Real Housewives of Orange County star Vicki Gunvalson is going to be a grandma. Let me rephrase: the woman who purposefully gave a statement to US Weekly that her “love tank is full” will soon be in charge of handing out fossilized Werther’s Originals from the bottom of her Balenciaga.
50-year-old Gunvalson, an original cast member of the first in Bravo‘s celebration of people who either don’t get the joke or don’t care, was reportedly surprised but happy at her daughter’s announcement. Gunvalson’s daughter, Briana Wolfsmith, is a 24-year-old nurse and sometimes-Real Housewives cast member. She eloped with Ryan Culberson in 2011.
Gunvalson did not rise to reality TV stardom by being subtle. She is flashy, prone to shrieking “WOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” at the slightest provocation, and were she an action figure she’d totally come with a teeny-tiny wineglass. It’s hard to picture her as anyone’s grandmother.
But as a self-made businesswoman who does seem to care an awful lot about motivating and mothering her kids, I’ve seen weirder.
In fact, Vicki’s blessed event got me thinking: there have to be other grandmothers on reality TV, right? That has to be surreal for the grandkids. Or maybe these women are redefining what it means to age and grandparent in America. I know that had reality TV been available to my own maternal grandmother, gone for years now, she would have dug right in. If she thought for a second that eating live insects in a tank full of Cool Whip would have made her grandkids smile, she would have been all over it. Mind you, gin would have been involved, but that is for another blog…
So I salute you, reality TV grandmas. Because I know you’d never judge me (and you’d totally let me stay up late).
Favorite Reality TV Grandma #1: Joan Rivers Some of you may have had that grandmother you could always count on to do something outrageous or, even, embarrassing. Maybe she talks about “that black fella on television who believes he’s the president.” Maybe she tells you that you look better now that you’ve gained weight. Maybe, like my grandmother used to, she calls you during Lawrence Welk Show reruns to wonder aloud about whether or not she knows the drummer, implying that maybe she thinks she KNOWS the drummer *raised eyebrow*. Well Celebrity Apprentice, Joan and Melissa, and Fashion Police star Joan Rivers sees your grandma’s outrageous behavior and raises it a d#$k joke. She insults people and curses for a living. She is hilarious and spoiled and driven and terrific. And I bet she would throttle anyone who even looked sideways at her grandson. I mean assuming her grandson wasn’t dressed like Adrian Brody or Della Reese at the time…then he’d be on his own.
Favorite Reality TV Grandma(s) #2: Most everyone on Hoarders. Confess. You watch Hoarders only to feel better about yourself. Maybe you are in debt or overweight, but you do not sleep under a six-foot pile of discarded banjoes. But, mixed with relief and horror, there is love for the hoarding grandmas. You know why they have to scale a mountain of pipe cleaners and cat bones? Because they are keeping them for YOU to use for dioramas about desert climates.
Favorite Reality TV Grandma #3: Joan Amuso Haven’t heard of Joan Amuso? You will. She appears in the May 24 series premiere of On the Fly on TLC. Amuso’s 22-year-old grandson William Bradford is one of the Southwest Airlines passengers featured on the debut episode of the series. He flies home to show her his newest tattoo: of Amuso as a young woman. Right there on the ol’ forearm. Amuso must be one helluva grandmother. And she will be one helluva c–k block for years to come.
Favorite Reality TV Grandma #4: Kris Jenner (Kardashian) You know how, regardless of age or hygiene or anything, all grandmas have Grandma Scent? White Shoulders plus mothballs plus the crisp shiny covers of Time-Life books on World War I plus phone book pages plus impending death? Kris Jenner is so slick she even avoids Grandma Smell. She just sort of smells like opportunity and O.J. Orange juice, people. Orange juice.
Kris Jenner seemed grandmotherly to me even before daughter Kourtney started her brood. Is there anything more grandma-esque than thinking your family is the most amazing family in the world? In sharing their every move and triumph with bored strangers? In spinning their missteps and foibles into gold (was it a sex tape or a personal essay on intimacy)? Kris Jenner has made grandmotherly behavior a brand. Buy accordingly.
Favorite Reality TV Grandma #5: Grandma Fairplay Full disclosure: I’ve only seen, maybe, one episode of CBS reality trailblazer Survivor. Survivor: Pearl Islands contestant Jon “Jonny Fairplay” Dalton almost made me regret opting out. If you’re not a reality TV viewer, competition shows sometimes reward contestants with a visit from loved ones. Knowing this might happen, Jonny Fairplay told his friends that, should they be invited to visit him on set as part of a “Loved Ones Challenge” they were to lie and say that HIS GRANDMOTHER DIED DURING FILMING. Fairplay rode his fake dead grandma to third place. He has bumped around as a reality TV all-star and professional wrestler since then. He is also the target of Jeff Probst’s singular loathing.
If only Johnny Fairplay’s fake grandma could see him now. There, there. I’m sure she’s fake watching you from fake heaven.
Favorite Reality TV Grandma #6: Cadence’s Grandma I may be firing a shot across the bow in the culture wars here, but sometimes I have a hard time telling who are the moms and who are the grandmas on Toddlers & Tiaras. Some of the grandmothers are quite young and some of the mothers are quite sun-damaged. So I’m picking on Cadence’s grandmas as an exemplar, but know that I understand she cannot possibly speak for the entire population of pageant matriarchs.
Grandma Debbie, like any Toddlers & Tiaras coach worth her salt, believes that hard work and tanning pay great dividends. She also appears to be a former Marine (or other equally breezy profession) because the woman barks orders like a sea lion on fire. And on steroids.
When she’s not doing the drill sergeant thing to an eight-year-old (who clearly had it coming because she’s, like, eight), she’s doing the incredibly paranoid thing: spring-loaded and sassing about judges playing favorites before the first awkward oversized baby dentures are even in place. Grandma Debbie is the quintessential grandma: she only wants you to be happy and woe to anyone who gets in the way…including you.
There are just a few of the women bringing their own brand grandmotherly love (and rage and weird chalky after dinner mints) to reality TV. Who am I forgetting? And what do you think: did my grandmother really sleep with a drummer on Lawrence Welk? Did yours?