never that terrible. In Wednesday’s elimination challenge, she ended up on the bottom, but definitely swung for the fences, turning out a chicken dish that served the spirit and letter of the task.

Sarah: It’s a little hard to like her cooking and a lot harder to like her. There have been plenty of talented chefs with worse personalities (season four’s Lisa Fernandes comes to mind), but Sarah has never really wowed us; and like her attitude, her food preparation is almost always defensive — working not to be eliminated rather than to win.

Edward: All season, we have been transfixed by his strange way of talking, which calls to mind a hockey player who’s had his jaw wired shut. No matter. He rarely panics, is often in the running for a win and appears to be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances.

Lindsay: We know from last week’s “restaurant wars” that she’s better off in the kitchen than at the front of the house, but that’s a very small demerit for a chef who may have only one top finish but has been on the bottom only once — in the very first episode. Even with immunity, she nearly won Wednesday’s elimination challenge. She feels like a lock for the finals.

Paul: Week in and week out, he’s the very best chef on the show. Although he cooked guardedly at first, he’s become riskier but no less accomplished. Of the remaining chefs, he’s the only one with three wins and seems poised to reach the finals if not take it all.

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'Top Chef: Texas': Fixin' to get interesting

'Top Chef: Texas': Diners are all hat, no cattle

'Top Chef: Texas': Sarah turns wolverine mean

--John Horn

Photo: Lindsay in “Top Chef: Texas.” Credit: Virginia Sherwood / Bravo 

 

'Top Chef: Texas': Sarah turns wolverine mean

'Top Chef: Texas' Sarah turns mean


When Sarah said to her team at the beginning of Wednesday’s “Top Chef: Texas” restaurant wars, “We have to stay calm, we have to trust each other,” you felt as if you were watching Charlie Sheen swearing, “I’m not crazy anymore.” It’s like a scene in a movie where a man turns to his girlfriend and says “Life couldn’t possibly be better” just as a meteor crashes through their roof, or when George H.W. Bush pledges, “Read my lips. No new taxes.”

In other words, you know it won’t happen.

Sarah is turning as sour as week-old buttermilk left in the sun, as bitter as bolted radicchio, as unpleasant as rancid olive oil.

And yet, like that jar of pickles in the back of your refrigerator, she doesn’t go away, even when her cooking is as pitiable as her personality. But the longer she lasts, the worse she becomes. Sarah reminds us of what an Oscar-winning producer once told us about Eddie Murphy: “The word grateful is not in his vocabulary.”

In Wednesday’s restaurant wars, the four remaining women were pitted against the four remaining men in a competition Chris J. smartly likened to a “Kobayashi Maru,” an unwinnable Starfleet training exercise in “Star Trek.” The time given to plan (45 minutes) and prepare (five hours) a three-course, two-option menu borders on the absurd; and, not surprisingly, none of the food really looked that good.

But the conceit of restaurant wars is less about the food, and more about the contestants — specifically, not only how they will manage the division of labor but also how they will cope with the pressure. No sooner were Sarah’s United Nations remarks out of her mouth that she turned on Beverly (for suggesting the team cook beets!) and Grayson (who thought sliced berries would be better than whole ones!).

And while graceful losers are hard to come by in life as in television, Sarah distinguished herself as a graceless winner, saying after Beverly won the evening’s top prize that Lindsay deserved “as much praise or more” than Beverly.

We will miss the eliminated Ty-Lör, whose cooking was often as sharp as his wit, and typically treated his colleagues as if they were friends and not rivals. But his shrimp and crab dish was deemed the worst of the evening, by judges who seemed to have forgotten the conditions under which the food was planned, prepared and plated (I’d pay to see Emeril Lagasse try to serve 100 people nothing more complicated than breakfast with just two other people in the kitchen). 

Whenever guest judge Hugh Acheson gets all high and mighty about ineptitude — he called Chris J.’s dessert “a bit of a jumbled mess in a bowl” — we feel compelled to remember that he was the very first chef sent home when he appeared on “Top Chef: Masters” a year ago (he was reinstated only after John Sedlar was forced to withdraw from the competition).

So maybe Hugh and Sarah can have a cold beer together, calm down, and try to behave just a little more kindly. As New Year’s resolutions go, it shouldn’t be that hard, should it?

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Photo: Grayson, Beverly, Sarah and Lindsay (from left) in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit: Vivian Zink / Bravo

-- John Horn

‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ recap: Depth Charges

Rhobh2

Say what you will for Punta Cana, D.R. -- it’s no Lanai, Hawaii. But devoted viewers of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” could be forgiven for momentarily thinking they’d been beamed back into last season’s "RHONJ" getaway.

There, denizens of Wayne also frolicked on white beaches, competed for the mini-est bikini, invaded each others’ suites, went off on a blue-water cruise, and had a tense dinner from which one couple departed in a massive huff.

But Beverly Hills is no Wayne. (Do the Bev Hills ladies even know where Wayne is?) On Lanai, where wandering valets spray you with water and offer cooling cucumber slices, the suites are posher, the vistas more beauteous, the bikinis expensiver -- and the stakes, despite those cucumber slices, much, much higher.

Last week, we were treated to the shattering news that Taylor and Russell Armstrong’s marriage is over. But, though the assembled debated mightily whether the breakup, not the first, would last, it was another couple that sucked up most of the drama -- the tardy Kim Armstrong and her incredibly creepy boyfriend, Ken:

 

I haven’t always taken Kyle’s side, as I think she is often a big ol’ troublemaker. But watching Kim offer strained smiles to Ken as they missed every event in a massive cloud of mutual passive-aggression made me sympathetic to her sometime drama-queen sister.

After a day exploring fish on a catamaran with the assembled, even Mauricio went from snorkeling to snarkling, pressing Kim and Ken on why they were 36 hours late. Before offering a toast “to truth,” he noted, “When you lie, it makes tension, and nobody can have fun.” Mauricio, thank you! I think this might actually be the first useful thing uttered in Real Housewives history. And if I couldn’t add the observation that being surrounded by cameras 24/7 might also inhibit a) truth and b) fun, I’d be on board with your philosophy entirely.

On a lighter note, as I continue my investigations of the "RHOBH" relationships, I can’t help but notice the secret to a happy marriage may be to have relatively little interest in your husband. After humorously tolerating Ken’s ogling of Brandi -- whose rattling limb structure makes "RHOATL" supermodel Cynthia look positively rotund -- Lisa laughingly sighed she might have to put out that night. Adrienne groused how much she missed her children while Paul dragged her to a romantic lookout, where she noted “I couldn’t be there for more than 10 minutes. I’d get bored.” And Mauricio, pleading for a moment of attention, practically had to physically remove Kyle from the wall where she was eavesdropping on her sister instead of sharing a birthday margarita with her strapping, emotionally needy, super-hot husbs.

But the most serious run-down of relationships in this episode occurred in the preview of the next. There, we’re treated to a shocking shot of Taylor with a visible -- if fading -- black eye.

On the one hand, it explains why Bravo has been unsparing in its treatment of Russell, building up the narrative that he was secretly an out-of-control bully until we, the viewers, could see the undeniable proof. But it makes one wonder -- what would have happened if Russell had lived? We know he sent a litigious email to Camille simply for repeating Taylor’s confession that he’d broken her jaw off-camera. What has Bravo known about the off-camera abuse these two years? And would they have risked getting a nasty email of their own?

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— Lizzie Skurnick
Twitter/lizzieskurnick

Photo: "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" cast members (clockwise from top left): Lisa Vanderpump, Adrienne Maloof, Taylor Armstrong, Kim Richards, Brandi Granville, Dana Wilkey, Kyle Richards and Camille Grammer. Credit: Richard McLaren / Bravo

Late Night: Anderson Cooper would like to ban the Kardashians

On "Watch What Happens Live," Anderson Cooper tells Andy Cohen he'd like to ban the Kardashians from his show
On Sunday, Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live" switched to its new five-night-a-week format. Except for the increased frequency, little about the talk show, hosted by Andy Cohen and broadcast live from the tchotchke-filled "Bravo Clubhouse," appears to have changed. 

The guest lineup, mostly cobbled together from various Bravo personalities and Cohen's celebrity pals, could definitely use some diversity. But "Watch What Happens" has something that most other late-night shows are sorely lacking: spontaneity. Cohen steers well clear of the rehearsed conversations that make so much late-night TV feel like an endless press junket, opting instead for fast-paced quiz games that make the show feel like an adult sleepover party.

On Monday night's episode, for instance, "Real Housewife" Camille Grammer and CNN anchor/daytime talk-show host Anderson Cooper participated in a game called "Plead the Fifth" -- basically a series of prying personal questions. 

First he interrogated Grammer, asking her the weirdest place she'd ever "gotten busy" (in a laundry room) and how many men she'd made out with since her divorce (three). Wisely, Grammer pleaded the fifth when it came to the subject of her new boyfriend's habits in bed.

Then it was Cooper's turn in the hot seat. He demurred when it came to the subject of sexting, and when asked what his "freak number" would be on a scale from 1 to 10, he joked, "I'm a WASP. My freak number's like 1."

But one question -- "What celebrity would you refuse to have on your syndicated talk show?" -- elicited a candid response from Cooper. 

After some hemming and hawing, Cooper said, "I'd say generally any member of the Kardashian family."

Then, perhaps fearing the wrath of the almighty Kris Jenner, he instantly began to backpedal. "I don't have anything against them, I just think they're everywhere. I don't think I could really add much," he said.

Yeah, sure.

 

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— Meredith Blake 
twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: Andy Cohen welcomes guests Camille Grammer and Anderson Cooper to "Watch What Happens Live." Credit: Peter Kramer / Bravo

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