“The original HBIC is here, bitches!,” Tiffany “New York” Pollard proclaims, sauntering into the frame and showing off her fresh pedicure. So begins her introduction on House of Villains, E!‘s latest reality TV series assembling a motley crew of the genre’s classic antagonists, including Vanderpump Rules’ Jax Taylor, The Bachelor‘s Corinne Olympios, and 90 Day Fiancé‘s Anfisa Arkhipchenko.
As a contestant on two seasons of VH1‘s Flavor of Love, as well as her very own spinoff series I Love New York, Pollard was a standout, stealing the show with her legendary one-liners, high-octane lewks, and memorable altercations with the other contestants (the footage of her altercation with Pumkin, resulting in a slo-mo loogie the likes of which reality TV had never seen, still has the power to rankle sensitive stomachs).
There was something about her indefatigable willingness to get back in the ring and duke it out for Flavor Flav that seemed like nothing less than a reflection of the strength of the human spirit; she always seemed like a true believer in love, even though love continuously kicked her ass. And while that quality lives on in Pollard’s second life as a constant presence in reaction GIFs and internet culture ephemera — who could forget her shriek of glee when Schatar “Hottie” Sapphira compared herself to Beyoncé? Or her proclamation that “when I make these motherfuckers cum, I do it with my heart?” Or the sitting-on-the-bed meme? — House of Villains gives her ample opportunity to shine.
As a longtime mega-fan of Pollard’s (to the degree that I wrote a freshman journalism seminar thesis about I Love New York, and a terrible screenplay inspired by her called L.A. Is My Lady), I was thrilled to see Pollard back on the small screen. Rolling Stone caught up with her to discuss House of Villains, the Spit Seen ‘Round the World, what your favorite reality villains are really like offscreen, and the one TV star she truly hates (it’s not who you’d think).
How did you feel when you got the call to be on a show about villains? Do you consider yourself a villain?
I was super excited when I got the call from E!, of course, because I love that network. Hello! But then at the same time, I’m like, “OK, are you a villain, Tiffany?” I can be villainous. It made sense. I just definitely wanted to be on the show. Because I couldn’t imagine sitting at home watching it and not being a part of it.
Did you know any of the villains beforehand? Do all of the reality TV show villains hang out in bars in L.A.?
In a perfect world, I’m sure we would. But, you know, ego-tripping and things like that. Everybody wants to be the bigger villain. So getting together under one roof is something that actually had to be cast, because I don’t think that that would be a regular occurrence.
So you’d never met any of the villains before?
Well, you know what, I did know Omarosa [Manigault Newman, from The Apprentice]. And I felt like I knew Bobby Lytes [from Love and Hip-Hop] because he did approach me to host his reunion show at one point, but I wasn’t able to do it.
Who did you get along with best in the house? And who did you not get along with at all?
I definitely got along with my roommate, Corinne [Olympios, from The Bachelor], right off the bat. She was amazing. So we linked up and became roommates right away. And the person that I kind of bumped heads with the most is a tie between Johnny Bananas [from The Challenge] and Tanisha [Thomas, from Bad Girls Club].
Why is that?
Because these two are super, super competitive. They don’t mind coming in the room and creating a tone, if you will. And I’ll leave it like that. I mean, I don’t want to say too much, but one of them — and I’ll leave you guessing who — but of the two of them, one of them told me to not even say good morning to them when I entered the room. They’re like, “Please don’t even speak to me.” If that gives you an idea of what I had to put up with.
Which villain in the house would you say is most like their on-screen persona?
Oh, definitely Omarosa.
Yes. She does not stray from her formula. You know, she just kept on that villainous energy and she stays that way the whole complete time. And it’s so fascinating to watch. The other castmates drink her Kool Aid and she just had everybody under a spell… except me, of course. She was definitely a puppet master and a wrangler, I would say that. I would just sit back in the corner and just watch it. She literally had everybody under her thumb or had them where she needed them to play the game. It was puppet-mastering without others knowing it. But I was slick enough to watch it to see what was going on.
The villains span about two decades of reality TV. Was there a divide between the old school villains and the younger villains in the house?
I definitely think there was a pecking order in the house without even trying to deliberately create it. You have someone like Jonny Fairplay from Survivor — he’s gonna let you know his ranking. Omarosa, too, she’s gonna get upset if you don’t know exactly when she started her long reality television ride. So I felt like the newbies had to do their research and their homework so they can give certain respects to the OGs, for sure.
Overall, I would say the first two episodes seem to show a softer side of New York than what we’ve seen. Do you think that’s true?
I never really go into a situation like this and think it through too much. But I just didn’t have any reasoning for the claws to come out. I didn’t want to create any type of waves or conflicts unnecessarily for myself. And plus, this being a competition type of situation, I did not want to do too much too soon and get sent home, because you definitely need to make an alliance or two or three, if you want to last.
How do you think reality TV villains differ from reality TV show heroes offscreen? What do you think they’re like when they’re not in front of the cameras?
Honestly, I don’t really know if there is a difference. And that’s one of the things that really blew my mind: I had got into a beautiful mansion, and I was there with other villains and spending time with them or bumping into them and having solo conversations, and we had so much in common. The villains and heroes, I would say, are interchangeable, for sure, for sure. Because I can be both.
Is there a reality show hero or protagonist, somebody who has a really good reputation that you’ve met who was just a terror off-screen?
Oh, my goodness, I would say Natalie Nunn [from Bad Girls Club]. We had a little run-in before. We had a little situation where we met at a club and I kind of gave her the cold shoulder. She was upset. She went to social media and blew it all out of proportion. But this was years ago. So now we both kind of like made up and have respect for each other.
You’ve been considered a villain for almost 20 years on on TV. Was it ever hard for you to be considered that way in the public eye?
Well, you know what it is, I spend so much time with myself that no one knows me better than I do. So it’s not a label that I continuously put in the forefront before I do anything. But if people perceive me to be a villain, it’s not so bad. Because being a villain, you have to be strong, you have to have some level of competence. So it’s actually more like a badge of honor.
Do you feel like people focus on the villainy aspect of you too much and less on your other accomplishments, like being essentially the first Black bachelorette in TV history?
Thank you for saying that. I do get a lot of credit for that via social media, and that feels really, really good. But do I feel like I get my flowers enough, so I’m not just labeled as a villain? See, that’s the side of it that I would have to say, no, I don’t get enough credit for that. It’s always for the read or somebody that I put in their place or something like that. And that’s not always the case with me.
You’ve had something of a renaissance on the internet. What’s your favorite meme of yours? Do you ever send people your own memes?
It’s so funny — people send me my memes all the time. But I try not to send my own things because I’m like, “OK, Tiff, now you’re just out of control. You’re just taking this way too far.” But my favorite one would have to be me on the bed. That’s perfect communication. It says so many things without saying anything.
Do you think Beyoncé has seen the Beyoncé meme?
I would say so. I’m sure Beyoncé has seen the Beyoncé meme.
Do you think she thinks it’s funny?
I would say Beyoncé laughed or chuckled at that meme at least once. How could she not smirk, at least? At least she gave me a smirk.
Are there any memes that you like less than others? Where you’re like, well actually, that wasn’t a very fun moment for me?
That would be the spit heard from around the world. You can see that long loogie flying full of spit. It was so disgusting. It’s just one of those things that happened and is gonna be etched in my memory forever. So yeah, that one really grosses me out.
It seems like you both were extremely genuinely upset at the moment. Is that accurate?
Oh my gosh, totally. Totally. I remember that like it was yesterday. We wanted to literally fight each other. So when she spit, it caught me so off guard. I’m expecting to use our fists, and pull some hair and all that good stuff. But that just really froze me. It was so unexpected.
Did it look like that in real life, with that arc?
[Laughs] I don’t think I saw it coming at me, but I definitely felt it. Some people were speculating that it was edited. I don’t think that was edited at all. I think that is the accurate amount that was left in my hair. It was so gross.
Have you talked to Pumkin in recent years?
I have not spoken to her. There’s been situations where we were supposed to go up and do some things on camera and have sit-downs and all this kind of stuff and relive those moments and talk about it and get it all out. She was open to it, but then she declined a few times. So it’s just been that kind of back and forth.
Why do you think she declined?
It doesn’t help when fans get into the mix and go, “Tiff’s gonna kill you,” or “Tiff’s gonna jump on you,” or “You better beat her ass for what she did.” When you build it up like that, of course, she’s gonna be like, “Why show up”?
I mean, having watched House of Villains, and having talked to you for a bit, it just doesn’t seem like you would do that either. You seem much more mellow than you appeared on [Flavor of Love]. Is that accurate?
Well — [Laughs] — being 23, being in a competition, looking for love, OK? Flashback. Cut to now — I mean, if I saw her we wouldn’t be embracing one another. I would definitely go back into that moment and say, “Why did you do that? How could you do that?” I would have questions for sure. We’re not gonna go out and get coffee, that’s for sure.
Do you still talk to Flav at all?
I don’t talk to Flav. About four years ago, we did a little bit of an episode project together on Braxton Family Values. He’s moved on. Obviously, I’ve moved on as well. [He] just brought a new child into this world. [A representative for Flavor Flav tells Rolling Stone, “Flav has not recently welcomed another child. He is the father to a 4.5 year old, which is public knowledge.”]
In my thesis, I wrote about the scene at the end of Season Two when you scream, “Why’d you bring me back?,” at Flav after he picked Deelishis. I remember writing that it was basically the most genuine-seeming moment that I had seen on reality TV thus far. It seemed like you were really hurting. Was that an accurate perception? Or did you fool me?
Oh gosh, no, I did not fool you one bit. It seemed like it was so counterproductive. Why the hell would you have me come all the way back on here? We’d had our moments before where we all connected ,and for me to make it so close to the finale and be the last woman standing next to Hoops, and to do this again and have Deelishis and I together and I’m back in the same position and he does the same exact thing — who would not want to tear his head off? I was so angry and so hurt, seriously hurt by him.
Were you in love with him?
I was in love with him. One thing about me, I don’t think I know how to play somebody. Like, if I like you, I’m into you. And that’s it. But he was such a genuine person, a very kindhearted person. And I think it was those moments off-camera that really made that connection happen for us.
Was he quite different off-camera?
Oh, gosh, yes. He was always spoiling us, like, “Get the girls what they want to eat,” or “Get the girls what they want.” The first day I moved into the house I couldn’t sleep, and I was stir crazy. So he invited me into his closet to check out all his clothes and hang out and have a few drinks and he was giving me pointers in the business and stuff like that.
I remember when Flavor of Love came out there were a lot of people who called it racist and said it was trafficking in stereotypes about the Black community. What did you make of those critiques at the time? And what do you make of them now?
I’d seen a lot of those critiques. There are a few people, I will make them nameless, because they’re not here to defend their honor anymore. But one particular legend said a few things about how I set the Black woman back by hundreds of years. And it was just so unfortunate because he was so dated, where he was in his mind and timeframe of history, to feel that way. This genre was an innovation that was something new, and it’s something fresh, and definitely did not set a Black woman back. Because Black women are all over the place doing successful things with reality television and makeup brands, and being entrepreneurs and all kinds of things. But this person was so many years older than me, I don’t think he saw that or was able to get with that.
What do you think are some trails you’ve blazed for reality TV and Black women on TV in particular?
We could talk about things that were not necessarily looked upon as TV-topic worthy, be it our lace fronts or shopping or being really bold and wanting more out of life. It’s all over the place. Living your most loudest fantasies, and just being who you are as a woman and celebrating your beauty or your curves or whatever that thing is, you can do that now. And I feel like I have a lot to do with that. [I] used to get picked on for wearing super long lashes and blue eyeshadow, but now, that’s nothing. It’s all over the place. And it’s so funny because men point that out. They’re like, “Sisters weren’t wearing super long wigs and lashes and colored eyeshadow until you got on the scene, they need to give you your credit for that, girl, because you were always so bold.”
Straight men say that?
They do. I’m always like, “How did you notice?” [Laughs]
I know you have a lot of queer fans on Twitter, especially. Why do you think that you have such a large LGBTQ fan base?
Oh my goodness, I love my queer fan base. Because I feel like we definitely relate to being unfortunately misunderstood, picked on, and people always trying to shut us down. Basically close down the creative side, keep us with the reins on us, where we want to be large and bold, say what we want, say what we feel, look the way we want. I just love the community because we’ll wear an orange top with a hot lime green stiletto. It’s like, you don’t need a special occasion to wear your costume. So I just feel like we just get together on those notes of being bold and loud and living from your inside.
My friends were huge fans of Flavor of Love and I Love New York. And when I told them I was speaking to you, they had two questions. The first one was, how did you get to be so pretty and smart?
And the second one, how much of those two shows was you performing a character?
Never performing a character. But the parts that were scripted for me was when I would have to come in and basically do the announcements of a challenge. Those beats were all scripted, like production saying, “Tiff, you gotta introduce this contest and let the guys know who finishes in this place,” like stuff like that. But as far as spending time with the guys and getting to know them, all that was definitely so real.
Even with Mr Boston?!
You know what’s so funny? We kept him around — and I say “we” because obviously my mom and the producers would ask me every week, “Who do you like, what’s going on?” — I kept him around because there was something so strong about him. He was not my type right off the bat. But he didn’t let anybody push him around, and I liked that. He really stood up for himself a lot of times with the other guys.
Was your monologue about Gemma Collins on Big Brother [in which Pollard legendarily refers to Collins as a “disgrace to humanity and a disgrace to women who are actually beautiful and classy,” and says “somebody lied to her several times and said that she is fly, hot, sexy, and beautiful, and she is nothing like that, she is nothing of the sort”] scripted?
Well, doing that particular show was like no show I’ve ever done before, because there is no production interference whatsoever. Even if you have a problem, you’re going to the diary room. And let’s say you have a headache: they’re gonna put two aspirin in the wall and you’re gonna have to open up the trapdoor to take the aspirin out. There is no looking at a producer. You have to figure things out in that show. So definitely 1000% not scripted whatsoever. You’re in there and you’re locked away.
Have you heard from her since that? I feel like if somebody said that about me, I would just die.
You know, the last time I saw Gemma was the night of the Celebrity Big Brother finale. She was outside and she said, “Tiffany, good on you girl. Everything you said, everything you did, you were fabulous.” And that was the last time I spoke to her. [Laughs]
At the time of Flavor of Love and I Love New York, you wanted to be an actor. How did those shows impact your acting career? Do you still want to act?
I still get to do bit roles and things like that. I think I went to Iceland or something like that? Some beautiful part in England to do Sharknado installment number four, something like that. Those opportunities still present themselves, but to be a full-fledged actress — that is so much hard work. And they don’t tell you that at the beginning. So I will probably always love to be a bit player here or there in the acting world. But reality is definitely my lane. And hosting. That’s my new jam.
How has reality TV changed since you started out? How is it different?
I feel like it’s a little bit more of an easier road. The more something is produced, it just becomes more of a machine. If you forget something that you said, you know, it can be pulled up or if you don’t know the topic, you could be reminded, you know, so there’s a lot more help, whereas before you were kind of left to your own thoughts and your own trail of memory. But it just feels like production definitely can help you a lot more.
There is this current push for reality stars to unionize and speak out against poor conditions on sets. And I was wondering, what do you think of that? Is that something that you experienced on your VH1 shows at all?
I would have to say, that in my personal experience, if I needed something, or I wanted something, it was always a win-win. Now, does that mean that the conditions are like that today? Not necessarily. I can’t speak to any personal situations or circumstances where my needs weren’t met. But if that has happened throughout this particular genre of reality television during the business, people feeling like they’re not getting their just dues, something has to be done. Stances have to be taken, and you have to make sure that those situations are worked out. Contractually, work-wise, it has to be a win-win. Balance is key to everything. So if a strike can create balance in the long run, I definitely support it.
What it was like back then in terms of working conditions, and how have they changed over the last 15, 20 years?
With the beginning, with anything, the less handled it is, the more raw it is in terms of not having the machine completely down. I’m not gonna lie, there was a lot more money flow. There was a lot more, “If you want it, you got it.” It wasn’t like a job. It was almost like you were a superstar and if you needed or wanted something, they’re going to make it happen times 20. Is it like that right now? Absolutely not. Because it’s more of a job. It’s a machine that has been created. Is that wrong? No, but the change purse was a lot looser back then.
Interesting, I would have expected the opposite. You hear about people like Bethenny Frankel getting paid like seven grand or something to do the first season of Real Housewives with no residuals.
Oh, I don’t buy that. [Laughs] I don’t believe that. I’m not gonna roll out of bed for a certain amount of money. I don’t think anybody got paid seven grand at a show.
You think that is too low for the time?
You know, one of the pieces of advice Flav gave me in that closet: never ask anybody what they make, and never tell anybody what you get. And I think that speaks to what we’re talking about now. I guess it’s not the same for everybody. But I’ve always had amazing experiences.
What would you like to do next? Do you have a dream project?
There’s a lot of good things in the works right now that I’m super excited for. And I’m gearing toward the hosting and more producing situations that I’m in. So 2024 is gonna be a great year. I’m gonna do a lot more hosting.
Do you have anything lined up that you can talk about?
Well, it’s so difficult to not give it away. But I’ll definitely be at a hosting capacity. And, you know, there will be, like, a house situation. And I will be the HBIC. And we’ll have a full cast.
That’s very vague. That describes basically every show.
I would love to see a Flavor of Love reunion. Has anybody talked about that?
I heard a few rumors going around that they were trying to get a few of the girls together and things like that. But they’ve been teasing that for years. It’s like, come on, let’s do it. You never know. Maybe 2024 is the year to make it really happen this time. [I] would be there front and center. I’d be the first one to move into the house.