Once called a "puppet master" by former co-star Kelly Dodd (well, technically Kelly misspoke and said "She's the puppet and everyone else is the master"), the RHOC veteran's return to the series for season 16 -- she stepped away from the show after season 11 in 2016 -- came with almost immediate criticism from the digital peanut gallery. Fan accounts started posting anonymous gossip and unverifiable screen shots of alleged "confirmation" that Heather was calling shots behind the scenes, most notably when it came to new cast member Noella Bergener. There are unsubstantiated claims by "the blogs" that Heather orchestrated some sort of freeze out, instructing the rest of the ensemble not to film with the newcomer.
"There are these rumors that I tried to get Noella fired before the show started, and that I called everyone to tell them not to film with her. That never happened," Heather declares to ET. "I love how powerful everyone thinks I am, though."
The Noella rumors followed speculation around another newbie's status within the group: Nicole James. The would-be Housewife abruptly exited the series after appearing in the first five episodes (edited down to a sort of unofficial "friend of" capacity). No explanation was given for Nicole's sudden decision to stop filming, making space for the rumor mill to churn something out. Unconfirmed tabloid reports of disagreements with producers and fights against COVID protocols popped up, as did mentions of Heather somehow forcing Nicole off the show after her history with Heather's husband, plastic surgeon Dr. Terry Dubrow, became a storyline.
"Let's debunk this," Heather starts. "So, I've seen rumors online that I had Nicole taken off the show, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Honestly, I brought her on the show and I tried to get her to stay on the show. I thought she was great. And she's an incredibly nice girl, and beautiful and fun and great lifestyle. Like all of it. I tried to get her to stay on the show."
Nicole seemed just as blindsided as Heather when the lawsuit (which was eventually dropped, despite even more online chatter that there was a secret settlement) became a talking point on camera. The women did not know each other back when the issue originally occurred, only having connected within their circle of friends in the last few years.
"It really felt like a betrayal," Heather reiterates. "I mean, it was like, 'Hey, come back to the show. This is going to be great. We need the lifestyle back and the this and the that, and we want a more connected community, and blah, blah, blah, blah...' And we're like, 'All right, great.' We talked about it in a family meeting, 'We're in.' And then, ka-pow. Whoa, thanks."
"I'll be perfectly honest with you, I was pretty upset that that happened," Terry admits to ET. "This is something from my past, that was 22 years ago that I had completely forgotten, and I didn't even know she was the same girl. So I thought, 'Wow, why? Why would you want to bring that on the show?' And so I was upset about that component of it."
"At the end of the day, I felt bad-- I felt bad for Nicole," he continues. "I felt bad that she had had a complication from high-risk revisional plastic surgery that I did on her, which I mean, hello, I have a TV show about it. It's called Botched. ... So I felt bad for her, and I felt bad we had to talk about it. So right then I thought, 'Wait a minute. I know we want to show our lives and share a modern family with people and see what other families can do about sexuality differences in their children. But let's do it somewhere else...'"
The kids component has sparked more commentary from the pop culture sidelines, with even franchise alumni Tamra Judge and Teddi Mellencamp questioning whether Heather was "using" her children's personal stories (including coming out) as storylines for the show on their podcast. Heather calls that line of thinking "B.S."
"I don't like the negative connotation of that," she fires back. "My kids tell their stories in their own time. ... But, this is a platform, and I have news for you: Anyone else out there that's got any kind of platform, you have queer kids, you have trans kids. Talk about it. Show everyone how normal this is."
Heather's made no secret of the fact that she wanted out of her RHOC return as soon as the lawsuit came to light, but ultimately decided to stick it out. That led to lots of friction with Shannon, however, as Heather viewed her as the mastermind behind this so-called take-down plot. Shannon has maintained nothing was done maliciously, and that she never wanted the lawsuit drama brought up on camera. While the two were able to reconcile, trust issues remain between them. It's something Heather hopes they can hash out at the soon-to-tape cast reunion.
"I would like to clear the air with Shannon and really discuss what happened, and let us both tell our sides to it, and hopefully move on in a super constructive way, which I feel like we've done in real life," she shares. "And I feel like there are people that have said that I came off too harsh and that I blamed Shannon for something that I shouldn't have, but I have other feelings about it and other information that I want to talk about that might make things clear. Maybe people still won't agree with me, but in my mind, it's why I felt the way I did."
Heather also plans to unpack her growing issues with Noella at reunion. Noella's insinuated that she has skeletons to reveal about the Dubrows, and even joined the chorus of online commentators claiming Heather tried to freeze her out of filming. It's worth noting, Heather originally did not offer an invite to Noella on the first cast trip, but ultimately extended an offer after Gina pleaded her to reconsider.
"I think it was an exact quote from your interview with her where she said, 'I've seen every episode of every franchise. I know everyone. I grew up on this show,'" Heather paraphrases. "I mean, that was very obvious when she came in, and I felt like there was an agenda. And I think it needs to all be broken down."
Heather says it became obvious to the other women that Noella was pumping up the theatrics to make moments for TV, rather than making genuine connections with her co-stars. Noella repeatedly called Heather a "fake b***h" in the early days of filming, yet had only met her a handful of times -- all brief interactions. When Heather pressed her about it during a one-on-one sit-down, Noella backtracked on the label, but in her confessional interviews, seemed to double down on her belief that the title fit.
"I mean, look, at some point-- you saw when Noella came over to my house, and I thought we were going to have just a small conversation about the 'fake b***h' comment and all that, and it turned into these crazy accusations of me slamming people against wall," Heather rattles off, referencing a comment made by Noella about witnessing Heather getting physical with an unidentified person (seemingly a crew member) in the aftermath of the Nicole lawsuit reveal. In repeating the story, Noella distanced herself from the action; she's gone from witnessing the alleged moment firsthand, to hearing the moment play out to hearing from someone that the moment happened. No footage has been shown to prove Noella's telling the truth; RHOC has aired a moment, however, in which Heather places her hand in front of a camera and asks the crew to stop filming her while she debriefed the Nicole situation with producers.
"I mean, just insanity," Heather scoffs. "I said to her, 'I don't think I'm the right friend for you. I feel terrible for everything that she's going through...' -- and I really, I did, but I just felt like, gosh, I don't want to be additive to your problems. I don't want you to be subtractive to my life. The isn't a good connection."
It seems things only deteriorate further for the duo in the back-half of the season, though. As teased in the mid-season trailer, Heather gets terse with Noella, telling her, "You're a liar and a thirsty girl and I'm done."
"When someone keeps lying about you, and coming after you, and coming after you for no reason, unless they have some kind of personal agenda, at some point your head explodes," Heather says of the moment. "I think that's what you're going to see."