Not even a pandemic and the nation's reckoning with racism could hold back The Real Housewives of Atlanta from delivering a must-see season. In fact, they fully embraced both. The peach holders return for their 13th season this Sunday, one that will highlight the Black Lives Matter movement, the spread of the coronavirus and even some unexpected life events (like an alleged sex party at a bachelorette getaway).
"This whole 2020's just been about change, everything is different. So, the show is different, we're different, you know?" Cynthia Bailey muses to ET over video chat from her Atlanta-area home, which she recently renamed from "Lake Bailey" to "Lake Bailey on the Hill," a nod to her new husband, Mike Hill.
"My No. 1 focus, honestly, was trying to get through this wedding, in the middle of a pandemic," Cynthia adds. She and Mike said "I do" on Oct. 20, a date they picked out long before anyone knew the world would essentially shut down. Cameras followed the couple as they made pivot after pivot to make their special day happen, a true test to the strength of their relationship.
"[We had to make] sure Mike and I actually still wanted to marry each other, after being quarantining together for so long," she quips. "We agreed to marry each other, we didn't agree to go to prison with each other. Just have to be around each other 24/7, breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning, noon, night. That's a lot."
Even so, the 53-year-old supermodel says any doubts about her future with the 50-year-old sportscaster were squashed by life in lockdown. Their wedding invites turned out to be highly coveted, as their 250 guests all RSVP'd "yes," seeking an escape from being stuck at home. That number in a pandemic, though, shocked the internet, even though the couple put plenty of protocols in place to keep everyone safe: from masks to temperature checks, sanitizing stations and social distancing protocols for different parts of the day.
"I expected some pushback," she admits. "Look, the bottom line is we are in the middle of a pandemic. Mike and I -- my husband and I -- have always been very clear about that. We always and still take it very seriously."
"We did think about postponing the wedding, like, one million times for next year, but I don't think anything is going to be any different next year in terms of mask and [face] shields," she says. "So we went above and beyond to put everything in place, that we could to ensure the safety of our guests and one of the biggest things we did actually was just being transparent with them."
Cynthia says everyone who showed up that day understood the risks associated with such a large gathering. She also points out that the wedding was not a "superspreader event." Not one guest came down with COVID-19.
"Trust me, that was the longest 14 days of my life, when I was counting down," she shares of waiting for the "infection window" to close. "I was like, OK, what’s gonna happen now? Nothing happened and that was pretty much because we did our part to ensure that everybody would be safe."
"I'm so grateful to God that we were able to have this wedding,” she adds. The wedding came just days after "the blogs" started posting details about Cynthia's bachelorette party getaway, which allegedly included some of her RHOA co-stars hooking up with a stripper. Most of the cast (and even the stripper) has denied the rumors, but details of the day will be confirmed when "stripper-gate" plays out later this season.
"It gets a little messy," Cynthia teases. "[Kenya Moore's] arm should be very tired from stirring that pot. She stirred and stirred and stirred -- she had to switch arms! Like, she definitely was trying to get to the bottom of it for sure."
Cynthia says the incident went down at an after-party she didn't attend, so any info she got was secondhand.
"I was pretty surprised about some of the stuff that I was hearing," Cynthia admits. "But … this is a group where, anything happens in the group, we talk about it. If you don't wanna talk about it, don't do it in the group"
Cynthia says she personally has closure on "stripper-gate," but she doesn’t know if the answers she received will be the answers the audience wants.
"You guys will just have to wait and see how it all plays out," she says. "I got what I needed -- and I got to leave with a sex swing, so I'm good!"
It seems safe to say season 13 is full of firsts for the ladies of RHOA, including a first-time 'Wife, actress Drew Sidora. The Step Up star doesn't appear in Sunday's premiere, but Cynthia promises viewers will know when she does arrive.
"You guys will definitely get to see Drew a little further down in the season, but just know it's gonna be worth the wait," she declares. "She comes in, she's a breath of fresh air and she’s just cool. She's a cool a** chick, you know? She's really cool. I love our friendship, I love where our friendship is going."
Cynthia says Drew "doesn’t take any crap from anyone" and "has a lot to say." In the trailer, she proclaims, "Don’t f**k with me, I’m from Chicago, b**ch!" It's a catchphrase that quickly turned into an inside joke for the cast.
"We have fun with that a lot this season. It's like, I'm like, 'I'm from Alabama!'" Cynthia shares. "I think she's a great addition to the show and I think that the fans will definitely resonate with her."
Cynthia says Drew reminds her of one-time Housewife (and fellow actress) Kim Fields, but qualifies that with the fact that Drew is more willing to get in the mix than the Facts of Life star was during her time on RHOA.
"You'll get, like, some of the splashes of Kim a little bit, but a little feistier," she says. "She has some funny reads, she has a great sense of humor. … She definitely brings something different, and there's no one else on the show just like Drew."
"Probably toward the middle to the end of the season, you know, the dynamic definitely kind of changes with the friendships on the show," she shares. "So far, I'm in pretty good standing here, but we still got three more weeks to go and a lot can happen in three weeks."
"We do need to get to a finale, which would include all of us, so hopefully we'll be in a good enough place that we can all be there for that," Cynthia adds. "I hope that we will be in a place of respect and peace at that time. Like, I'm not saying everyone's going to be all buddy-buddy at that point. But at least we can be in the same room and we can just kind of look back over the season and reflect on how, at the end of the day, whatever stupid arguments we have, how blessed we are."
Still, Cynthia says she retired her "peacemaker" title this season, after nearly a decade of finding herself stuck in the middle of other people’s problems.
"It's came back and bit me in the a** a couple times," she jokes. "Let these grown women deal with their own relationships."