"Luann & Sonja: Welcome to Crappie Lake": An indicator of just how little class money can buy

Money can't buy you class, but watching rich people fart is hilarious. So who cares?

By Kelly McClure

Nights & Weekends Editor

Published July 22, 2023 2:59PM (EDT)

Pictured: (l-r) Luann de Lesseps, Sonja Morgan in "Luann and Sonja: Welcome to Crappie Lake" (Nick Fochtman/Bravo)
Pictured: (l-r) Luann de Lesseps, Sonja Morgan in "Luann and Sonja: Welcome to Crappie Lake" (Nick Fochtman/Bravo)

In Bravo's latest offshoot from their "Real Housewives" franchise, "Luann & Sonja: Welcome to Crappie Lake," "RHONY" alums Luann de Lesseps and Sonja Morgan package themselves as modernizations of Laverne & Shirley or Thelma and Louise in adventurous "fish out of water" scenarios that find them a-wrasslin' and a-catchin' catfish with their bare hands in a lake in Benton, Illinois called "Crappie Lake" — referring as much to the type of fish found within (pronounced Craw-pee) as to the odorific sewage plant nearby. But, to my recollection, neither of the buddy duos mentioned above are known for blasting out farts in public or aggressively propositioning local municipal workers as Luann and Sonja are. Not like there's anything wrong with doing that. Or not doing that for that matter. These are just points of distinction that money, so it seems, really cannot buy you class, but classlessness does make for great reality television. Ask the cast of "Vanderpump Rules" about their new Emmy nominations to prove this point.

To give some background on the "Crappie Lake" stars, Luann is a 58-year-old former model, cabaret singer and author of the book "Class with the Countess: How to Live with Elegance and Flair," who became a literal countess when she married her now ex-husband, Count Alexandre de Lesseps. Holding on to that title with both hands, she released a song called "Money Can't Buy You Class" in 2010, in direct contrast to her arrest in 2017 for battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence, disorderly intoxication and corruption by threat for slurring, "I'm going to kill you all" in the back of a cop car.

"Elegance is learned my friends. Elegance is learned, oh yeah," the lyrics of her song preach. And if cash can't buy it, just use it to sop up the mess. 

Sonja, a 59-year-old socialite and entrepreneur with a number of fashion, alcohol and household appliance ventures (remember the toaster oven?) under her belt, got the bulk of her "class" while married to and eventually divorcing John Adams Morgan, son of Henry Sturgis Morgan, co-founder of the banking firm Morgan Stanley. For Sonja, class is never an issue when you're tied to not just considerable amounts of money, but the very institutions where money itself originates. Get it, girl. Don't break the bank. Marry it. In past episodes of "The Real Housewives of New York," Sonja can be seen getting blackout drunk on the regular, washing her face in bidets, and celebrating the use of adult diapers on trips where she'd rather s**t herself than use public restrooms. 

So, yeah. One could argue that these ladies are not actually classy, and one would be right. But watching super wealthy people barf, poop and perv their way through life is a lot of fun, so who cares? Certainly not them. 

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What makes "Crappie Lake" so enjoyable goes way beyond the "fish out of water" premise. Watching these two messy firecrackers explode what they believe to be their "world famous" personalities upon the town of Benton in a very "ta-da" way, only to be met with the same reception as employees of a traveling circus would be, is refreshing. You know that expression, "money talks, wealth whispers"? Well, these two haven't whispered a day in their lives. 

In the opening scene of the first episode of "Crappie Lake," the owners of Motel Benton prepare to welcome Luann and Sonja to their small town, getting their humble lodgings all situated and arranging letters on the sign out front to read, "Welcome Hollywood," although both ladies live in New York. 

"It'd be great if you had an exclamation point," one of the owners says to her husband as she takes in the sign.

"They'll either like it or they don't," he says. 

Later, when the ladies step off of their private plane to greet everyone for the first time, a voice from within the awaiting crowd can be heard saying, "Who is that?" 

This scene made me think of the time I asked my cousin — a resident of a small town in Illinois similar to Benton — if he was on Instagram, and he answered, "I don't think so." Small town people live a very "I do't give a s**t" lifestyle. Fame, money and the trappings of the internet that occupy so much time for so many others matters way less to them than the people who rely on such things for their very self-worth. It's humbling.

Luann de Lesseps in "Luann and Sonja: Welcome to Crappie Lake" (Nick Fochtman/Bravo)

Throughout the first three episodes (the fourth, "The Belles of the Balls" airs Sunday) Sonja is perfectly Sonja, (organizing her stockpile of pads for her leaking liposuction, yelling out "We wanna see your pole" to firemen, wedging a pool noodle in-between her legs and pretending it's a penis, etc.) and Luann is perfectly Luann (bringing a Louis Vuitton box for "storage," making goat noises at a townie with a foot-long salt and pepper goatee, making sex eyes at men she's just met and asking if they "like to party.") The small-town setting they're clomping around in amplifies just how little class they have, and just how much that fact is lost on them. But that's the show. And what would be the alternative? Something completely boring? The news? I'd say we have enough of that right now.

When Sonja stands at the lip of Crappie Lake and lets the world know, "I have to do gas," and Luann reins her in by blowing on the vintage "Wazoo" purchased during her drunken days in Palm Beach, they're not fooling anyone. Well, maybe just themselves.

By Kelly McClure

Kelly McClure is Salon's Nights and Weekends Editor covering daily news, politics and culture. Her work has been featured in Vulture, The A.V. Club, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Vice, and elsewhere. She is the author of Something is Always Happening Somewhere.

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