Just last month, Bravo's Real Housewives franchise celebrated a decade of captivating audiences with their ostentatious wealth, narcissistic behavior, ridiculous arguments, and more dance singles than a gay disco could play over a weekend. To date, 87 full-time Housewives have graced our screens so far, not counting the five stars of The Real Housewives of Dallas, which debuts tonight.
Judging what makes the "best" Housewife is sort of like trying to determine what is the most excellent kind of candy. There are many different factors to consider, and personal taste plays a large part. For this list, I considered longevity, likability, general insanity, scrappiness, individuality, ability to leverage an appearance on the show into another business, earning a spinoff, and number of classic moments the Housewife was responsible for. Some of it just has to do with who I like better. As the Housewives would say, I'm owning it.
87-84. The Cast of The Real Housewives of DC: There was nothing to recommend Mary Schmidt Amons, Lynda Erkiletian, Cat Ommanney, or Stacie Scott Turner for further consideration. How did this show even make it on the air?
83. Katie Rost (Real Housewives of Potomac): I'm.
82. Charrisse Jackson Jordan (RHOP): Sorry.
81. Karen Huger (RHOP): But.
80. Robyn Dixon (RHOP): Potomac.
79. Ashley Darby (RHOP): Is
78. Gizelle Bryant (RHOP): Boring.
77. Quinn Fry (Real Housewives of Orange County): I didn't even remember that this person existed.
76. Kimberly Bryant (RHOC): She moved away after Season 1. Smart decision.
75. Lizzie Rovsek (RHOC): A Housewife so bad, she didn't even get invited to the Season 10 reunion.
74. Claudia Jordan (Real Housewives of Atlanta): No thanks.
73. DeShawn Snow (RHOA): More snooze-inducing than a glass of warm milk spiked with NyQuil.
72. Cristy Rice (Real Housewives of Miami): Larsa's bestie, this delusional mean girl also wasted a ton of potential by being too foul for words.
71. Larsa Pippen (RHOM): She had a sly disregard for other people's emotions that would have made her a great Housewife had she not squandered her gifts.
70. Tammy Knickerbocker (RHOC): She was the single mom one, right? Whatever.
69. Amber Marchese (Real Housewives of New Jersey): Just thinking about her and her striving to be relevant makes me want to get into bed and pull the covers over my face.
68. Ana Quincoces (RHOM): Trying to be the "voice of reason" on the already boring Miami was always going to be a losing proposition.
67. Joyce Giraud (Real Housewives of Beverly Hills): Joyce, a half-empty can of hairspray that runs out after only setting one side of your hair.
66. Kim Fields (RHOA): Sadly, this former Facts of Life star always thought she was too good to be on the show, and she opted out after her first season. A big disappointment.
65. Kathryn Edwards (RHOBH): Other than her weird, tenuous connection to the O. J. Simpson trial, Kathryn isn't that exciting. She's trying very hard (and has a hot husband), but there is little to recommend that she get a contract for another season.
62. Cindy Barshop (Real Housewives of New York): This queen of vajazzling made all the Housewives go to her house in Quogue, the worst town in the Hamptons. Sonja Morgan refused to go. That's why Sonja is No. 11 and Cindy is No. 62.
61. Lydia McLaughlin (RHOC): Like a bug-eyed bird that has been drinking Diet Coke for three weeks, Lydia was amusing, but too much of a crazy fairy-person to be long for this world.
59. Marysol Patton (RHOM): The only reason Andy Cohen kept her around for so long is because he was amused by her psychic mother.
58. Peggy Tanous (RHOC): She was brought on to be Alexis Bellino's friend and ally and betrayed her. That was pretty nice.
57. Kristen Taekman (RHONY): She always had the best outfits of any Housewife, but she also had the worst husband, Josh, the beer pong ball you find the morning after a party that has adhered itself to the carpet.
56. Kathy Wakile (RHONJ): The best thing I can say for Kathy is that I would eat her cannolis. It doesn't help to be the only sane member of the extended Gorga clan.
55. Lisa Hochstein (RHOM): She had the rich husband and all the right jiggle, but her fertility issues were a drag to watch. We don't want these women to actually be sad!
54. Carlton Gebbia (RHOBH): She was a witch, so there was that.
53. Lauri Peterson (RHOC): Lauri always looked like the perfect Housewife, but then she would talk like a sloth who got into his wife's Ambien stash -- and was about as exciting.
52. Heather Thomson (RHONY): Other than the fun of watching Heather and her IRL BFF Carole Radziwill, Heather was never especially dynamic. She is actually too good of a person to be good on the show. When reality-TV life wasn't working for her or her business, she left of her own volition, so kudos for that. Holla!
51. Jacqueline Laurita (RHONJ): Jacqueline’s heart always seemed like it was in the right place, but it never seemed like her head was in the game. The much larger personalities around her swallowed her up.
50. Adrienne Maloof (RHOBH): The only thing that was ever cool about Adrienne, queen of the Maloofs, a race of mole people that live under the mountain, is that she once had glittery extensions. Her only other accomplishment was being in the limo when Kim and Kyle Richards had the famous "You stole my house" fight.
49. Jo De La Rosa (RHOC): The first Housewife to leave the show to start a pop career, which didn't work out very well for her. Jo's most lasting contribution was introducing us to Slade Smiley, who, as Gretchen's boyfriend, was on more seasons than Jo ever was. That's a dubious distinction, indeed.
48. Karent Sierra (RHOM): I always had a soft spot for Karent, the dentist with a million-dollar smile. I'm not sure why. Probably because when people would attack her (and they always were), she would just give them her creepy smile and totally disarm them. Too bad she didn't stick around longer.
47. Erika Girardi (RHOBH): Just watch the video for "Painkillr" and tell me your life isn't changed. Erika's first season isn't over yet, but she's already a fan favorite because she doesn't give one single fuck. She just wants to dress like a sex robot, play with her gay friends, and take trips on her private jets. Yes, that's plural. Now, if only her relationship with her husband wasn't so odd.
46. Alexia Echevarria (RHOM): The rare class act, Alexia took a step back from the show to care for her son after he was in a tragic car accident. She wasn't always central to the drama, but she was tough and smart, which has to stand for something.
45. Meghan King Edmonds (RHOC): Meghan went all private investigator on Vicki's grifter boyfriend Brooks and wouldn't believe his BS story about having cancer. She was only on one season, but her relentless investigation (and prying) finally broke Brooks and Vicki up for good, something much better Housewives hadn't been able to accomplish for years.
44. Dorinda Medley (RHONY): Though a new addition, Dorinda made her mark by being fun, outrageous, and willing to speak her mind, even if it was to defend her Cheez Doodle of a boyfriend. Let's see if we like her as much after a few seasons.
43. Lynne Curtin (RHOC): Like a squirrel on bath salts, Lynne skittered around a couple of seasons without causing much fuss in the group, but her family life was a delightful mess. Not only were her daughters spoiled monsters, they got served eviction papers on camera, a shocking turn for a franchise founded on conspicuous wealth.
42. Eileen Davidson (RHOBH): Often a Housewife will recall a conversation and twist what was said to her advantage. Not Eileen, whose decades of working in soaps have sharpened her memory enough to use it as a weapon, recalling exactly what was said -- and the footage always backs her up. Though meek and mild-mannered by Housewives standards, Eileen is always fair and level-headed, which made her a refreshing change of pace.
41. Aviva Drescher (RHONY): Perhaps the thirstiest of all Housewives (after Jill Zarin), Aviva wanted to make great TV, and went as far as to throw her fake leg at a party. But the best Housewives are authentic, whereas her shenanigans (and her lies about Carole Radziwill using a ghostwriter) always seemed contrived.
40. Lisa Rinna (RHOBH): Like a birthday piñata bursting with crazy observations, this soap opera veteran can be a whole lot of fun, especially when she's breaking wineglasses and lunging for Kim Richards' throat -- but her crusade against Yolanda Foster's Lyme disease seems a little mean and misplaced.
39. Cynthia Bailey (RHOA): For someone who has been at the center of so many feuds in the always-brawling Atlanta chapter, Cynthia sure is dull. She moves up on the list thanks to her amazing hair and that friend contract she made NeNe sign.
38. Yolanda Hadid Foster (RHOBH): One of the chicest dressers in the whole bunch (and mother of legit supermodels Gigi and Bella Hadid), Yolanda was always good for a dose of reality when calmer heads weren't prevailing. But backing Brandi during the worst of her reign and her struggles with Lyme disease have sapped Yolanda’s vitality both on- and offscreen.
37. Alex McCord (RHONY): "You're in high school. And while you're in high school, I'm in Brooklyn... " We'll always have Alex to thank for that, as well as her icy stares and the fleshen shackles she wore in her interviews. But not Simon, her creepy husband who always wanted to be a Housewife more than she did.
36. Dina Manzo (RHONJ): What are Dina and Caroline fighting about? That one mystery -- and her menagerie of hairless cats and deformed animals -- makes the otherwise bland Dina completely fascinating.
35. Jeana Keough (RHOC): She was sort of boring on her initial seasons (though her unruly children were always wonderful to watch, especially dreamboat Shane), but now, whenever Jeana comes back, sparks (and wineglasses) are sure to fly.
34. Taylor Armstrong (RHOBH): The Widow Armstrong brought us one season of psychological fascination with her abusive husband, Russell, who would later kill himself after Season 2 wrapped (but before it aired). Other than the darkest chapter in Housewives history, she had little to offer.
33. Porsha Williams (RHOA): She thought the Underground Railroad was an actual train and shouted the immortal line, "Bye, Ashy!" She was also arrested for assaulting Kenya Moore at a reunion special taping. Never change.
32. Adriana de Moura (RHOM): Miami always needed more excitement, and it almost always came from Adriana, whose irrationality and passion fueled a fire that could never be extinguished.
31. Alexis Bellino (RHOC): You know that friend you don't really like but you keep around because she's really fun to pick on with your other friends when she's not around? That is "Jesus Juggs," one of the easiest targets ever created.
30. Carole Radziwill (RHONY): Carole is both the only Real Housewife ever to appear on Oprah, and the only Real Housewife I would invite over to my house for dinner. She's cool, chic, and can't really be bothered with the drama, even when Aviva brought "Bookgate" to her front door, saying she used a ghostwriter for her book about her husband's death. Always the voice of reason, it's amazing Carole keeps signing up for this mess every year, but New York needs her hipness more than she needs it.
29. Gretchen Rossi (RHOC): She tried a makeup line and a handbag line, and even turning Slade Smiley into a comedian, but nothing ever really took off for Gretchen. Considering she was nothing more than Tamra's punching bag, it's amazing she stuck around for as long as she did. But even now, for some reason, I miss her silly little laugh.
28. Melissa Gorga (RHONJ): "On Display" might be the second-best Housewives single of all time. Melissa is definitely talented, pretty, and like the cool mom who lives down the street. But it's her place as a cog in the machinery of Gorga family dysfunction that makes her irreplaceable.
27. Heather Dubrow (RHOC): Her house may be the most vertiginous collection of luggage rooms and marble bathrooms ever built, but Heather has a very solid foundation and a very affable demeanor. She seems like your best friend at your kid's school, even when she's slicing people to bits.
26. Phaedra Parks (RHOA): When Phaedra Parks sits far back in her seat and drawls an, "Oooh, child," there is nothing more soothing. She's a lawyer, a mortician, and a survivor. She is so confident in herself that no one can ever shake her.
25. Brandi Glanville (RHOBH): No one has gone from underdog to goat faster than Brandi, who was skewered by the Sisters Richards when she was first introduced, but eventually took her "no filter" shtick too far and started lashing out in violent and unpredictable ways. If Bethenny is the good version of unfiltered, Brandi is her evil cousin, cruelty masquerading as honesty.
24. Danielle Staub (RHONJ): It's not very often that you come across an actual sociopath, but this fascinating blob of psychological symptoms eventually became not only too toxic to watch, but too toxic for any of the women to interact with. When she was fired, it was for the best, but she gave us two great seasons of lies and stormy confrontations.
23. Shannon Beador (RHOC): The meltdown of Shannon's marriage and the squirm-inducing road to forgiveness she made her husband travel was fascinating to watch. Remember when she made him tell their young children about his infidelity? I wanted to claw my eyes out, but prop them on the coffee table so I could keep watching. No one is more nakedly vulnerable than Shannon.
22. Kandi Burruss (RHOA): Kandi has always been a low-key powerhouse on the show, arguing with just about everyone on the cast at one time or another, but getting nearly all of them to forgive her. She probably is the most talented of all of the Housewives. She wrote "No Scrubs." End of discussion.
21. Kelly Killoren Bensimon (RHONY): Sure, she was insufferable, but without Kelly, we never would have had Scary Island, "I'm up here and you're down here," or jogging in the middle of traffic. Those three things alone catapult her far higher up the list than she should be.
20. Michaele Salahi (RHODC): Yes, this chapter of the show is better off forgotten, but no Housewife (other than jailbird Teresa) has created national news like this "White House Party Crasher." A fascinating portrait of someone who will do anything for fame, Michaele is also notable for running off with the guitarist from Journey after the show ended. That is seriously next-level Housewifery.
18. Jill Zarin (RHONY): The day that Andy Cohen fired Jill Zarin is the day that her life was ruined. No one gave their all to making their show a dramatic hit quite like Jill, who recruited a number of the women herself and always found ways to keep things spicy. She was at her best as the Frick to Bethenny's Frack when the besties got into all sorts of naughty fun. Sadly, she overplayed her hand when trying to stage a fight with Bethenny, and never recovered.
17. Camille Grammer (RHOBH): Not only did St. Camille of Grammer give us the Dinner Party From Hell, one of the best gatherings of all time, she gave us the unforgettable phrase "morally corrupt Faye Resnick." Camille is also the only Housewife to successfully rehabilitate her image, going from the villain of Season 1 to the savior of Season 2, telling Taylor Armstrong that she needed to face her abusive husband. Then, in the ultimate power move, she walked away from the whole thing at the height of her popularity, now only popping down to Earth for an always-welcome guest appearance.
16. Kim Richards (RHOBH): If there is one Housewife who encapsulates the darkness inside these ladies that can't help but burble to the surface, it's Kim, whose struggles with addiction have always been a part of her story line. If you look at her as a person, she's sad. If you look at her as a Tennessee Williams heroine, she's sad and gorgeous.
15. Lea Black (Real Housewives of Miami): There is something wonderfully daffy about the human caricature that is Lea. While her fight with Adrianna fueled lots of what happened in Miami, it was the silly kerfuffles about Lea’s overinflated yearly gala that made her a constant source of bewildering amusement.
14. Kim Zolciak-Biermann (RHOA): I don't know when the last time you listened to it was, but "Tardy for the Party" is an actual jam. The first and best of all the Housewives singles, Zolciak went from being NeNe's sidekick to the center of her own universe. She only got more likable after she ditched Big Poppa and landed major foxy footballer Kroy Biermann and their own delightful reality sitcom.
13. Caroline Manzo (RHONJ): If there is anyone whom you would want to be your actual mother, it would be this voice of reason and speaker of tough truths. Caroline not only successfully lorded over the ladies of her franchise but her own family as well, leading to their own spinoff. Her presence is still missed in New Jersey.
12. Sheree Whitfield (RHOA): Hands down the best fighter of the Housewives. Whether it’s pulling on Kim Zolciak's wig or getting NeNe to shout, "I'm rich, bitch," this lady knows how to scrap. Don't believe it? Just ask any Housewives fan, "Who is gonna check her boo?" and see their reaction.
11. Sonja Morgan (RHONY): My favorite floozy is always down for a good time, even if drinking a little too much leads to her hooking up with men she might later regret, or slurring about how she used to party with "John John." Sonja has launched more products (a toaster-oven line, a shirt line, a fashion and lifestyle brand, Sonja in the City, etc.) than any other Housewife -- at least in her delightfully delusional mind.
10. Kyle Richards (RHOBH): There is no soul-sucking need-monster Housewife quite like Kyle, but she somehow manages not to see anything outside of her own experience and being down-to-earth at the same time. And those who don't like her love to hate her. It's impossible to imagine what Beverly Hills would look like without her making everyone else's struggles her own.
9. Kenya Moore (RHOA): No one has it figured out like Kenya. She knows how to make reality television a spectacle and give the fans the outsize drama that they want, even if it makes all her other castmates hate her. When she showed up at an event mocking Phaedra Park's barely there bathing suit, she calculated not only that Phaedra's look would become iconic, but that she would become even more iconic for mocking it. Also, Beyoncé once called her signature line "Gone with the Wind fabulous." If she's good enough for Queen B, she's good enough for us.
8. Luann de Lesseps (RHONY): The Countess taught us that elegance is learned, but it seems like this faux-royalty was born with the ability to amuse us. While she can be infuriatingly prim on some occasions, when LuAnn lets her hair down and tells us all to "be cool, not all, like, uncool" while wearing her hangover glasses, how can we not listen? And let’s not forget the time she got caught trying to lie about hooking up with a Johnny Depp look-alike she picked up on vacation. There's a reason the Countess has been around so long and is still going strong.
7. Vicki Gunvalson (RHOC): The "OG of the O.C." has to be given props for starting the whole shebang and sticking with it for 10 long years. While Vicki is undeniably good at her job, she can often be grating and ridiculous in a bad way (as opposed to ridiculous in a good way, like Ramona). Vicki is also responsible for the long national nightmare that is her ex-boyfriend, the grifter Brooks Ayers, who lied about having cancer. Plus, Vicki gets extra credit for her daughter Brianna, the only actual human being to appear regularly on any of these shows.
6. Ramona Singer (RHONY): Ramona Singer is like a hyperactive child who can't possibly get her hands on enough pinot grigio. She's irrational, infuriating, and absolutely captivating to behold. Always ready to go on a tear and only seeing the world through the prism of herself, Ramona was made for television, and we're lucky to be along for the journey, whether it's Turtle Time or she and Sonja Morgan are hunting for men at Beautique.
5. Tamra Judge (RHOC): Though she hasn't been on quite as long as Vicki Gunvalson, in my opinion, Tamra is the ultimate O.C. Housewife. Tamra's gym is a bigger business than any the other orange clutchers have attempted. Her asking her ex-husband to get a divorce in the back of a limo is still one of the best moments of all time. But Tamra's real strength is her longevity. She always finds herself a story line, whether it’s feuding with Gretchen Rossi or converting to Christianity. She'll shift alliances on a dime just to stay relevant, and she will scream down a former friend as quickly as she'll embrace a foe.
4. Lisa Vanderpump (RHOBH): Lisa pulls off the amazing feat of living in an enormous estate in one of the nation's toniest zip codes with six swans, two mini ponies, nearly a dozen dogs, and one devoted and doddering husband, while still coming across as relatable. She also lords over the popular Vanderpump Rules series, and her three LA restaurants (Pump, S.U.R., and Villa Blanca) are constantly bumping with tourists looking to get a glimpse of her and her fabulous lifestyle.
Lisa has certainly built an empire, but her role as a low-key master manipulator means that she's responsible for more of the show's memorable moments behind the scenes than the big, flashy conflagrations in front of the camera.
3. NeNe Leakes (RHOA): Blonk! Bleep! Blorp! I'm rich, bitch! NeNe is the grand dame of the franchise’s highest-rated program, a walking catchphrase factory and a whole mountain of fun -- at least in her early seasons, when she was slightly unhinged but still relatable. After being cast on Glee, The New Normal, and Celebrity Apprentice (where her feud with Star Jones was absolutely legendary), NeNe started to believe her own hype a little too much. She left the show that made her to prove that a season without her is not a season worth having.
2. Bethenny Frankel (RHONY): Bethenny started the series single and without a penny. She has now been married, had a child, gotten divorced, started a Skinnygirl branding empire, starred in a spinoff, ended a spinoff, gotten a talk show, ended a talk show, and, finally, returned to the show that started it all. This time around, she's wiser and brasher than ever.
Bethenny can see through anyone's bullshit and cut them to the quick with a single offhand remark. She has shouted for Kelly Killoren Bensimon to go to bed, cried on the sidewalk after fighting with Jill Zarin, and pissed in a champagne bucket in her wedding dress. Bethenny has lived her entire life before the cameras, and no one has mastered the art of a televised evolution as well as she has.
1. Teresa Giudice (RHONJ): This is going to be controversial, but Teresa ticks off every single box for what makes an exemplary Housewife. Her signature moment, flipping the table while screaming "prostitution whore" at Danielle Staub, is debatably the defining moment of the entire franchise. However, Teresa is also responsible for instigating the brawl with Danielle at the Posche Fashion Show, the brawl at her nephew's christening, and the brawl at the reunion where she shoved Housewives founding father Andy Cohen.
She has a successful line of cookbooks and other sundry products, and a legion of loyal (if deranged) fans, and New Jersey is now wholly based on her family squabbles. And, of course, Teresa made national news when sentenced to a year in prison for bankruptcy and wire fraud, ostensibly for getting more money so that she could keep up the illusion of wealth that being on the show requires. No sitting reality star has ever gone to and from a penitentiary. Teresa may not be a very good person (and is certainly not an intelligent one), but no one else espouses the various skills required to make excellent reality television quite like she does.
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Brian Moylan is a writer and Real Housewives anthropologist. He is currently the US Television Columnist at The Guardian, and his work has appeared in Vice, Gawker, New York Magazine, and Time. He would like to thank God, his mother, and Meryl Streep for this honor. Find him on Twitter @BrianJMoylan.