More Vanderpump, Obviously: Jo Wenberg, Tom Schwartz, And The People We Villainize

More Vanderpump, Obvioiusly: Jo, Tom Schwartz, and the People We Villainize
ABOVE: Tom Schwartz during the Vanderpump Rules Season 11 After Show; Jo Wenberg during Vanderpmp Rules Season 11, Episode 11. (Photo: Bravo)

By Anne T. Donahue

On this week’s episode of Vanderpump Rules, the near-impossible happened: I felt terrible for Jo.

Outside of thinking Ariana’s okay and Katie Maloney has levelled up to being a Final Boss, I’ve chosen to hate pretty much everybody on Vanderpump this season. This is for the simple reason that most of these people are middle-aged, insufferable, and somehow striving to do worse. Tom Sandoval is a curse upon our televisions, Lala has entered a reality only she has access to, Sheena’s jealousy is seeping into everything and absolutely crushing any semblance of vibe. And then, of course, there’s Jo: the sort-of something to King of the Fuckboys, Tom Schwartz. A woman who made me cringe because I saw myself in her.

Hear me out. The Jo-Tom plotline has been terrible. As viewers with critical minds, we understand that she was likely brought in because a) she’s a fresh face, b) she’s someone who might make Tom Schwartz’s life seem less . . . like it is, and c) Katie Maloney’s reactions to her would fulfill the void in all of us we ourselves cannot independently fulfill. Watching Jo and Tom interact was horrifying. Over drinks and snacks, they morphed into the worst versions of anyone who’s ever had an inside joke, performing their relationship as an attempt to convey authenticity. They made strange voices. They laughed at nothing, and very loudly. The internet understandably rose up and burned the notion of Jo and Tom to the ground, declaring Jo a pick-me (or equivalent) who had no real narrative other than to incite our hatred.

Did I like Jo? No, because she represented exactly who I have morphed into when I liked a guy who wasn’t actually interested, but kept me around because I was convenient and he wanted to feel good about himself. Does this absolve Jo from the way she interacted with Tom and/or most aspects of her onscreen persona? Negative, because she is also an adult woman who signed contracts to appear on one of the biggest reality television shows in history, so she was obviously in the know about the magic of villains, “other women” (not that she is one, but she’s not Katie), and the magic of editing. But then this week happened, and reader, I wanted to die.

For those who may have missed it, this 41-year-old man did what so many younger, older, and same-aged idiots have done before him: despite the year-plus of he and Jo hooking up, hanging out, and revelling in the spirit of a (televised) situationship, Tom told Jo that they were only ever friends, would only ever be friends, and asked if he’d been sending “mixed signals.”

“I don’t want to be in a relationship at all,” he explained. “I want to date other people. I am dating other people and I get numbers and I hook up with people.”

First of all, which people. Who are these people? Are these people okay? Are any of us okay? Are the people in the room with us right now? I digress.

Ultimately, the two decide not to hang out anymore, and Jo asks the question that absolutely broke my heart because woof: “Are you embarrassed by me?”

You have no idea how angry I was when she said this because for this full season, I was entirely embarrassed by both Jo and Tom because they were acting like teenagers you couldn’t stand even when you were a teenager. But goddamn, Jo, why not ask a bigger question. Are we not all embarrassed by Tom Schwartz?

Odds are, most of us have been Jo, and we have Cool Girl speeched our way into a version of ourselves we thought someone would like because they did everything but say as much. Should we be proud of this? Absolutely not, but it is a universal event and feelings are terrible. What’s worse, is that these brand of bros are never special, interesting, or even very kind, but because our paths crossed at a time that made a) us feel wanted, and b) them feel important, chaos ensued and hearts were broken. Yet the real tragedy is that this usually happens when we’re younger; when both parties live under the belief that eventually the other will see the light and normalcy will be restored to whatever universe they happen to be living in. In this case, Tom is 41. He is a grown-ass divorcee. I have no idea how old Jo is, but I don’t really care. Tom Schwartz has established his role as a Nightmare Man who has done this before, will do this again, and will pop up onscreen in about 15 years at a D-list event, linked to someone who’s still developing their frontal lobe. These are the facts. And I hope Jo just . . . flies away.

By now, I think we fans of Vanderpump understand that it is a thorough and exhausting examination of what happens when fame occurs to people with a penchant for partying well into the years most of us need to nap to make it to an 8 p.m. dinner. No one who willingly accepts a spot on the cast is exempt from accountability, nor is anybody naïve – over a decade on – of what the series can and will do to a person. But Jo. Jo! It was like watching all of us in our Roxy t-shirts and seashell necklaces circa 2005 enthusiastically replying to 1 a.m. texts because we thought “it really meant something.” It was a long walk down the path of “remember when I thought ‘Don’t tell anybody’ was a compliment?” It was a house of horrors, adorned with the worst bleach dye jobs of the mid-to-late naughts. It was the cold, dark reminder that some patterns will not change, some people are never held accountable, and despite all of it, the villain (Schwartz) will be totally fine.

So will Jo, obviously. The woman has earned bank, appeared on a TV show, and is not any of our 20-something selves who were delusional and self-unaware. But if we continue to watch Vanderpump through the lens of the anthropological and sociological study that it obviously is, may we mark this moment with an asterisk and revisit accordingly the next time we see one of Schwartz’s stupid smirks. And may those smirks come to appear every time he realizes that he is also embarrassing, but has crystalized this trait on network television and for all the world to see.

Need a little more Anne? Read more from Anne T. Donahue right here!

Tags: Anne T. Donahue, top story, topstory, Vanderpump Rules

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