"[In past seasons], it was really difficult for me to just let loose, because I had so much emotionally going on," Emily shares with ET over video chat. "It's so nice to just be in such a happy place."
"I think it was just a mind shift of just being in a happier, healthier place, but it was also a comfort level, I think, with the relationships on the show," she adds. "Gina [Kirschenheiter] and I have been friends for four years now, so my comfort level with her is just... we just do dumb stuff, like you would with your girlfriends. Shannon [Beador] and I, I mean, we have our ons and offs, but we're in a good place where it's not toxic, you know? And I liked the two new girls that came on, [Dr. Jennifer Armstrong and Noella Bergener] and Heather [Dubrow], when she came back, she was just super nice to me. It's just this camaraderie I feel like, and it was easier to just be myself because I just felt more of a comfort level with these women."
That comfort level was on full display from the first couple of episodes of season 16, with Emily playing detective when it came to Shannon's claim that Heather's friend, Nicole James, once sued Heather's husband, Dr. Terry Dubrow (which was ultimately dropped). She's also pressed Dr. Jen on the realities of her finances/romantic history after learning the aesthetics doc once dated a billionaire, who sued her when they split.
"You know where that came from? That came from because Jen always likes to give Noella a hard time about meeting her husband on SeekingArrangements.com," Emily explains. "And I just find it hypocritical, because to me, if you met your husband on SeekingArrangements.com, like, that's pretty honest. You're just upfront with what you're doing and what you're looking for. To me, it was just a little hypocritical because I know that she dated this guy and I'm thinking he's an older guy, he was married. I mean, he sued her and won a judgment against her for a bunch of money. To me, I don't know, I just felt like digging in there."
All of Emily's efforts have helped push the show along, leading to explosive moments that have made RHOC must-see TV again. Part of her comfortability might come from the fact that, at least subconsciously, the pressure wasn't resting on her shoulders to deliver. Instead, that rested on Heather, who returned to the series after an extended hiatus, having walked away at the end of season 11.
"I mean, we want it to be successful," Emily notes. "We want it to be good. We want people to like it. We want people to be engaged and want to watch it. But I do feel like the brunt of that was on Heather, kind of. They made a big deal about her return and her coming back, she has a lot to carry there."
Emily found out Heather was coming back at the same time as the rest of the world, just hours after she learned her spot on the show was secured.
"It's interesting, because when I found out that Gina and I were coming back -- and Shannon -- it was just the three of us, I was like, wow," she recalls. "First of all, I can't believe I made it through that cut. But then it was for a second we had this little like... you feel like a big fish, you know? And then they announced, 20 minutes later, that Heather Dubrow was coming back and then I was like, oh... little fish. Very little fish! I was only cool for, like, I don't know, 30 minutes."
"Once I kind of processed through coming back, it was just the three of us, Heather was coming back on, then I was like, yeah, it's a good thing," she adds. "Because people always wanted to her to come back. They always were still interested in her life."
Heather provided a RHOC first for Emily, too: She's the first woman on the cast who actually felt like she made an honest effort to become friends off-camera, Emily says.
"She was really super nice and welcoming," Emily shares. "She tries really hard to get to know you and to be a part of your life, and for her to bring you into her life, as well -- and I really appreciate that because I think it's a better show when you do have real relationships with people, and people do take the time to try to get to know you, and your kids, and your life and what's going on. Because all that then filters back into the show and comes up, good and bad, and that's what makes a good show. She was really good about that and I appreciate it."
Noella, however, did not have the same experience with the Heather Dubrow's World host. The pair got off on the wrong foot and stayed there, as Noella labeled Heather a "fake b***h" and made claims about her co-star shoving people into walls.
"I don't really understand it," Emily says of the Heather/Noella dynamic. "I know Noella thinks that she saw something -- or heard something -- but that's the part that I don't understand, because she contradicts herself a lot. She says, 'I saw it.' Then she says, 'No, I heard. No, somebody told me. No, I saw it.' To me it's like clearly there's... I'm a fact checker, right? Here I go fact checking. If you're contradicting yourself then it's probably not true, because when you tell the truth you don't contradict yourself over and over again."
"I don't know why she doesn't let it go," Emily adds. "It's just like an ongoing thing that she has with Heather. And for me it's just like, you're not going to get Heather to admit she did something that she didn't do. I don't know, I would've backed out of that a long time ago."
Adding to Emily's confusion around Noella is her observation of the model being both hot and cold when it comes to interacting with Heather.
"I do know the first time that Noella met Heather she acted very fan girl towards her," Emily reveals. "Not normal, like, not how you would act if you were just out to lunch with friends. I mean, she was very like, 'I can't believe I'm sitting next to Heather Dubrow!' And there's another time in the season where she says weird stuff about Heather and calls Heather her hero."
"I don't know, it's all very bizarre to me," she adds. "It doesn't make sense. I feel like maybe she's taking this Heather thing too far to make herself look better, or look dramatic, or look good on the show. I don't know. I know that I want to let it go a long time ago."
The feud fires up on the cast trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, which kicks off on Wednesday night's episode. Heather originally froze Noella out of the vacation, but offered her an invite olive branch while the trip was in progress. However, when she shows up, a group dinner devolves into a discussion over whether Noella gifted Heather's teen daughter, Max, pornography (a claim Noella denies).
"Yeah... that's a good dinner scene," Emily teases. "I remember being right in there ... and I was trying to get Noella to be reasonable. I don't think that'll ever happen."
Cabo isn't all negative, though. It's actually where Emily says she and Shannon bonded after four years of being in a fringe friendship.
"I think Cabo's kind of a game changer for our relationship," she admits. "Shannon and I have a great time together in Cabo, and I think that she finally kind of backs down, and takes her wall down, and kind of just allows the opportunity to get to know me, and to hang out, and to be friendly and to have a good time together. Yeah, I feel like we really kind of take a step forward after Cabo and then it just continues down that path."
Those walls Emily mentions were on full display early in the season, as Shannon felt betrayed by Emily and Gina after Gina revealed to Heather the lawsuit talk, which originally happened off-camera. Shannon claims there was a pact in place to not bring the information up on the show and maintains she had no ulterior motive in sharing that in confidence. Emily, however, believes Shannon was planting seeds to create drama.
"The way it looks in the episode is like she told us something off camera and then as soon as we found out and we were with Heather, we just ran and told Heather. That's not what happened," Emily notes. "That's what it looks like, but that is not what happened, and I will make a timeline, and I will show up at the reunion, and I will tell you what happened and people, I think, will have a better understanding of why Gina and I -- or really, it was Gina, but obviously I was there and I knew she was doing it -- but why it happened like that and why Heather was so upset. And I think there's just pieces of this puzzle that are missing, because you can't pack everything into an episode."
"There were phone calls that took place that weren't on camera," she explains. "There were texts that were... there's just more to this story. My gut feeling and based upon what I know, of course [Shannon] knew it was going to come up because she does things that make it come up. She's been on this show for eight years now, she knows you can't shut a camera down and then drunkenly tell people things and then think that at no point during the rest of the four months of filming that it's never going to come up."
At this point, it seems Emily and Shannon have agreed to disagree (maybe silently) over the lawsuit saga in order to build a relationship. Emily says she's pushing the long-time orange-holder to loosen up a little. On the most recent episode, Emily made a comment about poking Shannon with "little jabs" any chance she can get.
"I was like, great, now she's going to get mad at me and not talk to me now," Emily remarks of the "jabs" comment. "Because Shannon does that: Shannon watches the episodes and then she'll re-get mad at you. She'll just get mad at you again, even though you felt like you worked through it. But I really said it in a joking manner, and I do like to take jabs as Shannon sometimes because I like to see her, because she gets so flustered and can be so neurotic!"
"Sometimes it's just kind of fun to do," she laughs. "It's more of just fun jabs to get her to lighten up or make fun of herself, or make fun of the situation. Not everything has to be so neurotic. ... Gina and I have that kind of relationship, and I have a sister and that's the relationship we have. We can take jabs out of each other in a funny kind of way, you know? And so I just wish Shannon could get to that point where it's not like everything's so personal and intense."
As promised in the season trailer, Shannon seemingly has a personal/intense reaction to Emily questioning whether she's jealous of Gina and Heather forming a bond. Shannon told ET, the assumption is "ludicrous."
"When she's so extreme like, 'That's ludicrous, I would never think that!' then it just makes me think, I feel like you're overreacting a little," Emily remarks, delivering a Shannon impression as she quotes her. "If it wasn't that big of a deal just brush it off and be like, 'Nah, it's not that deep.'"
"She's not going to be happy about that," she then says to herself of the impersonation, "but it's imitation as a form of flattery, right?"
"I think maybe there's a little bit of jealousy there just because Shannon does suffer from FOMO," she goes on to note. "She does really always want to know what everybody else is doing and why she wasn't invited. I think going into this season, it only made sense that Heather and Shannon would've been the closest because they were the ones that had a history, and the rest of us don't have a history with Heather."
"I mean, I would be a little bit," she adds. "I don't know, I feel like maybe Shannon instead of being so adamant that she's not, maybe just embrace it a little bit and be like, 'Yeah, sure, I would've liked to have gone [with them to New York City]...' and brushed it off."
Viewers should stay tuned to see how that plays out, and there is still a lot of season left to watch -- even though Bravo dropped the midseason trailer this week, RHOC is expected to have a full, 18-episode season.
"I think the trips coming up are really interesting and a lot of fun," Emily shares. "And I think the season's been great so far, but we haven't even gone anywhere yet. I feel like there's just big moments, and fun, and drama and all these things that are still to come."
Ironically, though, Emily won't be watching. In fact, she never watches the episodes! Instead, she keeps tabs on what's unfolding on the show through social media (ex-cast member Kelly Leventhal's (née Dodd) podcast has apparently been helpful to an extent -- though Emily admits she predicted more talk of politics and less reality TV coverage from that project) and from her family. Her husband, Shane, makes sure to screen the show each week.
"I get all of that information because Shane watches all the episodes and he watches them multiple times," she shares. "I do feel like I always know what I need to know because he'll be like, 'She said this... or this, but I know that's not right, but you need to know that...' He tells me things. Other people, my sister watches, she tells me."
"I think it's a psychological thing," she says. "I think I might need therapy. I have a hard time sitting and just watching myself, I don't like it. Clearly I'm not a narcissist because I don't like it at all. I don't like my voice. I don't like any of it."
That means some buzzy moments come as a complete surprise, like when she drunkenly promised a certain sex act to her husband on a hot mic.
"I hope my dad doesn't watch that episode!" she exclaims. "I was like, 'Oh my god.' I texted my sister and I was like, 'Can you erase his DVR or something?' See, that's what happens when you do a bunch of shots of tequila, you say things that... I didn't even know that happened. I don't even remember being in the bathroom. That was awful. Mortifying.'
"I've been married 13 years, you got to keep it spicy, right?" she then cracks. And while she doesn't watch the episodes, Emily does credit her time on RHOC with strengthening that 13-year marriage.
"I feel like it was a tool that actually helped our relationship and helped us move forward," she says. "Being able to look at your relationship and think, 'Wow, that's not great. I don't want to talk like that, or look like that...' and I think he had some self awareness of how he looked or sounded. And neither one of us wanted to be like that, we wanted to be happy and respectful to each other, and good role models for our children. I think we took a look at ourselves and our relationship and we both changed, and met in the middle, and that middle is this great play where we're just happy and kind to each other."
Shane finally passing the California Bar Exam didn't hurt, either.
"Oh yeah, that helped tremendously, too," she quips. "I mean, I can only imagine what it was like for him to try to pass the bar with millions of people watching, and commenting on it, and having an opinion about it. And the stress of a wife and children, and a family and trying to figure all that out. Yeah, I'm sure he felt like he had the weight of the world, literally, on his shoulders. For that to be done and over, and to not have to worry about it or go back, or study or think about it, I'm sure he feels this lightened life mood where we can just move forward."