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The First BravoCon Provides an Outlet for Obsession (Column)

Were you one of the thousands flipping tables for not managing to snatch up tickets to the first ever BravoCon? Did you find yourself refreshing your Twitter and Instagram feeds incessantly for updates on who said what to whom and where over the weekend? Are you wondering if you should try harder to get in next year? If you’re looking for a real-talk recap on what to expect from the national pilgrimage to New York City in the name of reality TV, you’re in luck. Variety spent three full days immersed in everything Bravo to give you a one-stop shop to the stars, the shows and the drama that keeps us tuning in. Read on to find out whether or not you should avoid being tardy for the 2020 party.

THE PEOPLE
Wow, were they excited to be there! Of the folks I chatted with, everyone is — no exaggeration — ecstatic: Mothers were there with their daughters; fathers were there with their daughters. There were groups of sisters, best friends, people who are now best friends after meeting on the line outside on the street. Many traveled from all over the country to sport t-shirts with taglines like “Blessed and Bravo Obsessed” or “Jax Blocked Me on Twitter” or “Bravo TV Is My Love Language” and connect with their favorite reality TV stars and fellow Bravo fans.

“I’ve never felt more seen in my life,” said one woman to the crowd during the audience Q&A portion of the “Peach Tea Sip and See” panel featuring the Atlanta housewives. “This is better than Disneyland,” said panel moderator Sylvia Obell. Two sisters — one a resident New Yorker, the other in for the weekend from Florida — said the Housewives give them something to talk about over family dinners.

That BravoCon coincided with an anime convention down the block made for a fun walk. One minute you pass someone in a knee-length, cotton-candy-pink wig wielding a battle sword, and the next, a woman in a snake skin leather skirt, some red bottoms and a full-face beat so heavy it might as well be armor struts by. Of course, both were heavily incorporating glitter and/or and sequins — though one more than the other, and you can probably guess which. There was, and probably still is, serious FOMO happening on social media.

THE PLACE(S)
BravoCon was split over three venues running from 34th Street to 27th Street on the West Side of Manhattan. At Union West on 28th Street, you could partake in the “Vanderpump Rules” Experience: the slow-mo-holding-drinks-on-a-tray video treatment a lá the show’s opening credits. The wait was at least 30 minutes, so BravoCon volunteers were taking phone numbers to text fans letting them know their turn is up. While you waited, you could head a block away to Skylight Modern and tour the “Housewives” museum where iconic items over the franchise’s many seasons were on display, including Tamra Judge’s breast implants, Karen Huger’s La’ Dame Fragrance, LeaAnne Locken’s meditation bowl and dozens of reunion dresses for your viewing pleasure.

The panel headliners took the stage at the biggest of the venues in the Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein and Grand Ballrooms. The first evening of the con kicked off at Hammerstein with a packed-to-the-brim taping of “Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen,” featuring the biggest Bravolebrity gathering ever with 77 stars. Highlights included a game show called “Squash That Beef,” the best of which involved New York housewife Ramona Singer facing off with what felt like every nemesis she’s made over her tenure.

THE HAPPENINGS
Over the three days, show casts from “Vanderpump Rules,” “Southern Charm,” “Below Deck,” the Housewives (of course) and many others participated in moderated Q&As. There were also crossover groupings such as “Unapologetic and Unfiltered” with stars Ashley Darby, Gizelle Bryant, Golensa “GG” Garachedaghi, Lala Kent, LeeAnne Locken and Scheana Shay on stage together.

In addition to getting the tea at panels featuring their favorite stars and producers, photo opps were definitely one of the major perks for fans. Tom Schwartz and Jax Taylor of “Vanderpump Rules” and Craig Conover of “Southern Charm” were scheduled for specific 45 minute photo opps, and they were mobbed by dozens of women fighting to get their pictures before the clock ran out. When they did indeed run out of time for solo pictures against a step-and-repeat, the “Vanderpump” guys headed into the crowd for lighting-round selfies with fans.

One woman, who was the last to squeeze in a photo with “Vanderpump’s” Stassi Schroeder before the designated time slot lapsed, described to her friend just how much her hands were shaking at the thought of not being able to get the photo. Held in the Grand Ballroom the Manhattan Center, her’s was one of the weekend’s busiest panels. The line to get into the elevator up snaked around the entire lobby, and the ballroom was at such capacity, fans were only permitted up once others came down. The “Vanderpump Rules” star had announced her own digital series with Bravo, “Basically Stassi.” (Other major announcements included the addition of a new housewife of New York Leah McSweeney, the launching of “Housewives of Salt Lake City” and a new “Top Chef” all-stars edition.)

One of the top events of the weekend was undoubtedly the “Vanderpump Rules” After-Party on Saturday night. DJ James Kennedy hit the decks for an hour of the festivities while drag queens courtesy of Brooklyn nightlife hotspot House of Yes danced, did acrobatics and generally strutted around the ballroom. Despite the $14–16 price tag for a cocktail — titled Pack Your Knives, No Drama and BravoCosmo — many had a glass in hand and made multiple trips to the bar situated in the middle of the dance floor. Tom Sandoval jumped behind the bar at one point — mixing some drinks and taking some shots — but the rest of the bartenders were also spotted taking shots with attendees. The playlist for the evening included Drake, Eminem, Cardi B, Beyoncé, plus some smattering of electronic for good measure. Two women joked they were warming up for Dorinda Medley’s morning “werk out” aerobics class the next morning.

THE PRICE
There were three tiers of ticket access with an option to either to attend the entire weekend or pick days a la carte. For all three days, general admission ran $300, with VIP costing $575 and SVIP $1,500, not including fees. General admission tickets got you into all the panels with seating in the back, VIP/SVIP allowed for closer seats and express lines for photo opps, of which there were many. Tickets sold out within an hour when they went on sale in August, and many fans had to purchase them via scalpers at a steep upcharge (SVIP seats were selling for $9,000 on Vivid Seats).

One woman and daughter I spoke to compared the price tag for the weekend to a trip to Paris, claiming they spent nearly $5,000 to attend. They also confirmed they would have spent double the price to be here. They were some of the many who traveled for the convention; starting points included San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Florida, even London to see their favorite Bravolebrities and producers dish on the behind the scenes.

For those needing fuel to keep going through this marathon of photos, questions and gushing without leaving the venue, bottled water was available for $6, as was a sad-looking chicken and waffle panini for $12 and a pretzel for $5, among other nibbles. “Top Chef” bites were located at Skylight Modern at the same price point. But for those looking to splurge, “Buy-up” brunch options where you could rub shoulders with Bravolebrities over Bloody Marys were also available to SVIP members.

At every BravoCon location you could buy branded t-shirts, pullovers, wine tumblers, even baby onesies. Prices capped at $50 for merchandise. And at the Bravo Bazaar you could pick up products created by your favorite stars including Reza Farhan’s new hair care line, Sandoval and Ariana Madix’s new recipe book “Fancy AF Cocktails,” and more. Sponsorships from Pepsi, Hotels.com, Pure Leaf and Talenti Gelato provided some of the only free perks of the weekend.

THE VERDICT
All told, Bravo pulled it off. Getting in and out venues was largely seamless thanks to the scan-in bracelets provided with your admission, and the BravoCon app was helpful and intuitive. The locations were great, although having to schlep from one to the other was the biggest complaint from many attendees. The lineup was thrilling and some fans even got the opportunity to tell these reality stars how they really feel. Many thought the VIP purchase was worth it if only to skip the lines at the photo opps.

Stars of the series had different takes on the whole thing coming together. “It’s like a high school reunion but we all sat at different tables, and now we’re all together,” said Kate Chastain of “Below Deck.” Melissa Gorga of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” was just impressed Bravo managed to schedule everyone’s appearances on the same weekend. Tom Schwartz of “Vanderpump” called the experience “strangely intimate” when asked about his experience with fans on Day 3, and Reza Farahan of “Shahs of Sunset” found the convention “touching” after a fan told him he encouraged him to come out.

Ultimately, is BravoCon an overwhelming display of obsession? Yes. Is it also, frankly, a surprisingly heart-warming celebration of bonding over other people’s drama? Also yes. You will feel 100% seen as the Andy’s Angel you are — if you’re willing to pay for it.

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