Yes, a sordid fake cancer scandal took over “Real Housewives of Orange County” Season 10, which technically wrapped last week with a third reunion show. However, the network decided to wring every last bit of drama and aired yet another follow-up on Thursday night called “Brooks Tells All.” It centered on Brooks Ayers (ex-boyfriend of cast member Vicki Gunvalson) insisting that he does have cancer, as he has done repeatedly for the past several months, even though everyone thinks he’s lying about being sick.
This has been a major storyline during the season, as the other women despise Ayers. One cast member, who went so far as to call Ayers’s doctor to fact-check, theorized on the show that he’s pretending to have cancer so he won’t have to pay child support. Ayers has repeatedly given detailed interviews about his cancer treatments and blames the the show for manufacturing a storyline around him. For what it’s worth, the “Brooks Tells All” special was filmed several weeks ago; in the meantime, Ayers has admitted he forged medical documents that supposedly proved he underwent chemotherapy. Still, he maintains that he has cancer and he’s keeping the real medical details to himself. (Bravo declined to elaborate on the Ayers situation.)
This is a convoluted mess, to say the least. And one has to wonder why Bravo or producers thought this was a good idea for a storyline. Everyone knows producers edit footage to create the most compelling plots; Ayers didn’t have to be a major part of the season. But apparently “possibly fake cancer” was too juicy to pass up to increase viewership, even if it is incredibly offensive – both to perpetrate a hoax like that, and frankly, to speculate that one exists.
“Millions of people are battling cancer and would give anything to be cured,” fumed Melanie Bromley, the E! News correspondent who interviewed Ayers when he supplied the fake medical documents. “What about the people who were in any way inspired by Brooks and his so-called candor?”
It’s a great point — except that E!, which shares a parent company with Bravo, was instrumental in pushing this story along. First, Bravo was so excited about this storyline that the very first trailer for the season showed cast members saying they didn’t believe Ayers had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as he claimed. Cast member Meghan Edmonds then teased her doubts to Star magazine, urging viewers to watch: “I believe the little questions that unfold will intrigue the audience,” she said.
Intrigue, offend, infuriate … what’s the difference? None, honestly, when it comes to reality television because viewers are viewers. But the whole situation became more cringeworthy when the controversy spilled into real life. After the season aired, E! started “investigating,” inviting Ayers on E! News for an interview in which he shared his side of the story and provided medical documents proving his chemotherapy treatments. Then, E! quickly published follow-up articles where they tore apart his claims, including a story boasting that they found “six inconsistencies exposed in his medical documents” from City of Hope hospital.
An E! spokesman said in a statement, “E! News is a news organization that investigates and reports on entertainment and pop culture stories independently.”
“Well, the truth is finally coming out tonight!” E! News co-host Jason Kennedy gleefully said on a broadcast this week. “We have exclusive proof that Brooks may have made the biggest lie in reality TV history.”
“I think he underestimated us here at E! News,” co-host Maria Menounos chimed in. “We did our homework.”
While it’s quite a coincidence that E! happened to land these details about a controversy going on over at its sister channel, Ayers eventually admitted to the network that he fabricated the medical documents so people would stop doubting him. “My sincerest apologies to my family, friends, loved ones, and those who are battling this horrid disease,” he said, insisting again that he does have cancer and the real details of his treatment will remain private. At this point, a spokeswoman for Ayers told us she advised her client against speaking to E! again, and after he did, she resigned from working with him.
On Thursday, Bravo’s “Brooks Tell All” special was also awkward. Ayers and Cohen battled back and forth on the details of Ayers’s health, with Ayers having an answer for every suspicious detail and Cohen looking on in disbelief. Ayers also blamed misunderstandings about his health on Gunvalson, whom he says didn’t always tell the truth.
Speaking of which, E! is also still going strong with stories, now looking at how Gunvalson could have lied and publishing reactions from the cast. (On the reunion, Gunvalson admitted to fabricating some details about Ayers to gain “compassion” from her friends.) Gunvalson, who broke up with Ayers in August after filming was completed, was originally furious that they questioned his integrity. “What does Brooks need to do? Die to prove everyone wrong?” she said in one episode. Now, she’s distancing herself from her ex, saying on Twitter that she’ll never speak to Ayers again and giving interviews saying how much she hates him, further fueling the gossip cycle.
Feeling queasy yet? While it’s one thing to have a salacious plot in a reality TV show, it’s another to center it on a deadly disease and drag it out into the real world, where people truly suffering from illness don’t need to see daily headlines about someone maybe faking cancer. As this whole stomach-turning situation continues to spin out of control, here’s hoping that a reality show doesn’t feel the need to go down this path again, no matter how many viewers that it tempts to bring.