Gratitude is not an emotion you come across very often on reality-show sets (at least, not in my limited experience), but there was a pervasive air of appreciation last week on the set of the For the Love of Ray J 2 reunion. Backstage of the studio in Glendale where it was shot, the women who made up most of the show’s cast repeatedly told me how thankful they were to get to clear things up for the viewing audience. Editing has a way of begging explanation, as pretty much the entire existence of my job can attest.
I, too, was grateful for the opportunity to be there – there hasn’t been a VH1 reunion taping since last May, and I rarely feel more in my element then when surrounded by a group of women who’ve been on reality TV. Where else can you go to see so many clothed women in the same place projecting an attitude and fashion sense that reads, “F*** a stigma; I’m wearing lucite.”
For me, this reunion was like a welcome return to simpler times. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was a return to the womb, but maybe the cradle. It’s a magical cradle wherein you sleep with one eye open, and the sounds of smack talk and sucking teeth are like lullabies. Come, let’s get infantile…
Overt modesty is also something that you don’t experience too much of in the reality world, and yet, that was present, too: this reunion was scaled down with roughly half the contestants (11 of the 19 women who showed up for the first episode were invited to this last one), and a half-size audience watching a stage that’s stage about half as large as normal. The reason for this was timing, basically – the reunion had been put together at the last minute and after multiple queries, this was the only stage that could accommodate the production on such short notice. One of the Bachelor reunions, though, was shot in this space, so it’s broken in as a place where people revisit the relationships that they had (and didn’t) on TV.
I liked how intimate the scaled-down made things while the cameras were rolling, but even before that, I enjoyed the change of scenery. Most of the girls’ dressing rooms were trailers outside of the studio, which gave things a raw, Hollywood feel. One of the first things I saw upon arriving to set that morning was Exotica walk by wearing a tutu that had only her hair as competition in bushiness. As she shuffled from the makeup trailer to her dressing room, she spit out her gum, producing an arc visible from about 50 feet away.
There was something wonderfully harmonious about that imagery.
I started my rounds of pre-game chatter in that makeup trailer where Flossy and Extra were getting their faces put on.
Flossy told me that Ray was the only person she was excited to see. I wondered if she had any anxiety returning to a congregation, in which she’d been a pariah, but she said that she didn’t. She’s pretty easy going, and she’s even since made amends with the woman who poured the most amount of alcohol on her (in the season’s biggest blow-up), Heartbreaker. “We partied in Miami together, so it’s whatever. We’ll see how today is. I know everyone’s going to have their game face on,” she told me. I complimented her on her hair, which I think is a very flattering look for her. She told me it’s the product of her wanting a new look for the new year. I told her that starting her head was a good use of her brain.
As if out to provide a palpable contrast with Flossy, I could feel the tension hovering over Extra, even with her back to me (that’s just how she was positioned as she was getting her makeup done when I entered — it wasn’t personal…I think). She wore her headphones the entire time I talked to Flossy, and I felt like I was interrupting her when I asked her to answer some questions. I didn’t necessarily feel bad about interrupting, just intrusive. It’ a job hazard, I guess. She finally turned around…
…and told me that she felt “great.” When I interviewed her earlier this season, we talked at length about the difference between Extra and Sharmisa, so I asked her which had shown up today. (“That’s a great question!” Flossy chortled.) “I feel like I’m bringing both, it just depends on what’s said and how it’s said,” she said. It wasn’t long before it emerged that she was referring to the “effin’ Wolf Pack” specifically: “They are dumb. They try to play like they gang up on everybody, and then they get kicked off the show, being in love with ex-boyfriends, smashing homies and just being a bitch. Somebody should, and if not I will, put them in their place.”
Here Flossy chimed in: “The thing is the Wolf Pack didn’t run anything. No one entertained them or cared. No one laughed when they called people reindeers [sic]. No one cared. They made it seem like they controlled things, but we’re just all grown and mature and we weren’t entertaining that.”
The Wolf Pack was all Extra needed to get on a discursive roll: “Truth be told, Heartbreaker thinks she’s just the most intimidating thing ever, little skinny ass. I really didn’t unleash everything I could have unleashed. Let it go to that point today. If you get in my face or confront me about something the wrong way, instead of just asking me a question, I’m gonna jump in defense mode, and my defensive mode is kicking your ass, whether it be verbally or physically, although I ain’t gonna touch you unless you touch me. Heartbreaker just thinks she is just it. She thinks she’s H.B.I.C., and she’s not. I am.” So it’s not so much hubris that makes Heartbreaker’s self-appointed H.B.I.C. status foolhardy, it’s just straight up factual incorrectness. Got it?
The next trailer was Exotica and Jaguar’s.
After I introduced myself, Exotica immediately took me to task for an inaccuracy in the interview with her that I ran. “I said I speak Portuguese, you put French,” she told me, and I immediately felt really bad that I 1) patently misquoted her and 2) didn’t know more about Cape Verde to realize I’d screwed up. However, I went back to the interview after the reunion and, uh, she said, “French,” very clearly in that first interview (have yourself a listen), so who’s zoomin’ who? I guess sometimes it’s hard to remember what language you spoke for the first 15 or so years of your life. Whatever. Exotica’s funny, though: while Jaguar said she was very excited to see Ray, Exotica gave me a sarcastic, “Oh…yeah…” when I asked. Like everyone, though, she was happy to clear the air: “They didn’t show me kissing Ray, and I actually did. They didn’t show me talking to Heartbreaker, showing how she’s so nasty, she’s a hoe, she’s a slut, and everything. So today I’m going to make sure to put it out there how she’s so ugly and wear makeup 24/7 even to take a shower with makeup on.”
Jaguar added her two cents about Heartbreaker: “Heartbreaker in the house, we did not like each other…I thought she was just fake. You could tell she was working for the camera. She was just loud for no reason.” As much as I respect everyone’s opinion, it was at this point I started to wonder exactly what people would be talking about if there were no Heartbreaker. Seems to me that at the very least, she deserves some kind of respect for keeping everyone so occupied.
Besides, without her, we wouldn’t have this gem of inight from Exotica: “You know Heartbreaker was in the bathtub and she was saying, ‘Oh, you know, Ray’s not packing, it’s not working, so…” She pledged to ask onstage, “So what’s the deal? How big is it Ray?” I told her she could find that information on the Internet. In fact, I would have done so before even signing up for the show. Research is the responsible thing to do!
Before I took this picture of Jaguar…
…she told me that she needed to tuck her fat in. I think she should invest in an eye exam, instead. Silly girl!
Then, it was time to experience Caliente, Lava and Popper:
Here, the object of scorn wasn’t Heartbreaker, but Extra. Caliente had told me that Extra had mocked her English (and, I’m assuming, not on the ha-ha-ESL-is-so-endearing way that’s appropriate but all mean-like). “Extra looks like she’s about to jump everybody. She just put her little iPod in to ignore everybody…If you want to know who’s really crazy, talk to Extra,” said Popper, also referencing Lava’s reputation for being one machete short of a horror flick. “I show no sign of crazy!” said Lava. “Are you serious? We just gotta love editing. That is just my buddy there. For real, editing is my best friend. There’s no bad publicity.”
That publicity, Lava told me, has made her “internationally memorable,” and caught the attention of Sean Paul’s manager, who flew her to Jamaica to host the Pajamarama Masquerade Party, where she met her boyfriend, sprinter Usain Bolt. So that all worked out for her. What didn’t: a thinking-out-loud plan that would have found her placing a “diarrhea pill” in Extra’s soda. The only problem? Lava didn’t have any diarrhea pills. Maybe next time!
Lava also told me that her new ‘do is not new at all: her hair has always been this short, she just rocked extensions on the show. I thought she looked great enough to shut down any argument as to whether less is more, once and for all. Because indeed it is:
My favorite part of this particular visit was when Ray J’s track with New Boyz, “Tie Me Down,” came on the radio they were playing in the trailer. “Uh, oh, here’s your boy!” said Lava. “No, your boys!” said Caliente, maybe not quite getting what Lava was referring to. “I change my radio station when he comes on!” replied Lava, just in case you were wondering if she’s carrying a flame.
I’m devoting my interview with all three of them to a separate post, because the overlapping crap-talk that went down must be experienced in its entirety to be appreciated, and it’d be too long to print here. But just as a teaser, keep in mind that while Heartbreaker did most of the steering, Platinum chimed in regularly and Luscious was mostly occupied by the 50 or so pictures she took of herself during my 15-minute chat with them.
Also, here’s something Platinum had to say about Mz Berry: “We were all downstairs being crazy psychos and Caliente comes down and says, ‘While you were arguing, I just had to pull Ray out of the bathroom because Mz Berry was trying to lock him in the bathroom with her. I walked in and said no!’ So, while we were being crazy, she was taking advantage of the situation! Mz Berry is not nearly as classy as she likes to come off. I’m supposed to be the most ghetto bitch in the house, but you never heard me talking about how I wanted to sit on his face.”
So yeah, the girls, they were on that day.
As I was leaving, I explained that I’d see them again, since I’d be around the whole day taking pictures of people. “Take pictures of us!” called Luscious. “Just us, we’re the best ones, anyways,” agreed Plat. “No one wants to look at the other girls!” concluded Luscious. They reminded me of the Blondourage with fangs in the place of peroxide.
Finally, my last stop was Mz Berry’s dressing room, which was inside the building, way apart from the other girls.
Here’s what happened: I got in, asked Berry how she felt to be there and immediately, her eyes welled up with tears. She cried silently for so long (about a minute and a half) that I wondered at first if she’d heard me and then I wondered if I could have said anything that would have provoked a more tempered response. I’m not sure that I could have. She did lighten the mood a little when she admitted, “This is the beginning of the month, I shouldn’t be this emotional.”
I really like Connie — I think that much like Rock of Love Bus‘ Taya, she gets a bum rap that has more to do with her strengths as a love competitor, if you will, then the content of her character. That said, she did stick out as the only person on set who wasn’t excited about the opportunity to play out reality in front of cameras once again: “I just would rather not have to do this. If Ray and I are going to work on whatever then we do, and if not, then we just drift apart. That’s it. Just leave it alone, instead of having to relive the whole situation again.”
I wondered if the fact that she’d be reliving it in front of an audience of her “peers” and others had anything to do with her anxiety. “It’s just different. Whatever’s gonna happen with us is gonna happen. I don’t know. I know we put this out there for the public to see, but just to go through this is hard. It’s hard to let everybody into something so personal. For me, it’s not a TV show. It’s not a game. It never has been.” At this point she was crying again, and I was seriously worried about her makeup. I asked if she regretted doing the show in the first place, now that she knows how hard it is to offer your emotions for public consumption. She said no. I wondered if that meant she’s at terms with the price you pay for looking for love on TV. She said yes. She also pulled it together rather quickly for the sake of the picture of her above, as well as this one:
So, at least she cleans up well. And quickly!
Before the girls hit the stage, Extra treated me to a rap based on her time on the show.
She had expected to be able to perform it during the actual reunion, but since that didn’t happen, you can listen to her short verse here. It’s kind of clever, and these few bars constitute taking more away from this experience than most do.
Soon, it was time for the girls to line up and get on stage…
Once, there, Luscious complained that the seating arrangement had her separated from the rest of the Wolf Pack, though they’d go on to spend so much time on the actual stage that it barely mattered.
There were, obviously, differences between what you saw on TV and what actually happened (an entire segment devoted to Popper, for one thing). Ray taped his entrance a few times, and at first came out without a glass of champagne. Upon retaking, he asked aloud if he should bring a glass, wondering if that would be over-the-top. “I’m a little over-the-top right now,” he said, and carrying the glass it was.
I thought Tanika Ray was a fantastic host (I gushed to her after the taping, too): natural and uncommonly quick on her feet. For example, during Jaguar’s segment (which aired out of order — it was actually taped before the Wolf Pack took the stage), Ray expressed remorse for coming off as having eliminated her only because she wouldn’t give him any action. During the Wolf Pack segment (as you saw), he admitted action helped keep (at least) Heartbreaker around. Tanika called him out on the contradiction, and Ray, somewhat sloppily explained that any inconsistencies can be chalked up to the fact that his head is all over the place. He wasn’t kidding about that.
During the Mz Berry segment, she said some things that helped clear Ray’s name — I felt like the way he was portrayed (on top of Cocktail’s haranguing) made him come off as if he cared a lot less about Berry specifically and these women in general than he seemed to from watching it live. It’s weird that it turned out this way, but obviously, this story is not yet finished being told. Two shows were taping that day: this reunion, and Brandy and Ray J: A Family Business. Because of this, when Ray stormed off the reunion stage, we backstage could still fall along with what was going on (albeit with virtually no sound) by just turning our heads and watching the Family Business monitors.
Berry and Ray talked backstage for much longer than what you saw on the reunion. At one point, it appeared that he was crying (she definitely was). Pretty hilariously, as Tanika attempted to get him back out onstage to finish the reunion, he back-talked her. “We need Ray to get to the bottom of this. We’ll have him when we get back!” is how she set up the eventually aborted final segment. “I ain’t comin!” yelled Ray. A bit later, she said, “Ray, come out!” “No!” he yelled back. “Now! You say you want an aggressive woman…” Tanika joked back. Finally, she said as a way to conclude, “I have a feeling it’s not over…” and Ray narrated from backstage, “It ain’t over! It’s never gonna be over!” The fact that he and Mz Berry came back out and could be seen embracing after most people had left the studio…
…suggests he might be right. At the very least, it won’t be over for a while still.
Howling With the Wolf Pack
The Celebreality Interview – Mz Berry
The Celebreality Interview – Platinum
For the Love of Ray J 2 show page
For the Love of Ray J 2 videos and extras
Ray J – Exclusive Video Interview