Vanderpump Rules’ Rachel Leviss sues over Scandoval, alleges revenge porn and eavesdropping

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Rachel Leviss filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix.
Rachel Leviss filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix. Credit: BANG - Entertainment News

Even if you never watched a minute of reality TV, it was hard to escape the furore surrounding Vanderpump Rules.

The latest chapter in the ongoing drama is this week former cast member of the series Rachel Leviss filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix, claiming the pair engaged in revenge porn, eavesdropping, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

This time last year, the three were embroiled in what became known as the Scandoval. It’s catchy, isn’t it?

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The gist of it is Sandoval and Madix had been in a relationship since 2014 and in mid-2022, Sandoval and Leviss embarked on a months-long affair. Madix discovered the betrayal in March 2023 when she saw a sexually explicit video of Leviss on Sandoval’s phone.

All hell breaks loose and the Scandoval becomes not just tabloid fodder on gossip sites but all across mainstream media.

Raquel Leviss
Raquel Leviss is suing her former Vanderpump Rules castmates. Credit: BANG - Entertainment News

The episode had all the ingredients of the juiciest reality TV spectacles except it was playing out in real time and across the media, both social and traditional. The aftermath played out for months, and not just because the Vanderpump Rules producers and its US network Bravo knew they had a ratings hit on their hands.

It’s hard to tell who was more hated in the fall out – Sandoval or Leviss. Both went into damage control but there was little either could do to stem the bleeding.

Leviss is now out to reclaim the narrative. In the filing of her lawsuit, as published by Deadline, the complaint argued that she was “the victim of the predatory and dishonest behaviour of an older man, who recorded sexually explicit videos of her without her knowledge or consent, where then distributed, disseminated and discussed publicly by a scorned woman seeking vengeance, catalysing the scandal”.

The lawsuit claimed Leviss had to check herself into a mental health facility for three months while Bravo, production company Evolution and the Vanderpump Rules castmates “deliberately fomented” a narrative in which she was the enemy and then exploited the situation for commercial gain.

Leviss also accused Bravo and Evolution of misleading her into believing she was contractually not allowed to speak out in her own defence.

“As a result, she suffered in silence as Bravo and Evolution watched viewership explode, and the rest of the cast enjoyed unseen levels of public recognition and professional opportunity,” the filing said. “Meanwhile, Leviss, who was humiliated and villainised for public consumption, remains a shell of her former self, with her career prospects stunted and her reputation in tatters.”

Ariana Madix and Tom Sandoval
Ariana Madix and Tom Sandoval in happier times. Credit: BANG - Entertainment News

Leviss’ lawsuit is another point of contention in the ongoing reckoning of the reality TV industry’s duty of care to its cast members.

Sometimes seen as fame-chasers who deserve little sympathy for signing up to a reality TV franchise in the first place, there is now increased awareness of the machinations that goes into making a series in a genre underpinned by drama.

In the US, original Real Housewives of New York cast member Bethenny Frankel advocated for a union to cover reality TV stars. Frankel used the backdrop of the Hollywood actors strike to fire her own shots, which included a legal letter sent to NBCUniversal, the owners of Bravo.

Frankel’s team claimed the network’s programs had deliberately attempted to create mental instability by plying cast members with alcohol while depriving them of food and sleep, denying cast members mental health treatment, covering up acts of sexual violence and either distributing or condoning the distribution of non-consensual pornography.

At the time, NBCUniversal responded by saying it was committed to a safe and respectful workplace.

In the UK, the producers of the Squid Game reality competition was accused of subjecting contestants to inhumane conditions during the first game, “Red Light Green Light”, which two players in a lawsuit claimed led to hypothermia and nerve damage.

The sequence was filmed in a disused air force hangar in the middle of the British winter where temperatures plummeted to minus three degrees.

In Australia on Nine’s Married At First Sight, former contestants have accused producers of manipulating the cast.

Dean Wells, who appeared in the series in 2018, previously told The Daily Telegraph, “Things would be edited if you didn’t do what they wanted you to do. You feel trapped. You feel cornered and you have no power. You feel like you have to do everything they say or you will get in trouble.”

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