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Braunwyn Windham-Burke got the call that she would no longer be a Real Housewife just hours before the rest of the world found out.
"I was on a date at the beach, and our show-runner, Thomas Kelly, he sent me a text and 'Hey, can you talk in 15 minutes?' I said, 'Sure,'" the reality star recalls to ET over video chat from her Newport Beach home. "So then I went for a walk down the beach to where we couldn't hear the waves crashing, and he just said, 'Hey, how are you?' I said, 'I'm good, I'm hanging out with so-and-so at the beach.' He's like, 'OK, good. I'm glad you're in a happy place.' And once he said that, I was like, OK, all right. And he's like, 'The network decided to go another way. They're not going to be renewing your contract.'"
"I was a little bit heartbroken, to say the least," Braunwyn admits. "And then I said, 'Is my girlfriend who's been auditioning, is she on?' He said, 'Yes.' And so it was like a double hit."
"I was really looking forward to filming with her," Braunwyn says of her friend, again not confirming if it's Noella or someone else. "I've never done the show with a friend. I've never really done the show with anyone that even liked me a little bit. So I was really looking forward [to that] after how hard last year was. And so, I made it off the beach. I went and grabbed my stuff, got my towel and stuff, and then I got to my car and I just broke down crying. Just sobbing."
Braunwyn says she spent the next 24 hours in bed "self-sabotaging" and thinking her "life is over." She says she was somewhat blindsided by the news, even though season 15 ended with her on a bit of an island, no real allies within the cast after an explosive reunion. Braunwyn says she was under the impression that Bravo would want her back to explore her new normal on camera. Between filming season 15 and taping the reunion special, Braunwyn came out as a lesbian. She says she has yet to get firm answers as to why factors played into why her contract wasn't picked up, noting that the only messaging she’s seen is a comment Andy Cohen, the executive producer of the Housewives franchise, made on his SiriusXM channel, Radio Andy.
"I will say regarding Braunwyn, I really, I really give it up to her and commend her for being so open and letting us in, especially relating to her journey with sobriety," Andy said on Wednesday. "She was going through some really serious life stuff on the show and she didn't shy away from sharing it with us, which I always appreciate. You know, that being said, I -- listening to her at the reunion made me and I think, and the other producers feel like, you know what? Maybe at this moment in time being on TV wasn't the healthiest spot for she and her family."
"She was just, I, I think she was dealing with some real, real stuff with herself, with her marriage, with her children," he added. "It was a lot."
"I remember reading that, I'm like, well, that was last year. And you had no problem filming me?" she remarks. "Now I'm through it all. And I'm good. Not one person reached out to me during this hiatus to see what was going on. So that's, yes, I'm doing great and things are normal. So what do I think? I think I'm a lot. I think my story is insane because I'm not... I know it's a lot. I know. And it's hard to-- in the Housewife world, you go into the show, and ideally you have your main storyline and then one other. You have two. And it's hard to narrow me down to two things right now."
Braunwyn’s co-stars and viewers alike accused her of being "performative," "inauthentic" and faking things for TV, but she says she never once did anything just for the cameras.
"God, if I was going to fake something for the show I would have picked something easier than sobriety, because that is effing hard," she scoffs. "It's been 504 days, and a lot of them have been a struggle. And I think if you look at me, there's a lot of things I shouldn't have said. I probably should've been less real, if anything. I admitted to things that, when cameras were rolling, that I had no reason to. So no. That's just, like, people want to say you're thirsty, or this, whatever. I got sober. I came out. It was a lot for one year, but you know, it was all what was happening in my life at that same time."
"If I had not been true to myself to stay on a television show or to gain followers, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night," Braunwyn later adds. "I might be polarizing, but I know who I am, and I know what's important to me. And that matters more than anything else."
After letting herself wallow in the news for a day, Braunwyn says her assistant snapped her out of her deep sadness by showing her all the offers that were coming through already for new TV opportunities and projects in the entertainment world.
"I'm not going to pretend, I'm not, 'Oh, I'm looking forward to every…' No, I loved filming. I loved being a Housewife," she says. "It was a dream come true. I will miss it. I will miss the crew. But, one day at a time, one one foot in front of the other. I think there's going to be another path."
That "one day at a time" mantra is a familiar one to Braunwyn, who's been in recovery for nearly two years. She confesses that getting fired definitely tested her strength when it came to drinking.
"I think for the rest of my life I'm going to go through a struggle," she says. "It'll always be, ‘Wow, a drink would be nice right now. Wow, I'd love to get drunk.’ The difference is, now I don't. What do I do instead? I call my sponsor. ... I went to a meeting. So, oh yeah. I think for the rest of my life there will be triggers, emotional triggers where I want to get drunk, or I want to drink. But that doesn't mean I act on them. I have the tools now to sit in the emotions, because -- everyone has their own plan -- but for me, drinking will not make anything better."
Braunwyn is leaning on friends and family as she continues to process what will become her new/old normal. She says RHOC alum Tamra Judge has been a huge support, as well as Housewives from other cities: Salt Lake City’s Heather Gay, Dallas' Kary Brittingham and New York City's Leah McSweeney have all reached out. There’s also Fernanda Rocha, a one-time
"friend of" on The Real Housewives of Orange County. Rumors started circulating earlier this year that Braunwyn and Fernanda, who is also gay, were dating. They are. Fernanda was on the beach with Braunwyn when she got the fateful call.
"So Fernanda is in the midst of a divorce right now," Brauwyn notes. "I will say this: Although we were friends before her divorce, we were never anything more than friends ‘til after she filed. So she filed for divorce in January. So what you're reading isn't true."
Braunwyn’s referencing recent headlines that label her a "homewrecker," blaming her as the reason for Fernanda leaving her wife.
"I'm trying to respect her boundaries right now with her marriage, and her divorce right now that's going on," she says, explaining why she’s not ready to open up in-depth about their romance. "She has been such... Oh my God. She's an amazing woman. She's just been really -- I wasn't OK. And she's reaching out, ‘What can we do? Where can we go?’ I really am lucky to have met her."
Braunwyn is still married, too. She and her husband of more than 20 years, Sean Windham-Burke, remain legally wed despite the fact that they’re no longer a couple in the romantic sense.
"I know people ask me this a lot, are we intimate? No," she shares. "We are friends. We are best friends. So it's actually not that weird, at least to us.."
Braunwyn says she and Sean have no plans to divorce ("We're getting along better than we ever have," she declares), but were planning on living separate had her Housewives contract been picked up by the network.
"I was actually signing the lease. I was going to live in my own house with the younger kids and he was going to get an apartment," she explains. "And then when I didn't get the show I was like, 'Why are we doing this? Let's just…' Because we were buying a house, doing all this. I'm like, ‘Let's just pack up our stuff in storage and take off for a few months. We have nothing keeping us here.’ Like the rest of the world we've been in lock down for a long time. So we're leaving. We're going to go to Hawaii. We don't have a plan. Whatever. So we'll figure it out. Do I think Sean and I need some space? Absolutely. Do I think that we need to rush to get divorced? Absolutely not."
Divorce will come one day, though, and it’s a fact Braunwyn says she and Sean realize.
"I want to wake up and have coffee with someone, and I want that, and he deserves that, too," she says. "He wants that, too. So although we're not in a rush right now, we both want to have that person, and that love, and that intimacy. I would love... when I close my eyes and manifest what I truly want, I'm waking up every morning with a woman who's my wife."
Braunwyn says it’s "so freeing" to live life authentically and explore romantic relationships with women for the first time.
"I didn't even realize the weight that I was carrying, keeping this part of myself," she notes. "And there's so many things I used to think about myself. 'I don't like cuddling. I'm not affectionate. I'm not…' None of those are true. Being with a woman, it's so familiar. It just feels like home. I mean, I love the way that my life turned out. I love my seven children. I love all of this. But I'm so grateful that I did take that uncomfortable step and sort of pushed out of my comfort zone, and I am where I am, because it's just so nice to feel at home finally."
A longtime ally of the LGBTQIA+ community before she came out herself, Braunwyn says she’s going to make it her mission to center whatever she does next in gay culture. She's already put in some work through her digital interview series, Amplified Voices, which you can watch on Instagram.
"Being an advocate for social justice is important, it's very important to me," she says. "I've had someone who wants to help me take Amplified Voices to another level. So, I think I'm going to take Amplified Voices on the road -- and that is something I wanted to do before, and now I have the freedom to do it. I mean, as long as I have a platform, no matter how big or small, I'm going to try to use it to spread awareness. I really think representation matters. This is where my heart lies. So while I will miss Bravo so much -- from the bottom of my heart I will miss being a Housewife. It was my dream job -- I'm not going to just sit in the sadness. It's like, OK, well, that was great, that was an experience. Keep going forward."