The Cast’s Cruelty to Jenna Lyons Is Unforgivable

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After last week’s episode of Real Housewives of New York ended with a fight hot enough to burn up all of the Christmastime snow (or rather, the brown curbside slush—snow is a rarity in New York winters these days), it seems that all of Housewives are still steaming. The energy of Season 14’s eighth episode is, at times, downright nasty. That’s surprising given that, up until now, the rebooted RHONY cast has been doing a great job of keeping their version of the show relatively lighthearted—while still staying steeped in drama.

But it’s inevitable that, even in a new era of Housewives, there are going to be some low blows here and there. Real Housewives can’t be Real Housewives without delivering the occasional shocking dig. And for any viewers who have felt that the reboot isn’t tapping into the same level of spiteful maliciousness that the likes of Ramona Singer and Dorinda Medley gave us, you’ll be happy to know that your time has come. The new crew’s first international trip starts off with a bang, and half the cast is already at odds by the episode’s end. There is betrayed trust, tattling, genetic disorder drama, and gossip procured through means of hot soup. Forget spilling tea, these women are splattering stew!

With their upcoming, post-Christmas trip to Anguilla on the horizon, Sai and Ubah meet at a boutique called Zimmerman, each sporting a different style of Ariana Grande high ponytail. Sai opts for a Positions-era style retro, bouncy pony, while Ubah goes for the My Everything-era classic—appropriate, given that she has broken free of the bout of COVID that kept her absent from the last two episodes. The two of them shop for bathing suits and decide how much skin they want to show on the beach, a topic of conversation that foreshadows the arguments that arise after their plane actually touches down. “If you have tits like mine, topless makes sense,” Ubah tells Sai, nonchalantly recommending that Sai just buy a skirt and nothing else.

Sai catches Ubah up on the latest gossip over Erin storming out of Brynn’s wreath-decorating party, after which Jenna tried to liven the mood with a box of gifts for all of her fellow castmates. Were some of the gifts in that box Jenna’s collaborations with some luxury brands? Sure. Would I ever complain about getting a box full of items that retail for upwards of $1,000? Never in my life. But I’m not an influencer, and Sai is, which is precisely why she felt a little strange about the gifts.

“Unless you’re giving me that cheese honey, I can’t keep promoting you for free,” Sai says in her confessional. And while I balked at not just accepting some free stuff from a friend, Sai is right to wonder if there are strings attached. It is, after all, her job to promote products on social media; she knows firsthand that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Meanwhile, Jenna walks around Rockefeller Center with her brother, Spencer, mere days before Christmas. Any New Yorker or tourist who has been to the city around the holidays knows that trying to see the Rockefeller Center tree at any time is asking to be pushed, prodded, and trampled, but Jenna seems to be a glutton for punishment based on some things that she lets slip a few days later, so that tracks. The two siblings sit down to dinner, and Jenna gets to talking about the cast trip, which has been making her anxious due to her genetic disorder, Incontentia Pigmenti.

A poto of Sai De Silva and Jenna Lyons from RHONY.

The disorder affects the appearance of Jenna’s skin, her teeth, and her hair growth, and we finally get the real story about her teeth journey. I know it’s gross of me, a man, to be curious about a woman’s appearance. But I am only a human with two working eyes, and naturally, I wondered about the change between Stylish with Jenna Lyons and Real Housewives of New York. It turns out, she’s at the tail end of a lengthy cosmetic surgery process to get proper tooth implants. So far, she’s had eight bone grafts, three sinus lifts, and multiple implants put in, totaling a whopping 13 surgeries. That’s incomprehensibly difficult, and it makes perfect sense why Jenna feels insecure. Not that an unconventional appearance is anything to be ashamed of, but being a public figure with this disorder cannot possibly be easy.

Jenna tells her brother that she’s also nervous about showing her skin in Anguilla, as she has discolored scarring that’s extremely noticeable, which she has felt badly about since being brutally teased as a child. She later reiterates this to Erin when Erin comes to visit her post-dental surgery. Erin arrives bearing “homemade” butternut squash soup (you think I’ve never repackaged Citarella to try to impress someone, Erin?), and Jenna confides to her friend that she’s heading to Anguilla two days early specifically to work on her tan, which evens out her skin tone. There also just so happens to be a flight two days earlier that has a business class seat available, which Jenna tells Erin a very simple fact: Two things can be true at once! She can want to get her tan on, and she can not want to fly coach. If I had Jenna Lyons money, do you think I’d ever fly coach again? Get real and grow up. Give me the first-class cocoon, the glass of champagne, and stay the hell away from me.

The women all make their way to the Caribbean, with Sai and Brynn keeping their masks on at the airport; I see you, my fellow COVID-conscious queens! As soon as they arrive at the gorgeous villa that Bravo—sorry, I mean, “Sai”—rented for the trip, we get a classic glimpse of RHONY at its finest. All of the Housewives take off to secure the best room that they can find, which fills me with an untold warmth that only RHONY and RHONY alone is able to provide. As Bethenny Frankel once said, “What is this, Pamplona, the running of the fucking bulls?”

Immediately after they settle in and get ready for dinner, Erin tattles on Jenna to the rest of the group about Jenna not wanting to fly coach. However, Erin incorrectly frames it with a misquote. “She was like, ‘The truth is: I’m not flying down with you guys because I don’t fly coach.” That’s just simply not how Jenna phrased it, she positioned her business class seat as an added bonus to leaving early so she could tan. I appreciate Erin driving the drama, it’s a necessary component of the show, but to straight-up ignore the larger, much more vulnerable reasoning that Jenna explained in detail is just mean.

A photo of Jenna Lyons from RHONY.

Naturally, the rest of the Housewives get irked at Jenna, who has yet to arrive at the villa from her hotel. Ubah flat out says, “Jenna can suck my dick,” in the most casual, hilarious way possible. “Guys with Loveseen t-shirts are going to carry her in like she’s Cleopatra or something,” Brynn adds.

Jenna strolls in wearing a long sleeveless dress with a large, plunging backline. She’s noticeably tanner, and she seems prepared to have a great time with her friends. Unfortunately, they’ve all been talking about her behind her back for hours, and Lyons is not ready for these lions.

“For someone who is so self-conscious about showing her skin, I’m seeing a lot of it right now,” Erin says in her confessional with a smirk. The confessional was undoubtedly filmed months after the trip, but her mocking cadence stings with a shot of venom. It’s absolutely cruel, and it made me feel sick. What reason is there to treat Jenna with such malice, especially when it’s regarding a lifelong, chronic disorder that Jenna entrusted Erin with the details of? There are few moments when Housewives irk me to a level of legitimate anger, but I might have yelled, “Oh shut up!” at my laptop screen. (I’d also like to note that in Erin’s confessional, she’s spray-tanned to the level of a New Jersey Housewife herself, so take that as you will.)

When Jenna’s castmates confront her about Erin’s claims that Jenna didn’t want to fly coach, Jenna doesn’t deny it at all. She also reminds them of her Incontentia Pigmenti, and notes that it’s not as simple as getting a spray tan to cover it up. She’s being perfectly straightforward, and it’s hard to see why everyone remains so mad at her. Even Brynn joins the diatribe against her, claiming that Jenna shows skin all the time, and Jenna unfortunately responds without thinking.

“Have you ever seen a picture of me on the red carpet showing skin?” Jenna asks. Without missing a beat, Brynn responds: “I don’t look at pictures of you on the red carpet.” Everyone, including myself, laughs their asses off. But it’s the beginning of a sudden and strange bout of exasperation between the two women, who were getting along like a house on fire just days before. The pushback against Jenna has only just begun, and the seas surrounding Anguilla are roiling. Let this be a lesson to us all: Fly first class if you’ve got the means, but talking about it will always be a little too gauche for the rest of us to handle.

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