Melissa Gorga Admits 'RHONJ' Season 13 Hits 'the Lowest of the Low' With Teresa Giudice (Exclusive)

ET exclusively sits down with Melissa Gorga at her New Jersey home to unpack the drama to come on 'The Real Housewives of New Jersey.'

"You'll never see how toxic someone is until you breathe fresher air."

So quips Melissa Gorga in her tagline for The Real Housewives of New Jersey's 13th season, premiering Tuesday on Bravo. It's no secret that she's referencing her sister-in-law, OG star of the show Teresa Giudice, with that new catchphrase. Fans will see the two fall out, seemingly for good, as the season unfolds. 

"I am breathing fresher air right now," Melissa tells ET, her first sit-down interview inside her new home. "It took me a really long time to get here, and to feel secure doing that."

"I feel like I've -- for many years -- tried really, really hard and it felt toxic over and over again," she adds, referencing the 13 years she's spent filming RHONJ with Teresa, the only sister of Melissa's husband, Joe Gorga. Melissa and Joe's joining Teresa on the show came with major drama, a brawl breaking out at Melissa's son's christening in their first episode, as tensions rose over Teresa feeling blindsided by her family signing up for the show "behind [her] back." Viewers have watched the trio attempt to mend their relationship in the decade-plus that's followed. 

"There have definitely been times that the family has been good, right? And that we've pushed through, and it just always circles back," Melissa laments. "It always circles back, and I don't know why. I don't know why it always goes that way. I don't know why there always has to be a rumor about Melissa, or we have to bring in the negative."

Melissa calls season 13 "different" because, for the first time, she's done trying to figure out how to be friends with Teresa.

"I do wash my hands of a lot of the B.S., if I'm being honest," she shares, "and I'm just like, stop. Just stop."

On the premiere, fans will see Teresa offer Melissa a sort-of olive branch after last season's "crazy" and "sad" reunion, inviting her and Joe to celebrate her 50th birthday on an island vacation. Melissa and Joe turned down the offer.

"I'm not gonna sugar coat it, it felt fake," Melissa says. "It felt forced. It felt like it made zero sense after announcing on national TV that I was the only sister-in-law not in the wedding, and then I get a private invitation saying it's 'just for the special people in my life' and we're about to film next week?"

"She was trying to clean up a little bit of a mess that maybe she made, if I'm being honest," she adds, scoffing at Teresa's claim that not attending the birthday was Joe and Melissa's way of "punishing" her.

"That's not the point here," Melissa says. "I'm being authentic. I don't punish -- that's a difference. I don't play games. I don't want to play games anymore. I'm done with the games, so I'm not punishing anybody. I'm just being real with the fact I don't believe that you want to spend five days with me on an island. I just don't believe it."

Andrew Eccles / Bravo

"It's like a roller coaster and I want off," she says. "I want off the roller coaster of, like, the highs and the lows, and the ups and the downs. Like, I'm gonna be rude to your face and then I'm gonna walk in and be like, 'Hiiii!' No, I'm over it. I'm not doing it anymore."

Viewers will see Melissa and Teresa's issues snowball over the course of the season, coming to a head at a finale event, which resulted in Melissa and Joe opting out of attending Teresa's August nuptials to her now-husband, Louie Ruelas. While Melissa can't give away the details of what was bad enough for her to write off her sister-in-law for good, she does say it's "the worst it's ever been."

In the lead-up to RHONJ's return, Teresa once again claimed Melissa and Joe blindsided her by joining the show in 2010, discussing the details with former producer Carlos King on his podcast. Carlos backed up Teresa's version of events.

"I'm sorry, no matter how bad you try and backtrack it and make it seem like it was some kind of crazy thing that we were scheming up behind [your back], it was not," Melissa declares. "It's been 13 years and like, so wait-- hold on; are we gonna break a whole family up over this story from 13 years ago? Like, are we OK? This is not OK."

"[Carlos] knows Teresa's side of the story; I don't know Carlos King," she continues. "He knows her side, which I believe is true: She did call him ranting like, 'Oh my god! Melissa's gonna be on the show...' but -- 100 percent fact -- when I was getting interviewed for the show, she called me very frustrated -- interviewed, not that I made the show, being interviewed [for casting] -- saying, 'Well, good luck...' in a very condescending way. Obviously, I got the show. I'm sure Andy [Cohen] called her to say, 'We're casting your sister-in-law...' and she freaked out. So, I do believe she called Carlos and freaked out, but she also called me and said, 'Good luck...' very condescending. I'm never gonna not say that, because that's the truth."

Melissa claims Teresa was attempting to hold out on filming season 3 in hopes it would force the powers-that-be to renege Melissa's role on the show, but it didn't pan out that way. 

Andrei Jackamets / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

"She was like, 'I do not want my brother or my sister-in-law on the show,' and she would not film at my christening, which was the first event and Joe was offended by that," Melissa recalls. "He was like, 'I'm your brother, why are you trying to block us from this? What're you doing?' And she was yelling at him on the phone every day, so when she walked in like, 'Hi!' ... She walked in with this big-a** smile on her face like nothing."

Melissa admits to being utterly confused about why this is still a point of contention for Teresa, especially seeing as the two talked it out while filming season 1 of The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip. Melissa suspects her sister-in-law simply doesn't have any other issues to point to for why she has such disdain for the Envy boutique owner.

"It's almost like reaching to find a reason," Melissa goes on, "like, you can't find anything we've done recently? Like, we're going to dig back 13 years? It was 2010, because my son was two months old, he's 12; he's going to be 13, so wow, that's a reach to start arguing with that now, with everything that's going on."

"It's just a way to try to make us look bad and try to put a little something out there like these are bad people, these are horrible people," she continues. "Joe and I are family people. We love our kids, we go to all our kids' sports. We are with my family constantly. That is truly what Joe and I are about; we are about our marriage, we are about our kids and I think that bothers a lot of people who don't have that if I'm being honest."

At play here is the fact that Teresa's revisited seasons 3 through 12 ahead of season 13's airing, telling her Namaste B***hes podcast listeners she wanted to see everything Melissa and Joe have said about her over their tenure on the show.

"I would like her to see her behavior as well for the last 12 years," Melissa fires back. "It's a little scary, because we're so stuck, and when you're digging and trying to find stuff from 10 years ago to be miserable about, something's wrong there. You don't want to be happy, you don't want to move forward."

Jeff Kravitz / Getty Images for MTV

"If Teresa wants to b***h about 2010, she can b***h all on her own," she adds."I'll be hanging out with the new girls, doing something fun and refreshing because I don't care what happened in 2010, I just don't give a s**t. I can get mad at her if I rewatch those episodes all day long. I mean with the Pennys, with the Kim Ds, with my ex-friends that we're in my wedding. Hello?"

Melissa compares Teresa investigating past seasons to a dog digging for a bone.

"You're literally trying to find a reason to, like, X us out, and then you're not allowed to claim on the other side, like, she finally got what she wanted, no," she says, referencing a comment Teresa makes in the season trailer: "She's always wanted to keep my brother and I apart. She got her wish." 

"I mean, when you fully keep anything that has to do with your brother, his whole entire family out of your wedding -- don't invite my mother, don't have my daughter, your sister-in-law, your only brother's wife, it's definitely not me breaking up the family, I think someone needs to like look in the mirror," Melissa says in response to the quote. 

"She has said since season 3 that she can't believe our marriage, that she can't believe that we are so happy," she notes. "She's always tested our marriage, but at the end of the day, I have been married for 18 years. I have three children. I'm not worried about the fact that I didn't show up to a wedding, right? because it's like, I am happy for her and I do wish her peace, I do. I think they're happy and I'm grateful for that. I want them to have happiness, but I'm also gonna worry about the guy I've been with for 18 years and have three children [with] opposed to someone she met last year."

That "someone she met" would, of course, be Louie. He labels Joe and Melissa "insecure" in season 13's premiere episode. 

Santiago Felipe / Getty Images

"I mean, I actually appreciate someone calling me insecure finally instead of saying the total opposite," Melissa quips. "I mean, I think that's weak on his part."

Social media onlookers take note of this group's activity online, flagging likes and comments on posts for fan accounts that might stir up more drama. Melissa allegedly liked a post that credited "fame, fortune and Louie Ruelas" with ruining Teresa and Joe's relationship. 

"I could've, I don't know," Melissa offers when asked about the like. "I mean, Louie likes every single post that says, 'Melissa should be off The Real Housewives of New Jersey,' and 'Teresa's the queen!' So, I might have? I don't know. I really don't play with the Twitter trolls, so to speak. I don't. I don't really get invested with that. That's not ever been my thing."

Teresa has long blamed Melissa for the strain in her relationship with Joe, despite the fact that Joe has routinely said his issues with Teresa are his issues alone. 

"She just doesn't want to put it on her brother," Melissa suggests. "I think it's easier to blame me ... but I will say, you will see Joe, I don't think he is in one scene with Teresa this whole entire season. There might be one. He's very upset over certain things that you'll find out at the finale."

The finale seems to be the culmination of the Melissa cheating rumor saga, which Melissa describes as a "game of telephone." In the trailer, Jennifer Aydin brings up the allegations, but the internet seems to believe Melissa's friend, Margaret Josephs, is the true source. Melissa says that's not true; instead, she claims it was a friend of Margaret's attempt to get on the show. 

Manny Carabel / Getty Images

"Unfortunately, that comes a lot with like woman who want to be on The Real Housewives of New Jersey, they make things up," she muses. "There was a friend of Margaret's who really wanted to get cast. She auditioned a couple of times, it didn't work out for her, she went to Margaret's worst enemies, right? And then she made up a whole situation and they went with it, and that to me is very frustrating because I'm married with kids and that's a low blow."

It also felt like a blow to Melissa when Teresa announced on national TV -- not privately -- that she would not be included as a bridesmaid in her and Louie's wedding. Instead, Louie's sisters would be part of Teresa's bridal party, alongside RHONJ co-stars Jennifer and Dolores Catania. In various social media posts, Teresa's raved over Louie's sisters feeling like "true" sisters to her, providing a level of love she says she's never received from Melissa. 

"Good for her," Melissa offers to Teresa gushing over her other sisters-in-law. "I'm good, I'm glad. I wish that she could have done that with her blood, right? With her brother's family, but it is what it is; those are her choices."

Part of Teresa's reasoning for not including Melissa in her special day involved the events of season 12, specifically Margaret's questioning of Louie's past relationships and behavior. Teresa claims to be disappointed in her sister-in-law for now shutting down Margaret, but also forgives Margaret for everything that unfolded.

"It's crazy because she literally comes into this season trying to hold Margaret's hand, and inviting her over and saying to her, 'I'm so sorry, you really did nothing wrong...' and I'm like, right, that's what I was saying the whole time!" Melissa says. "But you're still mad at me and it makes zero sense."

"She's literally holding me accountable for that, but she has forgiven Margaret for it," she continues. "Meanwhile, [Teresa's good friend] Jennifer is still like, you know, anything she can say to grab any type of attention to say about Joe or I, and I think it's sad because I don't think Margaret wishes this family any harm, I have to be honest with you. I believe that she would love to see the family together and she pushes us to be together. Jennifer does not and it's weird." 

Greg Endries / Bravo / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Melissa and Jennifer start season 13 on OK terms, Melissa saying she made an effort because she's exhausted by the division in the group. That doesn't last long, though, with the cast back in "Team Teresa" and "Team Melissa" territory. The fans find themselves in similar factions, with Teresa's supporters flooding the comments sections of Melissa's interviews with criticism for "only talking about Teresa." 

"If you're asking me a question, I'm gonna answer it," Melissa offers. "I'm not in denial that I'm on a show with my family. People are gonna ask me questions. It's the main attraction of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, right? The two families, OK? So I have to answer questions about it. When we're no longer on a show together, I'm no longer gonna answer the questions."

It might take divine intervention to keep both women on the show come season 14. They've both said they have no plans to exit RHONJ, but have also said they're done with one another. They haven't spoken since filming the finale last fall. 

"I don't see it as I used to," Melissa says of reconciliation. "I don't see it as of now, as sad as it is, like, I just... I don't know where we go from here, if I'm being honest. This is definitely the lowest of the low."

While the family friction pulls focus, it's not the entirety of the season. Melissa says there's plenty more to look forward to, including moving her Envy boutique into a second location and the introduction of three new players: Housewives Danielle Cabral and Rachel Fuda, plus "friend of" Jenn Fessler. 

"Danielle's very loud," Melissa remarks. "She's very in your face, you're gonna hear her voice from a mile away."

"I can't wait for the fans to meet her, honestly, and see how they perceive her," she adds. "I gave her a lot of chances. I was very open arms with her. I spoke business with her a lot, too; there's a lot of things that I do that she is trying to work her way up to, so I feel like I was trying to be very helpful with Danielle... I don't know, we'll see. We'll see."

"Rachel's sassy," she continues. "She's very smart. I see a lot of my characteristics in her as well. She's great, I mean, listen, she's a good friend of mine. I love her husband, he's hysterical. ... I'm happy to have both of the new girls, if I'm being honest."

"Jenn Fessler, buckle up," she then warns. "Oh my god, funny. Exactly what we need at the exact right time to like, she's messy and doesn't care. She doesn't even try to hide it which I appreciate, you know. She's so fun."

And after months of speculation of what did and didn't go down while filming season 13, Melissa is saying "thank you, Jesus" that it's finally hitting the air.

"I'm reading what my cast members are saying, or people are saying on podcasts, and this and that? Makes zero sense," she shares. "You wanna almost scream from the rooftops, 'No, no, no, no, no! This is what happened, and this is why we didn't do this, and this is why we didn't do that, and this is what's going on here...' and it's hard because you have to keep hush-hush."

The Real Housewives of New Jersey airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo; new episodes of Melissa's podcast, On Display, debut weekly from PodcastOne.

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