The Ultimatum‘s Vanessa Never Meant to Be the Villain
If there’s one thing Vanessa Papa would change about her experience on The Ultimatum: Queer Love, it’s to not be so naïve. Speaking with StyleCaster ahead of the show’s May 24 launch on Netflix, the Los Angeles local—by way of New Jersey; she moved right before the pandemic hit—explains that having everything you say and do under a microscope is a unique experience and nothing can fully prepare you for it. “I think until you’re on a reality show, you’ll never really know what it’s like. I don’t think I can even explain it,” she says. “But I will say that I don’t think anyone there had ever been filmed as much as we were filmed. … It was new to everyone where you can’t just willy-nilly say something. And I think there’s a weight to that you don’t realize until you’re in the situation.”
Pretty quickly, the show establishes Vanessa as The Villain; reality TV fans will know that there’s at least one in every show. Whether that role is justified is up to the viewer, but it’s certainly not the role Vanessa signed up for. “I was totally shocked,” she says, “[but] I felt it happening as we were filming.”
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She continued: “I will say this: I look back at the experience in my own mind and also on camera, and I don’t see myself as a mean person. I take a lot of pride in that. I don’t think I was making too many judgments about other people. I kept telling Rae during our trial marriage that people were hating on me every day and it was really stressful. She saw a lot of my anxiety about that. I just kept saying, ‘I just give everyone a lot of slack, because we’re all going through a hard time.’ I don’t think anyone gave me that same slack.”
StyleCaster spoke with Vanessa about her clash with Lexi and what she’s learned since the show wrapped.
Did you think about the significance of this show, being an LGBTQ+ dating show, going in?
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I did. I have found a lot of love in the queer community in my adult life. And I have had a really wonderful experience coming out. I was terrified to do it and had no idea how everyone would react, but it was amazing for me.
I see so many stories where people struggle for various reasons and I want to somehow help them feel included and seen. Being a part of this queer cast gives people who are struggling—or maybe they’re not struggling, and they’re just out and proud—it gives them a reference of ‘Oh, look, we are just as normal and also as crazy as other people. I just wanted people to feel seen.
What sort of emotions did you have going into the show—a “shit show,” as you describe it?
I was really excited to meet queer people. I didn’t at the time have much of a queer community so I was just thrilled at the thought of being able to spend time there. I thought we were all going to be friends, I really did. I was really excited above everything else.
I also felt very secure in my relationship going into the show. So, I don’t think there was too much fear involved because I really didn’t think I didn’t think that either of us would fall in love. I truly thought, with Xander giving me the ultimatum, I thought she was sure about me. Now it’s up to me to either, like, take that final plunge or say like, ‘I can’t do it’. So, I was naïve. Excited and naïve.
How do you feel about the concept of marriage now? Because it seems going into the show, you weren’t so sure it was for you.
Marriage is something I grew up with, and I think most people grew up with, that it’s the end goal of a relationship. For me, I’ve never really been about meeting traditional goals. It’s more like if someone wants to marry me, I really want to feel like they see me as such a treasure in their life and they’re like, ‘I want you with me forever. What can I do to make that happen?’
For marriage to be a real promise to grow together and to keep choosing each other, not just like, ‘We’ve been dating for three years, we should get married.’ I want it to feel real. So, I think that was a big hesitation of mine. I didn’t necessarily feel that and if I do feel that from a partner in the future, I’m absolutely open to getting married.
I wasn’t very thrilled about getting grilled about that in front of the group by Lexi; I don’t think that was appropriate.
Lexi seemed suspicious of your motives for going on the show. What sort of time have you spent reflecting on that?
I always knew my motives. This was certainly the situation my partner and I were in: She wanted to get married, and I didn’t. And it was strangely serendipitous. Once my partner and I were on board, it was just like, ‘This feels great.’ We both needed a resolution to the question that had been looming over us for years and years, and neither of us really wanted to face it. I don’t think she wanted to lose me if I said ‘no’ and I didn’t want to lose her. We just never really hunkered down and figured it out. That’s what this experience was meant to be.
The whole premise of this show was to try other people on for size, so to speak. Were you surprised by how the group and Lexi reacted so negatively to you and Rae hooking up?
I wasn’t surprised because, at that point, I was already not everyone’s favorite, right? I will say this too, that I wasn’t very thrilled about getting grilled about that in front of the group by Lexi; I don’t think that was appropriate.
You can see how Rae reacted and was kind enough to hide that from Xander and allow me to talk to Xander one on one. So I was not happy. But it wasn’t a situation I could get out of because Lexi was very much grilling me. Everyone was on her side asking us to tell them the details.
I look back on that and I just don’t think that was an OK situation. But I think she was pissed, you know? And this is the girl she loves, the girl she wants to marry and here’s a girl she doesn’t like and I had this experience with her. I thought it would bring her some relief to tell her that we’re not falling in love, though. It was we were drunk and we had fun and ultimately felt like we didn’t need to do it. But that made Lexi even more angry because she wanted that if it was gonna happen, it needed to be with love. I don’t know. I think she was going through a hard time with it. And I empathize.
Have you and Lexi spoken since?
She won’t even look me in the eyes! And once Rae moved back in with her, Rae doesn’t talk to me anymore. So it’s pretty sad. I love Rae, so that was a sad thing for me.
Looking back on your time, is there anything you’d change?
Yeah, I think going back into it, I would have prepared myself mentally beforehand for all possibilities because I was really naïve going into it. I really just thought: Xander loves me, she’s told me this, she’s giving me the ultimatum, she’s sure about me and I was naïve. I would have prepared myself a little bit more so that all my raw emotions weren’t being thrown out during our filming.
The Ultimatum: Queer Love is streaming now on Netflix.
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