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Rob Kardashian, the most tragic figure of America’s most fame-seeking family

From millions of dollars in TV deals to ubiquity across the world, the stratospheric rise of the Kardashians over the past decade has been an enormous benefit to nearly everyone in the family.

There’s one very notable exception. We speak, of course, of Rob Kardashian, the 28-year-old reluctant reality star whose apparent downward spiral over the last year has made him the most tragic figure of America’s most fame-seeking family.

On Sunday night’s episode of E!’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Rob received what he desperately does not want: Attention. His avoidance of the spotlight clashes deeply with everything that his mother (Kris Jenner) and sisters (Kim, Kourtney and Khloe) stand for on a daily basis. Therefore, the show had to reconcile the family’s penchant for revealing every small detail – literally, everything — about their lives, and the fact that Rob refuses to even be seen on camera.

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The whole episode (which dealt with the family’s attempts to help Rob, who is said to be suffering from depression after gaining a large amount of weight) did little except call attention to the major downsides of stardom. It was a deeply uncomfortable reminder that for the massive number of jokes and snark thrown at the Kardashians, they’re still real people, and at least one of them is truly struggling.

It’s hard to pinpoint what’s going on with Rob, because as “open” as the family is, everyone on Sunday’s episode was vague. It’s not even clear exactly what set off the attempt to help him, given that you never know how the reality show is edited. In the beginning of the show, Kris gets a call from one of her employees saying that Rob needs money. Kris is hesitant to help out, as she shares with the camera that Rob has withdrawn from the whole family and “hasn’t been in the best head space lately.”

“As a mom, it breaks my heart to see Rob going through what he’s going through,” Kris says. “He’s kind of stuck in a really bad place and I just want to help him get out of it.”

She later continues, getting emotional: “I can’t take it anymore. I just kept thinking it was going to go away and he would figure it out on his own, but he’s not…I feel like if I don’t help him do something drastic, that he’s going to die.”

The veiled references to Rob’s problems continue: Through various conversations, we learn that Rob is living in Khloe’s house, where he stays rent-free, eats her groceries and utilizes her housekeeping service. He mostly refuses to come out of his bedroom and rarely leaves the house. He has also cut himself off from his family: Kim recently wrote him a long letter, Kris has been trying to get in touch, and he won’t respond.

Kris, determined to get to the bottom of Rob’s problems, enlists a mysterious “guy” (viewers never see his face, know his name or figure out exactly what he does) to come to the house and advise them on what to do. Sitting with Kim and Kourtney, Kris starts to cry as she recounts Rob’s life: He’s been athletic his whole life — including a stint on “Dancing With the Stars” — but in the past year, he’s gained 100 pounds. He missed Christmas; he skipped Kim and Kanye West’s wedding; and now, he won’t talk to anyone.

“He obviously has some kind of depression,” interjects Kim, who bills herself as the “tough love” sister. “He is the king of excuses.”

“Everyone’s been overcompensating for him since my dad died, cause he was 16,” Kourtney explains. “I don’t know if it’s because he has it so easy, but then also at the same time with what he’s going through, I don’t want him to feel even more alone.”

The adviser agrees that if Rob has everything handed to him, why would he change? He says that he could bring a team of experts to the house to help Rob stabilize, and “we could pull resources within 24 hours.” Again, we’re never exactly told what kind of experts, stabilization, or resources, just that it’s very serious.

Regular viewers and tabloid readers know these problems have been around for awhile. Rob, who used to frequently appear on the show, has addressed them before on TV, such as when his weight gain started and a doctor warned him about all of his potential health problems. There’s the famous family therapy episode from 2012, where he left in tears. There’s been lots of drama, too, such as numerous reports that Rob ditched Kim and Kanye’s wedding last spring, arriving in Paris but then immediately flying back to Los Angeles when he became self-conscious about being photographed for the first time in months. More recently, Rob posted a screenshot of the psychopath character from “Gone Girl,” comparing her to Kim; he left the photo up for days and then finally deleted it this weekend.

Going deeper into Kardashian lore, the family has spoken about how tough it was for Rob when his father and Kris’s ex-husband, Robert Kardashian, died when Rob was a teenager in 2003, which has contributed to some of his emotional issues. It’s also common knowledge that Rob’s problems coincided with the end of his sister Khloe’s marriage to NBA player Lamar Odom; the couple divorced amid reports of Odom’s drug use (which he denied). The family talked about how Rob, who lived with the couple, bonded with Lamar and was extremely shaken when he suddenly disappeared.

That appears to be why he still lives with Khloe, who is very protective of him. On Sunday’s episode, she’s furious when she finds out Kris and her sisters want to stage an intervention and didn’t consult her. In earlier episodes, Khloe confesses her immense guilt about not protecting Rob when he lived with her and Lamar, which could have led to Rob’s emotional spiral. “Being in that house, it was so dark and it made me do dark things,” Khloe says while talking to her step-brother, Brody Jenner, not specifying exactly what she means. “Only Rob, Lamar and I know what happened in the house and what was going on. And I definitely feel guilty.”

The rest of the Sunday’s episode was a back-and-forth between the family as they try to figure out what to do: But in typical Kardashian form, they make it all about the sisters even while extensively discussing Rob’s very private issues. Everyone disagrees on how to handle the situation. Kim is all about tough love and says they should cut him off until he gets help. Khloe is softer but soon grows frustrated, breaking down in tears when Rob refuses help when the team of “experts” arrives at his house for a surprise intervention of sorts. Through it all, we never see Rob — only hear his voice once when Khloe uses speakerphone.

Later, Khloe loses it. While she refuses to kick Rob out of the house (which was Kim’s suggestion), she says he can’t use her housekeeper anymore. Then Kris starts feeling guilty and tells Rob that he can come over and stay at her place, while Kim rolls her eyes at Kris for being such an enabler.

That’s pretty much where the episode ends: Ultimately nothing is remotely solved or given closure. It’s an unsettling feeling, especially as the family alludes to some serious health issues, and it’s treated as just another plotline on their reality show. No one knows what’s actually going on behind the scenes, but somehow that just makes it more disturbing. There’s no one better than the Kardashians at presenting an edited version of themselves to the world, but if that’s something that contributed to Rob’s problems, it’s a vicious cycle that shows the truly dark sides of fame.

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