"I don't know," the franchise newcomer ekes out when asked by ET about her future on the Bravo hit, a knowing smile taking over her face. "Ask me in a couple-- ask me when the shooting day starts."
The 38-year-old (Google has her age wrong, by the way) wraps up her debut season on the series (save for the recently announced four-part reunion) on Wednesday night with the season 11 finale, and cameras are rumored to go up -- if they haven't already -- on season 12 in the coming days, to continue following the action that turned the latest batch of episodes into must-see TV. Should she return, the mom of two says she'll be ready to bring it in ways she maybe didn't during her freshman run.
"The closer we get I think it's going to be better," she confesses. "It was a hard transition for me. I'm not an actress and I've never wanted to be. So just that concept of being on camera has been challenging. It's just sort of... I had a very kind of normal, average life and sort of turned itself upside down. But now that I know how it works better, I think that I would be able to open up more. I mean, people are like, 'Oh, you look like cold or smug.' No, I'm just super uncomfortable. I didn't know what to do. And am I supposed to yell back at someone? I just didn't know."
It's criticism that viewers have lobbed at her more and more as the season's gone on, especially as Erika Jayne's divorce from Tom Girardi and their partially unrelated, convoluted legal battle became the main topic of discussion on camera. Crystal sat back during most discussions around Erika's life, something she addressed in a recent confessional interview on the show, saying she's still getting to know Erika and didn't feel like it was her place to interject. Crystal really only knew Kathy Hilton, who was also new to the group in season 11, before filming started.
"It's just not really my personality, I don't jump in there to hear myself speak," she explains. "I'm just getting to know people and I tend to sit back and listen and observe and then make judgements later. And people forget that this is just a very short filming schedule and this was 10 months ago. And so, as I'm getting to know people whilst all this is unraveling, it's just, it's a personality thing."
"Some people like to hear themselves speak more than others," she continues, which could be a not-so-subtle reference to co-star Dorit Kemsley, who's been called out by multiple castmates for taking over conversations. "I tend to be a little more quiet, but when I feel like I need to say something, I'll say it. I have no problem."
Crystal now knows that in the world of Real Housewives, even if you don't need to be involved, it's best to get involved -- at least in the viewers' eye. She didn't realize how "intensely committed" the audience tends to be.
"[It's] pretty wild," she says. "I had no clue. I just was like, 'Oh, I'm just going to put myself out there and just be on a TV show.' And yeah, it was pretty intense. I've learned so much about myself. You get to see yourself through a mirror and most people don't get that and commentaries have been difficult, but also helpful. So it's sort of a roller coaster of emotions."
"I think now I'll feel more comfortable sort of really letting myself open up and be more vulnerable and expressing really how I feel in my heart," she surmises of her impending second season.
To her credit, Crystal did speak up this season when she was directly involved in something. She advocated for Garcelle Beauvais during a tense exchange with Erika on the cast's trip to La Quinta, California. Erika had an intense reaction to Garcelle sharing information about her relationship with Tom to the group that she told to Garcelle and Crystal in confidence (though, while mic'd) during a hike with just the three of them. Erika claimed she asked Garcelle and Crystal not to repeat what she had said (that Tom calls her every day, but she ignores it); Crystal made it clear that Erika only made the request of her on the ride back from the excursion. Garcelle was in a different car and unaware of the ask.
When the episode aired, Lisa Rinna claimed part of the explosive moment was cut, with the audience unable to see when production got involved in the conversation. That led some viewers to speculate that Crystal's reaction in the background of the edited scene -- she was crying -- may have been because Erika yelled at her, too. Crystal says her tears were actually because the whole ordeal reminded her of her late father's battle with Alzheimer's, seeing as Tom is reported to also suffer from the disease.
"That conversation on the mountain was quite long and, for me, my empathy towards Erika kept coming in, because all we would talk about was Tom having Alzheimer's, and that's what I suffered with, with my father, for nine years," she recalls. "When I could tell she didn't want to talk about it anymore ... I just kept thinking about [Tom] and my dad and what if my dad-- I didn't answer the phone? I just kept going there. And so that was really hard. And to watch them explosively fight when it was a misunderstanding was really painful. I don't like to see that. I don't want to see people arguing like that. Petty stuff is sort of fun. That was dark emotions. And I just, my heart was sad for both of them."
"There's a lot of stuff that happened," she adds. "But for me, my tears were really connecting on the level of my dad."
Speaking of "petty stuff," Crystal found herself in plenty of it early in the season's run, facing off with Sutton Stracke over a few misunderstandings on the cast's trip to Lake Tahoe. The first -- and most egregious -- was Sutton seemingly not comprehending why the phrase "I don't see color" is offensive to people with the lived experience of not being white (she's since apologized for this and committed to knowing better, doing better). The second was Sutton getting upset over being unintentionally excluded from a prank game at a group dinner. The third -- and the one that caused things to spiral -- was Sutton walking in on a nude Crystal in the vacation house, attempting to return a coat Crystal left in the living room. After the coat moment, Crystal briefly pulled herself away from the group, and later got into it with Sutton over the use of the word "violation" to describe what had happened. The debate over semantics led to a now-iconic insult from Sutton: "Jealous of what? Your ugly leather pants?"
"I have a different perspective on everything that happened," she says, having watched their fight play out on TV. The moment became much bigger in Crystal's mind than it ever read on camera, a reality TV lesson well learned.
"We only get to experience what we experience," Crystal notes. "So watching other dynamics happening, different discussions, that totally changes your viewpoint on things. And I think that's real life. If you don't know what's happening behind closed doors, you don't know. But I think both of us made mistakes. Both of us have genuinely apologized. And so that's how you start real friendships. And it was hard, but yeah, a lot of new perspective for me, for sure."
The two have since put their differences behind them. On the most recent episode, Crystal made her now-positive feelings toward Sutton known to the whole group. And in present day, the two posed together for a photo at Kyle Richards' daughter, Portia Umansky's, bat mitzvah. That Kodak moment came after the pair relived their differences at the reunion taping.
"It was actually a lot easier than I thought," Crystal admits of the all-day shoot. "It was harder, I think, for some people. But for me, I've had so much time, and Sutton and I have gotten to a good place, and that was only my real trauma for the show. So I knew I would be OK in that way. I knew we'd have to rehash it. But when you know where you are today, and you can hold onto that in your heart without judgment, then you could be OK about it. But it was intense because feelings have changed since we wrapped and [episodes] come out."
It's no shock that the person who likely had the roughest time at reunion is Erika, whose life has only seemed to get more complicated since cameras went down in February.
"During filming and now, to be honest, we really just know what everyone else knows," Crystal says. "But the difference is that we get to ask more intimate questions, right? Because we get to be face to face, and a lot of them are answered. Some are more challenging to get out, but ... certainly the girls that know her better ask a lot of questions that will reveal more."
Tabloid reports surfaced in the days after the taping that Erika left feuding with nearly everyone, Lisa her only friend left on the cast. While Crystal neither confirms nor denies that claim, she does offer this: "I think everyone has their own sort of challenges with the friendship questions."
"Everyone has a different history with her and each other," Crystal points out. "That's all going to play out. ... I think people will feel settled knowing where everyone stands."
While fans may not be happy with the status of certain friendships, Crystal promises they'll at least know where everyone lands with one another. That sets the stage for plenty to unpack in season 12. When she thinks about what she'd like to show that she didn't in her first run on the show, Crystal is quick to call out her personality. She's described herself as the "class clown" of her friend group, but that didn't translate to TV this time around.
"I'm actually really bubbly," she proclaims. "And then my husband was like, 'No, you actually weren't when you were filming, you were so stressed. You were not bubbly at home and you've always been your whole life.'"
"I would like to have more fun and not worry about the camera so much," she reiterates. "And also I don't think people know that I have my own company called Real Coco and I think that would be fun to share with people. I've had it for nine years, so it's been around for a long time. That would be fun, because the girls text me all the time to keep sending delivery. There's only so much coconuts in the world to keep sending these girls coconut water! ... I literally get texts like, 'I'm out.' OK, I'll hand deliver you coconut water."
By getting to show more of herself, Crystal also seems to hope that the audience won't judge her as harshly as they have in some moments during season 11. She was labeled a number of things after making a comment about the Me Too movement, which she says wasn't contextualized properly when it aired. At the so-called "Dinner Party From Hell, Pt. 2" event at Kathy's house, Crystal came to Erika's defense to say she shouldn't be judged for what Tom allegedly did. To make her point, she referenced how her husband, director Rob Minkoff, previously worked with at least one man who was "Me Too'd." Some viewers took her comparison as a flippant remark that made light of what the greater movement is about.
"It was a very small moment that aired, but it was actually a [full] story," she says. "I don't know, I have mixed feelings. Should I have just avoided saying the words 'Me Too?' Or, I think, it's actually important to keep talking about it. Just like [Black Lives Matter] it's not over. It wasn't a moment, it's current. And so no, the Me Too movement is actually quite important to us because being a wife of someone in Hollywood, I see it. I've experienced it. So I think it actually took the opposite direction it was supposed to."
"The story was that Rob had filmed with someone, worked with someone, 11 years ago, and then eight years later was called out," she continues. "And so when I was saying it didn't affect us, [I meant] that he had worked with someone 11 years ago. And then it turned into a very quick, 'Oh, it doesn't affect us.' No, Rob would never work with someone today [who had been exposed to be an abuser]. Because we've gone into situations where people have said really nasty things to me in front of him, and really degrading things ... so I was really sad that that happened, because it was the opposite effect."
"It was very important to our family," she says. "I wish the whole story came out, but you know, that's sort of what creates discussion on the show. ... [But] that's probably the most important thing that I wanted to clarify from this whole season, because it's actually so important as a platform to me and Rob."
The hate thrown Crystal's way online isn't limited to critiquing comments she's made on camera, though. The newly minted reality star -- Beverly Hills' first-ever Asian Housewife -- recently deactivated her Twitter account after receiving an onslaught of racist attacks from anonymous users. She also shared some of the hateful messages she's received in her DMs on Instagram, in order to give her followers insight into what minorities deal with on a daily basis, famous or not.
"I didn't really anticipate the severity of it," she admits of the unwarranted backlash. "I joined Twitter when it started and didn't use it, and I just found it another space for people to send threatening messages and stuff. ... It was really hard and I didn't want to see my kids [affected by that]. You know, my kids are so young and, yeah, it's been challenging."
"I came on the show for representation and I know just how important it is," she adds. "[When] I deleted it was like, 'Can I continue?' And then I get messages like, 'Please don't leave. You're the only person that looks like me on television.' And so those moments inspire me to keep going and realize that, yeah, how valuable it is to have more AAPI representation on television."
It's another reason why she'll seemingly be back on RHOBH come season 12.
"When you say you don't want to see me anymore, I'm going to keep going," she says, speaking directly to the trolls. "So you might as well stop sending it or turn off the TV."