Game Of Crowns - Season 1

 It’s go time! In Game of Crowns’ preview special, we were introduced to the cast of middle-aged, um, beauty queens who are in contention for this season’s Mrs. America pageant. Here’s the formula for this show: Toddlers and Tiaras, plus 40 years, minus any Trace of Youthful Innocence, plus Plastic Surgery = Game of Crowns! Let’s get started.

We open at Shelley Carbone’s Connecticut house, where she’s practicing saying the word, “prestigious” in the mirror while wearing a crown and sash. Fellow former competitor Vanassa Sebastian arrives, blinking and smiling as much as her frozen facial features allow. She reminds us that she is a certified nurse anesthetist and puts people to sleep for a living. Vanassa asks the viewers, “What other Mrs. America contestant can say that they pass gas for a living?” Groan.

The women commence trying on crowns & reminiscing about their friendship blooming back in the day when they competed against each other in a previous pageant that, Shelley reminds us, she won and Vanassa lost. Since then, they’ve become besties! I get the feeling that Shelley likes her besties solidly grounded…in fourth place. Vanassa has taken some time away from pageants in the past few years to fight her breast cancer, which she is in remission from at the moment (yay!), but she is back to support new competitor Susanna Paliotta in her tryouts at “Tri” (I’m not up on the lingo yet, but am guessing this is a Tri-state/city/county competition to determine who goes forward to compete in Mrs. America, proper??). Vanassa, I’m sure, will be nothing but a supportive, stabilizing, warm, fuzzy wind-beneath-the-wings type of mama bear to Susanna as the competition rolls happily along. Mmmm hmmm. Yessiree.

Speaking of Susanna, we are introduced to her whilst she is fixing a shoe in her hallway. Dignified. She explains how her daughter Bella has won a bazillion kiddie pageants by pulling moves like “the pouty face” and the “no, no, no,” complete with finger wagging (which she demonstrates for us because I’m sure she’s been doing these moves in the audience of Bella’s “talent” routines for years & has perfected them in all of their grotesque kiddie pageant glory). Not sure these, er, tools will be useful in Susanna’s new big-girl pageant, but then again, what do I know? Susanna is spicy, she reminds us.

Next scene finds Susanna in a practice round of some sort where many middle-aged women prance on stage in ill-fitting dresses. Susanna is wearing a warm-up velour sweat suit and I kind of love her for that. It looks like a Dress Barn exploded on this stage and she was the only one not hit. Good on ya, Suze. The contestant manager (I’m awarding the woman in the eggplant dress that title all on my own!) instructs the women that they can walk and pose or pose and walk…or whatever. Susanna chants, “Face. Fierce.” to herself as she walks/poses/whatever and I am just happy that she is not busting out the “no, no, no” at this point.

Clarification time! This is Mrs. Tri-State after all. Leha Guilmette, former Mrs. Rhode Island winner, shows up to support Susanna (Susanna has mad supporters, yo!), and to tell us how busy her schedule is now that she is a beauty queen. Seven appearances a week as Mrs. RI are what her world looks like these days. Susanna sits down in front of an interview panel who are dressed slightly better than the contestants in our practice round and promptly tells them she is a private pilot. What the what! She also showcases the four languages she speaks in front of the panel. Some languages, let’s say, are showcased better than others. She tells us that interviews, for her, are all about “speaking eloquent.” English is one of her four languages. Annnnnnd scene.

Here comes Shelley and Vanassa to support Susanna too! We’re treated to a quick shot of the sparkly crowns deposited nearby on some sort of shiny table bunting. These crowns have power, but they look so innocent right now…I think we’re supposed to muse. I can only wonder, how much did that table bunting cost at Party City? Cut to Shelley greeting Lynne Diamante, who apparently refers to herself as a “Triple Crown Winner,” which Shelley snarks is a title more befitting horses. Lynne, the resident TCW, is still living vicariously through her crowns from the 1980s, Vanassa snarks. Vanassa also claims that any crowns Lynne has won were bought (not earned by walking and posing and eloquenting!) with a check. Wow! Lynne’s got some haters out there.

Now we see Shelley and Vanassa in more official capacities performing the opening ceremonies on stage before a sea of old ladies and creepy looking men the esteemed audience. Shelley’s hours of carefully practicing the word, “prestigious” earlier did not pay off, let’s just say. New competitor Lori-Ann is in the audience and Vanassa reminds us that even though Lori-Ann may be here to compete in a beauty pageant, her wheelhouse has been – and will always be – fitness competitions. Lori-Ann smiles and seal-claps with glee in the audience as the show begins.

Next up: swimsuits! Susanna tells us that she eats pasta four nights a week, doesn’t work out, and still looks great in a swimsuit. She does look great, but I am not loving her for her comments. Leha, who formerly lost 70 pounds before entering the pageant world, would not be loving these comments either, no doubt. Vanassa, Lynne, and Shelley are stone cold wenches for their nasty comments about some of the other womens’ bodies (“She should walk backwards”) during the swimsuit portion. Commenting on these womens’ questionable choices in ensemble, hairdo, or ridiculous answers to questions: yes, please. Commenting on their body types like a swarm of middle school bullies: no, thank you.

So, moving back to questionable choices in the ensemble category, we’re now treated to a quick glimpse of the evening gown portion of the show. Susanna is decked out in some sort of Elizabeth Taylor Grecian goddess annnnnnnd…she WINS!! Shelley says that Susanna is aspiring to be “one of us” with this win, but until she goes to a national pageant, she’s not. As Queen Bee, Shelley is going to be giving us a lot of RHOA Phaedra Parks-like, “Everybody knows” statements throughout this mess, I predict.

Over at Lynne’s house, Leha comes a callin’. Yessss!!! We are once again treated – TREATED, I say! – to the awesomely bad photo/painting (which IS it?? I must know!) of a very pregnant Lynne and her hubby caressing her very pregnant belly. This wall feature measures about 3 x 5 feet, but takes up significantly more space in my brain. I cannot stop thinking about this image. I picture the Bravo cameramen panning across this gem in their initial assessment of Lynne’s home and whispering, “thank you, Jesus” while simultaneously taking extra hip shots of it rapid fire style with their camera phones. Lynne tells us that she considers herself a pageant matriarch, then offers Leha cupcakes, which Leha cannot eat lest she gain weight. Leha practices a healthy, fit lifestyle and with her 70 pound weight loss this past year, she’s not taking any chances on Lynne’s nasty cupcakes from Stop-n-Shop.

We’re back in Connecticut at Vanassa’s house where Lori-Ann Marchese (who is related to RHONJ newbie Amber Marchese) is trying out her, um, costume in front of Vanassa and Shelley. They openly gag at Lori-Ann’s choice of “Red Robin” attire; it looks something like strips of feathered fabric hanging limply from her arms and a bedazzled red bikini. Vanassa comments that Lori-Ann does not have the sophistication required to truly represent Mrs. America. Lori-Ann is a fitness competitor and is not used to the level of sophistication that these has-been ladies require, people! Vanassa immediately forces Lori-Ann to look at her costume of pageants past, for which she won “best costume” no less! It is some sort of jeweled mini-skirt and full feathered headdress that Vanassa claims represents the dignity and cultural history befitting her Native American heritage. (Am I the only one cringing over here watching her say these things!?) The fact that Lori-Ann tries this ridiculousness on and walks around Vanassa’s closet in it may be even more cringe worthy, but I don’t know…my cringe-o-meter may be permanently compromised at this point.

Moving on to other misguided costume choices, Leha shows Lynne her “Sexy Uncle Sam” getup and confesses her bikini top is a bit on the small side and may be too risque’ for the judges. Lynne may be of little help in tamping down worries about cleavage though, as she depends upon hers – as well as her blue hair extensions – to carry her into the next millennium of Mrs. Pageants. Leha is out to dinner with her family where we find out she and her cop husband Nick have been together since the sixth grade. Wowza. Her job is demanding, she says, and taking care of her family is becoming more challenging, so Nick has to pick up the slack.

Susanna is ready for her first interview as Mrs. Tri-State! She brings her husband Antonio along to the, ahem, prestigious “Bob Show.” She actually says it’s a big deal to book this show because her daughter never booked it. And I have to stop typing for a moment to say a little prayer that her daughter does not become a convicted felon having been raised thus far by a mother who is literally in pageant competition AGAINST her. Therapists of Bella’s future: set your DVR’s to this show immediately for backstory!! Adorned in crown and sash, Susanna blathers on to Bob while he spends his time slurping his big gulp and cuing his sad music band to close the show with some song about whiskey and women. This segment was brought to you by the letter “P” for Prestigious, ladies and gentlemen. A word that, even if they can’t pronounce it or understand its dictionary definition, is used by these women frequently.

Back at Lori-Ann’s house, we see her husband John “helping” her get ready for her Mrs. Pageant departure. We learn that Lori-Ann met John when she was 16 and he was 22, so yeah. Gross. Commence the cuchini discussion! Ok, let’s travel here together, folks. A cuchini is an, um, item that one places in front of one’s crotch region to avoid the dreaded camel toe. Cuchini’s tag line on their website is: “Our lips are sealed.” I will never, never, never watch a swimsuit competition in the same way again. Once you hear the word “cuchini,” you cannot unhear it. Once seen, it cannot be unseen. Meanwhile, Leha is back at her house making sure she has all of her accoutrement, such as butt spray, ready for her trip.

The ladies arrive in Tucson, Arizona two days before the pageant begins. Leha remarks that Lori-Ann has no idea what she’s getting herself into while Lori-Ann reports that the Mrs. America pageant can be summed up in three words: uptight, conservative, and diaper. Yet again, I think this phrase could encapsulate so much more than Lori-Ann means it to and I love her for saying it. Metaphors aside, Lori-Ann is more concerned with the full-coverage bathing suit she’s been assigned to say “See you tomorrow!” in like a hundred times. She wants a sequined g-string to walk and pose and pose and walk in, people! She also is not a fan of swamp ass, apparently, which the desert is giving her. She needs an ass-chini, perhaps?


Back at Susanna’s house, we’re treated to the beginning of Hideous Strapless Matching Jumpsuits-Gate as Susanna confesses to Vanassa on the phone that they will be wearing the same exact terrible fashion choice on the flight to Arizona. Shouldn’t be a problem, right? Vanassa is livid as they stand in the airport looking like rejects from an old-lady backup dance troupe. Confrontation time! Vanassa accuses Susanna of wanting to be “relevant” by copying her (is it just me or does every reality star on the planet accuse every other reality star of trying to be relevant as the ultimate insult? It’s like rule one in the playbook of asinine reality star accusations, I guess).

Back in AZ, the contestants are donning pink sequined cowgirl hats and sashes while a tour guide shows native desert plant life to them. He tries to explain to these Mensa candidates that they need to stay hydrated in the desert. They stare blankly back at him, trying to comprehend the word “hy-dray-ted” (??). He then plucks a poisonous berry from a nearby bush and commences eating it in order to escape this moment forever!! Well, no, but I would.

In a similar circle of hell back in the airport, the Jumpsuit Twins are still fighting about WHO’s TRYING TO BE RELEVANT! Accusations of wonky eye, botched boob jobs, fame whoring, and general washed-up beauty queen status are thrown. Vanassa grabs the botched boob job insult with both hands and posits that no one should question the botched boob job of a breast cancer survivor! Susanna pipes up that this is all about a stupid outfit. Vanassa screams something about relevance again and Susanna tells us that her opinion of Vanassa has permanently changed because she is classless. Shelley claims to be embarrassed by the whole airport scene and just longs for more suitable attention and all-eyes-on-her moment while she lays by the pool in Arizona with a drink in her hand. She of the black strapless jumpsuit and chunky Chico’s jewelry is above the fray in her mind it seems.

Next time on Game of Crowns get ready for more bad-matching-outfit fallout, fake apologies, the debut of the Forty Footer (yasss!), and the beginning of fake death threats!!! No mention of the status of Lori-Ann’s swamp ass situation, but a girl can dream…  

Recap Author: Erin M.


Photo Credit: Alex Martinez/Bravo and Twitter