The Vanderpump Rules cheating scandal, explained

“This is our JFK assassination.” “This is our Watergate.” The people who made these declarations were not talking about a breaking piece of political news. They’re talking about the breakup of Vanderpump Rules stars Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix. I, personally, have been comparing it to Ned Stark’s death plus the Red Wedding plus the JFK assassination, since it is too big, too shocking, too life-altering to be compared to any single event.

Vanderpump Rules is a spinoff of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills that set out to follow the lives of Lisa Vanderpump’s employees at her restaurant SUR (Sexy Unique Restaurant). Over the course of the show’s 10 seasons, SUR employees have gained fame and moved on from their jobs waitressing, hosting, and bartending, but not from the show. The magic of Vanderpump has always been that its core cast members were good friends for years before the show began. Their relationships were real, and so was the drama. And the latest Vanderpump scandal is the most shocking one yet.

Sandoval and Ariana’s breakup would have been big news to the Vanderpump community regardless, but it was the revelation that the split was sparked by Sandoval’s affair with co-star Raquel Leviss that left fans in full meltdown mode, theorizing, gathering clues from old footage and Instagram photos, and investigating every detail of the so-dubbed Scandoval. The maelstrom the fans stirred up in the days following the breakup was overwhelming enough to permeate beyond the insular Bravo bubble, leaving many confused onlookers wondering who these people are, why there are multiple Toms involved, and why any of this matters.

With nearly 200 episodes and a decade’s worth of hookups, breakups, and feuds making up Vanderpump lore, trying to understand Scandoval without a guide is a challenge I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy (who just so happens at this time to be Tom Sandoval). So let me be your guide to the breakup and affair that has rocked the reality TV community to its very core.

Meet the players

Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix smile at the camera on a red carpet for the Vanderpump Rules season 10 premiere party.

Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix
Photo: Todd Williamson/Bravo

Tom Sandoval: An original Vanderpump cast member who was in a nine-year relationship with co-star Ariana Madix — until the first week of March. He is best friends and business partners with Tom Schwartz, with whom he co-owns the bars Schwartz & Sandy’s and TomTom. He’s also the lead singer and financier of Tom Sandoval & the Most Extras, a pitchy cover band.

Ariana Madix: Sandoval’s former girlfriend joined Vanderpump in 2013 amid rumors that Sandoval cheated on his longtime girlfriend and co-star Kristen Doute with her. The pair confirmed their relationship in 2014 during the season 2 reunion. Ariana has always been a VPR fan favorite, beloved for being the voice of a reason and seemingly the most grounded of the bunch (despite at one point taking sketch comedy very seriously).

Raquel Leviss: A former pageant girl who was introduced in season 5 as the girlfriend of cast member James Kennedy, who used to date Sandoval’s ex, Kristen. In May 2021, the couple got engaged on the show after an extravagant, $25,000 proposal largely funded by Sandoval. James and Raquel broke up in December 2021, announcing the decision at the season 9 reunion.

Tom Schwartz: Sandoval’s best friend and the former husband of co-star Katie Maloney. After 12 years together, Katie asked Schwartz for a divorce in March 2022. In August 2022, Schwartz and Raquel made out at co-star Scheana Shay’s wedding, creating a rift in the cast that played out publicly in the months leading up to the show’s season 10 premiere and throughout the currently airing episodes.

So what happened?

On March 3, TMZ reported that Sandoval and Ariana had broken up after she discovered he had been cheating with Raquel. According to reports, Ariana had been in attendance at one of Sandoval’s shows on March 1 when she discovered an explicit video of Raquel and inappropriate messages on Sandoval’s phone. The pair had allegedly been seeing each other for “upwards of six months” — around the time or shortly after cameras started rolling on season 10 of Vanderpump Rules.

An alleged friend of Raquel’s said in a since-deleted post to the Vanderpump subreddit that Ariana had become suspicious of the pair in the months leading up to the breakup. The poster said Ariana almost caught them together after seeing Sandoval leave their guest room, which Raquel was staying in, with Sandoval claiming to have been bringing Raquel water… at 4 a.m. While a source told Page Six that Raquel would spend the night when Ariana was out of town, James claimed to DeuxMoi that Sandoval and Raquel would hook up in the house while “Ariana [was] sleeping.”

Though Sandoval was accused of cheating on Kristen multiple times, Ariana and Sandoval have long been the show’s most stable couple. On March 1, only hours before Ariana discovered the affair, Sandoval told Page Six that the secret to their relationship is that they’ve “been really good about respecting each other.” Now, there are reports saying Sandoval and Raquel “want to be together” following his breakup with Ariana.

Weren’t Raquel and Ariana friends, though?

Ariana Madix and Raquel Leviss stand facing each other with their glasses raised during a still from Vanderpump Rules.

Ariana Madix and Raquel Leviss
Photo: Nicole Weingart/Bravo

Yes, and that’s part of why the affair is so devastating to those involved and to fans. When Raquel joined the show, she wasn’t greeted by a warm reception; the cast is notoriously cliquey and their dislike of James influenced their reception of Raquel. Ariana was an exception and always supported Raquel. Katie warmed up to Raquel as well over the years, and in season 9 they both took and sold photos of their feet to help fund Raquel’s second nose job.

In the currently airing 10th season, Ariana continues to be a support system for Raquel in the wake of her and James’ breakup, encouraging Raquel to get back out there (just not with Schwartz). In an episode of the Chicks in the Office podcast that released on March 3, Raquel said: “Ariana and Scheana were the ones that really embraced me into this group and have been there for me since day one, so I know who my true friends are.”

Does this mean Raquel was hooking up with both Toms at the same time?

Raquel Leviss leans in for a kiss with Tom Schwartz, with her hand resting on his neck, in a still from the Vanderpump Rules trailer.

Raquel Leviss and Tom Schwartz
Photo: Bravo

Possibly. This is where things take a detour into conspiracy land. Raquel and Schwartz were first rumored to have hooked up at Coachella in April 2022. However, Schwartz did not attend Coachella last year; Sandoval did. Raquel even posted a photo of them together at the music festival. Whether the Coachella rumor was a complete fabrication or if the source simply got their Toms mixed up is unknown. Though the same person claiming to be Raquel’s friend on Reddit said Raquel and Sandoval did hook up at Coachella.

True or not, the rumor inspired Scheana to push for Raquel and Schwartz to actually hook up — a crusade currently being chronicled in the airing episodes of Vanderpump. Understandably, Katie is upset by this, as she and Schwartz agreed to not hook up with people in the friend group and Scheana and Raquel are ostensibly her friends. In the season’s fourth episode, Raquel admits to Katie that she recently approached Schwartz and asked him directly to make out. (He declined.) Upon hearing the confession, Ariana tells Raquel, “Girl, I didn’t know you had it in you.”

We know that Schwartz and Raquel did kiss at Scheana’s wedding in August, though the episode covering the moment has yet to air. But fans are now calling into question the validity of the entire Schwartz and Raquel storyline. The unsubstantiated theory is that Schwartz was the only person in the cast to know about the affair and agreed to act as a decoy, playing into a false storyline about his own romance with Raquel to distract from Sandoval and Raquel’s real affair. Seeing as Schwartz previously said he’d cover up for a different co-star’s cheating — and this coming on the heels of fans watching how false narratives distracted from real cheating in Real Housewives of Potomac’s recently wrapped season — the decoy theory is popular among Bravo fans.

The revelation of the affair has also sparked close reexamination of Schwartz and Sandoval’s recent joint interviews. On the March 6 episode of Andy Cohen’s Sirius show Radio Andy, Andy recalled the “odd energy between them” on a February episode of Watch What Happens Live. “Schwartz was looking at Sandoval the entire time, almost for guidance on answers.”

On March 4, Sandoval said that Schwartz only learned “very recently” and “did not condone [his] actions.”

Why this is SO messy

Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix stand smiling at each other in a still from Vanderpump Rules season 10.

Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix
Photo: Nicole Weingart/Bravo

Vanderpump is a show literally founded on cheating; its series premiere was attached to an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in which Housewife Brandi Glanville confronts Scheana about her affair with Eddie Cibrian while he was married to Brandi. Vanderpump previously peaked in season 2 when it was revealed that Kristen cheated on Sandoval with Jax Taylor, Sandoval’s best friend and the boyfriend of Kristen’s best friend, Stassi Schroeder.

But the affair between Sandoval and Raquel is different for several reasons, including the extent of their affair and the seriousness of Sandoval and Ariana’s relationship. Unlike at the time of the Jax-Kristen hookup, the cast members are no longer 20-somethings figuring their lives out. Sandoval, 39, and Ariana, 37, own a house together and have had business ventures together. In 2021, Ariana shared on WWHL that she might now be “more open to marriage,” something Sandoval has always wanted.

What really sets this apart, though, is how shameless Raquel and Sandoval have been with their relationship. In October, Sandoval went so far as to dress up as Raquel for Halloween, wearing the TomTom sweatshirt she had sported to BravoCon earlier that week. At the time, the feud between Katie and Raquel over the Schwartz hookup was still heated, and the costume was interpreted as a dig at Katie, who Sandoval never had a good relationship with.

While disrespecting Katie may have been part of the intention, it’s unbelievable that Sandoval dressed up as the woman he was having an affair with, went out with Ariana and Raquel that night while dressed as Raquel, and that Raquel posted several playful photos and videos of Sandoval in the costume — all of which are still available in her Halloween Instagram highlights. On March 1, Raquel even gifted Andy Cohen that same TomTom sweatshirt during a taping of Watch What Happens Live. During the episode, she also went on the air saying Sandoval was the hotter Tom, to the surprise of both Scheana and Andy.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation, though, is the rumor that the pair have matching lightning bolt necklaces to symbolize their love. After this report first surfaced, it didn’t take long for fans to find both Sandoval and Raquel wearing lightning bolt necklaces regularly, including in front of Ariana. Per TMZ, Raquel and Tom can be seen wearing lightning bolt necklaces starting in October 2022. While lightning bolt necklaces aren’t uncommon, nothing seems outside the realm of possibility at this point.

All of this drama will be playing out later this season on Vanderpump Rules. After news of the cheating scandal got out, Bravo resumed production on season 10. Per Page Six, Ariana and Sandoval filmed together on March 3, with sources saying their conversation left Ariana feeling “gaslit” by Tom, who allegedly used their house, Ariana’s mental health, and her grandmother’s death last year as excuses for hiding the affair.

How has the cast responded?

To quote Real Housewives of New York star Dorinda Medley, “Not well, bitch!” After the news broke, it was all the Bravo universe could talk about. Current and former Vanderpump stars came out to support Ariana, as well as other Bravolebrities. Even the realtor of the aforementioned Dorinda got involved.

Ariana deleted her Instagram, but fans have been getting updates from her friends and co-stars. On March 3, Kristen posted a video of herself with Ariana, saying how much she loves her. Lala has posted several videos and Stories calling out Sandoval and Raquel. In one, she says Ariana gave her “full consent to torch these motherfuckers.” Lala also put her Bambi Eyed B*tch eyeshadow palette, a collaboration with Raquel, on heavy discount, declaring everything must go. (It is now sold out).

At first, Katie went the route of simplicity, posting two clown emojis to her Instagram Stories, but has since followed that up with several posts showing support for Ariana, with whom she’s been planning on opening a sandwich shop. James trolled Sandoval’s page and jokingly instructed fans to throw tomatoes at him during the March 3 Sandoval & the Most Extras show. (Tomatoes weren’t thrown, but fans did shout “Ariana!” at him.)

Schwartz, of course, has chosen to stay out of it, posting an Instagram Story saying, “I asked my magic 8 ball if it’s going to be a chill day .”

But the most shocking response allegedly came from Scheana, one of Raquel’s best friends and the only one who was with her on March 1. According to the Reddit post, after the WWHL taping, Scheana and Raquel were still together when Ariana discovered the messages on Sandoval’s phone. That night, Raquel admitted to the affair to Scheana, who reportedly then hit Raquel.

Raquel Leviss and Scheana Shay sit facing each other at a table with drinks and candles on it. Scheana leans forward appearing to eagerly listen while Raquel talks in this still from Vanderpump Rules season 10.

Raquel Leviss and Scheana Shay
Image: Nicole Weingart/Bravo

Raquel’s sister alluded to this rumor on March 4. After Vanderpump cast member (and Raquel’s former friend) Charli Burnett posted that “no one deserves to feel this gut punch,” Raquel’s sister responded, “Nor, punched in the face.” When a user said Raquel’s sister was “sick” to defend her, the sister said she wasn’t “defending, just also not condoning physical violence.” “Get the fuck off my page before I drag you & your mf sister. Show her this too,” Charli wrote after calling the sister a very NSFW name.

Sandoval put out a statement on March 4. In it, he asked fans to stop directing anger at Schwartz & Sandy’s, which was being Yelp-bombed and having its Instagram page spammed with negative comments. Sandoval apologized to his business partners and employees who were being harmed by the scandal, but his statement did not mention Ariana. Schwartz & Sandy’s put out a statement of its own, saying the company is “disappointed by the current situation” and considers Ariana “a good friend.”

Raquel has yet to respond to the affair, though she has allegedly hired the same publicist as Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Jayne.

This is a lot for Vanderpump fans to process in the quick span of three days. Fortunately, the cameras have been rolling to capture it all. The plan is to incorporate the cheating scandal into the current season, with the reunion scheduled to film in two weeks.