FOREVER HOOKED

Why We Still Keep Up With the Kardashians, Ten Years Later

The “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” ten-year anniversary special proved yet again why America can’t take its eyes off this family and the empire they’ve built.

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Kris Jenner is catching up with her old friend Ryan Seacrest, the white of their shiny marble surroundings bringing out the ivory in her power suit and the blinding intensity of his veneers. Jenner laughs with the pure joy of someone who’s being paid to sit in a fake living room and talk about herself. “I probably have the best home videos in the entire universe,” she jokes, reflecting on the ten years of Kardashian family memories that have been caught in the amber of Ryan Seacrest Productions, preserved for posterity and loyal weekly viewers of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Watching Jenner and Seacrest reminisce, it’s easy to mistake their business partnership for an old friendship, or their semi-candid conversation for natural rapport.

After all, these two unfathomably wealthy, freakishly youthful-looking trash TV visionaries both make a living performing their appeal. Jenner has built an entire empire on, if not likability, then that un-nameable quality that makes some human beings more attention-worthy than others. Or maybe it’s less mysterious than that, a combinations of characteristics—beauty, quirkiness, transparency, good humor, a petty streak—that conspire to make the Kardashian family and their namesake reality TV show so damn watchable. While Keeping Up With the Kardashians owes its DNA to The Brady Bunch, it owes its uniquely charismatic cast to Kris Jenner. She signed them up for TV, managed their careers, and groomed each and every one of them for superstardom. She also gave birth to them.

On Friday, TMZ broke the news that Kylie Jenner, Kris’s youngest daughter, is expecting. While the surprise pregnancy may seem ill-timed—after all, Kylie is only 20 years old, and has been dating the father of her child for just half a year—the massive tabloid reveal reeked of Kardashian brand synergy. Even if Kris Jenner didn’t deliberately leak the Kylie Jenner pregnancy story two days before her reality show’s ten year anniversary special, she certainly wasn’t complaining.

Over the past ten years, we’ve gotten to know Kris in her capacity as “momager,” juggling her increasingly famous daughters’ professional commitments and their personal crises (which are then shot, edited, and aired for the world’s viewing pleasure). In over 160 countries across the world, audiences can keep up with this celebrity brood, an active engagement that in turn boosts their international celebrity. In a decade, Kim Kardashian, Jenner’s flagship famous daughter, has been elevated from a C-lister with a reality TV show to a worldwide phenomenon who covers magazines, launches businesses and boasts an A-list romance and an aspirational family life.

The fact that Kim does all of these things with Keeping Up With the Kardashians cameras by her side is practically a footnote. Numerous PR gaffes and appropriation scandals aside, the Kardashian family has maintained a remarkably upward trajectory, with each sister carving out a niche brand as well as a place for herself in the social media influencer market. With the Kardashian progeny at peak profitability, this is the perfect moment to reflect on the house that Kris Jenner built—not just the pristinely decorated, photogenic family mansion in Calabasas, but the celebrity empire that’s emerged from one humble little E! reality show.

During Sunday night’s 90-minute “Keeping Up with the Kardashians 10 Year Anniversary Special,” the 61-year-old mother of six assumed the role of a queen surveying her kingdom. Of course, no one, not even Kris Jenner, could have predicted the zany day-to-day of the Kardashian decade, which has included a number of grandchildren, multiple fairytale weddings, Kris’s divorce, Caitlyn’s transition, Rob’s chaos, and that time Kourtney fed her family “placenta.” Unsurprisingly, Sunday night’s special was mostly dedicated to montages marked “ride or die” and “ridiculousness”—nostalgia trips through the adventures, careers, fights, inside jokes and trying moments that have defined the core cast.

Throughout the taped reminiscences, Kardashians were called upon to weigh in. The most interesting moments emerged when the sisters discussed their current and past romantic relationships aka “A plots.” After a personalized montage which was mostly dedicated to Khloé’s body image insecurities—quite rude—Khloé explained between sips of complimentary champagne that she’s currently splitting her time between Cleveland, where her boyfriend Tristan Thompson plays for the Cavaliers, and Los Angeles. She also detailed how she and Tristan met, set up on a blind date by their mutual friend Brandon Jennings.

Next, KUWTK’s longest-standing, most volatile couple, Kourtney and Scott Disick, were put on the spot to discuss their co-parenting arrangement and the omnipresent rumors of a romantic reconciliation. Kourtney swore they’ve never once relapsed since their most recent break-up two years ago, with Scott insisting, “She’s the only person I’ve ever loved in my entire life,” adding, “I try to fuck her like once a week.” When asked by Seacrest if he dates other women, Disick responded “no” but with a wink, with Kim offering her opinion that it’s more “boning” than dating. Funny, considering Disick’s recently confirmed relationship with 19-year-old Sofia Richie.

Kim Kardashian also dished on her marriage to rapper Kanye West, including his courtship of her and their surprise first pregnancy (choice revelation: Kendall was the last Kardashian to learn Kim was pregnant, about a month after the rest of the family). “I was about to freeze my eggs and then I remember I randomly got pregnant and called him, and he thought a family member of mine had died I was so hysterical, I thought my life was over,” Kardashian recalled, adding, “and then obviously it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Without the drama of a huge reveal (no, Kylie’s pregnancy is not discussed)

or a cast-wide controversy, this couch-ridden special was relatively tame—albeit much improved by taped appearances from weirdo side characters like Jonathan Cheban and the elusive Todd Kraines. We were also gifted with exclusive insight courtesy of interviews with crew members and producers, who detailed their close relationships and funniest run-ins with the Kardashian cast. As befitting the highly polished franchise, this special was masterfully edited in the style of pseudo-transparency that KUWTK does best. While the finished product was undoubtedly culled from hours of recordings, with each cast member carefully coached in what montage or line of questioning was to come, the overall effect was one of honesty and spontaneity, with cameras following the Kardashians as they absentmindedly chatted backstage, or zooming in on Ryan Seacrest getting briefed on the next segment.

In this post-UnREAL reality TV era, this sort of backstage, behind-the-scenes vibe is par for the course—a way of conjuring up the air of full transparency audiences now think that they deserve. While reality TV shows will only ever offer an illusion of reality, the “Keeping Up with the Kardashians 10 Year Anniversary Special” proved yet again that the Kardashians still come the closest to exposing their authentic selves on camera, whether it’s Kim jokingly thanking Ryan Seacrest “for the career” or the cast discussing how they navigated Caitlyn Jenner coming out to them as trans, knowing that the conversation would eventually be used to inform and educate a larger television audience.

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When Kylie Jenner admitted, late in the special, that she “can’t even remember a time before Keeping Up,” it was a strange reminder of the generational divide on screen, between the women who created a reality TV empire and the girls who were bred for it. “I remember my mom asking us, or telling us what was going to happen,” Kendall added. Another reminder for all Kardashian fans, as well as those who only tuned in for a glimpse at Kylie Jenner’s baby bump—this is Kris Jenner’s world, and the rest of us are just living in it.