All the Things I Didn’t Consent to at BravoCon

On being exposed to random dicks, almost certainly catching covid, and drawing Bravo boundaries I didn't know I needed.

In Depth
All the Things I Didn’t Consent to at BravoCon
Image:Paul Morigi, Jason Mendez, Rich Polk (Getty Images)

The first episode of The Real Housewives aired on March 21, 2006, the same day I turned 12 years old. It’s been said many times—namely by Bravo’s top banana, Andy Cohen—that in opening the wrought iron gates to the lives of Orange County’s obscenely wealthy and deliciously gauche, the network heralded an era of reality television that gave way to franchise additions in 11 American cities, 19 international cities, 23 spin-offs, and legions of competing network knockoffs. Perhaps more importantly though, it made Bravo the bona fide on all things B-list celebrity and rich people behaving badly.

It makes sense for someone like me to attend BravoCon, the three-day convergence of diehards in New York City’s Javits Center—think Comic Con, only most of the convening dorks go by Sophia or Tara and look an awful lot like they haven’t felt joy since making homecoming court in 2005. While I didn’t become a viewer until roughly four years after the franchise premiered, I’ve often jested that Housewives was the birthday gift that continues to give a little more to me—and millions of others—with every passing year. I’ve owned a “Who Gon’ Check Me, Boo?” needlepoint, an “XXpensive” Erika Jayne T-shirt that now serves as a dust rag, and I’ve read every memoir ever ghostwritten for a housewife. Today, at the age of 28, what was once a pastime has become professional: I’ve interviewed a dozen or so Bravolebrities (one of whom candidly discussed getting her “back blown out” with me).

Due to the ongoing pandemic, BravoCon has only ever taken place once before, in 2019. As Tracie Egan Morrissey reported then, tickets were steep—as in, $300 for general admission, never mind the multi-tier VIP offerings. This year, GA spiked to $430, with VIP (Bravoholic) and SVIP (Future Bravoleb) going for a whopping $825 and $1,950, respectively.

While I began the day a bright-eyed believer in the Bravoverse, by the end, I was—as Dorinda Medley famously put it—“not well, bitch.” Roll footage!

10:32 am: I’ve arrived at the Javits Center, and I haven’t seen this many white women crammed into this cursed place since Election Day 2016. White women wearing seemingly identical shackets and faux leather leggings; white women snapping selfies with the “Hi, Baby Gorgeous!” banner; white women filming their own Housewives intro packages complete with taglines that make them—and absolutely no one else—giggle. We’re everywhere, and not one is wearing a mask. I’ve begun to sweat through my deodorant.

10:35 am: After a quick glance at the convention’s app, I proceed to the basement—or, in the words of Beverly Hills’ Crystal Kung Minkoff, “the lower level”—where all of the weekend’s events are being relegated. The day began at 10:30am with a producer’s panel discussing Ultimate Girls Trip—the most recent Housewives spinoff. In lieu of attending, I get the lay of the land.

10:41 am: Sweet solitude has been found in Bravoland, a museum of memorabilia from the network’s most popular franchises. “Is this the best day of my life?” I wonder, as I gaze through the plexiglass at the plush blue bunny Lisa Rinna gifted to Kim Richards in celebration of her grandson’s birth. This bunny, still in its cellophane, is an artifact of one of the most iconic exchanges in Housewives history. Richards, you may remember, declared she didn’t feel it had “good energy,” and chose to give it back at the Season 7 reunion. It doesn’t have eyes or a mouth, though it looks somehow forlorn. This is a hare that’s seen things. I take approximately 12 pictures of it from varying angles.

10:51 am: It’s official: I want to be buried in this Smithsonian of stupid cable television. I’ve now documented the two gelatinous candy dishes that were Tamra Judge’s breast implants, Kenya Moore’s “gone with the wind fabulous” gown, the “chicest” matte black wind chime ever committed to film via the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and Teresa Giudice’s flipped table (unfortunately not the actual table, but a devout recreation). I pause and audibly snicker at Lisa Barlow’s “I’m physically shaking” fur-trimmed jacket, worn as Homeland Security hunted down her castmate, Jen Shah.

A member of the event’s production team asks if I’d like a guided tour. “Oh no, I’m as good a docent here as anyone,” I tell her. She replies with a polite, slightly confused smile. It’s probably time to move on.

Photo:Audra Heinrichs

11 am: Venturing deeper into the venue, toward the dedicated stages and densely populated bars, I head to the photo op with Dorinda Medley, a former New York City Housewife who, much to the disservice of televisions worldwide, is still, “on pause.” (In Bravo-speak, that means she’s no longer a member of the cast but too beloved within the universe not to invite to this circus.)

Though I will almost certainly never make it to pose with Medley, I jump in line for shits and giggles, and strike up a conversation with two women who tell me they attended New Jersey house-husband Joe Gorga’s comedy show the night before. Was he funny? “No.” What was his set comprised of? “Melissa [his wife] has stopped having sex with me… You know, the same stuff we see on the show.”

11:29 am: The paused priestess begins to take her leave as an entire conference room lets out a plaintive moan. I leave with just enough time to see Medley, escorted by two people I assume are assistants, get mobbed in the hallway. A disgruntled woman with a sock bun foists her phone an inch from Medley’s face for a selfie. Had I been her, I would’ve hit this woman with a “clip!” Instead, she “makes it nice” and smiles. Then her handlers all but lift her by the arms and drag her from the hallway as if she’s Marilyn Monroe being deposited to JFK’s hotel room in Blonde. Bleak.

The line to take a photo with Dorinda Medley. Photo:Audra Heinrichs

11:42 am: It’s finally happened. I have to pee and I can’t hold it for another minute longer. As it happens, maddeningly long lines are not exclusive to the bars here at BravoCon. I pick the one that seems the shortest—a men’s bathroom that’s been overtaken by women at the behest of a staffer. Unfortunately, the modest population of men here are still using the bathroom despite the half-mile long line of women. Before I can look away, not one but two men proceed to drop trow and drain the main vein. It’s before noon and I’ve seen two dicks…one of which was attached to someone wearing a “Real Men Watch Bravo” T-shirt.

11:47 am: Andrea Denver (aka Salerno), the Italian stallion on Summer House, graciously stops for photos with fans—including me—in the hallway. This is the only photo I will ask for all day. What can I say? He was sweet, and his apparently sizable sausage was a topic of discussion last season. A fellow admirer volunteers to take our photo. “I took a few,” she promises. As it turned out, she took two and I’m mid-sentence in both of them. Andrea departs and blows me a kiss. Then again, he blows one to every third person in the hallway—even people who did not ask for a photo. La dolce vita!

11:50 am: In 10 minutes, I have a FaceTime reading with a TikTok witch for a different story and my once fully charged phone has somehow dwindled to 20% battery. Advertisements for “charging stations” are plastered on nearly every surface and yet, I cannot locate a single one. Finally, after I may or may not have used some choice language, a security guard escorts me to an outlet upstairs. The clumsiest one-hour reading of my life commences.

1:05 pm: It’s clear that the afternoon’s main event is the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills panel. Fortunately, I arrived nearly 30 minutes early and I’m seated front and center. Unfortunately, a few thousand other people also want to be in this room.

1:17 pm: “There is no organization here!” a blonde woman standing in the nearest aisle yells toward the empty stage. I catch her eye. “For $2,000 a ticket, this is bullshit,” she tells me. I can’t argue. Less than a minute later, a producer makes an announcement that anyone whose bags are on an empty seat must remove them to make room. The woman then attempts to take a newly-empty seat in the SVIP row behind me. All the sudden, a bloodcurdling scream pierces the ether. Apparently, the seat had an occupant.

1:21 pm: It appears the blonde is now attempting to start an uprising. “Anyone who spent $2,000 to be here, raise your hand!” she bellows. Only a handful of people respond—likely because it’s too loud to hear yourself think in here, let alone participate in a Bravolution. She gives up. Meanwhile, I face up to two realizations: 1. This is not the best day of my life, and 2. I’m getting covid this week.

1:27 pm: “And this is where we die,” the reporter seated next to me says. Her eyes never leave her laptop screen, but they didn’t need to. An aggrieved throng has filled in any of the remaining standing space surrounding us; on the floor (the few yards between us and the stage), at least 40 people now sit criss cross applesauce. The air is thick with resentment and a kind of desperation not at all unfamiliar to the Housewives franchise. An “overcapacity issue” would be confirmed by Bravo hours later, but if you asked Twitter, the melee was more akin to Fyre Festival.

1:45 pm: Finally, the chaos is contained enough for the lights to dim. As the cast takes the stage, Lisa Rinna receives raucous boos. She responds with a raised middle finger as if she’s a WWE villain and this is Monday Night Raw.

2:18 pm: As Erika Jayne informs the general public that she is “hoe-ing it up” once more, Kyle Richards leans over to tell Garcelle Beauvais to wipe the lipstick from her teeth. That heartening show of camaraderie is almost distracting enough to tune Erika out completely.

2:21 pm: My crossed leg has fallen asleep. In an attempt to un-cross it, the zipper of my boot catches and I rip my tights.

2:28 pm: “I’m winning!” Jayne proclaims of her well-documented legal woes. Is she? Not if you asked Ronald Richards.

2:50 pm: The panel has concluded and I make a beeline for what appears to be a mall food court. The offerings—vegan, kosher, and frozen-to-fried—are plentiful, thus the general vicinity smells like a hospital cafeteria. I settle on an innocuous rice and vegetable bowl and search for an empty place to dissociate for 10 minutes. There’s tables of Rinna defenders—a marginalized group these days—but more disturbingly, I walk past a table whose entire conversation seems to hinge on making a case for the eyes of New York housewife and Mar-A-Lago mainstay, Ramona Singer. “Like, yeah, she has crazy eyes, but I really relate to that because in every picture I take, I have them too!”

3:02 pm: By this time, the uprising at the Beverly Hills panel has made headlines and I’m on line for the bathroom again—only this time, I’ve found a friend in Betches’ Mention It All podcast host, Dylan Hafer. Between sips of a Bud Light seltzer, he tells me that earlier that day, ex-Beverly Hills Housewife Teddi Mellencamp Arroyave—infamously let go after her “accountability coaching” venture was exposed—cut the line via a security escort and promised to take photos with everyone she skipped. No one asked, babe!

3:15 pm: A chorus of shrieks interrupts our conversation and I remark that a Bravolebrity must’ve walked by. “I think it was Justin Anderson,” he informs me. Who? “Kristin Cavallari’s friend.” Sigh. “I mean the bar is in hell here,” he laughs. “People have screamed for me.”

3:45 pm: While charging upstairs at the lone outlet, I meet a nice woman from Detroit called Sharnise who also hadn’t been able to locate the elusive charging stations. We bond the way anyone in the Bravoverse does: a common disdain for the same characters. “If Rinna has receipts on Kathy [Hilton], she should show them! Bring them out!” Totally, girl.

4:15 pm: I use my press pass to get an SVIP kicked out of the last empty seat at the East Coast vs. West Coast panel as “Throat Goat” by Kim Petras blares. Last long enough in Bravoland and you live to see yourself become the villain. Sadly, the panel is a bit of a bore and not even Ramona Singer’s crazy eyes IRL could keep me in my stolen seat.

4:40 pm: Because I’d been avoiding the Bravo Bazaar—a gargantuan hall comprised of stalls selling the many products Bravolebrities slap their names on—I’d missed the infamous charging station. Inexplicably, it’s attached to a blowout bar where attendees are invited to test new TRESemmé hot tools. It’s here that I meet a mother and daughter from Louisville, Kentucky. Darlynn and Tisa tell me it’s their first time in New York together. They also share how much they’ve spent to be here: well over a few thousand dollars.

“This is Christmas, New Years, Easter, Mother’s Day, and all the holidays combined for me for the year,” Darlynn says. Tisa then breaks out her phone and shows me how they’ve gotten their money’s worth. She’s collected selfies with Bravolebrities, from A-list (Kathy Hilton) to D-list (anyone from Below Deck), like infinity stones. Their enthusiasm about shelling out thousands just to have a Bud Light with a schlub from Southern Charm would be sweet if it weren’t profoundly sad.

5:o1 pm: A woman attempting to use TRESemmé’s take on a Dyson AirWrap nearby overhears our conversation and begins to regale us all with a story about how she made Andy Cohen’s son a onesie. She’s come from Mobile, Alabama. “Quick! Act like y’all are doing your hair!” she interrupts herself and instructs us upon seeing a photographer aim his lens at us. I promptly excuse myself, wish Darlynn and Tisa well, and make a beeline for the exit.

That evening, while reading notes I’d taken throughout the day, I made an important and long-overdue distinction about my relationship to Bravo: Whether Salt Lake City housewives Whitney Rose and Heather Gay will ever be friends again doesn’t actually affect my existence. Nor am I kept awake at night by which Vanderpump Rules castmates are hooking up. Bravo is an outlet to engage with from a healthy distance—like watching a random couple bicker at the gym. It’s entertaining in an inconsequential, voyeuristic sort of way. It makes surviving my workout and, in some ways, my life, a little more fun. But nine times out of 10, I forget about said hypothetical couple’s feud, just as I forget about the made-for-TV spectacles the second I turn off my television. And I prefer it that way.

On Saturday night, as I bragged about setting a Bravo boundary to a few friends as we approached a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen, I recognized two faces waiting to get in: Real Housewives of Potomac’s Ashley Darby, and Winter House’s Luke Gulbranson. I’d interviewed Darby the week before and asked which Bravolebrity she most looked forward to meeting at BravoCon now that she was single. Her answer? None other than Mr. Minnesota himself. Bravoholics have recently been lusting for these two to meet, and tweeting a single sneaky snap would have set the Bravoverse ablaze. Instead, we shared a cordial—if not slightly awkward exchange—and upon entry, went our separate ways. The following day, Darby would reveal—on her own terms—that she and Gulbranson had gone “off the reserve” for a night out. The crowd went wild.

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