Rules the Real Housewives have to follow

Whether they are nouveau riche, have old money, or just put everything on credit, there's no doubt that the women of The Real Housewives reality TV franchise are living large. And that's why we love to hate them. Considering everything that's going on in our lives, how is it fair that someone — who's as dysfunctional as we are, let's be honest — can literally walk outside her front door one day and find a luxury car with a bow on it in the driveway?

But while we may think these women have it all, they don't get it without sacrifice. They have rules to go by — both spoken and unspoken — if they want to stay in good standing on the show. So what does it really take to be a good Housewife these days? We're glad you asked because the stars themselves (and in a few cases, even the show's producers) have spilled the tea about it. So, without further ado, here are the "unofficial" rules of being a cast member on a Real Housewives series.

The Real Housewives are at the mercy of producers

While it's unconfirmed just how much the show's producers influence events shown on The Real Housewives, some former cast members have not-so-subtly hinted that the line between reality and fiction is, let's just say ... a little blurry. Former The Real Housewives of Orange County cast member Peggy Tanous said manipulation was the reason she left the show, telling The Hollywood Reporter: "We started meeting with producers to discuss storylines. I started getting anxiety thinking about all the forced drama that does happen on occasion." 

Not only that, but Alex McCord, who starred in The Real Housewives of New York, also claimed producers would set up phone calls between cast members on the show, even though the calls looked spontaneous to viewers at home. When recapping an episode of RHONYC for RumorFix, McCord discussed one of the alleged set-ups, which involved making one castmember feel excluded from a fun girls' trip: "[Producers] knew good and well that Aviva [Drescher] and Ramona [Singer] would be together, and they got Heather [Thomson] to call right at that time. Those are not accidents. That is never not-premeditated. They wanted Aviva to get the invitation to London from Heather while Ramona was within earshot, and to discuss that, at least as of now, Ramona wasn't invited." McCord said that the show producers stirred the pot by getting Ramona to apologize to Heather for her past wrongs, all in hopes of scoring an invite. 

You can't avoid conflict on The Real Housewives

We all watch Real Housewives for the drama, so if you get paid to be on the show, you better bring it! However, it seems that giving the viewers a healthy dose of dirt is only part of the equation for reality show success. One anonymous producer told Business Insider that any wifey who doesn't fight for screen time basically gives up control of her storyline: "One thing I like to tell my casts sometimes is, 'Look, I want you to have a story and if so-and-so is showing up for more scenes, they're going to naturally get more screen time, and they're going to tell your story and you'll have less of a voice to tell your story. It's better to be present and show up and have some screen time"

It seems like Yolanda Hadid of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills definitely got that memo, considering she once showed up to a restaurant shoot sans makeup (gasp!) while suffering from "earth-pulling exhaustion" due to Lyme disease (via E! News). Hadid reportedly wrote in her 2017 memoir, Believe Me, that she literally had to lay down in the backseat of a vehicle to conserve her energy until the crew was ready for her on set. It's pretty sad when that option seems better than letting your castmates talk behind your back!

The stars of The Real Housewives can't change their appearance mid-season

Ever notice that the Real Housewives never get a makeover or dramatically change their look while the show is taping but often show up with a brand new hairdo on the reunion show? Well, there's a reason for that. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills stars revealed on Bravo that they have to keep their look consistent because the individual cast member interviews take place across several shoots. RHOBH star Eileen Davidson described on camera how she prepared for one such interview: "We had to use a screenshot, which is basically just a picture of how you looked on TV during your last interview, and then you have to match the makeup and the hair according to that."

Vicki Gunvalson of The Real Housewives of Orange County also spoke about the process, telling Glamour, "You wear the same outfit all year long. You get three looks [total]. But for three months, you have to wear the exact same outfit, same hair, same makeup. You can never cut your hair in the middle of it because you're supposed to look the same."

Your reputation may be ruined (and it's totally legal)

Fans got a peek at The Real Housewives of Orange County star Tamra Barney Judge's legal contract with Bravo — and it looks like these ladies practically have to sign their life away. The document, obtained by Radar Online in 2013, stated: "My appearance, depiction, and portrayal in connection with the Series, and my actions and the actions of others in connection with the Series, may be disparaging, defamatory, embarrassing or of an otherwise unfavorable nature, may expose me to public ridicule, humiliation or condemnation, and may portray me in a false light." That means if the show's staff gets creative and somehow makes a situation look different than it is — oh, well. 

Unfortunately for Judge, those negative consequences appeared to affect her dramatically. In a since-deleted 2014 post on her Facebook page (via Radar Online), she claimed Bravo set her up so that she'd have to bail on Lizzie Rovsek's birthday party at the last minute and also edited scenes to make her relationship with Shannon Beador look worse than it was. Later, when a fan commented on Twitter that Judge must not care anymore about getting fired, the former reality star responded: "I don't. I refuse to be made out to be this person they are making me. No amount of $ is worth it."

The kids on The Real Housewives can become collateral damage

The famous wives of this hit franchise may not be the only ones who suffer unexpected consequences from their involvement with the reality TV scene. Their kids can become collateral damage. Christine Staub, daughter of The Real Housewives of New Jersey star Danielle Staub, wrote about her traumatic experiences with the show in her mom's memoir. 

In an excerpt from that book, Christina wrote about what it was like to watch her mother get called a "prostitution whore" and says she endured a frightening incident at school when she was confronted by a group of male football players demanding their "daily b***job" because of the storyline they'd seen about her mother on the show. "Even now, all these years later, people see me as a character created by a producer. They see me as the daughter of an infamous reality show prostitution whore ... They took away my name and my voice," Christina said.

There are rules about suing your fellow cast members

Some Housewives' contracts reportedly state they can't sue their castmates. Carole Radziwill of The Real Housewives of New York City told BuzzFeed that she didn't sue co-star Aviva Drescher for telling everyone she used a ghostwriter because she'd have to "break the Bravo contract" to do so. Lisa Rinna of The Real Housewives of Orange County said the same kind of thing. When a fan on Twitter joked that Lisa Vanderpump might sue her, Rinna replied, "We can sue each other FYI" which she later corrected to "CAN'T. Meant to say we can't sue each other."

This rule may not apply to lawsuits lobbed against cast members from other cities — because who could forget that time when The Real Housewives of Miami star Joanna Krupa hit Brandi Glanville of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills with a lawsuit for defamation after Glanville claimed publicly that she had ... ahem ... hygiene issues? The two settled out of court, but it cost Glanville. Executive Producer Andy Cohen even discussed that particular dispute: "I feel terrible about that because it wound up costing Brandi Glanville hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said. "Brandi is unfiltered, for better or for worse. I'm sure that she's learned her lesson, but I did feel bad that that resulted in her having to pay so much money in legal fees."

You have to audition, even if you know a Real Housewives cast member

If you aspire to be on The Real Housewives franchise and have a friend who's already a cast member, that could get your foot in the door. Bravo executive Ryan Flynn talked about the casting process on Bravo's The Daily Dish podcast: "We always start with the women, sort of the core group that we think is coming back," he said. "It's always like, 'Who do you know that we should know?' Because ... it's always best to have a real-life connection and to have that history." One example would be Dorinda Medley of the Real Housewives of New York City. "It always felt like if you just turned the camera a couple of feet one way or the other, Dorinda has always been there," Flynn said. "And so that's why I think her inclusion has been so successful. It's just so natural."

But even if you do have a connection to the cast, you still have to audition for screen time. Flynn told The Daily Dish that the show often does "interviews on tape" as well as a "home shoot" with aspiring hopefuls to see what a typical day is like in their lives. In other words, no one is an automatic shoo-in. 

To cut it on The Real Housewives, you better be 'watchable'

Executive Producer Andy Cohen told Paper magazine that the best Housewives are "watchable," but what does that mean? "There's a fine line between people who are desperate to be on reality television, and people who you want to watch on reality television," he said. "The Venn diagram of desperation and watchable, it's a very slim thing in the middle where it overlaps, and you're like, 'That's the bullseye, that's NeNe Leakes, that's Vicki [Gunvalson], that's Bethenny [Frankel].'" Hmm. Sounds like you have to have that certain je ne sais quoi, and when it comes to the casting process, Cohen told Bravo's The Daily Dish: "I'm involved in all of it." 

Cohen does exercise one clear rule: Anyone who seems fake gets the boot. "If they become a turn-off to viewers, for whatever reason — they appear too fake, they're not interesting, they're not entertaining," then they're no longer fit for our consumption (or their contract). When people cross the line and it becomes unreal, that's when they are out," he told Paper.

Nothing is 'off the table' for the stars of The Real Housewives

If you manage to get cast on The Real Housewives, don't even think about holding back. During The Real Housewives of New York Season 5 reunion, Aviva Drescher claimed the show's producers scolded her about apologizing for a harsh comment (She'd called Sonja Morgan and Ramona Singer "white trash.") "The producers said, 'We don't want our characters to be self-censoring," Drescher told the New York Post. "We want them to be themselves' — i.e., wild and dramatic." 

Casting director Melissa Stanforth, who worked on at least three Real Housewives franchises, also told the Post that when she meets with potential cast members, she didn't want to hear that anything was off-limits. "I always ask people what's off the table. [If they] say, 'This, this, this and that,' I say, 'You shouldn't be on reality TV,'" Stanforth said.

You can't mention what goes on behind the scenes

According to Carole Radziwill of The Real Housewives of New York City, mentioning anything on camera about the crew or the production process is a no-no. She said that makes it hard to paint a complete picture for the audience about what's really going happening. For example, Radziwill told BuzzFeed that dubbing Aviva Drescher a "liar" partially had to do with something she heard behind the scenes — but couldn't talk about. 

Recalling the time when Drescher didn't go on the girls' trip to Montana due to asthma, Radziwill said, "It's hard to take her asthma seriously because her husband at one point called the production team, the executive producer, and said, 'I'll get her to Montana in exchange for a guarantee that she'll be on next season.' The executive producer told me, Ramona [Singer], and Sonja [Morgan] that in Montana. So it's, like, we're hearing that, behind-the-scenes, back-door deals. So it's not like we're horrible, insensitive women that are calling her a liar. It's, like, No, this is actually what's going on..." Whether or not Radziwill's claim is true, it's still a tantalizing sip of tea. 

There's no rule that says you have to be a housewife to be a Housewife

On one episode of Watch What Happens Live, The Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes asked Andy Cohen why the franchise started casting fewer actual housewives. He explained: "If you remember back to Season 1 of The Real Housewives of Orange County, Jo de la Rosa was dating Slade, she was single and it was her aspiration to be a housewife and that's why she was on and she really wanted to be a housewife. And then Real Housewives of New York came second. Bethenny [Frankel] was single, but she very much wanted to be a housewife. So, I think that's how that started." 

There's certainly no rule that you have to be married to be on the show — much less consider yourself a literal housewife. E! News even analyzed divorce rates for the entire franchise in 2017, and RHOA topped the list at 60 percent! As Cohen told Leakes, "I think [Real Housewives is] a little bit of a wink because 'housewife' is an old-fashioned term and I think that we're turning it over on its head because, you know, the idea of a housewife now, it's a modern woman, and it's something totally different."