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Real Housewives

Anatomy of a Housewives Vacation

Glenn Rowley

rhony-camels

One of the primary centerpieces of every season of Housewives is the cast vacation. Once a year, the Bravo gods force the ladies to go away together to some exclusive locale to give viewers a serious case of wanderlust. Since these trips are typically towards the end of filming, all of the issues and storylines that have been building all season are put in a double boiler with the temperature on high. When all the elements come together perfectly, we're give dramatic climaxes between the women (like Alexis Bellino's pretentious intervention on Season 7 of RHOC) as well as some of the Housewives' funniest moments (Countess Luann nearly getting bucked off a wild camel in Morocco? Classic). The annual tradition is second in importance only to each season's reunion. So, before the RHONY ladies head off to the Turks and Caicos, I'm breaking down what makes a successful Housewives trip and what sets the most memorable vacations apart from the forgettable.

kelly-scary-island

The very first official Housewives vacation was RHONY's epic trip to Scary Island in Season 3. Sure, the OC 'Wives had been on one-offs to Florida, Las Vegas and San Diego, but nothing like the multi-episode arc in St. John's. From Kelly Bensimon's jellybean-fueled mental breakdown - where she called Alex McCord a vampire and claimed Bethenny Frankel was trying to kill her - to Jill Zarin's surprise arrival to crash the party, the trip provided us with a plethora of classic Housewives moments that we're still measuring subsequent trips against. Scary Island had set the bar, and it had been set high. Six months later, the New Jersey ladies (minus Danielle Staub) were off to Italy to reconnect with their roots and the franchise-wide tradition was born. 

Now, in order to be successful, there are a number of things every Housewives trip needs. So, let's break it down step by step:

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1. A reason to go: Because it's reality, there needs to be an at least somewhat-viable reason for the ladies to get away. They can't, after all, just say "well, the producers are making us go on a trip." So, typically one of the ladies takes on the responsibility of "hosting" the trip for the rest of the cast. Whether it's celebrating Cynthia Bailey's second wedding in Anguilla, seeing Lydia McLaughlin's homeland in Canada or visiting old stomping grounds in Punta Cana for the NJ ladies, the cast usually comes up with an excuse to go somewhere fabulous and exciting. Then again, sometimes the tried-and-true "we just need to get away" excuse is what works, as we've seen for RHOC in Costa Rica, RHONY in Morocco and Bimini for the Miami 'Wives. The feeblest reasoning came from the Beverly Hills women when they all just so happened to be going to Paris at the same time, so why not make a trip of it? Then again, maybe that's not such a stretch when you live in the 90210.

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2. The guest list: The entire point of these trips is for all the ladies to be stuck together somewhere, where they can't avoid or escape from confrontation with each other. So, the trips are most effective when all or most of the cast is in attendance. However, just as much tension can be made out of who's not invited on the vacation. Carlton got left out of the RHOBH vacation to Puerto Rico during Season 4 and queen bee NeNe opted out of the Atlanta cast's latest trip to the Philippines for Season 7. Newbie Heather specifically didn't invite Ramona on her trip to London at the beginning of RHONY's rebooted fifth season, which caused tension between the two for basically the rest of the year. However, guest lists have also proved to be a detriment for the New York women in the past. When the much-reviled Aviva Drescher used a doctor's note to get out of the cast trip to Montana in Season 6, it took much of the air out of the trip's sails, as the other ladies' common enemy was staying in Manhattan because of "moderate to severe asthma."

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3. Sightseeing and cultural experiences: An added benefit of these trips is that they allow viewers to experience exotic locales from the comfort of their couch. The very best Housewives trips are able to effectively mix the drama and conflict with what is essentially a Travel Channel special. From riding elephants and feeding monkeys in Bali to riding bikes past windmills in Amsterdam, the 'Wives are pushed out of their day-to-day routines and truly experience breathtaking scenery and foreign cultures. The Eiffel Tower itself served as the backdrop for Kyle and Lisa's confrontation about their friendship in Season 3 of RHOBH, while Yolanda, Ken and Lisa discussed Kim's strange behavior (due to a pill mix-up) in front of the Notre Dame cathedral. In an homage to Sex and the City 2, the RHONY cast rode camels, visited a riad and donned gorgeous Moroccan dresses on their Season 4 trip to Marrakech. In South Africa, the RHOA ladies visited an orphanage and went on safari during their fourth season. We've watched Vicki Gunvalson do everything from whitewater rafting and zip-lining in Costa Rica to skiing down mountains in Whistler. The potential for pure "travel porn" is enormous on each vacation and has helped me add so many places to my own personal bucket list. Seriously, ever since the OC 'Wives went to Bali last year, I've been fascinated by the country and it's been at the top of my list.

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4. The buildup: While sightseeing and learning about other cultures is neat and education, let's face it: the real reason any of us watch the Housewives is for the drama. As I mentioned, the majority of these trips occur roughly two-thirds of the way through filming. That way, the season's main storylines have been fleshed out with tensions and conflicts brewing as the 'Wives head off for an adventure. In the best cases, lines have been drawn and sides have been chosen, with the promise of all the drama coming to a head on the trip. During Season 4, the Atlanta ladies were clearly divided as the Talls vs. the Smalls going into South Africa. The fourth season of RHONY centered around a war between the blonds and the brunettes, which came to an explosive head in Morocco. Sometimes, the build-up is premeditated: Gretchen, Tamra and Heather were planning an intervention for Alexis's obsession with materialism and image before they even boarded the plane to Costa Rica in Season 7. Other times, it comes as more of a shock, like when rumors of Kim's sobriety boiled over between her and Lisa Rinna during the epic wine glass-shattering dinner on the Beverly Hills ladies' first night in Amsterdam.

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5. The climax: Once the ladies have reached their destination, some type of interpersonal conflict usually tends to send the vacation into a state of dramatic chaos. This holds particularly true for the ladies on the receiving end of the confrontation. Who can forget Tamra bolting from the OC ladies' dinner in Bali after being accused of talking behind everyone's backs or Lisa Vanderpump feeling ganged up on in Puerto Rico over TabloidGate? Naive Karent Sierra left early after being confronted with evidence of her boyfriend's infidelity on the Miami 'Wives trip to Bimini. Personally, my favorite moment has to be Vicki Gunvalson screaming at the top of her lungs at Lauri Peterson decked out in full snow gear (goggles included), after she found out mid-trip that Lauri was spreading threesome-related rumors about her to the other women. I don't think I've ever laughed as hard as I did watching the OG of the OC shrieking "I HAVE NEVER BEEN WITH MULTIPLE PARTNERS IN MY LIFE!" while nearly causing an avalanche on the mountain. That's Housewives gold right there. Oftentimes, the drama isn't isolated to a single incident and lasts through multiple days and episodes. Aviva Drescher, for example, went round for round with Ramona and Sonja during Season 5's Slutty Island excursion to St. Barth's - first calling them "white trash" upon her arrival, then accusing Sonja of being a "double-dealer" and finally pulling out her best Jack Nicholson impression the next day, as she bellowed that Ramona "[couldn't] handle the truth!" about her Girls Gone Wild antics. The New Jersey ladies family trip to Napa Valley in Season 4 was a seemingly endless parade of confrontations for Teresa Giudice, from Caroline's birthday dinner in a picturesque vineyard to the blow-up at the hot tub between the Manzos, Kathy Wakile and the Giudices. Basic rule of thumb: the more episodes a vacation lasts, the better it's going to be.  

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6. The fallout: Whether an attempt at reconciliation is reached or the feuds continue, the events of each Housewives trip provide the final narrative push for the remainder of the season. The issues that explode halfway around the world (or country) have to be dealt with when the ladies get back home. Most of the time, there are only a few episodes remaining in a given season once the cast trip ends - just enough time to wrap up storylines and throw one final party for the season finale before the reunion starts. The season's long feud between the Guidices and Gorgas, along with Teresa's relationships with her former friends Jacqueline and Caroline, seemed to reach a point of healing during the Season 5 Arizona retreat, leading to a season finale featuring one, big, cautiously happy family. (This of course wouldn't last long.) The trip also managed to start wrapping the interpersonal conflicts up just before the Giudices were indicted on federal fraud charges, but that seems like more of a coincidence. In Beverly Hills, the explosive drama from Amsterdam remained unresolved and effectively fueled the storyline for the rest of the season, putting Kim and Brandi at further odds with their co-stars. No matter where it takes place, the implications from the vacation need to be so far-reaching that they make it all the way back to each respective Housewives city and into the reunion.

With the RHONY ladies jetting off to the Turks and Caicos this week and the OC 'Wives heading to Tahiti later this season, the list of exotic destinations for the Housewives continues to expand. Will future trips hold to the pattern that's been set by years of precedent? Andy Cohen himself said the upcoming Turks and Caicos trip, which spans four episodes, is the best vacation the RHONY women have taken since the original trip to Scary Island. Could a new high water mark be set for a Housewives holiday? The only way to find out is to follow our favorite ladies on their adventures around the world and watch what happens.