“Oh, honey, what are you doing here?”
This is the response, delivered in a “bless your heart” drawl, from a Memphis woman when I reveal that Top Chef is my preferred Bravo series. “That’s Bravo light,” she scoffs. “You’re not going to find any of that this weekend.”
Her visible concern starts to subside when I defensively clarify that I am up to speed on the au courant Vanderpump Rules and years ago spent the better part of a morning on Lisa Vanderpump’s couch — with the former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star and her Pomeranian, Puffy — but the truth is already sinking in. We’re not one hour into BravoCon, and I am very much out of my depth.
For those who still haven’t tapped into this booming subculture, BravoCon is a three-day weekend where eager viewers of Bravo shows pay to speak, mingle and take photos with the stars of the NBCUniversal cable network’s various franchises. There’s Southern Charm, Married to Medicine, a Summer House or three, several iterations of yacht dramedy Below Deck and, of course, the engine that keeps the U.S.S. Bravo slicing through a seas of commerce: The Real Housewives. Nine domestically produced iterations of the show are on the schedule, as is one spinoff: The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip, something of an island of misfit toys featuring former Housewives, which drives viewers to sister streamer Peacock.
If you watch any of the Real Housewives — like the majority of the 25,000-ish people who descended on Las Vegas from Nov. 3-5 for this third iteration of BravoCon — or even if it’s a cultural blindspot, you’ve probably at least heard rumblings of it in recent months. Notable alum Bethenny Frankel, a one-time New York housewife who was chummy with the network and its golden boy Andy Cohen as recently as early 2023, has been campaigning against Bravo — alleging mistreatment of talent and calling for a reality star union amid the WGA and still ongoing SAG-AFTRA strikes. Bravo has denied her accusations, and none of its current talent have openly joined her fight.
But if you think that cast a pall on the festivities, you don’t realize how deep Bravo devotion goes. Allow me to attempt to explain.
9:14 a.m. The siren call of “Don’t Be Tardy for the Party,” among other Housewives-sung tunes, finds me before the line comes into view: several thousand devotees snaking a half-mile to the general admission entrance at Caesars Forum. It’s an ocean of pink, sequins and homemade merch. (Keep the dream alive, “Real Housewives of Torrance!”)
9:31 a.m. Knowing this couldn’t be the line for the fourth estate, and seeing no visible media entrance, I wander until I find my in. It has always been my experience that seeking out somebody with a golf cart and politely feigning importance with the word “press” is the quickest solution to any queue. And so I enter BravoCon via a freight elevator that drops me backstage of the main ballroom. The exhilaration of being the only un-wristbanded person in this basic cable utopia doesn’t last long. After some snooping — the VIPs are being treated to several kinds of sliders — I get nervous and approach the proper entrance to plead ignorance.
10:12 a.m. Jeff Lewis, out of the Bravo-verse since his design show Flipping Out was canceled in 2018, moderates an “Ask Andy” panel. It is the first of countless appearances Cohen will make across the weekend, and he is greeted with a king’s welcome. Lewis, on the other hand, is testy. He questions the sexuality of one housewife before suggesting another is “on food stamps, for fuck’s sake.” Cohen, an executive producer on all Housewives shows, defends his brood but the damage is done. Various reactions to Lewis’ comments will reverberate through Sunday. So while Flipping Out probably won’t be getting a reboot anytime soon, Lewis does share a reasonably prophetic nugget with the room: “You traveled far, maxed out your credit cards, drained your bank accounts, and it will be worth it.”
11:50 a.m. Jerry O’Connell (no relation) and several husbands from The Real Housewives of New Jersey gyrate, topless, with several dance ambassadors of the Las Vegas residency of Magic Mike. They are the first of many, many shirtless men.
12:50 p.m. The cast of Vanderpump Rules, a show about a group of friends who sort of work for the titular restaurateur, assemble to discuss what’s happened since last we saw them, screaming at one another and/or eye-rolling during their June reunion special. The main (read: only) topic is again the “Scandoval” cheating scandal that captured a nation, rocketed the decade old show to No. 1 on Bravo’s ratings rankings and earned a well-deserved Emmy nomination. It’s arguably the day’s marquee panel, and this room is out for blood.
1:10 p.m. It should feel cathartic to watch Tom Sandoval, the cheater in the aforementioned scandal, relentlessly booed. In execution, it’s kind of a buzzkill. Whether you buy into any of this or not, the enthusiasm from the fans has been otherwise heartening. Fortunately, the tension is broken by more shirtless men — Sandoval and co-star James Kennedy engaging in a push-up contest.
1:57 p.m. At the Bravo Bazaar, where the network and talent can peddle their wares, the tails of two exceptionally long lines intersect. One is for Real Housewives of Atlanta‘s Marla Hampton, selling shirts bearing her prophetic catchphrase “Today Drained Me,” and the other is for New Jersey’s Teresa Giudice — no explainer needed! — whose booth just says “Namaste, Bitches.”
2:37 p.m. My first mistake is missing a panel featuring the captains from Below Deck, a series about the crews of various charter yachts. One skipper, Bellow Deck: Down Under’s Captain Jason Chambers, will rival only Andy Cohen as the weekend’s most-mentioned Bravolebrity. His name is uttered in hushed conversations and screamed from stages by amorous women of all ages.
3:15 p.m. Bumping into Lisa Vanderpump — that is to say, after skulking in a corner for nearly a half-hour to grab a word — I ask her take on the Sandoval reception. “People get so caught up in the television show and the drama of it that they look at these people like they’re characters,” she says. “But I also don’t think Tom handled that right. Someone asked him what he would have done differently, and he kind of just went ‘uh huh.’ Explaining himself would have helped.” In the absence of explaining oneself, there is always top removal.
4:05 p.m. In most public spaces, signs alerting that one is being filmed is another indication of our dystopian surveillance state. At BravoCon, it is a welcome reminder that fame (or infamy) is just one unflattering edit away. The posture in the room goes rigid as a crew wanders through.
8:27 p.m. A throng hovers around one of two Vanderpump casino eateries, Vanderpump à Paris, hoping to catch a glimpse of talent at a private party. I haven’t the heart to tell them that the guests are ad buyers.
9:15 p.m. Day one wraps with a special taping of Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen, an awards show dubbed “The Bravos.” Captain Jason accepts an award for owning a disco ball helmet. This goes over my head.
9:45 p.m. The Bravos aren’t not technically over, but when a cameo by John Mayer is revealed to be three seconds filmed on an iPhone, I call it a night and leave before Real Housewives of Orange County star Vicki Gunvalson cries during her acceptance of the “Wifetime Achievement Award.” It would have been an honor just to be nominated.
9:22 a.m. The media entrance is clearly marked, after all. My bad!
10:02 p.m. It’s round two of “Ask Andy,” and who better to moderate than Rachel Lindsay? The media personality is best known for her tenure as the star of the 13th cycle of ABC’s The Bachelorette and, more importantly, her subsequent efforts exposing the toxic and often racist experiences she endured while participating on said franchise. This is the gravitas we’ve been missing.
10:28 a.m. Lindsay is diplomatic in her Housewives questioning. Efforts to get Cohen to recast various iterations — she’s got issues with Atlanta — seem to get some traction and then Cohen finally mentions Ramona Singer, the Housewives star booted from the BravoCon lineup after allegations of her racist behavior and remarks resurfaced in a Vanity Fair piece. “I think the most that we can say is that we shot Ultimate Girls Trip,” said Cohen. “She’s on the show. She’s not here and that’s where we’re at.” (“And I’m OK with that,” added Lindsay, eyebrow raised.)
10:55 a.m. These people are drinking, by the way. Early starts are expected in Las Vegas, but so many attendees are already toasted. Two women in line to catch a glimpse of Real Housewives of Atlanta star Shereé Whitfield reveal that they are both drunk and high “on assorted substances” as they show off their bounty: a sweatshirt that says “Bravo, Bravo, Fucking Bravo” and a pillow from Southern Charm‘s Craig Conover. “It’s tasteful, don’t you think?” one asks, then confessing that she is perhaps too far gone to tell.
11:38 a.m. BravoCon skews female, and it did not take long for the women to revolt against the gendered bathrooms — which I have zero problem with, by the way. Scanning one such men’s room from a urinal, I see that I am overwhelmingly outnumbered.
2 p.m. In a panic to track down Bravo talent and executives for a different, less frivolous story, another opportunity to see Captain Jason speak escapes me.
2:37 p.m. Two cast members of The Real Housewives of the Potomac exchange barbs on stage. Transparently anxious, I’m assured by a man in my row that they’re actually friends. The anxiety does not subside.
3:40 p.m. Somebody underestimated the appeal of the new The Real Housewives of New York lineup. It’s SRO, but a peak reveals that cast member Jenna Lyons did not attend.
4:20 p.m. Confident that I’ve now got a reasonable handle on this sprawling talent pool, I ask a woman who came all the way from London about her main BravoCon objective. “I just want to take pictures with as many people as possible,” she says flatly. “Even the ones I hate.”
7:21 p.m. It’s the another taping of Watch What Happens Live, and all eyes are on recently split Summer House couple Carl Radke and Lindsay Hubbard. Radke broke off their engagement just two months prior, after Hubbard had already been fit for a wedding dress! Cohen’s attempts at diplomacy go nowhere. If only Captain Jason were here.
7:45 p.m. Ascendant Vanderpump voice of reason Scheana Shay clears up the gossip swirling around the Con that her costar Lala Kent got together with Captain Jason at the previous night’s Bravos after-party. Kent went back to her hotel, says Shay, while Captain Jason joined Shay, husband Brock Davies and several others at another hotel room hang to listen to Shay’s latest record. It’s the twilight of Day Two and Captain Jason, it seems, is still up for grabs.
9:14 p.m. Armed with Shay’s insights that the real BravoCon dirt is going down behind closed doors, I bail on the “Bravo After Dark” nightclub to eat a $9 shot glass of tiramisu in my hotel bed like an adult. Attempts to stream Below Deck for Captain Jason research are thwarted by Wifi issues.
9:45 a.m. There is not one atom in my being that longs to remain in Las Vegas or at BravoCon. But there is a panel called “Pat the Puss,” and I am a professional.
10:11 a.m. “Pat the Puss,” as a trio of women eagerly explain, is the signature dance move of Erika Jayne. It entails the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star, who sings with her own Las Vegas review, repeatedly gesturing to her crotch. A half-empty room awaits Jayne and said patting.
10:28 a.m. “We’ve been talking about patting the puss,” announces moderator X Mayo, as if approaching the crescendo of a church service. “I think it’s time that we pat it.” The lesson begins. Twenty previously selected attendees join Jayne onstage as they and several hundred panel-goers roll their necks, bend over forwards, slap their thighs and pat whatever they’ve got with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Looks more like fanning than patting, to tell you the truth.
11:02 a.m. Like Moses, I wander the Bravo Bazaar once more, briefly consider the semi-tasteful pillow made by the man I don’t know, and settle for a gratis bottled water at the Paris Olympics booth.
12:14 p.m. Michael Rapaport scream-moderates his way through a panel of former Real Housewives of New York stars that could have been quite compelling given their shared histories with Frankel and Singer. Alas, it is a nothing-burger. Now I’ll sit in traffic on the ride back to Los Angeles, cursing the actor who managed to not get killed until the third act of Deep Blue Sea.
12:32 p.m. During the walk to the car, passing the still-buzzing talent entrance, I suspect that I am once again missing an opportunity to unravel the mystery that is Captain Jason. But it is too late. For me, BravoCon is over. Day One, I drank the proverbial Kool-Aid — a canned sparkling hard tea from the stars of Summer House. Day Two, I earned my GED in the nuances of intra-Bravolebrity dynamics. And on Day Three, my feelings can best be described by the only photograph I took… of this gentleman keeping faithful watch over Tom Sandoval shirts at the loneliest merch booth you’ll ever see.