YBOR CITY — There’s something wrong and yet also extremely right about sitting inside the darkened Tampa Improv on a sunny Thursday afternoon, waiting for the stars of Vanderpump Rules to take the stage.
In this two-drink-minimum-on-a-Saturday-night kind of place, cast members from one of Bravo’s most popular reality shows gathered for a Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival panel called Reality Television — The Highs, the Lows and the (Vanderpump) Rules of Survival.
Vanderpump follows a group of aspiring models and actors-turned-servers who work at Real Housewives’ Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant SUR in West Hollywood, Calif. Seven years in, the stars are less known for their bartending and more for saying outrageous things on camera and doing sponsored posts on Instagram.
The connection to Tampa’s annual film festival is Randall Emmett, 47, a movie producer who happens to be engaged to Lala Kent, 28, one of Vanderpump’s youngest, most quotable firecrackers.
Kent was on the panel along with Jax Taylor, 39, one of the show’s original and most infamous cast members. (Taylor’s fiancee Brittany Cartwright was supposed to show up, too, but bailed because she didn’t feel well. She later showed up to a post-panel meet-and-greet.)
At 4:15 p.m., Emmett, Kent and Taylor took the stage, Emmett serving as moderator for a half-hour discussion about reality TV followed by a lively Q and A with the audience full of Vanderpump enthusiasts.
It’s here that I must pause and tell you that noted television louse Taylor was more charming in real life than I would have guessed, tall and handsome and clearly deep into a very effective fitness regimen. He was surprisingly engaging and funny, definitely in his element in front of a group of adoring fans. Trust me, I wasn’t expecting it either.
Kent, who wore what can only be described as a bra, a long flowing skirt that showed off her abs and an engagement ring from Emmett that blinded the first three rows, kicked things off with an apology: “Raquel, I’m sorry I called you a ----!” she said, in reference to an episode that aired on Monday.
Here are 20 things we learned from the rest of the afternoon.
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1. Taylor was on his way to Florida when he got asked to be on Vanderpump Rules.
He had been in Los Angeles for a decade working as a model and was sick of it (“I was 30!), so he packed his car and was going to move back to Florida (he previously lived in Miami and has family in Tarpon Springs) when Lisa Vanderpump asked him to do the show.
2. Taylor said the show works because they’re all actually friends.
He’s known most of the cast members for more than a decade, and unlike other reality shows, this one wasn’t cast.
“We tend to hang out more when we don’t film than when we do,” he said. “It’s just more boring.”
3. The show isn’t scripted, but it is definitely produced.
Emmett asked if the cast gets a call sheet telling them where they need to be. Taylor and Kent laughed.
“We get texts,” Taylor said. “At this point, they have keys to our apartments and they just show up.”
Kent added: “The number one rule is don’t let your life happen off camera.”
4. Cast members are told not to communicate with someone if there is tension brewing.
So, if Taylor and one of the Toms (Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz, who just partnered with Lisa Vanderpump to open West Hollywood bar TomTom) get into a fight Friday night, they’re not supposed to talk to each other and work it out. That way, filming can resume Saturday mid-fight.
5. They get drink tickets during filming.
The cast gets two free drinks while filming some scenes that would be benefit from, er, alcoholic enhancement. Taylor and Kent both claimed that is definitely not enough to start any of the drama you see on the show.
“Two drink tickets?” Taylor said. “Are you kidding me?”
6. They don’t get to see any footage of the show before they film the talking heads.
They film those scenes, in which they comment on the events of the season, weeks after the events have happened. Sometimes, producers will come back after the season has wrapped and ask them for more. Taylor said he just finished filming some of his talking heads for Season 7, which is currently airing, a couple weeks ago.
7. Taylor will probably take a picture with you.
He said he tries to take pictures with fans who want them because “at the end of the day, the fans are paying our bills.”
8. Taylor copped to his “very diva mentality,” knows he has done some questionable things.
“I was a mess last year,” he said. “I lost my father and I lost my girl. It was like a country song.”
He said the death of his father prompted a lot of self-reflection, creating a crossroads at which he could continue to do things like cheat on his girlfriend and do a “bunch of drugs” — or not.
“I still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “But I’m trying.”
An enlightened Jax Taylor? Shudder.
9. Taylor and Kent both said this season’s reunion show, which airs at the end of the season, is going to be “the best one ever.”
Everyone has drama and issues that need to be worked out this time around, not just one or two people. Read: Taylor won’t have to answer a bunch of questions about cheating on Cartwright, like in last year’s reunion.
10. Taylor definitely stole those sunglasses in Hawaii.
Some hero in the audience asked Taylor about the season 4 episode in which he stole a pair of sunglasses — and later got arrested.
“Oh yeah, I definitely did,” he said, further explaining that he had the money in his hand but ultimately didn’t want to wait in the long line at the sunglasses store.
11. Taylor talked about that infamous job offer.
Remember in Season 6 how Jax got a mysterious job offer from a hockey team in Tampa? He didn’t go into details (like whether or not it was a real job, as fans have speculated about) but said he did consider moving to Tampa because he wanted to be closer to his family in Tarpon Springs. He’s a huge Tampa Bay Lightning fan and is rooting for them to win the Stanley Cup.
12. They flew to Tampa on Southwest.
Someone in the audience asked how they got to Florida from Los Angeles, a nod to Kent’s obsession with the private jet in which she and Randall often use. Taylor and Kent loved this question. Taylor confirmed he persuaded Kent and Emmett to fly commercial on a Southwest flight, as the “PJ” (as Kent calls it) was broken.
13. They still don’t like James Kennedy.
Fellow cast member Kennedy is the subject of much vitriol this season. But months after filming, it appears bad feelings still linger. When someone in the audience asked Kent about Kennedy, Kent said: “James who?”
14. Taylor and Cartwright just bought a house.
Sandoval and his girlfriend Ariana Madix recently became homeowners, and shared their purchase — a $2-million house just outside of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley — on social media. But the rest of the cast hasn’t been as forthcoming about moving out of their lackluster apartments into dwellings more appropriate for successful TV stars. Until this panel.
“Ah, f--- it, I’ll just tell you: We bought a house!” Taylor said. He added: “It’s a mile away from Tom’s house.”
He also teased that more of the Vanderpump friend group is buying property near theirs (the other Tom and his wife, Katie Maloney-Schwartz?). Gone are the days when Taylor wouldn’t even consider dating someone who lived in the Valley, he said.
“We’re growing up. We’re all moving to the Valley now,” Taylor said. “Maybe we should start, like, Valley Rules?”
15. Don’t worry, the beer cheese is still coming.
Taylor and Cartwright’s beer cheese, inspired by Cartwright’s meemaw’s recipe, is still in the works. It’s just taken a back seat to things like their wedding and new house.
16. Kent and Emmett are getting married summer 2020 in Miami.
Emmett is from the Miami area. He said their wedding will not be aired on the show.
17. They watch reality TV, too.
Kent is a huge Housewives fan. Taylor didn’t think he watched any reality TV until someone in the audience reminded him about his love for 90 Day Fiancé, which he posts about often on social media.
“Oh, and Love After Lockup!” he said.
18. Production doesn’t pay for the weddings on the show.
According to Taylor, he and Cartwright aren’t getting a dime from Bravo for their wedding, which is happening at the Kentucky Castle in Kentucky, where Cartwright is from. That doesn’t mean they aren’t currently looking for sponsors, Taylor reminded the crowd.
19. Do they actually still work at SUR? Not really.
Taylor confirmed that at this point in the cast’s popularity, they can’t really work normal shifts at the restaurant. And they don’t need to.
“We all have other projects going on,” he said. “We’ll go in a couple days a week and take pictures with people and answers questions and stuff. But to get good service and actually work a shift, it’s not easy to do anymore.”
20. Where does the show go from here?
Taylor and Kent both seemed into doing more seasons of the show, even though they said their contracts are up this year. Taylor said he likes when the show breaks the fourth wall, and that Vanderpump should and probably will have to change when they all get into their new digs.
“I’m not sure a couple bartending shifts at SUR can pay for those kinds of houses,” I said to him.
“Right, right,” he said. “Maybe we’ll just slowly turn into the Housewives."