“I’m kind of starstruck right now,” the Masked Singer judge Ken Jeong said on Wednesday’s episode after the show’s latest celebrity contestant was revealed. “The biggest star in television right now is Tom Sandoval, like, for real.”
As ludicrous as that statement may sound, it might also be true. Networks have fully leaned into the Scandoval that catapulted Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules to series-high ratings and its first Emmy nominations earlier this year. And that’s meant putting Sandoval back onscreen—and giving him a platform for his public-redemption tour.
This week, Sandoval was unmasked as the Diver on this season of The Masked Singer after his performance of “I Ain’t Worried” by OneRepublic and a promo that rather blatantly pointed to the reality star. “Usually, I’m pretty pumped, but lately I’ve been lost in the abyss,” Sandoval said during his segment adding, “I might be the most hated creature in the ocean right now.” The creature’s first clue was a cardinal, which some have assumed represents Sandoval’s hometown of St. Louis. He added, “The more people talk about my business, the more I want them out of it,” a possible reference to TomTom and Schwartz & Sandy’s—his LA restaurants featured on Vanderpump.
Jeong and fellow judge Jenny McCarthy properly identified Sandoval as the Diver, while Nicole Scherzinger and Robin Thicke floated Jersey Shore’s Pauly D as a possibility.
“This was so much fun. Being able to come out here and perform behind a mask, not being judged, and just being judged on my performance, it was really nice,” Sandoval said onstage after being unveiled. In the episode’s promo package, he also framed his participation in the series as a “healing experience” from his self-induced cheating scandal. “As a kid, I always wanted to be famous. I modeled, acted, and, of course, sang. I was always waiting to become a household name,” Scandoval said. “I just didn’t think it would be from everyone hating me.”
While no longer poking fun of himself on The Masked Singer, Sandoval is still seeking punishment as a contestant on season two of Fox’s Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test. In this week’s episode, Sandoval spoke about his decision to join the brutal competition show, which asks celebrities to complete military-grade challenges. “One of the big reasons why I’m here is I let down my family and other people whose last name is Sandoval,” he said. “I tarnished the name, and I want to bring some honor back to that name.”
And after a disastrous podcast interview with Howie Mandel mid-scandal, Sandoval has also launched his own brand-rehabilitating pod, titled Everybody Loves Tom. (Jason Bader, the manager and drummer of Sandoval’s cover band who is married to the senior vice president of Mandel’s Alevy Productions, is featured on the podcast’s first episode.) In the first two installments, Sandoval has covered everything from his newfound sobriety to regrets over how he handled the end of his relationship.
Others in the Scandoval orbit are sticking in front of the camera until Vanderpump returns. Ariana Madix, Sandoval’s jilted ex, is competing on this season of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. Tom Schwartz, Sandoval’s business partner and best friend, graced Fox’s Stars on Mars and will hit the slopes of Bravo’s Winter House later this month, a series Sandoval was rumored to be dropped from at the height of backlash for his affair. His onetime paramour Rachel Leviss, meanwhile, has left the reality-TV game behind—for now.