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How Monica Garcia Made ‘The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City’ Unmissable TV

It’s rare that a single TV episode invites comparisons to «Big Little Lies,» «The Usual Suspects,» Agatha Christie novels and Christopher Nolan movies that move across the timeline.

It’s even rarer when the show in question is the 10th domestic version of a long-running reality TV franchise whose most famous star is currently serving a 6½-year prison sentence for wire fraud.

But that’s exactly what happened when the Season 4 finale of «The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City» aired on Bravo this month. In a stunning twist that has been teased for months, sassy, ​​extremely quotable newcomer Monica Garcia has been named as one of the masterminds. Reality Von Teasean Instagram account that traded gossip about Jen Shah, the show’s breakout star and Garcia’s former boss — who is now incarcerated in Texas — and occasionally poked fun at the other «Salt Lake» ladies.

«Mysteries Revealed?» set on the windswept beaches of Bermuda, where the cast reportedly went to celebrate Garcia’s birthday? was quickly hailed as one of the best episodes of all time in the «Real Housewives» pantheon — and possibly all of reality TV. It set off a flurry of memes and frenzied analysis on social media, capping off a season that offered more camp theater than a high school production of «An Electric Car Named Desire.» (eg when cast member Angie Katsanevas tells her nemesis Meredith Marks, «You look like a trampoline with eyes,» evoking a reference to her unnaturally taut skin.

Suddenly, thanks to Reality Von Tease, «Salt Lake City» was all Bravo fandom wanted to talk about. But just as «Scandoval» turned «Vanderpump Rules» into an inescapable pop culture phenomenon last year, «Mysteries, Revealed?» was so undeniably compelling: it happened most watched episode show since the premiere of season 1 and has attracted attention beyond the usual «Housewives» audience.

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) cited the finale during a House Oversight Committee hearing. It was even the talk of the red carpet at the recent Golden Globes, where noted Bravoholic Jennifer Lawrence described the finale as «the best reality TV finale, I think, ever,» and said the women of «Salt Lake» put on a show. Oscar worthy.

“I’ll give them mine. I don’t care,» joked the actor. «They deserve it.»

No one in the cast was more capable of biting the scenery than Heather Gay, who has been playing the role of the Relatable One since the 2020 debut of «Salt Lake» and is the bestselling author of «Bad Mormon” about her journey away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A woman in a yellow dress sits on the beach at night with her hair blown by the wind and holds a puppet.

Heather Gay on The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.

(Bravo)

Gay confronted Garcia about her virtual alter ego during a beach dinner with the entire cast on the last night of their trip to Bermuda. With the help of crafty Bravo editors who made heavy use of flashbacks and time jumps, Gay presented damning evidence against Garcia in a fiery monologue that would have been right at home in the final act of lawyer David E. Kelley. drama.

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She painted Garcia as a sociopathic cheater and overzealous fanboy who endeared himself to his teammates as Eve Harrington’s common handbag as he tried to destroy them online. She delivered every line, every gesture with the precision of a classically trained actor reciting a Shakespearean monologue, until the final send-off in which she told Garcia, «Pack your bags and go.» To explain why she was so disturbed by Garcia’s apparent deception, Gay even dropped one the latest bombshell, claiming that last season’s mysterious black eye was caused by Shah, as many viewers had long suspected. Gay was traumatized by a manipulative teammate and didn’t want to go through that again.

The show changed the phrase “Receipts. Evidence. Timeline. Screenshots.” to the meme overnight (seriously Google her name) and helped Gay, a fan favorite whose status had declined due to her confusing loyalty to Shah, reassert her status as one of the brightest stars in the «Housewives» firmament.

Still, every great hero needs an equally capable villain. And all the rightful praise for Gaye — and the wildly entertaining episode she so deftly anchored — ignored an obvious, if inconvenient, fact: Garcia wasn’t accused of anything illegal, or even particularly egregious by reality TV’s (admittedly low) standards. Unlike Shah, no they implemented a ten-year plan which deprived vulnerable elderly people of their savings. What she did — use a finsta to sling mud at her classmates — is hardly a crime under the «Real Housewives» criminal code.

But more frighteningly, at least for her co-stars, Garcia, the show’s first Latina, was guilty of a different kind of crime: she was too eager for reality stardom — and too skilled at playing the game. While it’s become common for social media comments and fan chatter to influence the storyline on «The Real Housewives,» Garcia was a fan who managed to infiltrate the show and become a real character on it, as an understudy who landed the lead role of her first night

Four women look shocked on the beach.

Meredith Marks, left, Heather Barlow, Whitney Rose and Heather Gay on The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.

(Bravo)

In Season 4’s Reunion Part 1, filmed months after the fateful trip to Bermuda on an elaborate set resembling a pirate ship, Gay played a voicemail in which Garcia said she worked as Shah’s assistant because «Kim Kardashian was an assistant and look at that b – right now.” Gay evidently saw the report as a smoking gun, exculpatory evidence that proved Garcia was a wannabe who worked for Shah, apparently without pay, because she wanted to be on reality TV. (With her dark hair, pouty lips, and heavy bronzer, Garcia, like countless other aspiring influencers of her generation, even has the physical appearance of an AI-generated Kardashian.) Garcia responded nonchalantly to the allegations. «Why wouldn’t I try to get on the show?» she said with a shrug. “I signed up like everyone else. Her idea was simple: Everyone is on TV because they want to be on TV. Why deny the obvious?

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Debate raged among «Housewives» fans about whether Garcia should return for Season 5. Bravo has yet to make any announcements and in an interview with Hollywood Reporterthe show’s producers made it clear that there was a lively discussion about how to proceed.

It would be wise to bring Garcia back. While some housewives spend years avoiding painful conversations about their marriages or finances until their leaks finally catch up with them, Garcia was open and vulnerable right out of the gate — or at least she was savvy enough to know she’d benefit from to look like this. During one of her first hangouts with Gaye, she revealed that she was excommunicated from the LDS Church «for damning my brother-in-law for 18 months.» She talked about being abandoned by her father, argued furiously with her mom on camera and refused to be intimidated by her more seasoned colleagues: On a trip to Palm Springs, she even dared to call out Lisa Barlow — Diet Coke Diva — for melting down over a $60,000 ring she lost in the bathroom.

If she also made claims that seemed dubious — like when she said a Secret Service friend alerted her to the Shah investigation — it didn’t matter because it was good television. Right out of the gate, the divorced mother of four understood that what made «Salt Lake» unique was how extra, how thoroughly unhung show can be – and she leaned into the drama at every possible turn.

Since its debut in late 2020 — a time when audiences were desperate for some absurd diversions — «Salt Lake» has always felt inferior compared to other cities in the franchise, such as «New York» or «Beverly Hills.» The clothes are cheesier, the cosmetic upgrades less refined, and the McMansions somehow more generic. The cast members are not real estate tycoons or fashion designers; run a medi-spas or have spouses who work for multilevel marketing companies.

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What they do offer is a brazen willingness to go broke in front of the cameras. If, as Susan Sontag once wrote, «Camp is a woman who walks around in a dress made of three million feathers,» «The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City» is a show about an entire group of women wearing nothing but gaudy feathers. dress. And hats. AND blazers. The fights have always been funnier (see: the premiere episode in which Cosby told Shah, «You stink like a hospital»), the meltdowns far more quotable (see: the heated microphone tirade in which Barlow called her one-time bestie Marks a «piece of trash whore» ), stirring in the pot more obvious. This confident performative quality (plus the cheeky editing) is what makes «Salt Lake City» such a delightfully cheesy spectacle.

What also helped «Salt Lake» stand out was its cultural and geographic setting in Utah, home to the LDS Church. It may lack the aspirational glamor or cultural vibrancy of other venues, but the setting adds a fascinating spiritual dimension to a show that has always been a fascinating look at gender, class and race.

Most of the women in the original cast were current or former members of the LDS Church; another, the perpetually eccentric Mary Cosby, who left the show after Season 2 to return as a «girlfriend» in Season 4, is the first lady of a Pentecostal church and is married to her step-grandfather. Just as importantly, Utah is also a hotbed of momfluencers, many of whom are Mormons, who project an idealized version of the household on social media. Many cast members, including Garcia and Gaye, have spoken about the pressures women face in LDS culture.

.

The show’s future was thrown into doubt last year when Shah, the cast’s most reliable font of drama even before her indictment, pleaded guilty to federal charges of wire fraud. Now in a federal facility in Texas, she continues to create stories away from the Bravo cameras (she has reportedly found new employment as a fitness instructor and helps fellow inmates Elizabeth Holmes strengthens her core.)

By embracing the mantle of villain, Garcia filled the void — and launched «The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City» into the stratosphere.

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