A couple of clouds hang over season 15 of The Real Housewives of Orange County: the ghosts of departed cast members, the pandemic... and Kelly Dodd. The one-time fan-favorite Housewife fell out of favor with the fandom over the summer, as she made controversial comment after controversial comment about the coronavirus pandemic. Her flippant attitude toward the call for racial justice sweeping the nation didn’t help (she most recently defended wearing a hat emblazoned with the phrase "Drunk Wives Matter," stylized like the Black Lives Matter logo). All this led many self-professed super-fans and former Kelly "stans" to announce they were opting out of watching, or at the very least posting about it online, RHOC's new batch of episodes. And yet, the show goes on, with Kelly's co-stars stuck somewhere between her and the audience.
"I do think that if somebody really has been offended and feels that they've been victimized by something that she's said, I understand if they want to take a stand and they don't want to watch," Gina Kirschenheiter admits to ET over video chat. "She just can't get out of her own way. I don't agree with any of it, I don't like any of it."
"I do think that there are five other women here, and there [are] a lot of very important things happening to a lot of us and maybe you can just fast forward through her parts," she adds. Gina says, in Kelly's head, she's a comedian who can push buttons and cross boundaries, but notes that reality TV stardom doesn't really give you that sort of platform.
"She'll say anything for the joke," Gina adds, "but she doesn't understand she's not a comedian, she's just on a show where she's just a public figure and so, it's hard because I want to believe that she doesn't mean a lot of the stupid things that she says, but she says them."
"Hopefully this is a learning experience for her," she says with a shrug.
The Kelly factor aside, this season of RHOC is starting out like most others, the women caught up in the kind of day-to-day drama that's fueled the franchise for more than a decade. Gina finds herself at the heart of a budding feud with Braunwyn Windham-Burke, the season 14 newbie who kicked off season 15 with a shocking revelation: she's an alcoholic. It’s information Gina wishes she knew before cameras started rolling, as viewers will soon see Gina call out Braunwyn for her drunken antics, despite Braunwyn being 30 days sober at the time. Braunwyn told ET it was her "rock bottom" moment.
"I feel terrible about that, I don't wanna be that mirror," Gina says in response. "I didn't know she was alcoholic. ... This woman is clearly in crisis struggling with this, holding on by a straw and I'm in her face telling her, 'You're a sloppy chihuahua!' Like, I feel terrible about that."
After watching the moment ahead of Wednesday night's episode, Gina says she texted Braunwyn to apologize, now knowing the full story. Ironically, Gina and Braunwyn's issues are born out of a different text message between Gina and Braunwyn's husband, Sean, from last season: after an alcohol-filled evening together, Sean got Gina an Uber home and texted her what she interpreted as a flirty exchange, a possible invitation to the Windham-Burkes' marital bed. Braunwyn took major offense to that insinuation, though.
"She's going around saying -- the whole year -- saying, 'We have threesomes, I have a sex apartment…' rolling around on the floor with Tamra [Judge], but then I'm crazy for thinking that I might have a shot?" Gina asks. "Like, that’s all right. I’ll just lower my self-esteem then. I’ll think less of myself. I understand very clearly now: I’m not good enough to sleep with you. She says, ‘The only requirement is you have to be hot.’ So, OK, I understand I'm not hot enough to sleep with you."
It’s a conversation Gina says she largely opted to keep off camera (save for an unearthed moment from last season, in which she confided in Tamra), knowing it would only cause issues between her and Braunwyn.
"If I wanted that to be a big deal or blow it out of proportion or whatever last year, it would have been a big deal, because that's just how this goes right?" Gina notes. "I was trying to be respectful of it, even though it did make me feel uncomfortable, and not make it, like, a storyline you know?"
"When I heard they were the ones bringing it up, I was shocked!" she continues. "I felt like I was doing her a solid by not bringing it up, and then I was kind of ambushed with it [on camera]. She had so many opportunities to call me directly about it, and it wouldn't have blown out of proportion, ‘cause I would’ve said, 'Yeah, you know what? I have different boundaries. It made me a little uncomfortable.'"
Gina says she feels like Braunwyn is almost shaming her for speaking up for herself, something she finds ironic, seeing as Braunwyn is a big advocate for women sharing their truth.
"The point is, she’s been sitting on it, and then the cameras go up," Gina reiterates, adding that Braunwyn has tried to paint the incident as if Gina was too drunk to get home and Sean took care of her. Gina claims her Uber app simply didn't work that night.
"I’m like, what are they trying to create? Like, thank you for the Uber. I'll Venmo you if you want, but it's just an Uber, you know?" she says. "I couldn't understand and meanwhile you were passed out and that is honestly how most of the nights that we would film would end with her."
"We would film the whole thing, and then you have to go to the next thing and now we're in a group and we're talking about all the things that happened at this party or whatever and she had no idea of what was ever going on," Gina reveals. "So it became frustrating as a cast to work with her. I’m so taken back by the fact that she's accusing me of being too drunk when she was passed out. … Now, I look at it and I think she was projecting."
Gina joins co-stars Shannon Beador and Emily Simpson in telling ET that Braunwyn's authenticity is in question this season; Gina herself said Braunwyn is "full of s**t" on a recent episode. The cast seems to agree that they don't really know who this woman is, only who she's claimed to be -- both on the show and online. On top of giving up drinking, Braunwyn also publicly came out as queer, revealing she has a girlfriend on top of her marriage to Sean.
"I think those are two extremely big issues that she's dealing with," Gina says. "I think now, for the first time, she's sober and she's going to have to figure out who she is, and I don't think that she's quite there. … Genuinely, my heart does go out to her and her family."
"I think it's extremely commendable that she has admitted it, that she has a problem, but I think maybe for the other women it's hard for them to understand because when you look at what she presents on social media, it looks like she's fast-tracked right through her whole journey," she adds.
In her own defense, Braunwyn flips the script on her co-stars, telling ET, "I think it's hard for them, because if I’m honest, then what they've said isn't real. So, it's easier to cast doubt on what I’m saying instead of taking responsibility for some things they might have said."
"One of the things about getting sober is, you have to do some pretty hard inventory and look at yourself," she added. "So, out of everything you can say, that's the one thing that you can't right now. I am literally -- I haven't told one lie all season."
Braunwyn is caught in a bit of a she said, she said moment with Shannon Beador, though, over whether Shannon made fun of Gina's house. Gina says it's likely Shannon did speak ill of her new abode, but what bothers her more is that Braunwyn would use Shannon allegedly making snide comments as an excuse to do the same.
"There's no accountability, no responsibility," Gina says. "Her excuse for why it's OK is because she's not the only one that did it. For me, that's a toddler response. That's very immature to me. It's very wanting to pass the buck."
Outside of friction with the women, viewers will see Gina deal with the two men in her life this season: her boyfriend of more than a year, Travis Mullen, and her ex-husband, Matt. In Gina's first two seasons on the show, Matt never appeared on camera (she says his job precluded him from filming), but he was still very much a figure, talked about on and off as the couple's marriage demised. At the end of season 14, Gina tearfully recounted the ultimate breaking point at the all-cast reunion, a June 2019 altercation that ended with Matt arrested and Gina obtaining a restraining order against him. Then, to the shock of many, Matt popped up in the season 15 trailer.
"Unfortunately ... as a result of everything that happened last year, Matt was let go from his job, so he now had free will and choice," Gina explains. "I was very appreciative that Matt did film, and I thought it would be good for people to see that we could go through such traumatic experiences and bad times and … I thought it would be good for people to see us come together for our children."
Even though Gina has an active restraining order against Matt, she is still able to be around him when their children are present, if she so chooses.
"We're allowed to be by each other, but only for when it comes to the children, you know what I mean? I'm not, like, going to hang out with Matt. So we're really only around each other if it’s child-related."
Gina says distance from Matt has made their co-parenting relationship stronger, and given her perspective on her romance with Travis.
"I think that Matt and I didn't have a deep foundation, a deep connection," she muses. "We didn’t have that partnership. … Now I know what it is to be in love, and it’s one of those things you can’t describe it until you have it. I still can’t describe it, but I know I have it now."
"I absolutely know Travis is the one. I know we know we're the one for each other," she adds. "After going through the marriage, going through the divorce --all that -- I think I'm not saying we're not gonna get married, but it’s not super important on my priority list. I'm very happy and comfortable knowing it’s a really healthy, rooted relationship."
While Gina's trying not to get ahead of herself when it comes to her relationship, she is getting a hold of her, well, head. The 36-year-old's hair journey has been the source of much fodder online, especially after a jarring shot of her intricate extension system made its way to TV on the season premiere.
"I'm OK with it, 'cause, like, I'm not blind," she says of the memes and jokes made about her hair situation. "I see what’s going on there and, like, the bottom line is, I’m really just a low maintenance kind of person."
Gina admits she let the pressures of reality TV get the best of her. After doing her own hair and makeup for her first season on the show, she gave into glam in her second.
"I just made the bad decision to, ugh, just start down this road with the extensions, all that stuff that probably a lot of these women can handle, but I can't," Gina admits. "It was way too much for me, and then the platinum destroyed my actual hair, and then I got it back to the original color, but then I had no hair left! So, then I had to have the extensions, so then what you're seeing is the extension and my actual hair on top. Frizzle, frazzle dead hair, so I get it -- all of it. I'm not proud of it, but you know what? It is what it is. What are you gonna do? It’s entertainment for people."