After a tepid inaugural season, which included some uninspired casting choices, forgettable beefs and too many party games, The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip (this time, subtitled Ex-Wives Club) is back with a tighter premise, a more dynamic cast of all-stars, and an iconic, historic setting at Dorinda Medley’s Blue Stone Manor—“You don’t touch the Morgan letters!”—that makes for a compelling, sometimes jarring, but thoroughly amusing excursion from the main Real Housewives offerings currently on Bravo.
Even before the inaugural season of The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip landed on Peacock last fall, news that Medley of Real Housewives of New York fame and former Real Housewives of Orange County star Vicki Gunvalson got into a heated argument over COVID-19 vaccines while filming Season 2 had already overshadowed any rumored beef between Kenya Moore and Ramona Singer on a yacht in Turks and Caicos.
On June 23, Bravo fans can finally watch the two reality-TV legends play drunken proxies in our current culture war, with Medley taking the side of science and Gunvalson spewing unsubstantiated nonsense she either read on Facebook or heard from her mask-skeptic ex-fiance. Despite how mind-numbing these debates are in real life, it’s both enthralling and cathartic watching Medley, a master of the slurred, drunken spiel, dispute Gunvalson’s anti-vax theories with the strongest conviction while their fellow co-stars observe them with their mouths agape.
Even before we arrive at this confrontation, you realize early on that the show is, either intentionally or unintentionally, a vehicle to boost Medley’s approval rating among Bravo fans after a rough exit from her franchise following Season 12, where her hostility toward her co-stars cast a dark cloud over a mostly fun, frivolous show.
As hostess with the mostest, Medley is inarguably Ex-Wives Club’s main star and makes sure to differentiate herself from the rest of her cast members by announcing that she was “put on pause” rather than fired by Bravo. If viewers needed more convincing that she belongs on RHONY’s newly-announced Legacy spin-off—she may have already been cast—Ex-Wives Club is a prime showcase of the aspects of Medley we originally fell in love with, from her motherly warmth to her zero-to-100 temper to her eccentric house decorations.
And yet there are plenty of other contributions from the series’ remaining stars to laugh, gawk, and cringe at. Aside from Medley and Gunvalson, the other Ex-Wives include Phaedra Parks and Eva Marcille from Real Housewives of Atlanta; Brandi Glanville and Taylor Armstrong from Beverly Hills; Tamra Judge from Orange County; and Jill Zarin from New York, whose particular arrival on the Berkshires estate is a beautiful, self-referential homage gone terribly wrong (or maybe exactly right).
Parks’ confessionals supply about 70 percent of the series’ laugh-out-loud moments. I won’t spoil any of her colorful, shady remarks except to tell you that, at one point, she utters the phrase “Strawberry Shortcake revival,” and it has not left my brain since. The sheer bitterness radiating from Gunvalson and Judge over their termination from Orange County two years ago is also funny and fascinating to observe. Judge, one of the most crafty and unabashedly calculated Housewives in the show’s history, is clearly auditioning for a role back on her franchise, which could honestly use her familiarity and pot-stirring tendencies. Meanwhile Gunvalson, who doesn’t have the wherewithal to keep her right-wing conspiracies to herself, is failing her redemption arc at every opportunity. (Although, if you enjoy her for the constantly frantic cartoon character she is, you’ll enjoy her on this show.)
The same goes for Glanville, whose bluntness on Beverly Hills is constantly eulogized on Twitter. Likewise, she succeeds in casually pissing off her co-stars in this series—and even some service staff. However, her interactions with Armstrong, specifically the ignorance she displays regarding her former co-star’s abusive relationship to the late Russell Armstrong, sours her presence. Presumably, certain Bravo fans won’t enjoy watching someone question the legitimacy of a woman’s abuse claims and center themselves in their trauma. Additionally, flashbacks revealing how Armstrong’s allegations against her husband were poorly handled on Beverly Hills are especially cringeworthy to relive in our current cultural moment.
The season is primarily light, but the women are all wounded in one way or another, whether by Bravo or each other. It adds a rich layer onto a show that could solely be classified as a vanity project for Bravo. Not only does the context of unemployment (at least by the network) make this particular gathering feel more purposeful and adds a nostalgic quality, but it also introduces stakes that weren’t present in the first season of Ultimate Girls Trip.
Being cast in the inaugural season was primarily framed as an accolade and didn’t require much from the women besides rehashing their greatest hits in front of the camera. But being invited on the Ex-Wives Club is both a reminder of failure and a second chance, adding a competitive edge and an air of desperation—crucial to a successful Real Housewives series—to the show. This formula ultimately pays off in more rewarding ways, and it would be smart of Peacock to emulate it in Season 3.