Celebrities, Cults, public figures, True Crime

#NXIVM and NYC Actors: “The Source”

The NXIVM cult is all over the news now, but it didn’t start out the way it has all ended…Or rather than “ended”, I should phrase it this way: When it all began, it wasn’t the group you now know about. I’m not sure what – if anything – is left of the disgraced group at present. There are a few known faithful adherents who possess varying takeaways regarding the main messages. However, they are staying very very quiet and out of the public eye.

Remember: NXIVM didn’t start out with a sexual slavery division called DOS! It began as a multilevel marketing company. Keith Raniere (the group’s now-imprisoned, manipulative hypnotist of a leader, worshipfully referred to by members as “The Vanguard”) had learned his tips and tricks about MLMs from being in Amway. Yes, it’s true. Scott Johnson is one of the people to enlighten me to that fact. Before I go any further, I should say that my own dad was in Amway for a blip in time and left when he realized it wasn’t ultimately profitable – certainly not for the immense dedication and time required. He and my mom did meet their very best friends through the group though. So “cults” can have benefits and are not always all bad (if you want to think of Amway as being one).

Johnson maintains informative websites about Amway’s scam-way tactics. He frequently writes about the parallels between NXIVM’s methods (the NXIVM that dealt with business and offered courses under its Executive Success Program, rather than the NXIVM you know of as a “sex trafficking cult.” Again, that whole sex thing came to light later…) and Amway’s.

NXIVM has had many evolutions since it began as Consumers Buyline, as well as many offshoots. The most notorious of the offshoots is DOS because of the attention that sex trafficking garners.

Another more benign-seeming offshoot of NXIVM was “The Source”. If you are an actor based in NYC or Brooklyn, you may have attended a meeting for this group. The idea was to get through to actors about opening themselves up more, kineticising that potential energy (AKA “self actualization”) and identifying the tools and tricks to be one’s best. All the lingo that they used was perfectly designed to appeal to a struggling actor.

One Canadian television personality had been so captivated by “The Source” (which was also big in Vancouver at one point) that she was swept up into the group which ended up feeding her to NXIVM. Like Jonah in the belly of the whale, the insides were dark and deep until she was finally able to pry the mouth open, expelling herself from the mammal. But she did so only after being inducted into DOS and having her pubic region painfully branded with the initials of Keith Raniere and actor-turned-NXIVM slave recruiter Allison Mack.

In NYC just a few short years ago, Allison Mack was out with another actor named Mark Hildreth, scouting for new recruits to “The Source”.

The hope was that the recruits would see the beauty in Keith Raniere’s teachings. Upon attending a meeting with other actors in Brooklyn, the actors would hear about getting the tools to thoroughly introspect, identify what they were doing wrong and figure out how to do it all effectively.

What would sound like a bunch of hocus pocus, BS mumbo jumbo to some were words that would bring a young and impressionable actor like Mack to tears. One young woman met the duo and found Hildreth to be both attractive and captivating, but also thought to herself: This is creepy AF, weird and culty.

Hildreth would never hear back from this young actor who he saw as a potential new recruit. However, there are accounts of other NYC-based actors approached about “The Source” who met Hildreth and Mack at meetings and had different takeaways.

Had the young woman (referenced above) connected well with Mack, she may have ended up depleting her savings on courses and even possibly moving to Rochester to become a DOS sex slave devoted to Keith Raniere. She may also have ultimately followed him to Mexico as Mack did, being under his potent hypnotic spell and believing in the greatness of The Vanguard.

But this young woman – despite finding Hildreth to be somewhat cute, dynamic and intoxicating (Hildreth had reportedly learned his skills from the very best of the best, The Vanguard himself) – realized she was being fed a bunch of gobbledygook.

She went back to her acting and trying to make it in NYC the ole fashioned way, shying away from all sketchy Brooklyn-based meetings.

So where is Mark Hildreth today and what does he have to say about all of this?

Understandably, it seems he is ashamed, and perhaps any brainwashing he himself had been subjected to, has worn off. He’s doing his acting thing and his social media reflects a devotion to those projects.

From all of the reports I’ve combed through, it seems that Hildreth had little to no knowledge of DOS and looked at “The Source” as a way for people to actualize potential and grow professionally. The only “crime” Hildreth should probably be ashamed of having a more direct connection to? Encouraging people to become part of a group that charged ridiculously overpriced fees for self-improvement courses (Richard Branson took some NXIVM courses. However, I wouldn’t worry about his wallet having taken a hit).

Hildreth allegedly split from the whole NXIVM/”The Source” crew in 2016 after discovering that Raniere was hitting on his girlfriend. I don’t get what the allure was of this hairy, overgrown Harry Potter lookalike, but Raniere was known to have quite the harem to satiate his polyamorous desires.

It seems that now, Hildreth wants all of this to be behind him. He wishes the public would stop associating him with NXIVM. I cannot blame the guy for these desires, but I do have a lot of questions:

What exactly did Mark Hildreth know about NXIVM as a group when he severed ties to Raniere?

Did he keep in touch with Allison Mack?

How many DOS slaves were originally recruits of “The Source”?

And here are some questions for you, the readers:

Did you know of anyone who was approached by Mark Hildreth and Allison Mack about “The Source”?

Did you ever attend one of those Brooklyn-based meetings yourself?

Feel free to respond in the comments section, or email me directly by going to the “contact” portion of this website.

There are indeed so many unanswered questions about NXIVM. Fortunately for Mark Hildreth, it appears he got out just in time.

(Pictured: actor Mark Hildreth)

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#RHOBH, Psychology, Reality TV

#RHOBH OPINION: Is Denise Richards “Off-Brand”?

If you’re wondering why I capitalized “opinion,” it is because I’ve dealt with many a livid reality tv fan in my day. So if you are one to get more passionate about “Real Housewives” than you do about politics, please note this disclaimer before reading on: Below are simply some thoughts and my mind is subject to change as I watch the upcoming season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Now that that divulgence is out of the way, I’m about to belatedly weigh in on the announcement about actress Denise Richards joining RHOBH.

I will tune in, of course, because I become captivated by drama and even, more simply (or more “accurately” considering last season’s lack of drama), by the glamorous designer duds and luxury looks of the ladies. To skewer an old tagline of RHONY’s Sonja Morgan: I have a taste for luxury, but luxury doesn’t have a taste for me.

I joke with friends that I cannot even begin to consider between-the-brow-Botox due to how wrinkly my wallet is. (It helps to have the excuse of 4 children and four tuitions to fret about. When I didn’t have that excuse – two years ago when they were in public schools, for instance – it was a tad more humbling.) I make no bones about the fact that I’m not rich with a candor that Bethenny Frankel (RHONY) would be forced to admire. In fact, one Twitter user joked that I’m a “wannabe Housewife” (due to the fact that I’ve written about these ladies) and aside from never wanting to expose my embarrassing faults on TV…EVER (!) and deal with the after-effects of that public mortification, I’m content admitting I don’t have the requisite “aspirational” lifestyle to make the cut.

For me, these curious creatures on our TV screens make for a captivating collective anthropological case. While I have my husband rifling through my bag for car keys, stumbling upon CVS receipts and saying “we can’t afford for you to keep buying these face masks!”, the RHOBH are known for their over the top gifts. Take, for example. the five thousand dollar toilet Erika Jayne Girardi gifted her husband Tom.

I love the fact that I had never heard of most of these women before and I’m seeing how insanely affluent and excessive (AKA “extra”) they are. I love the fact that despite how I watched Kim Richards in the movie Watcher in the Woods as a kid, many of you did not. Being Paris Hilton’s aunts, Kim and Kyle Richards made good “Real Housewives” because despite doing the acting thing, they were only somewhat known, but not terribly famous and known by all. They fell somewhere between C and D list.

Considering the cast of RHONY, on the other hand, I like how Sonja Morgan and Ramona Singer were people the vast majority of us had never heard of until they appeared on our screens. It makes me wonder why they weren’t famous prior to the show just for being ridiculously rich and having bonkers, over-the-top personalities.

So now we have Denise, a pick who is the most well known “actress” of all actresses to ever be selected for a Housewives franchise. I should note here that RHOBH is the only one of the Housewives franchises to have somewhat known actresses in the first place.

We had Eileen Davidson, familiar to soap opera aficionados, but not to countless others who don’t watch soaps (moi). Then many of us had to adjust a bit when we were introduced to Lisa Rinna in her Bravo role. Wait, we thought, this is weird because we know her from Melrose Place and from her flop reality show alongside A-list actor- hubby Harry Hamlin. This “adjustment” wasn’t too huge ultimately because Rinna’s acting roles were few and far between, and she quickly established herself as the “hustler” hilariously down to do anything…with a financial incentive. Famously, that includes a Depends commercial that is in her reel.

Rinna’s reception has always been a mixed baggie…akin to that one with pills she carries. Overall though, she “owned it” baby, being candid about the things that would embarrass most, and having no qualms asking a castmate if she’d done coke in her bathroom.

Love her or hate her, Rinna earned the right to hold her diamond in the opening credits of RHOBH.

Now…we have to get our minds around an even more complicated choice for a Real Housewife, a former movie star (or do we call her a current one?). Denise Richards seems too famous to be a “Real Housewife” when we’re so accustomed to meeting new ladies. Consider how Dorit was a whole lot of brand new to get used to. But perhaps therein lies the problem: Dorit is the puzzle piece in a jigsaw challenge that viewers have been unable to jostle in. It is hard to take her business, her lifestyle and her storylines (or lack thereof) seriously for many. I’m of the mindset that Dorit makes great TV because she’s physically gorgeous and an absolute mental trip. I find her to be obnoxious and my annoyance with her fuels my desire to yell at her from the safe side of the TV screen. It works for me, but it’s not working for countless others who have deemed her “phony”, “showy”, “lacking substance” and “boring”.

Denise Richards, on the other hand, has not only been in the public eye for her dramatic struggles and moves, but also had a past reality show. She dealt with the death of her mother and helping her father with his own grief. She is known for having married and divorced Charlie Sheen, had an on-again and off-again dysfunctional deal with him subsequently, battled custody with him, and rode his manic roller coaster of drug addiction debacles.

She famously became romantically entangled with the rocker ex (Richie Sambora) of her former friend Heather Locklear, who has recently made news herself for arrests and her own serious substance issues.

The best thing about reality television is that stars now know it’s the arena for candid confessionals. Denise Richards will have to “bring it”, so that’s the major plus of her being newly anointed a Housewife. Also, because she “brought it” on reality tv in the past, I doubt she will hold back on RHOBH.

So while there’s a ton to tune in for, I have to wonder if there’s a better venue for Denise (a follow-up E! reality show perhaps) to answer all the questions fans have about her past, present and future. The Real Housewives seems off-brand for her, but then again, she’s not doing a lot of movie acting these days. Is a Bravo show the next logical step for Hollywood ladies of a certain cohort when the roles have run out? Perhaps it is, and perhaps what I’ve previously considered “off brand” no longer is.

A franchise that once fascinated us with folks who flaunted their fabulosity while we thought “…and you are…?” is adding the marque of familiarity. It is like a new line of $3M Pagani cars that Dorit and Erika must test drive.

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Bravo TV, Reality TV

#SouthernCharmSavannah: Catching Up with Ashley Borders

A lot has changed for Ashley Borders, the former full time cast member on Southern Charm Savannah. This season (the show’s second), Borders makes only a few cameo appearances, with a caption that reads “Daniel’s friend.” Many viewers, with varying opinions on her from last season, feel this is an injustice because they were left hanging when it came to her “story.” A prevalent opinion is that she was the ONE character who actually made an otherwise “boring” and lackluster show something to tune in to.

In addition, she received some unsolicited advice from the more stodgy and more conservative viewers – who took to social media to opine – about making herself over, essentially to conform more to be like the others. To give you a mere metaphorical example: replacing her scoop neck tanks and cutoff shorts with Lily Pulitzer numbers that would make an Orthodox Rabbi proud (Odd reference from me, I admit, as only Daniel Eichholz of the SCS cast is Jewish).

Last season, Ashley was called out by her cast mates for excitedly discussing her styling business, but neglecting to gush about a side gig with Delta airlines which required a few scant hours per month. Viewers also snobbishly snarked about this airline opportunity and discussed how it might be “off brand” with the theme of wealth and privilege attached to the overall Southern Charm franchise.

Others deemed Ashley’s cast mates elitist. They contended that all the complaints inadvertently undermined the jobs of many Americans who do something similar to working baggage claims at airports.

Of course, on camera we saw Ashley’s cast mates insist that their gripes were about “honesty” which became a heavy storyline talking point that drove those rooting for this Southern sweetheart with the liberal views bananas.

Ashley comes from a prominent family of means, but you wouldn’t know it. She’s more focused on friendship, a new romantic relationship after recovering from divorce, her teenage son, her parents and siblings, spirituality and travel- lots of travel.

Raised in Savannah, she is the daughter of a pediatric surgeon noted as much for his skill as his charitable medical volunteer work in underdeveloped countries. Her mother’s work involves offering free clinics to people who cannot afford healthcare, and is also involved with home visits to the elderly. In addition, she helped start the first breast cancer center in the Middle East.

From the examples set by both of her parents, Ashley is committed to numerous philanthropic endeavors and focused on giving back, though she stays somewhat private about it.

In terms of the much-discussed Delta dealio and the more snooty smack she incurred from cast members last season and fans, Ashley tells me: “I have a friend who happens to be a millionaire and he did the Delta thing with me! He loved it too. It’s incredible because it gives you the opportunity to travel. He doesn’t feel that any work is above or below him. I have that same mindset. I think it’s important to work hard, not to rely on a trust fund or some sort of ‘cushioning’ when it’s wisest to save that for something important.” College tuition may be one “important” consideration for Ashley when she speaks lovingly of her son who is now in high school.

As far as the question of: Why wasn’t she forthcoming about this side hustle last season? Ashley has other, much closer friends who she talks to a ton, and we just didn’t get to see them and those conversations play out on TV. Mainly, however, she was very focused on her styling work, considering it her passion.

“I didn’t intentionally withhold things from my cast mates. Delta was great, but my great love truly was styling! I really wanted to be able to showcase it more on TV. You did get to see (in an early Season 1 episode) a shoot I worked on for a magazine – where I was in charge of the styling. I do so many things in general. I immediately felt ganged up on as I realized they wanted to make a huge deal out of Delta in a really surprising way.”

“For instance, I sell my old clothing on eBay and other cast members might do that too, but I wouldn’t lay into them for not bringing it up! Like selling clothes on eBay, the work at Delta was something I did only a few hours each month. Because I was so focused on styling, I didn’t feel defined by something I did on the side. I really wasn’t prepared for that to blow up in the way that it did…That caught me completely off guard and was disconcerting.”

Ashley no longer has the Delta side gig, but she discovered a harsh reality after appearing on Southern Charm Savannah last year. After facing some slut-shaming comments from Savannians and audience members, as well as intense critique about her struggling marriage and the Delta debacle, people in the neighborhood treated her differently.

“It became much harder to get local clients” for her styling business.

Co-parenting a teen with her ex husband Dennis, she is able to travel and work on styling projects overseas to make up for local losses. She’s also scored some acting work in the U.S. as well as some enviable projects in set design. Later this month she will appear alongside Gabriel Byrne and Kiersey Clemons in the Hollywood feature film “An L.A. Minute”.

In her first brief appearance of the season, in this past Monday’s episode, Ashley has agreed to meet with Daniel who remains a buddy of hers. You see her wearing a gold band on her left finger despite being divorced. She said that she wears a ring on that finger to avoid being hit on since she’s in a relationship with a man she is wildly passionate about.

He is someone she knew long ago: “He married someone else. I married someone else. We both got divorced and we ended up finding our way back to one another.”

There is a whole intriguing romance and a great story behind their history and reunion. I hope Ashley gets to share that one day with viewers. Meaning, I hope that if there is a Season 3 of Southern Charm Savannah, Ashley returns as a full time cast member with her beau.

In the scene that just aired with Daniel, I personally surmised that he looked uncomfortable confronting Ashley, who he has referred to as a “sweet person”, about honesty and authenticity. It is that harped-upon theme that makes some viewers’ eyes roll when they consider just how much Ashley actually did share last season. In particular, she was extremely candid about her dying marriage and lack of sex life with Dennis.

The conversation that just aired between Daniel and Ashley was incredibly brief, but she says it was longer than what we witnessed (which is always the case with reality television) and somewhat emotionally taxing.

She adds that she adores Daniel and understands why – particularly as he’s a close friend of Hannah’s – he felt the need to ask certain questions. Things were rough between Hannah and Ashley last season and Ashley conveys to me that she wishes they had patched things up then. We’ll have to stay tuned to see if they were able to fix their relationship or not.

As for her status as “friend of” this season. Ashley says: “I really want this season of Southern Charm Savannah to go well and it’s my sincere hope that more viewers tune in. After filming last season, Happy (a character who clashed with Ashley at one point on camera) has been lovely! And Happy’s mother is also incredible and very supportive! I remain close with Nelson (who didn’t return for Season 2) which is unique since we are SOOO different (she’s a liberal, he’s a staunch conservative). I disagree with him often, but we always agree to disagree and do so respectfully! I’ll tell him how I object to something, and he’s always listened and taken it in. I like Hagood, the new cast member this season, who I’ve known somewhat from around town. Daniel is a good friend and I consider his dad to be a friend of mine too – it’s kind of hilarious! He’s a great guy and I’m hoping you get to see more of their father-son interactions.”

Ashley adds that she had a real ally  in Brandon, in spite of some snide remark he made about her that viewers noted from the previews.

Ashley has received plenty of positive messages from fans, but also her fair share of hateful tweets. “I don’t understand this #HiAshley thing that’s going on, or what exactly happened to make people so passionate on social media,” she says, flummoxed at how having the name Ashley has brought on more haters, viewers glued to the original Southern Charm with a different Ashley.

Ashley Borders can cop to the fact that she too was polarizing onscreen last season, but she’s hoping people will get to see that she’s someone that cares deeply about others and feels passionately about bringing more diversity to the franchise.

“It’s frequently pointed out to me that the show has an all white cast and I’m happy that you may…I’m not positive, but maybe?…get to see my best friend, Shena, who is African American.”

Ashley Borders may have been the most misunderstood reality TV character on the most underwhelming reality show during Season 1. It is my hope that this show gains more traction as we see more scenes that capture her uniqueness, open-mindedness and authenticity.

(Pictured: Ashley Borders chatting on set with actor Gabriel Byrne)

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Cults, Psychology, public figures, True Crime, Uncategorized

#NXIVM: Catherine Oxenberg Says Daughter “Will Be Fine…More Than Fine”

Catherine Oxenberg is many things. She’s enviably beautiful. She’s intelligent and she’s kind. She’s also “royal” – her mother is Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia – in addition to having played royalty on televisions as an actress.

But these days Catherine Oxenberg is known for more than her television roles, most notably for starring on Dynasty, and her lineage. These days she’s known as a fierce crusader and a fighter, one who took on a cult and didn’t back down until she knew her daughter was safe. It is a group that has threatened its detractors, terrorized them via bogus litigation, and maligned former members. Yes, it is the cult that is the subject of many conversations and is currently all over the media. The one that fronted as a mainly innocuous, but money-sucking, professional empowerment/self-help group and has changed names many times, but is now known by one represented by Roman numerals. The cult that – it was subsequently discovered – had a unique division devoted to the sexual slavery of women. That division, called DOS, called for fierce loyalty pledges from members, requiring the handing over of “collateral” (incriminating information/pictures that would mortify the individual should they defect from the sorority) and branding in the pubic region.

As Catherine details in her new book Captive: A Mother’s Crusade To Save Her Daughter From a Terrifying Cult, she and her daughter India went to a meeting for what appeared to be a self help group back in 2011. Catherine’s then-husband made a somewhat offhanded and jokey remark, following some creepy observations about the group’s leader Keith Raniere. He suspected aloud to her that Keith was involved sexually with the group’s women. Catherine remembers the comment (which would prove to be a confirmed truth) in hindsight, but it was stated in such an off-the-cuff manner that she didn’t focus deeply on it. She had also only briefly met the cult leader.

Following that fateful meeting, Catherine took some NXIVM courses that promised success in business and taught about the tools and skills to excel. She reflects now: “A lot of what you hear Keith say about NXIVM’s philosophy sounds like gobbledygook when you listen to him on YouTube and see how captivated (former Smallville actress) Allison Mack is by his words. He has this ability to break you down and then reel you in.”

Catherine said that she gets annoyed by how people undermine those who are susceptible to brainwashing: “Anyone is susceptible because the person doing it is clever and has a strategy. It’s about appealing to an individual’s interests and goals. India is a confident and self-assured woman. There were prominent, highly intelligent people who took NXIVM courses. It’s very insulting when people criticize and judge how one can be taken in by this group. Aside from offering community, NXIVM offers the promise of doing something and being a part of something special that will make a difference in the world.”

When they were first introduced to the group, India was committed to improving her own business skills following a failed food-related venture. Catherine describes India as someone who sees the kindness in people and who is committing to bettering humanity.

“That is something that this group looks for in individuals,” says Catherine, explaining that India was a prime recruit for the group because of her uniquely innate desire to help people and contribute to society. “They slowly convince people – there are brilliant people who have become involved! – that they are part of something that is going to make a huge difference.”

Catherine took some overly pricey NXIVM courses and despite initial interest, became more skeptical and more disenchanted over a three year period. She gave up on NXIVM, but India only became more committed. Then she moved to Albany to be with the group and surrounded by its members.

In Catherine’s book, and on a recent episode of Dateline (in which Megyn Kelly is the interviewer), Catherine speaks about the former NXIVM member who reached out furtively and fearfully to alert her that her daughter was in danger. Catherine was then provided with evidence and became invested in amassing more evidence – which she eventually turned over to the New York State General Attorney’s office.

Although the authorities had been repeatedly pointed to the unethical practices of the group (including shady financial transactions and Keith Raniere’s sexual relationships with women under the age of consent), it was Catherine’s diligently collected mountain of evidence that helped spur law enforcement to serious action.

I ask her if she thinks her status as an actress and coming from royalty helped with her being taken seriously. She laughs: “I think they were tired of being hounded by me and knew I was this mother who wasn’t going to give up!”

While all of this was happening, India had essentially estranged herself from a mother pleading for her return. Mother could not get in touch with daughter or be sure of her whereabouts for a lengthy period of time, and while India was now an adult, Catherine knew the dangers of NXIVM and saw no choice other than to speak out publicly.

This was a move that would have repercussions for Catherine, with India further evading her and ensuring more secrecy regarding her whereabouts.

Going to the media was something that pained Catherine to do, but it was a last resort and a desperate measure called for by a desperate time. Having been in the limelight many years before as an actress and as the daughter of a princess, she would much rather have avoided the media than begged them to shine a spotlight on something.

But in this case, there was a singular goal in mind: getting her daughter out of harm’s way as quickly as possible and to safety.

You will have to read Catherine’s book to see how complicated this journey was. Her daughter India has asked for privacy during this time. We do not know if and how she was culpable in NXIVM’s illicit activities, but few question that she was a victim of Raniere’s intense mind control.

I ask Catherine if India now knows she was “brainwashed.”

“She does not like that word, Catherine states adamantly, “That’s definitely not a word that gets a good reaction so I stopped bringing it up. India feels for the ordeal that I’ve been through. She feels for the ordeals of others.”

By “others”, I privately hope that in time, the empathic India Oxenberg will have little to no sympathy for Keith Raniere.

For now, mums the word, but India has told her mom that she’ll tell her story her way and specifically, in her own time.

To hear India’s carefully crafted statement to the media, you’ll have to check out the Dateline episode. Catherine was able to share with me (and with Megyn Kelly) that she recently reconnected with her daughter and India is safe. The media has reported that she’s away from NXIVM (or what’s left of it currently) now.

When questioned by Megyn Kelly about India’s future (with the allusion of possible lingering effects of NXIVM), Catherine smiled at the interviewer. It was an authentic and heartfelt smile that she hadn’t exhibited publicly in a long, long time. “She will be fine,” she replied, then paused as her smile widened a bit: “…more than fine.”

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Bravo TV, Reality TV

#SouthernCharmSavannah: Should You Be Watching?

Having debuted on the heels of a catastrophic, yet incredibly captivating season of the original Southern Charm, the Savannian counterpart of the franchise seems to lack luster. Its ratings reflect that too, but there is a contingent of devoted fans, including those who watched Season 1 last year, who are committed to seeing Season 2 through to finale.

While I tune in weekly to Southern Charm Savannah (reneging on a previously tweeted resolution not to), it is with a mix of emotions. My favorite cast member, Ashley Borders, was demoted from main character to one with a select few cameos this season. Allegedly, (and according to several inside sources) this demotion was due to the fact that one stuffy “main” made a stink, stubbornly refusing to film with her.

Borders incurred the wrath for being more offbeat than the others during Season 1, and after interviewing her and meeting in person, I can attest to how kind, sweet and personable she is IRL. Since then, we have kept in touch and viewers have contacted me to relay that they are “bummed”, thinking she would have been an interesting individual to follow up on.

Watching the show last year, I took issue with one major theme: Southern Propriety that demanded keeping what’s unconventional closeted….Or, making it a struggle for the characters who feel harshly judged. Then again, that is in fact the backdrop of the Southern Charm franchise: young people – white people at that, let’s be real – navigating modern life while struggling internally with antiquated, austere and unspoken Southern rules, and concerned about perception.

Many viewers were surprised that this show was granted a second season after the first one seemed to fall short, but since I’m tuned in, I wanted to provide you with my thoughts on why you might want to check it out and why you might not:

The Good: Hagood

I like this new cast pick for Season Two with her peaches and cream complexion. She somewhat resembles actress/model Brooklyn Decker and when I say “like”, I mean that she hasn’t offended my sensibilities thus far. Hagood Coxe is somewhat vanilla and benign. There is this though: She’s great at pulling a prank when she convinces Brandon to drink “wild boar’s blood” or so he thinks.

Truthfully, I preferred Ashley’s flash and bohemian vibe and the fact that Ashley had a cool Persian friend, a jewelry designer, who we saw briefly last season (and who I think added diversity and should have been made a main cast member).

It also helps to know that Ashley’s group of friends who weren’t featured on the show are an incredibly diverse crew. Diversity is something that Southern Charm Savannah lacks, which is not reflective of the city itself.

Hagood does seem to have all the qualities of a delightful debutante on paper, but desperately needs to rebuff her mother’s incessant nudging and bossiness. Mom wants her to focus on her artistic pursuits rather than wasting time brewing sake (which Hagood pronounces “sah-kay!”). But lay off, Mama Coxe! – Hagood is an adult now.

She grew up a huntin’ and a fishin’ and her dad owns a farm, which he hopes to bequeath to her some day. Oh, and she may have dabbled in witch craft. Yes, you read that correctly: She got kicked out of camp when she was young for being a “witch” – no word on if that camp was headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts circa 1692.

Hagood also confessed, during a truth or dare-style game (minus the “dare”) with a few of her cast mates, that she has dipped into the lady pond. Her boyfriend hasn’t been shown on camera yet, but the footage has highlighted Hagood’s confession more than once – perhaps in an effort to make her seem more interesting? Perhaps to explore some sort of mini bisexuality storyline in future episodes? We’ll have to stay tuned, but so far, Hagood seems intriguing enough for a new addition. She’s also eye candy.

The teasers haven’t been exceptionally tantalizing, but I’m hopeful. I should mention that it’s a little strange that Hagood’s roughly a decade younger than her cast mates (She’s in her 20s, they’re in their 30s). But, well, that fits the OG Southern Charm template when you consider Kathryn Dennis.

The Bad: A Ban on Borders

I am not alone in expressing the sentiment that Ashley Borders was the most interesting character last season. I think Haymaker has left us hanging because I doubt Ashley’s cameo appearances will do her the justice she deserves after being slut-shamed for golfing in a one-piece last season. You’ll have to take my word for it that there’s more to this philanthropy-conscious mother, the daughter of a noted pediatric surgeon, than meets the eye. She did make it known last season that she’s one Savannian who didn’t vote for The Donald. So, there’s that.

The Good: Brandon

This season we have an openly gay cast member whereas last season, fans speculated on the sexuality of a man who identified as straight. Which was kind of rude. However, it was also kind of inevitable because it’s what viewers do…..(I’m not excusing it.)

The thing about interior designer Brandon Branch is that he is the sole Savannian featured who is in a healthy, steady, committed relationship. Viewers have expressed their delight about seeing a gay married couple serve as an example of the healthy relationship that the other single cast members should aspire to have.

Brandon possesses snide wit, scoffing and calling out his close bud Catherine Cooper while being affectionate towards her. He’s so truthful that it can be biting, but to his credit, Brandon Branch doesn’t beat around the bush.

The Bad: Brandon Branch can be overboard obnoxious

I enjoy Brandon Branch. Hell, I had a great tweet exchange with Brandon Branch last night because I tweet about all the show characters I find entertaining.

However, I’m not a fan of the slut-shaming statements uttered by Brandon Branch about Ashley Borders last season. And I could forgive that – You know, it was before the whole #MeToo shift in this country – but I didn’t like his line in Season 2 previews about the newly single Savannian. It was something about how there was a stripper pole in front of them but no Ashley. Sorry, Ashley is not a stripper and Brandon recently declared his affection for women, how he relates to them, in light of the fact that he grew up with sisters and always had female friendships.

If you’re reading this Brandon, that was not a statement about Ashley that reflects a priority of female empowerment. That was entirely uncool. Save for that, I like this new cast member. If he takes my constructive criticism to heart, I’ll like him even more.

The Good: Daniel, My Brother

So Daniel Eichholz is a “member of the tribe” (my tribe, that is – Jewish) and last year he had to deal with some insensitive statements addressed to him as the lone Yid in the group. He also wondered if he couldn’t be a part of a certain exclusive club because he wasn’t Waspy. Who knows what the real reasons were for the exclusion, but Daniel was the odd one out being the lone Jew of the clique. Interestingly, prior to attending the overly-mentioned (last season) Savannah Country Day School, Daniel was educated at a Hebrew day school in his elementary years.

I love seeing someone on television who had similar schooling to me and I’ve also found myself subjected to curiosity in social groups of all gentiles. I’ve gotten the same weird questions he has fielded in the past, and when Nelson (who did not return for Season 2) made him uncomfortable bandying around a Yiddish semi-slur word….I’d been there too.

Dave Quinn of People magazine recently tweeted out his appreciation for Daniel’s fit physique. Daniel has an insanely intriguing workout that consists of push-ups and planks off of park benches and bathtubs. Because I’d kill to be half as muscly as Teresa Giudice, I may take him up on his tweeted offer of a workout walk-through. That would first entail a trip to Georgia. For now, I’ll continue Sweating to the Oldies with a retro Richard Simmons.

The Bad: These 3 Are Cool, But What Exactly are the Storylines?

So the 3 characters highlighted above are the ones who stand out to me most at the start of this season.

I want to whisk Catherine Cooper away from this show and cast the bubbly blonde with the OG Southern Charm group in Charleston.

Haymaker Productions is going hard on the storyline of Catherine not being as into Lyle as he is into her. She rejected his onscreen proposal last season, and a highly connected source informed me that she also rejected his off-screen proposal.

I get the sense that she’s with him out of habit (a long, albeit terse, relationship, can become similar to an addiction), fear that someone “better” won’t come along and concern about what others think.

I want Catherine to feel free to fly and I’d like to see her soar. Instead, she strikes me as stifled.

Stifled in Savannah actually sounds like a great name for a spinoff show for her. I, for one, would like to see her happy ending.

I’m not interested in Lyle or the relationship between Hannah, the fashion brand starter (I think that’s what her thing is at the moment), and Louis, the socktrepreneur. I can’t help how I feel. Hannah seems ahead of him maturity-wise and should probably be with an older man – on paper, at least – but the heart wants what it wants. Yawn. Who cares?

The truth is: I’m sticking around to see how Ashley Borders deals with a cast that acted judgmental and elitist towards her (while I realize she was only granted a few scenes this season).

I’m hanging in to hear more about Hagood’s romantic life and to see if she’s less concerned about what others think of her than I think Catherine is.

I’ll be back in front of my TV next week for Brandon: I want to hear his clever barbs and the way he tells it to everyone straight, without seeming embarrassed or possessing any sort of a filter. That said, I’m also tuning in for his apology to Ashley, which I’ll acknowledge as pure fantasy on my part — at this point.

Savannah may not stack up to the competition of Charleston, but I think it’s worth checking out. Perhaps you’ll even discover more to it that you think I should write about.

Southern Charm Savannah airs on Bravo, Monday nights at 10 PM EST.

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#RHONY, Bravo TV, public figures, Reality TV

#RHONY: Crap with the Countess…& Chicago?

A source tells me that Luann De Lesseps’ personal publicist recently fired her. This is ALLEGED, please note, but the source goes on to add that it was because Lu wasn’t being totally truthful about her troubles — and was, generally, a handful to deal with.

This report explains why Bethenny Frankel stepped into the role of spokeswoman for Lu, and why she was the one to give Dave Quinn at People talking points for an article about Luann not attending the reunion (to undergo round two of rehab for alcohol addiction).

The source adds that the folks at Bravo “don’t want to handle her shit anymore.” An interesting Twitter handle to follow that keeps up with the RHONY-Lu shenanigans, and appears to be impressively in the know and legitimately well-connected is @myfeetonfleek.

Celebrity gossip columnist Rob Shuter (The Naughty Gossip) recently expressed to podcast host Kate Casey (Reality Life with Kate Casey) that Luann is at a point where she doesn’t “need” RHONY and has a very full life outside of the show with friends, a packed itinerary and a successful cabaret show.

He said fans should not be surprised if Lu departs the RHONY franchise to focus on family, health and sobriety. Shuter also mentioned that producers from the longstanding Broadway production of Chicago were at one of her #CountessAndFriends (cabaret) performances.

Luann De Lesseps starring in Chicago in the near future? Could that actually happen?

For now, without official personal PR representation, the best person to ask might just be Bethenny!

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Bravo TV, Reality TV

#BravoTV: A “Firing” or a Resignation? Stars Are Often Saved By Semantics

I recently published a post with Rob Shuter’s intel on the Carole Radziwill departure from Real Housewives of New York.

In a nutshell, Shuter, a well known gossip columnist, shared that Radzi had been fired from the franchise. The implication was that this was as a result of some sort of “it’s her or me” ultimatum stated by cast mate Bethenny Frankel who had a major beef with her former friend.

Do I personally believe Carole was fired? No.

I think Carole was exasperated with Bethenny’s nitpicking, constant criticisms and complaints, and I think Carole decided it was optimal to opt out of (what had inevitably become) “The Bethenny Show”.

But that theory begs the following question regarding Bravo in general: “Real Housewives” do not announce a departure mid-season unless there’s a real problem, so why did Carole and the network let us know now that she wouldn’t be returning next season?

My personal contention is that Carole lost her characteristic cool at the reunion, where she blurted out that she didn’t need to subject herself to the torture any longer. After this impromptu announcement, the network may have encouraged a public statement because there were too many witnesses present at filming for this to be kept under wraps long-term.

The above is only my theory and I could be wrong…while Rob Shuter is correct, or vis versa. I don’t think we’ll get a definitive answer to this, at least not any time soon.

One thing I’ll tell you is that while Bravo has (technically) “fired” talent in the past, it most often doesn’t go down the way people would assume. For instance, it’s not similar to how it was shown on NBC’s The Apprentice (or Celebrity Apprentice): An executive isn’t pointing a finger at a Real Housewife saying “you’re fired.” More often than not, there’s a discussion that results in a “mutual decision” that things aren’t working out.

The executive might say something like “X, I see how you aren’t enjoying yourself this season. I know we’ve been asking you to tone down your weekly blog posts and not go rogue in your interviews. We’ve been demanding a lot of you and I can see how that’s really taking a major toll. I know you’re contracted til the end of next year, but we’ll allow you to get out of your contract and write your letter of resignation now.”

Bear in mind that there are also channels to go through and kinks to work out initially between the production company and Bravo the TV network (i.e. Evolution Media produces Vanderpump Rules, RHOBH and RHOC for Bravo. Shed Media produces RHONY. Sirens Media is the powerhouse behind RHONJ.)

The network would rather end things amicably and lead the discussion in such a manner that the star can declare they’ve independently made their final decision about not returning.

For legal reasons and to end off on a good note, this is a sound strategy by Bravo.

More often than not, this is how a Bravo “firing” actually goes down, with semantics on a star’s side. One particular Bravolebrity was greatly encouraged to hand in a letter of resignation last year and that individual can now say they “quit”, despite the fact that there was an exorbitant amount of tension, anxiety and breath holding until the official severing of ties.

The act of firing is a royal headache that not only involves the most influential higher-ups, but a legal department as well as personal attorneys.

While there may be no way to confirm the precise circumstances surrounding Carole Radziwill’s RHONY departure in particular…in general, most discussions that result in the parting of ways are orchestrated by ringmasters of collaborative reasoning.

These authoritative – yet diplomatic – figures are also discerning deliberators, skilled at relaying rationale so it resonates.

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