It started like so many reality TV scandals do. Just after 7 a.m. on Monday morning, notorious gossip site TMZ alleged that Shannon Beador — star of Bravo’s Real Housewives of Orange County — had been arrested for drunkenly crashing her car then fleeing the scene.
The report alleged that Beador crashed into a stranger’s home while drunk, before driving her car and parking it elsewhere. When officers arrived, she had gotten out of the car and pretended she was walking her dog Archie (who was reportedly in the vehicle when it crashed). Unconvinced, the officers reportedly arrested Beador and charged her with a DUI and hit-and-run. Beador’s lawyer soon confirmed the arrest.
“She is extremely apologetic and remorseful,” he told TMZ. “Shannon is prepared to accept full responsibility for her actions.”
Naturally, this news took the Bravoverse by storm. The endless web of fan accounts and podcasts sprung into action, turning the news story into content: podcast episodes, hot-takes, and, of course, memes. Some demanded an emergency sit-down between Beador and Housewives reunion host Andy Cohen. Her co-star and friend Tamra Judge cried on her podcast about the shocking incident. “I’m literally shaking right now,” she said. “I feel like I’m going to throw up.”
But is it really so shocking? Beador’s arrest is the latest in a long line of alcohol-related legal issues on the Housewives franchise. Her co-star, Gina Kirschenheiter, was arrested in 2019 and charged with a DUI. Elsewhere, there is hardly a Housewives show where at least one of the cast hasn’t been drunkenly arrested. RHOBH star Kim Richards has shared her journey with alcoholism for years on the show. In 2015, she relapsed and was arrested at the Beverly Hills Hotel for disorderly conduct. Former RHONY star Luann de Lesseps was arrested in 2017 and charged with disorderly intoxication and battery of a police officer, before entering rehab. Her RHONY bestie and Crappie Lake co-star Sonja Morgan was charged with a DUI back in 2010.
It seems like there is a running theme on Bravo’s reality shows where drunken behavior is acceptable until it’s not. Even when reality stars stay within the confines of the law, there are still times where drinking goes too far. Last season on RHOSLC, Heather Gay got a huge black eye on a cast trip. After weeks of speculation and an inconclusive Bravo investigation, she finally shared the “humiliating” truth that she was too intoxicated to remember how she got it. RHOBH’s Erika Jayne slurred her way through most of the 2022 season after hitting “rock bottom” amid her estranged husband’s legal scandal. She later admitted that she “could have hurt” herself.
Since Beador joined RHOC in 2014, we’ve seen her drunk many times: Doing shots on cast trips, at parties or group events. Drinking has been a key part of her “brand” on the show. This season, her “tagline” is: “In Orange County, I call the shots and it’s always tequila!” Most of the time, this has seemed harmless, but Beador’s castmates have frequently wondered whether she has an issue with alcohol. This season, one of the central storylines has been the cast’s frustration at Beador habitually calling them while drunk to vent about her relationship with former boyfriend John Janssen then not remembering what she has told them in the sober light of day. Her castmates made a joke out of this on the show, but in hindsight, it’s a pattern of behavior that seems more concerning than entertaining.
In the aftermath of Beador’s arrest, there are unconfirmed reports that she plans to enter rehab. She wouldn’t be the first Housewife to go sober. Braunwyn Windham-Burke, who starred on RHOC from 2019 to 2020, shared her journey as a recovering alcoholic on the show. “I hope this can become her story where this is a moment when everything changed for the better,” she reacted to Beador’s arrest on Monday. Former RHONY stars Luann De Lesseps and Leah McSweeney also got sober on the show, with the latter writing about her lifelong addiction journey in her 2022 book Chaos Theory.
Drunken behavior is still encouraged on these shows for entertainment purposes, but they are becoming spaces where it’s OK for people not to drink, too. RHOBH’s longest-serving and last remaining “OG” cast member, Kyle Richards, filmed the upcoming season sober after deciding to step away from alcohol to manage her anxiety. She recently celebrated one year of sobriety. Kirschenheiter, Beador’s RHOC co-star, said on the show that she stopped drinking for the same reason. On the totally recast RHONY reboot, two of the cast members — Jenna Lyons and Ubah Hassan — don’t drink. Not only is this a noticeable contrast with the show’s booze-fueled previous incarnation, but their sobriety was met with casualness and zero fanfare.
Elsewhere on Bravo, it feels like sobriety is becoming more normal on the network’s other shows. Vanderpump Rules star Lala Kent has been sober since 2018. Surprisingly, the alcohol-centered show has become a space for more nuanced discussions about substance use, with chaotic DJ James Kennedy shifting in and out of sobriety over the years. Tom Sandoval, the protagonist of the earth-shaking #Scandoval cheating scandal, supposedly took a break from alcohol earlier this year, too. Even on Below Deck — the Bravo franchise where drinking is most excessive and unchecked — Captain Sandy Yawn has opened up about her 35 years of sobriety, describing how drinking made her destructive in her youth. “I should have been dead 10 times over with the lifestyle I led,” she said.
Reality TV captures the reality that it is difficult to tell when a person’s drinking habits become a drinking problem — and even harder to know how to approach it with them. With deaths linked to excessive alcohol consumption rising in the U.S., especially among women, there is value in seeing these discussions on TV. Still, paying people to drink excessively on camera and fight is one of the reality medium’s central ethical tensions. I often feel guilty when a reality star I love has a “rock bottom” moment. Did I encourage this?, I wonder. Now that more reality stars are exploring sobriety and becoming more open about addiction and mental health, I hope that the Real Housewives franchise can move into a slightly less booze-fueled place, where the drinking feels fun rather than dark. (Can you have one without the other? I’m not totally convinced.)
After the story of Beador’s arrest dropped, TMZ posted footage of the incident that looked a lot worse than it was originally described in reporting. Beador and her beautiful golden retriever Archie had a lucky escape. The good news is that reality TV loves a redemption arc just as much as a scandal. Fans know Beador has had a rough time lately: A breakup, public family arguments, and her twin daughters leaving for college. After so many years of sharing her life on the show — infidelity, divorce, body-image issues — Beador has earned the opportunity to seek accountability and forgiveness. As disappointed as fans like me are with her behavior, we are also rooting for her to rebound from this.