The languid final stretch of summer may be coming to a close, but one moment from this season’s stacked television lineup will be staying by my side for months to come. As the autumn leaves crunch under my boots and I trudge through New York’s wintery slush, I’ll think back fondly on the dog days of summer every time I stop into a bodega or take refuge in a coffee shop for a well-deserved little treat: my special chips.
I already know that each and every time I decide to have a nosh, my brain will vibrate at a super-high frequency. A rush of light will fill me. I’ll be Raven Baxter thrust into a psychic vision in That’s So Raven. There is no longer any reality in which I can take a bite of food without thinking about Shereé Whitfield, in her kitchen in full makeup and pajamas, eating from a bag of potato chips and saying two simple words: “I’m snacking.”
idk if there’s ever been a better moment in tv. the crunching sound effects. “I love my special chips” having so many potential uses. shereé’s voice deepening on “TO DIE FOR!” the way her voice somehow trips over itself saying “perfect amo-amount of salt” pic.twitter.com/2MpnDqEAln
— coleman spilde (@colemanjspilde) July 30, 2022
To say these two words—and the entire scene that they came from—defined my summer would be a gross understatement. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into my kitchen, grabbed something from my refrigerator or pantry, and before I even had the chance to take a bite, said out loud to no one in particular, “I’m snacking.” I’m sure my neighbors have heard it more times than they can count.
“I’m snacking” is just one of the 5,000 quotables plucked from a one-minute scene in a June episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta, aptly and ingeniously titled, “Don’t Be Sea Salty.” In the episode, star Shereé Whitfield is trying to recover from being stood up by her boyfriend in an embarrassing public spectacle after leaving a cast trip early to see him. The confusion and humiliation leave Shereé at home, in her PJs, doing what all of us would do: snacking.
But not just any snacks, oh no! Shereé has one snack she likes in particular, which she adorably refers to as her “special chips.” In this stunning vignette, we see Shereé “laying low” and moseying around her kitchen, nonchalantly crunching on those Special Chips. And then, by the grace of the editors, we are treated to a total throwaway clip of Shereé describing her love for these potent potatoes.
“The sea salt with the thick cut? TO DIE FOR!” she exclaims. “I feel like, sometimes, potato chips are too thin. These are the perfect thickness and the perfect amo-amount of salt.”
After spending literal months transfixed by this hypnotic sequence, I knew it was finally time for me to cap off my summer in a tribute to Shereé by setting out to find her Special Chips, a task that proved much harder than I had initially imagined. But nothing was going to deter me from finding out just what made these chips so god damn special.
First, I had to find out what chips they actually were. A closer inspection of the clip from the episode and a brief comparison to a few popular chip brands and their varied selection of products tipped me off: These were Lay’s Simply Sea Salted (with the thick cut, as advertised on the packaging).
With that, I set out to pound the pavement. I imagined that I could go to the CVS two blocks down from my apartment and call it a day. How naive! I’ve lived in New York for nine years, so you’d think I know by now that a CVS store is either fully stocked or looks like a stampede of wild horses ran through mere moments before I walked in the door. Unfortunately for me, mine was the latter.
Even with the midday sun glaring above me, I couldn’t abandon this mission so early in the game. So, I decided to walk another 20 minutes away to a Target that I’ve never been to because it sits one train stop down from where I usually get off. By the time I’m almost home, air conditioning wins out over staying on public transportation—but today? I’m snacking.
I’ve almost never had bad luck looking for a craving at a Target. They’re always well-stocked, ready to bless me with what I need at a reasonable price. Except for today, when there was a glaring hole in the self space where the Lay’s Simply Sea Salted would be. I was starting to wonder if the product review on the Lay’s site was an omen. “We search everywhere for these,” Janice from Arkansas wrote a month ago. “Your site states where to find them but they are not there.” Were Shereé’s Special Chips selling out after the episode aired?
I resigned myself to one final attempt by walking another 20 never-ending minutes to the organic market where I feed my kombucha obsession. After shimmying past 16 hemp tote bags, there they were: The Lay’s Simple Sea Salted, staring back at me from a special Frito-Lay display. Was this what it was like when the miners found gold during the Rush?
I promptly paid my $4.99 and returned home, feeling grateful to Shereé for helping me get my steps in. All that was left was to try them, the Special Chips that I had been building up in my mind—not just that day, but for two months prior.
It brings me no joy to say this, but I do not think that these Special Chips are oh-so special after all. The words “thick cut” seem less like reality and more like a suggestion. Part of what made me so excited to get my hands on these was that I agree with Shereé: I also think potato chips are too thin! So what are these Lay’s doing practically melting in my mouth?
Maybe I was misled by the dramatic crunching sound effects added in post-production. Maybe it's my natural inclination toward kettle chips because of their proven crunch level. I will say, though, that the Lay’s Simply Salted do have a pretty good—not perfect—amount of salt (I prefer to keep my serving-to-daily-value percentage at 5 percent; these have 7 percent). They just seem utterly…ordinary.
Yet, I can’t say I’m disappointed. This is how it always goes with Real Housewife endorsements and products: I buy, I try, and I cry. But I do it because I want these women to win.
Shereé Whitfield, in particular, is one of my top five favorite Housewives in the entire franchise’s history. But she, too, has been plagued with misfortune when it comes to the business endeavors she’s tried to launch on the show. Who can forget She by Shereé, her infamous fashion line that went from having “a fashion with no fashions” to a line of yet-to-appear joggers?
But she’s so funny—so naturally gifted in making television that’s not just watchable but unforgettable—that I want her to triumph. Seeing her pacing around her kitchen, distraught over a man and eating soft potato chips? That just won’t do.
But as Season 14 of Real Housewives of Atlanta rounds out its run, just like the sweltering days of summer, I am reminded that better things are around the corner for us all. Upcoming episodes will see Shereé trying to relaunch her clothing line, hopefully achieving all of the success she so deserves. After an embarrassing public breakup, there’s not just light at the end of the tunnel for Shereé, but me with a bag of Old River brand jalapeño kettle chips, waiting to suggest a more special snack for brighter days ahead.