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In this week's episode of Too Good To Be True, Ryan and Julia explore the many shady empires of the Real Housewives franchise, from MLMs to diet products to outright financial fraud.

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If you've been watching the news or being on social media or just generally existing in the world these days, you're probably aware that there's a lot of talk about us potentially heading for a recession or already being in a recession, or not even knowing the difference. And while at TFD, we don't believe you can ever fully recession proof your finances, we do believe that there's a way to go into or navigate through a potential recession that sets you up for success and minimizes potential economic damage. So on Friday, November 18, 2022 at 12 Eastern, we are hosting the Recession Roadmap Retreat, a mini conference that covers everything you'll need from The Financial to the professional to minimize any potential damage a recession might have on your finances.

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Tickets are usually $19 but if you use the exclusive YouTube discount at the link in our description, you'll get your ticket for just $15. Once again that's the Recession Roadmap Retreat on November 18, 2022, or whenever you can watch if you can't join us live. And I will see you there.

Welcome to Too Good to Be True, an investigative podcast about exposing the scams, schemes, and financial cults trying to separate you from your money. I am Julia Lorenz Olson. I'm the co-host and creator of PS Two Cents and an accredited financial counselor.

And I am Ryan Houlihan, editor and journalist. So today, I am excited because we're getting into something that I know I'm in the minority on in that I basically nothing about. The only image of this subject that I have in my head is a Italian American woman flipping a table.

It's not a bad image to start with. This is all I've got basically to work on. That and tardy for the party.

There you go. And there is the breadth of my knowledge on Housewives. So let's talk about it.

The Real Housewives is listeners may know it. But if you don't, is a reality TV franchise that launched in 2006 on Bravo. 2006. Yeah it was originally called Behind The Gates and the concept was going to be about this exclusive suburban area in Orange County and following these families and their drama in Desperate Housewives style.

I do remember because that was right at the time that I was graduating going to college and I was a Bravo devotee. And I remember seeing this and thinking that seems toxic. Like I just remember being like, I don't know about this.

It certainly is. The show went on to evolve away from the family aspects we get a lot less of the kids. And as various spin offs bloomed across the Americas and the larger world, the show began to focus just on a group of women, usually older women generally over 30, older for reality TV at the time.

Wait, excuse me. Older than Paris Hilton women. In fact, some of her relatives.

It centers on their friend group and them socializing in the interpersonal dramas that happen. But in general, they're very wealthy women so it's also a lifestyle porn. Synthesizing this blueprint then got recreated across the country, so you've got Real Housewives of New York, Real Housewives of New Jersey, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Potomac, D.

C., Dallas, there's Salt Lake City. There is no end to the rich housewife geography apparently. So this might seem like a really stupid question but isn't the title Housewife and why do they all have businesses?

Like why wasn't it the rich business owners? The entrepreneurs? Like do most of them start out with businesses or is that something that they build later on?

So the show has evolved intensely over its lifespan and it has experimented but one of the most impactful figures to ever be part of the Bravo universe was Bethenny Frankel. I do know this name. I know isn't like the Skinnygirl brand.

It is toxic is right there in the name. Skinny girl. I know she went through a divorce.

I know she has a daughter named Poppy. Is that right name? I'm just like-- A daughter with a different name but unlike her I'm not going to share it because it's nobody's business.

That's so true. Right here we are commodification of kids again. OK well so Bethenny went on the show as a non housewife.

She was not literally wasn't a housewife. She had none of the trappings. She was not similar to any of the women who had previously been on the show.

She broke the mold. She broke the mold. She was in a supermarket talking cupcakes she made herself trying to get a Bethenny Bakes Bakery started.

She was driving around in a car that was covered in stickers that pushed her brand. Which was what? At the time it was Bethenny Bakes.

It was she wanted to be a healthy food and food influencer. She was actually on The Apprentice starring Martha Stewart and came in second. Which had to burn for.

The Venn diagram of toxicity there's extra. Because in this Housewife world, having something someone else doesn't can create conflict. She was able to create storylines about how she was going to do this healthy brand.

And to that end, she also published books. Like her first book naturally thin was a New York Times bestseller. Naturally Thin.

It's essentially just like a rough outline of how to create your own eating disorder. Oh no. It's about calorie restriction and extreme like ways of tricking your body.

And it is it's very of its time and it's very toxic. And that brand, Halo, extended to a scene on the show where she ordered what she called a skinny girl's margarita. And this was a margarita broken down to its least calorically intensive bare minimum.

It's like it's Mezcal lime splash or triple SEC and a little salt. And she it became a meme with the fans, the skinny girl's margarita. So she parlayed that as an entrepreneur into a bottled cocktail that you could purchase and it became a thing among her fans, Housewives fans.

And then also in the larger world. Every skinny drink you've ever heard of it really does come back to that flashpoint moment. Meredith Lynch is a writer and a TikToker that I've been a fan of for a while now who does these amazing videos looking at the integrity of some of these celebrity and influencer brands, much to the celebrity's chagrin.

We got the chance to talk with Meredith about all this. And here's a little bit of insight she has on the kinds of brands we've been seeing from celebrities. I think that the things that they sell are often things that they think they can market really well on the show and that will potentially-- it's very to me it's very aspirational right.

There what they sell usually gives the viewer just a little piece of their life, whether that be a cookbook, whether that be hair extensions, whether that be a clothing line. The viewers of the Housewives who love the Housewives and see it as very genuine and want to be a part of that world will buy into the products that they believe are a piece of the Housewives world. I don't think they sell very much of these products.

I don't think that most of the Housewives brands probably sell that well. And that's probably why you've seen them have so many different brands. I think it is, in my mind, it is offensive, a lot of the time to people who are small business owners.

Because most of the time if I connect with somebody who is a small business owner, they have spent years of their own time, they may have degrees in something they may have saved their own money or cash in their 401k to do this. As opposed to a Housewife who can come in and put their name on something, and then six months from now just walk away from it and there's no repercussions for them. They can just move on to the next thing.

I, yeah, I do think it can be harmful to small businesses. Back to Bethany. So she captured this amazing market.

And because the Housewives audience tends to be female LGBTQ and within certain demographics, there are market that's primed for certain products. So that Skinny Girl brand took off and she sold it for quite a lot of money. And she suddenly became the Housewife who went with nothing except her youth and thinness and had used those two to obtain all the other housewife accouterments.

Eventually getting a show on Bravo called Bethenny Ever After that gave her a halo. Of course. It's all worked out.

Bethenny has it all and you can just answer and you can just listen to Bethenny, and if you don't like Bethenny, we have dozens of more Housewives who all in turn saw Bethenny making this money and said, oh my god, reality TV is an enormous audience and a great venue for product pitching. So it went from her being teased and made fun of for not having a husband, as a Housewife to other Housewives feeling inadequate because they don't have a business. See I think that's very interesting because if I'm thinking of the chronological timeline like this whole time like since that 2006, I'm just thinking like I was coming out of high school going into college.

And then right about that kind of 2008, 2010, that's really where I started to see hustle culture show up. And it seems like it's infiltrated on this where it's like you have to have a small business. Like entrepreneurship is the way out.

Well there was a time not that long ago where feminism became girlboss feminism, and girlboss feminism as we may or may not know, is the idea that if a woman does business in a capitalist society like a man does then it's better or different. And to the Housewives who wanted to make money and save face, and keep up with Bethenny, and et cetera, that became a call to not only monetize all of this stuff, but to show that it's a great storyline of your growth. Look I was a housewife for years and then I discovered this product, or then I had this idea, or then I thought I could help people.

So in this pursuit of keeping up with not just the Bethany's of the world but all of the rising standards of what women should be, some of the Housewives sometimes just for storylines will create fake businesses. Fake businesses. Completely like products you can't buy.

No, really? She by Sheree has been in development quote unquote since like 2009 and this is a fashion line that had a fashion show with no fashion famously. What?

These are entirely fake businesses that exist only as vanity projects and storylines on the Housewives. So it's just basically for content is like a masquerade of I'm starting a business and let's film that? Is that-- Yes.

I mean some Housewives have dined out on it and now dine on exclusively. I mean Lisa Vanderpump's restaurant businesses were successful for a restaurateur certainly but they skyrocketed to success when she created spin offs that took place in those restaurants. And that only happened because she talked so much about her businesses on the show and she would bring the Housewives into her businesses.

And so other Housewives want to reach this level of success really quickly, especially if you're in a 10 episode season, maybe even 18 episode season. That seems like a long time. It's not.

They shoot for six months and you need to end on a success for your business. So you'll do anything, including turning your business into an MLM. Oh my God like as somebody who has started multiple different kinds of businesses.

They do nothing but take from you. Yeah. They do nothing but take-- You don't have time to have children and film a reality show, which includes vacations that go on for three weeks at a time.

No. Of course not. Again it kind of goes into the whole kind of social media entrepreneurism for content making.

I mean this is the prestige version where they will have launch parties and wear t-shirts and have branded campaigns, , and make social media accounts with fake followers. All that stuff costs so much money. And they never tell you when the business fails.

I lost interest or I'm doing this other thing or I sold it or it's vague. They never tell you what kind of losses they incurred. And those losses are usually covered up by their paycheck from the show.

Here's more from Meredith Lynch on why celebrities find these kind of private boutique brand launches so appealing. I think it just got so easy to do private label and I think that the 24 hour news cycle and the many different forms of social media have made it that you need something constantly. Need constantly, need something to be promoting, constantly need something to get your name and things.

And I also think a big part of it is that to be famous is very expensive. And I think that me, as someone who's not famous, sometimes forgets that and I'm not saying that in a sort of like oh poor little rich people. What I'm saying is if you want to be this big, if you want to be Kardashian big, you have to have a whole team and you have to pay them.

And you have to keep up with this lifestyle. So you need to have multiple ways of getting income. And we also know that because of streaming things like TV and movies do not pay what they used to pay.

So everything is you're not making as much and you have to pay more to stay famous. In the best case, it's a silly storyline about a toaster oven that never gets made and nobody gets hurt and you get a lot of funny scenes about the photo shoots for this oven that doesn't exist. And it makes for a good TV show.

I watch all of them. But in its worst iterations, it can become just a flat out MLM. Or even more troublingly, straight up phishing scams.

Like illegal I mean, we have people doing wire fraud, securities fraud, tax evasion. One woman whose lifestyle for example, was allegedly supported by siphoning money from plane crash victims through her husband's law firm. Allegedly.

Allegedly. A really good example of a housewife who has followed the Bethany model is Teddi Mellencamp. Teddi Mellencamp is probably the most nefarious pyramid scheme runner on Housewives of the many pyramid schemes being run.

She is the daughter of John Cougar Mellencamp. I was about to say any relation to-- Former stepdaughter of Meg Ryan. Wow.

Yeah, she's got mail. The problem is for Teddi, her success is based on a personal story. So she was heavy as a teenager and felt out of shame.

Oh no. So she lost the weight however she lost it, and then went on to create a program called All In by Teddi. Now All In by Teddi is essentially an MLM that uses coaching to give people eating disorders.

Is it like Beach Body. Worse. So this is a service that takes it uses the coach model from Beach Body where like I am now I'm the success story and now I'm the coach.

I will get clients and they'll be success stories and go on infinitely until everyone in the world is thin. So what makes this whole coachy thing an MLM? What are the coaches buying, I guess?

So you need to go through the entire program in order to work for the company. So you need to purchase their suite of products and services. Then, and only then, can you become a coach.

And when you're a coach, not only are you supposed to be making money on your clients. Part of their money and income will come from turning those clients from paying customers into further coaches. Those coaches will then find new people.

And we'll all be so skinny, it will blow your mind. A country of skinny legends. I would say observationally, the idea of the infinite growth coaches versus a limited number of clients you can service, one of those looks a lot more profitable in the long term and might be why you're getting into this in addition to wanting to change your body.

Makes sense. Why it hasn't worked yet, who can say? Why aren't we there right now?

But the most expensive program is $600 a month. $600 a month? And that's just to get you started. Are you getting plastic surgery with this?

What is this? You are getting text messages that bully you. Text messages that bully you?

So you would write, this is what I've eaten. And they'll write back, that was way too much. You need to do X, Y, Z exercise to burn off the three pieces of lettuce that you called the taco.

Her first program that most people will do is an expensive two-week boot camp style intervention. How expensive are we talking? It's $600 for two weeks.

For two weeks? For two weeks. And then after you've "detoxified," quote, unquote, red flag word number one-- Please, please, no.

You have a liver. You don't need to detoxify by not eating. That's not a healthy-- no.

No. No. Once you've "reset," quote, unquote, your body, then you can go on to their monthly program, which is $400 a month, which you indefinitely commit to.

That's a pretty nice car payment. You know what I'm saying? You could get a meal delivery service.

Exactly. You could legitimately have-- --a personal trainer. Yes.

What? My mind is blown right now. So once you've committed to that, you can also go on to the, quote, "weight and workout stage," which is $5.90 a single day or $165 a month.

And this will include you providing proof of your weight and that you finished cardio workouts to the coach. And then eventually, if you lose all the weight, you get to graduate to the maintenance plan, which is $3.40 a day or $94 a month. And that's just check-ins with a coach.

But you can only get there-- you only want that if you've already done the intensive eating disorder creation. It's almost like you have to buy your way into thinness, and you don't get the cheap part until you've won. Yes.

And this "fitness," quote, unquote, advice is so dubious, that you'll probably never get there. So there was one former client who wanted to remain anonymous who did the program for 11 days. And she managed to lose 11 pounds.

That's a pound a day. Oh, no. And to create that calorie deficit, she was eating about 500 calories a day and burning 500 to 600 calories a day doing cardio.

I mean, you would have to just basically be on a treadmill all day. Are you working during this time? How is that allowed?

Deprivation diets don't work to begin with. Studies are very clear on this. But when you're in the coaching scenario and someone is texting you constantly, it becomes a test of will and of your worth.

And individual accountability can create not just peer pressure, but a bullying environment because any sort of mistake and, quote, unquote, "mistakes--" these are your body overriding your intention to not feed it. So this would be like you're sitting around all day. The amount of concentration required, if you were to break it for even a moment, you tell your coach, in all honesty, this is what I did, and you get punished.

Oh, my gosh. That just seems-- I mean, obviously, it is toxic, and horrible, and not in any realm of healthy or acceptable. But it makes me think about-- they say this pension we have for being consensually bullied, there's a whole-- I think of Tony Robbins when he's up there.

When he speaks to people, like people who have come, they pay all this money. I think of pastors who also have this-- I mean, they call it a bully pulpit. There's a reason for-- There's just this pension for like self-flagellation that we have that I think people are monetizing.

Because it feels empowering to choose the abuse. Oh. Say that again.

It feels empowering to choose abuse. It feels like I did-- it's not just coming at me. It's not society.

It's me, and I know why I want it. And it's to solve this problem. But abuse is never going to solve your problem.

That's never the answer. I don't think I can come up with a single problem where I'm like, abusers. Oh, my gosh.

That right there, I think, is so interesting. Now, Teddi's whole MLM structure has been advertised by the show repeatedly as her small business. It's completely glossed over the actual facts of her diet or her even how the business is structured.

I mean, she has to have some major issues. So they've done eating disorder storylines on the show for other housewives. So they have done full blown sessions in an eating disorder clinic with an addiction specialist.

We've seen that on the show. We've seen women who have had storylines of how they had overcome eating disorders. And the show would then, through editing, highlight that their behaviors aren't fully recovered yet.

So they're glamorizing this? Yes. And the thinner the body, the more praise you get on the show and the more you can show off when you're on vacation and stuff.

And Teddi Mellencamp is a perfect example of production has a really comfortable relationship with these women because they're in their homes, they're talking about their personal lives. So they're on vacation with them. So if you're a housewife who works well with production, you're willing to do what they tell you, repeat the facts at the party that they ask you to create drama and all of that, you get a bubble in your edit.

And it's pretty apparent when you watch the show. Certain women are getting better edits for the season than other women. I never would have thought about that, that there is a relationship.

So I don't think I've ever watched a single episode of The Kardashians. I don't think I ever have. But recently-- I know they're-- I guess, they're ending their show.

They moved the show to Hulu now. I was watching this video of them telling their production team. And people are crying.

And I'm like, I didn't think about that, that there is obviously a whole crew of real people who are there all the time watching them and that-- of course, you would want to foster some sort of relationship with them, but I never would have thought that that ends up in the editing room. But of course. I mean, there are whole scammy businesses that are huge storylines in the show.

This person's a fraud. Let's reveal them. Here are the details.

Let's get their victims out, like talking to other housewives. And they will play out the storyline, but they do not play it out for everybody. So the show doesn't give you-- It picks the winners and losers.

It picks. It decides which of these MLMs it will focus on as MLMs and which of the MLMs they will call Kandi's sex toy business, for example. Wow.

Do you know how popular this is? How many people are really into this? It's actually tough to say because these businesses purposely obfuscate their user bases on social media to look better.

So they'll buy likes. They'll buy engagement. Actually, we spoke with Meredith Lynch about how some of these businesses don't even go to the trouble of cleaning up their bad reputations on social media.

Some of them are using bad reviews as a of filter to keep out savvier customers. But this is not a method they want us drawing attention to. [MUSIC PLAYING] There was a business that I called out, brought to attention, that they had a lot of bad customer reviews on their social media account. And when I got a cease and desist regarding this, they said that they believed that I had-- because I had shown screenshots of what the comments had been on their Instagram account.

When I screenshotted those things and showed them, they wrote in the cease and desist that they believed I had photoshopped those comments and created them and created them from Instagram. No, those are your consumers. And you're not caring for them.

You don't care. And I went back on their Instagram last night, OK? And now, we're talking this stuff that I had done was back of the end of the summer.

And so they have lots of new posts up. They have comment, after comment, after comment on recent things that are the exact same kind of comments that I was screenshotted and showing months ago. They continue to provide the same level of service to their consumers.

I think that they think that who they are selling to are people who are not going to ever double click and not ever going to care. All In is one of the few businesses that actually does function in the real world as a quote, unquote, "business." It's actually doing transactions. And it has clients because those clients have come out later to say, what the hell was I doing?

Wow. Wow. Another example of that MLM structure at work is Kandi Burruss, who is a Real-- maybe the Real Housewife of Atlanta. "Tardy for the Party," right?

Yes. She wrote "Tardy to the Party." And in addition to "No Scrubs," she is a Grammy award winning artist. She is a-- Wait.

Hold on. Hold on. She wrote "No Scrubs?" She wrote "No Scrubs" and "Bills, Bills, Bills." [GASPS] I know.

Only one of-- two of-- --the greatest songs. --the greatest songs ever. OK, respect. I will put some respect on there.

Kandi Burruss is-- I don't want to say my favorite housewife because we're about to get into how evil she is. But she is the most successful housewife by any measure independent of family connections. I mean, she's surpassed Bethenny.

She has a show on Broadway we could go see today. Stop. She's been famous in the public eye for decades and is a very accomplished artist.

She has parlayed this into various businesses, so she has restaurants similar to Lisa Vanderpump that do pretty well, including a spinoff show on Bravo that takes place at a steakhouse called Kandi & the Gang, very entertaining. A steakhouse. In addition to her entertainment brands, she has an MLM similar in structure to Avon where she sells sex toys called Bedroom Kandi.

OK. I have actually-- true story-- been to a sex toy MLM party. This was a long time ago.

I don't even remember-- I know it wasn't that one. It starts out like a bachelorette party and ends like a pyramid scheme. Exactly.

Exactly. Well, they pushed this brand on the show left and right. I literally watched an episode last night where they were pushing the Bedroom Kandi brand as fun, sexy, all your girlfriends can participate.

We've had whole conferences where Kandi-- the conference isn't the focus, but it is mentioned multiple times that that's the event that we're at. And the model is similar. You're only really going to make money if you can recruit people to recruit people to recruit people.

And the sex toys are a fun thing you obtain along the way. So I'm just thinking of Avon, and Mary Kay, and these other types of MLMs where the, quote, unquote, "consultant" is buying the products. I have this vision of a whole closet full of sex toys.

I mean, how many dildos can one person use? I mean, you're asking me? Moving on.

That is one of several MLMs that have been on the show. Another hotbed for MLMs is Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. OK.

OK. So Salt Lake City-- I mean, Mormonism MLMs-- The worlds capital of Mormonism and the world's capital of multilevel marketing. Have you ever thought about how much simpler your life would be if you didn't have to worry about money?

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Chime was the 2021 number one most downloaded banking app in the US according to Apptopia. Visit chim.com/toogood. [MUSIC PLAYING] OK, so Salt Lake City. Who are these women?

I mean, are any of them actual Mormons? I'm curious. So many of the cast members are either currently or formerly Mormon.

And so the show ties in-- more than any of the other shows in the franchise ties in a lot of stuff about faith and community, both the positive and negative aspects of something like a religious community or a financial business relationship. See, over in Salt Lake City, the problem with exposing the MLMs and the negative businesses is that there are so many scams and crimes being done by the cast, that they have to pick one and maybe a half per season to focus on. So Whitney Rose has gotten away with her husband scandalously having several lawsuits from his former company, which was determined to be a pyramid scheme.

The show has never even brought it up. Even though she has talked about her own company, which originally was a pyramid scheme-- her own company, Iris and Beau, was originally a skin care pyramid scheme that has since changed its business model as she has become aware of how the show exposes businesses like that. And she made it under the wire to make that change for her business because at the time, there was other scandals going on in the Housewives world.

What is it about skin care specifically that makes it so-- Everyone has skin, and everyone is insecure about it. It's not your weight. It's not-- Man.

It's a very easy fix because all it involves is just buying and putting it on. And generally, the active ingredients in those products are going to work. I mean, if you use a lactic acid or product, you're going to get lactic acid results.

The difference is who are you buying it from? Is it a brand like The Ordinary, which has gotten the price to an affordable range or-- not sponsored. Or is it a brand that wants you to purchase through a coach who is also pushing you to become a skin care coach or something?

Yeah. Yeah. If the product is good enough, then that should be how you make your money.

You know what I'm saying? If the product is good enough, then you should act like a normal wholesaler, right? I buy this at a discount.

I sell it for more. And that is a viable business. But it seems like there's so much more involved in this.

So the audience for these shows are pretty unique and very specifically-- so it's a selective audience. You kind of know who the demographics are going to be. It's generally older women.

If there are men, they are older queer men. And in general, it runs the gambit financially. So for some people, they're watching the show because they can relate to the aspirational luxury lifestyle.

But for the vast majority of people, it is people for whom lifestyle and luxury accouterments are so attractive, that they would love to watch it on TV. --which I think perfectly dovetails into the market for MLMs. Women who usually have children and have the sort of normal, quote, unquote, "corporate ladder" is not available to them. And so I can definitely say that when I was really coming out of college-- when I had my child, I had a pretty well known business at that time.

But I would still get reach outs from, hey, hun, those people through social media saying hey, I have this amazing business that I want to talk to you about. And there are more than I can count on two hands the amount of friends that I had from high school, from college that ended up going down that path, always for a limited amount of time. But you better believe that I heard from all of them.

It's tough because you want people to empower themselves. You want people to feel inspired to create their own opportunities. Nobody should feel limited because they're a, quote, unquote, "housewife." They could never create a product.

Absolutely. But that's the kernel of truth. I mean, the show reinforces this image of the nuclear family as being something that they all aspire to.

They all want a spouse. They all want kids. Is this specifically that Salt Lake City vibe, or is that all of them?

I mean, it's very intense in Salt Lake City. I would say it applies to all of them, maybe New York the least. Where it's too expensive to have children.

Exactly. And it's more fun to be a lounge singing divorced dad. But I think that nuclear family dynamic is also what makes people think that they're the ones that can make an MLM work because I have such a large social network.

I know all these parents. And they all have similar problems and lifestyles to me. I'll go around the neighborhood.

Yeah. And I'll tell you, there is nothing honestly-- you just have to bond with people who are going through that because being a parent-- I mean, it's a trauma bond. It is It is so hard.

It is so hard. And unfortunately, in the West, we have this nuclear family as the model for how and where to bring up children. Whereas, in other cultures, you're living in a multigenerational household, so you have a lot more help. --and people to step in and say, what are you doing with your finances?

It concerns all of us. Hey, what's going on? What businesses are you getting into?

Critical minds. That's a great point. I never would have thought about that.

But yeah, absolutely. You have other-- maybe or maybe not wiser people, but at least just other people coming in to talk to you. And you just have to find your community when you're going through that.

So you're like, please tell me the fact that my child is up at 3:00 AM yet again screaming is not because I'm a failure as a parent. Please tell me that I'm not alone in this. So immediately, it's like you have to build your network, or you will go insane.

I mean, the crazy thing about The Real Housewives as it exists is that it gives people scripts for social interactions that are good for reality TV, but not good for interpersonal relationships. Say more. So if you criticize someone, this is a perfect example of just labeling it as hate.

It is just a hater. That is someone who doesn't want to see me succeed because they're antagonistic. They want the friends to look at them as the success.

They're jealous. So if you've set it up, all criticism is conflict and all conflict is good, not only is it good. It's entertaining and productive, moves the show's plot forward.

It's profitable. It's profitable. Then you're like, OK, anyone who criticizes my business is a jealous B who's trying to take my star.

And the show also has this culture of there are only limited spots for housewives. So if you don't succeed, you will be booted from the show. And so does that happen often where a housewife will be replaced?

Basically, the whole show at this game is a game of survivor being secretly played while another show is being shot. That is so dystopian. I don't even know how to process that.

There women are strategizing their personal lives, their children's lives, where they live, where they travel, the kind of diet of media they consume and the kind of phrases they say in order to hit certain marketability scores within the Bravo system, so that they can stay on the cast. And they'll spend any amount of money to keep the spotlight on them. Do you think that-- because I'm thinking, again, timeline 2006. 2006, this starts.

Social media was in it's baby, baby, baby infancy stage. I'm seeing a lot of overlap between this idea of I have a lot of eyes on me through whatever media. You're on TV at this point-- at that point.

That's kind of the only way to have a bunch of eyes on you is TV-- that's it-- and be not a movie star, right? Yeah. TV, that's your only option.

And then social media starts to build. And all of a sudden, anyone can be a housewife. And the housewiferee does not end when the cameras go down.

You are now a housewife forever in perpetuity. Even if you leave the show, you can launch new businesses with the social media following you got to take away from the show. So it kind of sounds like the housewife blueprint set us up to use social media in this specific way, to build something called a personal brand, a brand wrapped around not a product, but you, your life.

And if you've worked on just your life-- say, you're a stay-at-home mom, so it feels like the focus is just your personal life. Wouldn't it be such an attractive option to pivot that? And what a great way to pivot it?

Social marketing, as they call it. It's not social marketing. It is a multi-level marketing scheme.

But they'll call it social network marketing. And they'll say, you've built up this life where your social life is the center point of your accomplishments. Now, why don't you turn that into money?

And they'll do the same thing with influence. You've built up this audience. You've built up these followers.

Why aren't you cashing them in chips at a casino? Oh, my gosh. The show also set up this paradigm that you'd think it's enough to be a housewife on The Real Housewives.

Right? Because it seems like-- I mean, there has pretty much always been a market for luxury porn, right? Rich people.

Soap operas. Dallas. Exactly.

So why isn't that enough anymore? Because unfortunately, in our culture, women are never going to be enough. So how many of these problems, though, do you really think are real?

And how many are fabricated for content? Like their personal life, things going wrong? Yeah.

The vast majority of what we see is because they have chosen to show it to us. It's very apparent on the show when there are housewives that don't want to talk about topics or won't show up to reunions because they didn't know something would be a storyline all season that they shot. for example, you've got Jen Shah who went on the show trying to show off her big lifestyle. And her problem was that she couldn't control her anger.

She couldn't keep her emotions in check. The table flipped. The table flipping, which it seemed at the time pretty calculated that she had reverse engineered a housewife personality from herself by picking and choosing from successful versions.

I mean, certainly, at this point, women who are wanting to pursue this as a career choice, really, which is it sounds like it is, they're self-selecting, and they know what people are looking for. They know what the audience responds to. And so you have someone like Jen Shah, who is a housewife on Salt Lake City or someone like Mary who's another housewife in Salt Lake City, who came on presenting their problems as being interpersonal or emotional.

But for whom over the course of the show, other cast members who wanted to take them down and producers who needed fodder for the show turned on them and started exposing things that they don't necessarily want to talk about. That can't be fun for them. I mean, for Jen Shah, it ended up with her being arrested by a SWAT team, not live on air, but very close to live on air.

But she was SWATed while filming with The Housewives. And she ended up being arrested a few miles away. For what?

She did, essentially, spearfishing, which is where you hypertarget groups of people who think will be vulnerable to a pitch. So you find elderly people or people who are at all vulnerable. And you sell them services that you may not eventually deliver on or repeat charges that they might not have agreed to.

And this had gone on for a really long period of time. And the FBI and the Southern District of New York had put together over a long period of time a case. You can check out whole podcasts-- there's a whole cottage industry covering these legal dramas like the Bravo docket, which exclusively covers the legal and criminal issues of Real Housewives and other Bravolebrities.

I'm just seeing this Dante's Inferno style levels that this whole-- these industries that are brought into being from just somebody wanting to be on TV. It's just fascinating. The thing is those industries end up supporting and cushioning the blow more than they really do eradicate the problem because you've got two options if you're on a reality show and suddenly the storyline is that you're being exposed.

You can go the Mary Cosby route, which is she ran a church that had some-- a lot of people have left. Some have appeared on the show. They seem very regretful of their time in their church.

It seemed extremely a high control environment where she also owns several businesses that church members were encouraged to get financially entangled with like mortgage refinancing to make donations to the church. So she, in response to this being played out on air, just disappeared. She has basically evaporated from The Housewives universe.

Whereas, Jen Shah, when she was exposed-- I was like, is she still here? What is happening? She's pivoted, baby.

She was at the Hustler Club in New York City doing a meet and greet weeks after this story came out. She has been on podcasts. She has done an entire media push.

She's still on the show. She's doing other storylines. No.

And the cottage industry of turning this from a crime, being prosecuted by law enforcement, into entertainment or educational content has cushioned the blow because it allows her space to be anything but a criminal. And in that space, someone who is very good at being on TV and manipulating people via the media, can reframe their story, can make themselves seem likable, can obfuscate the issue to the point that they can use the reality TV show to clean up their mess and move on to other businesses. The Giudices are a perfect example.

You were saying Teresa Giudice. She went to jail. And didn't her husband also-- is he still in jail?

He's been deported, permanently, back to Italy from the US. He had been in the country since he was two, so he's essentially, for all intents and purposes, an American citizen. Except he never went and got the citizenship because it seemed like a lot of forms.

But she was able to use the massive media empire of Bravo to turn her time in prison into an aspirational thing. It was Teresa was away, while Teresa's gone special. I'm getting a little hint of post Rachel Hollis divorce didn't see that coming vibes.

Exactly. I mean, on some level, I admire and hate all of this. In a way, this show is also part of the larger Bravo extended universe now because we're making content about their content.

And it does, in some sense, platform and promote their brand. However, this show and creators like Meredith Lynch are not the kind of content that Bravo wants made about its stars. And the stars themselves will go to extreme lengths to silence shows like ours or creators like Meredith who are trying to expose exactly what their business model is.

Meredith has learned this the hard way having received a number of cease and desists from different stars simply for talking about their businesses and explaining how the business models work. Most recently, she's tangled with a very high profile housewife. Let's hear from Meredith on the kind of celebrity who would chase down an individual TikToker her for not liking one of their products. [MUSIC PLAYING] First of all, I think it depends on the reality star because not all of them have the money and the access.

It's not completely equitable. So I think that is a piece of it. So I think it's the ones who have a little bit more money, the ones who have a better legal team.

I have found that when you start showing the truth about certain things, you can very quickly be sent a cease and desist. And what people will say to you then is well, a cease and desist is not a legally binding document. And it's not.

But it does mean that you are on their radar. And it does mean that they have contacted their lawyers about you and they have put in time and energy to some extent to send this to you. And so when you get one, I have to say, from my opinion and from conversations that I have had with different people in the legal field, if you get one, it's not just, oh, well, they don't like what I'm doing, but who cares?

It shows that you're on their radar and you should act-- I'm not saying that you just take everything down. But you should take it seriously. That's what I have found.

And the thing about it is a lot of the times, the people that they are sending these to-- and not all the time. But a lot of the times, they are sending this to people who they know probably don't have a lot of money and don't have a lot of legal knowledge. I recently got a cease and desist that told me that if I told anyone about the cease and desist, I would be breaking confidentiality with the client who had sent me one and that that was not allowed.

That immediately, even as somebody with no legal background, to me, I thought, I don't have a contract with this person. Why do I have to keep this silent? And for a moment, I did.

I thought I can't say anything about this because I would be breaking confidentiality. That to me is very, very scary. It is.

To silence people in that way, to use their lack of resources to bully them into something or to make them think that they have some type of legal binding to this person that they don't was very concerning to me. And then what people will tell you is, well, you should fight it. You should fight it.

But what they don't understand is that even to fight these things costs money. Even at the end of the day, the ones that I've gotten, I've spoken with people, and they've said that will never hold up in court. This would never hold up in court.

But the amount of time and the amount of legal fees that it would take you, meaning me, to get in front of a judge and have the judge say, this is not defamation, this is entirely true, it could bankrupt me. And I'm just a regular person. [MUSIC PLAYING] Not only are these people starting their own businesses. Some of them are-- I don't want to say falling prey because you can't-- it's hard to think that they have anything but open eyes about using their positions on the show to make money off of the fandom.

You've got examples of them joining up with already existing MLMs or pivoting from something like doing sponsored content on Instagram where they say, oh, this essential oil smells so great, and it cured X, Y, Z diseases that it can't cure to actually shilling. For example, Briana Culberson, who is the daughter of Vicki Gunvalson of Real Housewives of Orange County-- Oh. So now it's like second generation?

Is this what we're talking about? We have housewives whose daughters began as children and are now in full confessionals basically-- a housewife with everything but the intro shot happening. And Briana Culberson is an example of someone who grew up on TV, who has a long-term parasocial relationship with women who knew her from childhood through their TV screens and is now shilling for an essential oil MLM company, despite the fact that she, herself, is a medical professional.

And that was a whole storyline on the show. I hate it here. I know.

We can't have anything nice. No. You can't just watch rich ladies on the beach.

Not allowed. Why can't we just watch women parade around in pretty dresses that we will never be able to afford and that be it? I wish it could.

I wish it could. You can follow Meredith on TikTok at meredithmlynch where you can also find a link to her Patreon, which has some of the most juicy stuff that can't quite make the main feed. And I highly recommend it.

But before we go, let's hear a bit more from Meredith for the perspective celebrity or influencer on the kind of businesses they can ethically start. [MUSIC PLAYING] I mean, do Cameo do a podcast and have a Patron. Write a book. I mean, writing a book, I don't love because I think you're taking opportunities away from other authors. ebook.

Go on a tour. I know some of them do these appearances where they show up and they eat dinner with fans. I get that it's hard out there and you want to make money.

But slapping your name on a skincare brand is not the answer. I think ultimately, what I want people to take away from this and what I will say I'm doing is we don't need to be making people famous for being rich. But if we're going to absorb this content anyway and if we're going to enjoy some of the entertaining aspects of these shows, which I clearly do-- I was about to ask, how do you-- knowing what you know, would you still consider yourself a fan, or are you hate watching?

I think we live in a society-- no. [LAUGHTER] I am hate watching to a degree, but I think you need to-- people need to-- two things. You need to pivot how you're watching the show. You don't necessarily need to watch the show from-- Brian Moylan famously says in his book, The Housewives, that there are two audiences for The Real Housewives.

There is the first audience, who is watching this very dedicatedly, is a fan of these individual women, takes it all in earnest, and wants to do everything these women do and emulate them, even if they dislike some of them. The second group-- and this is, I would say probably the more impactful part of the audience, is a group of people who are watching this at a level of remove. There is some cringe.

There's definitely an emotional earnestness to some of the scenes. I mean, we've seen people pass away or struggle with depression. And I think people absorb that content in earnest.

But there is another audience for whom all of this is very clearly a facade. It's very clearly an illusion. It's a reality show.

It's basically a game show to keep your life on TV. And when watching these shows, you need to put your critical thinking cap on even though it's entertainment and junk food, especially because it's entertainment and junk food. Because it seems like such innocuous nonsense, just ladies fighting about who called who what, we turn our brains off.

And then our subconscious can absorb a lot of this stuff to the degree that I order skinny margaritas all the time. And I wouldn't consider myself a Bethenny fan at this point. You're trapped.

I am trapped. They got you. You need to have critical thinking, but I think you also need to be aware that what you're seeing is not reality.

It is called reality. I was about to say, it's a soap opera. Yes.

These businesses are generally not real. And if you are suspicious of advertisements, be very suspicious of something that is functionally an advertisement, but refuses to call itself an advertisement. And it can seem like you're just getting a peek into these women's candid lives, but this is not candid.

They knew the cameras were coming. They knew what they wanted to show. They know what the message they want you to get is.

And you should be suspicious if the message is buy this. Support me blindly. I have the answer to your problems.

All you have to do is come have dinner at one of my restaurants and have a perfect night. That's the most innocuous version of this. And you should be suspicious of that, let alone products that they claim will cure diseases, or improve your sex life, or change your relationship, or the shape of your body.

These are not issues you want to farm out to people on reality TV. These are issues you want to take to financial professionals. So yeah, that's the world of the housewives.

Thank you. Bye, guys. Thanks for listening.

Well, that's the show for this week. You can find Too Good to Be True wherever podcasts are available. And while you're there, we'd love for you to rate the show and leave us a review.

I've been Ryan Houlihan, and you can find me on all social media at Ryan Houlihan. I've been Julia Lorenz-Olson. You can find me on YouTube at my PBS show, Two Cents.

And every once in a while, I'll look at Instagram. My handle is @yayitsjulia. [MUSIC PLAYING]