Austen Kroll chats with ET about his chaotic guest stint on 'Summer House,' its aftermath and where he's at now.
Austen Kroll had a bad summer. For most people, that's a write-off by the time fall rolls around, but you can't exactly erase regrets when they've been broadcast for the world to see.
"I just feel that as disappointing as it was to watch myself and make it look like I was playing a couple of different, wonderful girls and this and that, I'd just come off of something awful," the Southern Charm star admits to ET, reflecting on his chaotic guest appearance on season 6 of network sister show Summer House.
Austen joined the Hamptons-set cast for just one weekend, but created a domino effect of drama as he oscillated between make-out sessions with longtime pal Lindsay Hubbard and his Winter House love interest, Ciara Miller. He made the visit -- for Lindsay's birthday -- in an attempt to blow off some steam, he says, as he was fresh off filming Southern Charm's season 7 reunion. That reunion goes down as one of the most bonkers in Bravo history, with Austen and his bestie, Craig Conover, getting into a war of words with Austen's recent ex, Madison LeCroy. Craig went so far as to expose her alleged digital hook-ups with baseball star Alex Rodriguez, who was engaged to Jennifer Lopez at the time. A-Rod has denied ever being involved with Madison.
"I just came in like a wrecking ball, like Miley Cyrus, and I came in and then I just swung out, right?" he notes. "I didn't get to try to make amends, right? That's one of the biggest regrets."
Austen was seemingly unaware of how big of a ripple effect his behavior had on the cast, learning about the backlash largely by seeing fan reaction to the episodes.
"I wish that I could have gone back that next weekend and made amends," he reiterates. "Of course, I don't get [to do confessional interviews for Summer House]. I don't get to talk to them again. I didn't go to the reunion. There's just so many components to that."
"I just want people to go back and re-watch our season finale and our reunion and look at me and be like, 'OK, this man deserves to have some fun, he's off the leash and he deserves to have some fun...' Now, did I do it in the correct manner? No, but I just didn't know that it would be received with such hatred," he adds. "Internet bullying to the max and ... mental health is a real damn thing. I guess that we're just a floating head on their TV."
The Summer House cast contributed to the vitriol, too, with Alex Wach making a crack about Austen's looks at their reunion, asking Lindsay and Ciara why they were fighting over "the Honda Civic of male attractiveness."
"I laughed at first," Austen says of the dig. "I just thought that it was the height of insecurity, to be honest."
"Of course, I made a joke of it as I tried to of everything, but it's like, what's wrong with a Honda Civic?" he asks. "To me, it was just a young and very insecure comment because... yeah, we'll just leave it as that. I saw this pie chart -- and I'm not tooting my own horn at all, I wish it was the opposite -- but I was talked about for 26 percent of their reunion, and I think that he was probably talked about for less than one. He wanted to change the narrative. It was just fine. I don't hold any sort of animosity. I don't care. I literally don't, it's just really like, 'That's the headline that I'm waking up to today? That I'm ugly?' OK, got it. OK... I mean, geez."
Austen says he was able to make amends with the people he needed to while filming season 2 of Winter House, sharing that he "left in a better head space" with Ciara and Lindsay. Still, viewers are months out from seeing those conversations, which came after Austen filmed season 8 of Southern Charm. While he didn't realize exactly how poorly received he'd been with the Summer House housemates, he was aware that it was time for a change when he returned home to Charleston, South Carolina.
"Everything is a journey, and last summer was a journey and had to happen, I suppose," he says. "I could learn from it and be better and know the kind of person that I wanted to be once I got back from vacation. That's really to focus on myself. That's really what I spent time doing."
"I bought a house here, and my business [Kings Calling Brewing Co.] began to take precedent over things and I just got back to life, right?" he continues. "Whereas the other things that we've seen, winter and summer, are merely vacation. Getting back to day-to-day life and trying to get back into a routine and focusing on things that are important in my life and moving forward is what took center stage."
When cameras went up on season 8, Austen and Craig were at odds, much to Austen's surprise. In the premiere episode, Craig confessed to co-star John Pringle that he felt like he could not trust Austen with secrets after Austen allegedly tried to use information Craig shared with him in confidence -- that he'd hooked up with his ex-girlfriend, Natalie Hegnauer, while dating his current girlfriend, Summer House's Paige DeSorbo -- against him in an argument. Austen says he had no clue Craig was upset by that moment.
"I am the kind of person that, when I hear something, I just want to call up that source and hash it out then. Craig is not that person," Austen explains. "Craig waits until he has about 12 drinks in him and then he explodes it on me. I just think that if he just would've called me over the summer, by the way -- which we all saw -- and he just called me and said, 'Hey dude, why did you say this?' Then I could have talked to him off that ledge. He could be like, 'OK, let's just talk about it when I get home...' instead of making all these assumptions and things of that nature. Then I just think it could have been squashed so quickly and so fast and maybe I could have admitted a wrong, but it shouldn't have gone on as long as it did."
As Summer House aired, Craig was on a press tour for his memoir, Pillow Talk, and told multiple outlets -- including ET -- that he stopped speaking to Austen for two to three months in the aftermath of Austen's Hamptons trip because he could not stomach how Austen had treated Ciara, who is one of Paige's best friends. Austen says, once again, he had no idea Craig harbored such feelings -- and that Craig is not telling the truth when it comes to that "two to three months," citing that they continued recording their podcast, Pillows and Beer, during that time.
"Our friendship was just strained is what it was," he says. "It just wasn't the Austin and Craig that it had been. That obviously hurt me a bit, right? Which is what we see this season where it's like, I find out things that other people knew that I didn't know, that normally he would tell me. I was, like, sad face. That's the first time that I heard about this was through press and I'm like, 'See, I shouldn't be hearing things that you feel about me, Craig, through press, just call me.'"
Austen says his and Craig's issues boil down to miscommunication and under-communication.
"I just feel like, if he would've told me this earlier on, then we could've rectified it," he surmises. "There's no roadmap to how to fix [this], or what he needs from me or what I need from him. We used to be like-- we would wake up and we would call each other at some point [in the day], right? Before five o'clock, we would call each other and that was not happening any longer. That was like, 'All right... well, that is strange.' I don't know, but there's no roadmap for it. There's no roadmap for how to get someone to get their trust back."
Austen also suspects Craig opted to hold off on having those harder conversations until cameras were filming them. "Craig, waiting for cameras? No..." he blurts out, sarcastically. On Thursday's episode, Southern Charm viewers will see the once-dynamic duo meet up to talk through things.
"When we came to meet up to talk, I think that both of us were like, 'Is this going to be a dissolution of friendship? Or are we going to move past this?'" he recalls. "I went there like, 'All right, this might be the last time that Craig and I talked for a while...' and I think that he was thinking the exact same thing."
One of Craig's issues with Austen is his poking around for answers when it comes to the nature of Craig's relationship with his ex, Naomie Olindo. Naomie left Southern Charm and Charleston at the end of season 6, moving to New York City with her then-boyfriend, Metul Shah. She quickly moved back home, though, after discovering Metul was cheating on her; and soon after that, she and Craig met up in Las Vegas. While Craig wasn't forthright with Austen at the jump, he did eventually explain the situation to him -- but Austen didn't seem to buy Craig's version of events, and turned to Naomie to fact-check. The issue there is that Austen didn't exactly represent Craig's side of the story truthfully when he brought it to Naomie.
"I can't say that I pride myself in not putting my nose where it does not belong, but I really try not to," Austen says. "With Craig, sometimes I am like, 'All right, well, I just want to know from your perspective what the heck happens because he says this and I want to know from you...' There are three sides. Looking back on that, I just wish that I had just kept my damn mouth shut and just moved on. I guess that didn't happen, did it?"
It shouldn't come as a shock to viewers, though, that the two find some middle ground to move forward, seeing as they've continued to hang out (as documented on social media and via a podcast tour) in the months since taping their heart to heart. Still, there are hiccups along the way, like a parking lot brawl first teased in the season 8 trailer.
"Craig and I fight like brothers, to be honest," Austen notes. "It's certainly not the first time that we've come to that, but brothers will wrestle -- they don't fist fight -- so we're not fist fighting. You'll see. It was after a particularly boozy dinner and Craig was looking for it. He was looking for it. He just wanted to wrestle someone. Of course, I'm in his crosshairs. That's what we see."
There's also the way Craig handles the news of Madison's engagement to a man named Brett, which she announced via live stream back in October.
"Craig takes pride in knowing some information that he almost can't wait for me to find out," Austen teases. "I feel like Craig wanted me to have a meltdown or something. That's a strange reaction to want someone to have, right? That's just because life is good. Life is certainly good. The summer was way in the rear-view mirror. I'm hanging in Charleston with buddies. I have a new house. There's a new girl that moved to town."
That girl is Olivia Flowers, whom Austen started dating at the start of filming. Judging by their social media presence together over the last few months, things are still going strong between the two, but Austen won't cough up a label for their relationship.
"I just can't say enough kind things about her or good things about her," he offers. "I think that she and [Shep Rose's girlfriend, Taylor Ann Green] bring this certain charm back to the show that we were missing since [Cameran Eubanks and Chelsea Meissner] left. They're just sweet... opinionated -- right? Which you have to be -- girls that certainly enhance my life. That's, that's a definite."
That mix of sweet, but opinionated is evident in the trailer, too, with Olivia and Madison channeling the energy of the South's ultimate "F you," aka "bless your heart..." in a heated exchange set to play out at the end of season 8. In the short clip, Olivia storms off from the interaction while slyly flipping the bird at Austen's ex.
"We actually joke about it all the time. Every time that [Olivia] walks away, I give her the, one of these," he says, imitating the motion. "She's like, 'Oh my God, I'm so embarrassed.'"
Austen won't say why Olivia and Madison get into it, but it doesn't seem wrong to assume their beef might be about him.
"I think it's a buildup, I think it's a buildup of things," he teases. "I just think that such as are our finales, that they are build up of the whole season. Maybe there's a conversation that needs to happen that they finally get to have. I don't really remember, because I was on the other side of the table like 'I don't want to be a part of this,' to be honest."
Well, like it or not, you definitely are, Austen. See more of Austen's antics on Southern Charm, airing Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.