Real Housewives of Atlanta star Cynthia Bailey recalled her divorce to sportscaster Mike Hill on last night’s episode of the show, calling the feeling ‘a happy sad.’ During a show-opening conversation with Kenya Moore, she appeared thrilled that her divorce, which was settled in October of last year, had been finalized.
It’s not the first time she’s spoken about marriage or divorce, especially with her marriage to Mike being her second, which is common not only for stars of the Real Housewives franchise, but reality TV stars in general.
She previously appeared on the Two Ts in a Pod podcast, hosted by Tamra Judge and Teddi Mellencamp, discussing the absence of friendship in her marriage, saying she felt like that was what led to her and Mike’s demise.
“I felt like we weren't friends anymore…I felt like it was just going toward we're just not going to be friends if we didn't pump the brakes," she explained, before discussing the fact that this was her second time tying the knot. “This is not my first rodeo. I think friendship just has to be there in a marriage. Like, love is great, but friendship has to be there. I truly want to be with my best friend."
At the time she filed for divorce, she issued a statement to PEOPLE that suggested it was amicable and that she was hopeful she’d find love again.
"Although that journey has come to an end," she said, "I am so grateful for our continued friendship, and the beautiful memories that we made together. God willing, I will find love again. Whatever is destined to be, will be; and I could not be more excited for my next chapter!"
It’s strange that she suggested they had a ‘continued friendship’, despite chalking their divorce up to the absence of just that. But perhaps the exploration of her ‘next chapter’ is what brought her back to Real Housewives of Atlanta for season 15. After being one of the longest-running stars on the show, her run ended in season 13, the same season that aired her lavish wedding to Mike. She was absent for season 14 and is now returning for season 15.
It feeds into the idea that weddings – and by the same token, divorces – make for excellent storylines on reality TV and could very well be the reason she’s back. The drama of her wedding to Mike was enthralling, particularly as it was unfolding during the pandemic, and therefore required a lot of pivoting from week to week as state regulations changed.
Weddings on reality TV are something I’ve found myself thinking a lot about after spending the summer rewatching the entire Vanderpump Rules series from start to finish. As I rewatched Scheana tie the knot with Michael Shay in 2014, it finally hit me that at the time, she wasn’t making much from the show since it was still in its infancy. She didn’t have any businesses at the time, and her podcast wasn’t even a thought. But thanks to a settlement she received during the planning of her wedding, she was able to fork out upwards of $90,000 on that wedding. By the time they divorced two years later, she hadn’t even finished paying it off.
Obviously things were different when she married Brock Davies in 2022, arguably the show’s most-watched season, at a destination wedding in Mexico. I’m certain there must have been some sort of discount given to her and her army of costars and wedding guests considering the attention it brought to the resort. But $90,000 on a server’s budget in 2014? Unthinkable.
Mike and Cynthia ended up tying the knot in front of 250 people at a lavish ceremony that took place at the Governors Towne Club. As expected, many of her Real Housewives of Atlanta costars were there, but the Bravo crossover was endless and featured stars from other shows like Southern Charm New Orleans as well as housewives from other shows in the franchise.
There have been several high-profile weddings that took place during filming on Bravo – and almost all of them earn full-page spreads and sometimes even front page covers on magazines like PEOPLE. Teresa Giudice’s union to Luis Ruelas was the talk of an entire season of Real Housewives of New Jersey, largely because of the tension she was experiencing with her brother, Joe, and sister-in-law Melissa, who ultimately decided not to attend the wedding.
But the other reason it was so widely-watched was because of the sheer expense of it all. Teresa’s wedding, though the cost hasn’t been confirmed by the couple, was rumoured to be far in excess of $100,000, with her hair and makeup costing $10,000 alone. Who wouldn’t want to see what a wedding of that magnitude looks like?
TV weddings are a huge draw for sponsors, who often profit off of all the extra eyeballs on their venues, services, designs or products. Take Teresa’s long-standing makeup artist, Priscilla DiStasio, for example. Throughout the years of helping create Teresa’s glam, she went from doing prom and bridal looks in the New Jersey area to being a full-on celebrity makeup artist. The exposure that came from working with Teresa has helped her acquire a massive following on Instagram after creating iconic looks for her and other housewives throughout the seasons.
After creating Teresa’s wedding look, specifically, she shared all of the details with her followers. So not only are token events like weddings a huge opportunity for the people that put the events together, but the brands behind it all. So that $10,000 sure sounds like a lot, but it’s likely that it was a special price given to Teresa in exchange for all the extra marketing that was put out through the show, and the mentions that came from the countless articles that were written in the wake of the spectacle.
It all goes back to the idea that fundamentally, reality TV shows have become a business in their own right. In an article I wrote last week, I quoted Bethenny Frankel, who once said there was no point being on TV without something to sell. And while nearly every reality TV star now has some sort of product or trademark, even the products not sold by reality TV stars are making money just by being featured or talked about on the show.
Perhaps the final question is what the tradeoff is, knowing these weddings are partially fueled by the demands of staying relevant on the respective shows they take place on, and that watching these weddings is just helping people line their pockets.
Does it take away from the magic and the romance of it all? In truth, sometimes. But if there’s one thing the producers and editors are good at, it’s evoking such a strong suspension of disbelief that you forget about everything - including the business aspect of it all and the likelihood of divorce being just around the corner.