Move over, Omarosa. The D.C. Beltway has a couple of new villains in town inching their way towards most-hated status.
Catherine "Cat" Ommanney, the British-born housewife given to making cringe-worthy racially charged comments, and Michaele Salahi, the infamous White House crasher who recently had a run-in with Whoopi Goldberg on "The View," have been scene-stealers for their bad behavior since "The Real Housewives of D.C." premiered earlier this month.
Reality shows have taken over more and more airtime, and as a result, characters on these shows have replaced traditional scripted villains on viewers' love-to-hate lists. No longer are we talking about the low-down dealings of J.R. Ewing on "Dallas." Instead, we are comparing notes about the backstabbing by one social climber or another.
"The housewives are Erica [Kane's] daughter in many ways," said Sheri Parks, an associate professor of American studies at University of Maryland, College Park, in reference to the infamous "All My Children" vixen. "The fact that Omarosa still has longevity shows that America loves to hate her."
Being a reality villain means that even after cameras stop filming, the disdain for such characters as Ommanney and Salahi will still exist. Their antics will likely always be associated with them. Unlike scripted actors, there won't be a new role that will allow them to shake a past portrayal. What you see is what you get — and what you're stuck with — with reality television stars.
But that might be the way they like it. Witness onetime D.C. resident Omarosa Manigault Stallworth, who stole the show on "The Apprentice" in 2004 with her over-the-top nastiness and has gone on to appear in more than 20 reality television shows.
"At one point it seemed like reality stars were blaming the editing. Now they are embracing the way they are being edited," said Craig Seymour, associate professor of journalism at Northern Illinois University. "It is their part to play in the show."
Our fascination with villains goes back to biblical times with the stories of Cain and Abel and David and Goliath. The villain provides balance, and are the perfect scapegoat.
"Traditionally Americans have been very dichotomous about good vs. evil," according to Parks. "There has been little gray. What you are beginning to see in reality television is that [the characters'] lives are more complex than absolute good and absolute evil. In those narratives you have more moving back and forth. One episode they are doing something really bad to someone. The next episode they are crying because their son didn't get into school. It is more similar to real life."
As reality shows have aged, the behavior of villains has gotten worse.
David "Puck" Rainey became one of the first reality show cast-offs, when he was thrown off "The Real World San Francisco" in 1994. Rainey was kicked off in large part because of his contentious relationship with housemate Pedro Zamora. Today, Rainey's actions would barely be a subplot.
Case in point, during the filming of the current season of "The Real World: New Orleans" one housemate, Preston Roberson-Charles, urinated on the toothbrush of another roommate, Ryan Leslie, and used it to scrub a toilet. According to police reports, this in turn sickened Leslie, sending him to a hospital. In return, Leslie defiled Robertson-Charles' cigarettes. Neither has been kicked off of the show, which is currently airing on MTV.
Maryland has had a slew of reality television participants from every show from "The Amazing Race" to "Top Chef." But none of those people have fully risen to flat-out villain status.
"Project Runway" winner and Annapolis native Christian Siriano appeared to be bratty at times towards the beginning of the fourth season, but his antics were more silly than evil. Frederick's Michael Voltaggio was the less-likable brother on the last season of "Top Chef," but he wasn't exactly Darth Vader-esque. And Baltimore's Ty Ruff, who appeared on "The Real World D.C.," wasn't a polarizing villain. He was belligerently drunk at times and definitely annoying. But who wasn't that season?
For the truly over-the-top offenders you have to look to our neighbors in the Southern portion of the beltway. Hello, Omarosa, Cat, and Salahis.
Both Salahi and Ommanney declined to be interviewed, citing a two week scheduling conflict, according to Shannon Buck, a spokeswoman for "The Real Housewives of D.C." Manigault Stallworth also could not be reached for comment for the story.