"It honestly was waking up every day to headlines and just, kind of, watching her life.... I don't know. For lack of a better word, crumbling before her eyes," Kyle shares with ET of the journey fans will go on, right alongside the ladies. "It was a 20-year marriage and all that happening with the stuff in the news and the lawsuits and this and everything, it was so much. It was happening while we were all together. So, there's a lot of stuff coming out and it's going to be a very challenging season for her."
Shortly after Erika filed to end her marriage to Tom, a well-known attorney, the estranged couple found themselves facing a major lawsuit that alleged their divorce was fake, a cover-up to embezzle money from a multimillion-dollar settlement meant for the families of the victims of Lion Air Flight 610 crash, which occurred in October 2018. In the months since, the state of California disbarred Tom, and his family placed him under a conservatorship. Neither Tom nor Erika has spoken out publicly about the allegations, so whatever plays out on Housewives will be the first time viewers hear Erika's side of the story. Her social media is flooded daily with comments about stealing from "orphans and widows," with some commentators accusing her co-stars and Bravo of protecting and enabling a criminal. It's worth reminding, though, that in the United States, one is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law, not the court of public opinion.
"To me, it's easy to judge someone on reality television," Kyle remarks. "She's someone that has dealt with that for years, even before reality television was a part of her life. So, when the audience watches the show, they have to remember, this was six months ago. It was literally unfolding as we were filming. Every day it was another headline, another story coming out, and some of them were devastating and I'm sure some people think, 'Oh, she knew…' and all that shady stuff they're talking about. But you really don't know, and if you know Erika you think, ‘Well, why would she have known all of this stuff?’"
“I don't feel that Tom Girardi, one of the biggest attorneys in the world, was going home and sharing things happening at his firm with his wife,” she adds. “That's not the relationship they had, but you're going to see a lot of that unfold and she has a very, very difficult time. It's a very difficult time in her life right now.”
Kyle notes that there’s a difference between defending the alleged behavior and supporting a friend during a trying time, and she’s doing the latter.
"I'm not defending, because I don't know anything," she says. "I don't know. I'm not going to sit there and say, ‘I know for a fact, so I'm going to defend…’ No. I don't know, so I'm there to support, not to defend."
Erika's found support in the "Fox Force Five," a name Lisa Rinna gave to a chunk of the cast, which includes herself, Kyle, Dorit, Erika and former 'Wife Teddi Mellencamp. Viewers have accused the quintet of protecting each other to an extreme, with some believing the women band together each season to go after a different co-star. In season 9, it was Lisa Vanderpump and puppy-gate; in 10, Denise Richards and Brandi Glanville-gate; and now, in season 11, fans think the ladies are going after Garcelle Beauvais, citing recent comments by Dorit and Lisa that the The Real co-host is the least authentic of the group, despite the fact that she seems to be holding her co-stars the most accountable for their behavior.
"My god," Kyle laments when the accusation of gang-ups is brought up. "First of all, there's never ever a plot to take anybody down. Things unfold and then we go with whatever is unfolding, what's happening in people's lives at the time. I think people don't like that there's a bond between the five of us, and that all stemmed from the season where there were all these big fires in Malibu, and Camille [Grammer] and Denise were not able to make it to Provence with us. That was the season, I think, that Lisa [Vanderpump] had stopped filming with us, so we just went, the five of us, and we really bonded. It was a smaller group. There's a lot of trust between us."
"When new girls come in -- Garcelle made a comment, or Sutton [Stracke] -- that we got together after the [season 10] reunion and they came to my house and they're like, 'It was kind of rude.' I'm like, 'Welcome to the Housewives!'" she adds. "There's never been a reunion in all of these years where every single person gets together. It doesn't happen. Like, some aren't talking. Some are closer than others. These are relationships we've had for many, many years now, and these are newer girls and there's stuff going on. You want to talk about it and share. Not everyone's invited every time. There's no trying to exclude. Garcelle and Sutton have dinner and we're not invited. No big deal."
As far as those claims of inauthenticity go, Kyle says she can see from where her friends are coming.
"When they said that I kind of understood that in a sense because, her first season, I thought she liked me," Kyle explains. "We were getting along and having the best time, and then I would see interview bites or things that she was saying, like when she said, 'Oh, Kyle looked hideous tonight,' and then she'd kind of giggle. I was like, that did feel inauthentic to me, honestly, because if I don't like you, you're going to know it. I'm going to say it to your face. I'm not going to be nice and save it for my interview."
Kyle seems true to her word. As seen in the season 11 trailer, she shares her unfiltered thoughts on Lisa Rinna's daughter, 19-year-old model Amelia Hamlin, dating 38-year-old Scott Disick, the de facto son-in-law of Kyle's close friend, Kris Jenner. "He’s too damn old and he’s got three kids!" Kyle exclaims. While she side-steps whether she's discussed the unconventional relationship with Kris (mom to Scott's ex/the mother of his children, Kourtney Kardashian), Kyle does explain why the relationship rubs her the wrong way.
"Listen, I'm a mother of four daughters, so I wouldn't be happy with that situation," she shares. "I just wouldn't, but I also know that Rinna's daughter's an adult, and it's not like she's going to listen to what Rinna says anyway, but that doesn't stop me from voicing my opinion about it. I'm sure that she and Scott don't love that I said that, but that's how I feel. It's kind of funny to me also, because I know Kourtney and I know Kourtney and Scott as being together, so it's all kind of strange for me anyway when I see that."
"It's way too small around here, let me tell you," she quips, a fitting phrase seeing as nearly every one of Kyle’s taglines over her Housewives tenure has alluded to the show’s titular town, with some variation of "in Beverly Hills," "in this town" or "around here."
"I see all the comments, trust me," Kyle says. "There's so many. There were so many that said, 'If she ever says in this town, in this town, I'm from this town, ever again I'm going to scream.' And then the other half are like, 'She has to say this at this point. She needs to say that.' I didn't want to say that … but I had to include the 'in this town' thing. I think I can never, ever say it again, no matter how much they want me to. I have to put my foot down."
Kyle feels similarly about her go-to party trick, the splits. "People say, 'If you ever do the splits again, I'm going to kill you,'" she notes. "Then people say, 'Do the splits! Do the splits!' I don't know, we're out doing something and have a couple drinks, I don't know why, I just do them. It's like my party trick. I have other party tricks. I'm going to bring new party tricks out of the bag."
It's a bit of a damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t dynamic for the Kyle x Shahida designer, a pretty common place to live when you live on reality TV. Kyle's found herself in a back and forth with former friend Lisa Vanderpump in the press/on social media over the last month after a night out at a restaurant (separately) ended with Lisa sending her unpaid dinner bill to Kyle’s table (she was dining with RHOBH’s executive producer), then going out and scribbling on a Housewives cast photo that had already been signed by Lisa Rinna. The two women answered various questions about the encounter in separate interviews, with some fans egging the feud on and others demanding the women stop talking about one another. When asked if there’s anything left to say on the matter, Kyle simply offers, "No. Period."
There's plenty of other drama to focus on in Kyle’s world, specifically between co-stars Sutton and Crystal Kung Minkoff. The two women got off on the wrong foot, and things will only get worse in the coming weeks. Fans are waiting to see one epic moment teased in the trailer, in which Crystal tells Sutton, "You’re an inappropriate, awkward person, ‘cause you’re jealous. Period." Sutton then storms off -- Kyle following behind her -- and yells, "F**k you, Crystal! Jealous of what? Your ugly, leather pants," as Crystal stands smirking in the grass, clad in leather pants.
"I never like to see someone just get upset and leave," Kyle says of her choice to follow Sutton. "Let's deal with it in front of the cameras. Also, I don't like to see someone just walk out and leave an event because you know you're going to deal with that so much later, so I'm like, 'Don't leave. Come here and let's talk it out. Let's talk through it.' But, she's really going through something at the time, Sutton, and I just felt they clash a lot. This is not the end ... that's for sure. We're going to see that throughout the season and what can I say? This is the Housewives, not everyone gets along."
Crystal and Sutton’s first real interaction led to an educational moment for Sutton, as Crystal had to explain why saying "I don’t see color" to people of color dismisses their entire lived experiences. Race is now an expected topic of discussion across the world of Housewives, as historically white casts integrate with the additions of Black, Asian and Latinx women. Kyle got her own teachable moment courtesy of Garcelle, who explained how a dig Kyle made at her expense -- claiming Garcelle had not made good on a charitable donation -- played into stereotypes and came across as a microaggression.
"We spoke through things and we really understood each other more after that," Kyle says. "After we had our conversation, I felt bad about bringing up the charity at the reunion. We're in a good place now and I'm just happy to move forward and laugh and have fun with her."
Someone else Kyle is having a lot of fun with is her sister, Kathy Hilton, who joined the show as a "friend of" this year. While she made guest appearances in the past, this is the first time Kathy -- mother to Paris and Nicky -- has been an official cast member. In just three episodes (so far), Kathy's brought back the must-see-TV factor of RHOBH, by sharing tales of amateur dental work she did on her childhood neighbors, mistaking Garcelle (who is 5'9" and Black) for her own sister (who is 5'2" and white), putting ear drops in her eyes, downing faux martinis, walking in on Sutton naked and getting into bed with Kyle after midnight, uninvited, where she slammed a bag of potato chips, crushed a Red Bull (which she thought was a soft drink) and read a stack of newspapers.
"This is a perfect example of people thinking they know a public figure and then getting to see them in a different light like this," Kyle says of her older sister. "She's just so funny. She's just so in her own world sometimes. She makes me laugh. A lot of times -- most of the time -- you'll see on the show she doesn't know that she's so funny to us, but she's also very funny when she's intentionally funny. It's when she doesn't know she's funny that really kills me, though."
Kathy's unintentionally hilarious social media behavior caught the eye of Housewives watchers long before she joined the cast, with Comments by Celebs regularly collecting her unexpected Instagram comments, in which she attempts to set up business meetings, asks for -- or shares -- personal information and reminds people that she is, in fact, Kathy Hilton when using her husband Rick's account, because she can't figure out how to log in with her username on his iPad.
"She's been using Twitter as an answering service for years," Kyle says. "'Can you guys please tell Kyle and Paris to call me? I'm trying to get a hold of them.' People would message me on Instagram, 'Your sister's looking for you. Can you call her?' Strangers! This is something I would try to explain to people before and I was like, 'I don't think you understand my sister. It's nothing you've ever experienced.'"
Housewives has been a bit of trial by fire for Kathy, who had never gone on a girls' trip in her life before the show. Kyle promises more antics from her big sis on the trips to come.
"When we had to go drive on trips -- we weren't driving together because of COVID anymore -- so we were driving separately in our cars," Kyle teases. "She's never driven on a two-hour road trip. She's been married her whole life, and she went from my mom taking care of her to her husband taking care of her. Trying to explain to her Waze and using Waze and inputting Apple ID password? No ma'am. You have no idea what a situation that was."
Kyle previously told ET that bringing Kathy onto Housewives had never really been a serious discussion, because the early years of the show focused so heavily on Kyle and her other sister, Kim Richards.
"They felt like it would be very sister-heavy, with having three sisters on the Housewives," she says. "And then it didn't come up again and then we weren't speaking and we went through a difficult time ourselves and then, this time, it was my idea and I just said, ‘What about bringing my sister, Kathy, in?’ And that's how it came about. A lot of people thought, ‘Oh, Bravo's pulling a fast one on Kyle.’ No, it was actually me suggesting it."
Kyle, Kathy and Kim hit a rough patch in 2018, when Kyle produced the short-lived Paramount Network series American Woman, which was loosely based on the sisters' childhood with their mother, Kathleen "Big Kathy" Richards.
"We're all in a good place right now, thank god, and I would love to see Kim come back," Kyle shares. "The fans really, really want to see the three sisters together. I'm hearing that over and over and over again. So, it would be really fun to have Kim be a part of it and Kathy at the same time, just to feel what that would feel like, to have all of us together. We have little glimpses of that in the past, but you didn't really get a sense of the relationship between the three of us. It would be fun."
"Someone was like, 'You guys should do Below Deck, the three sisters,' and I'm like, overboard!" Kyle cracks. "Oh my god. It would be fun until it's not."
"Also, it was unbelievably exhausting," she admits. "Nobody could ever imagine. I'm not even kidding you, we don't shoot like that on our show and the other shows don't either, but I would wake up and a light over my head, a production light, would go on at 7:00 a.m. … I was like, "This is like Big Brother!"
Or, to borrow from the Bravo-verse, more like Summer House, with near non-stop filming as the ladies enjoyed a tropical getaway.
"It was total chaos and literally zero downtime at all," Kyle offers up, "but it was interesting because seeing the other franchises -- and being a Housewife myself -- I also have preconceived ideas about people. I watch the show. I'm a fan of the other Housewife shows, and it was really interesting to have a completely different take on people that I never imagined. So, that was really interesting and kind of analyzing how they all operate and who's more playing to the cameras and who's completely not thinking about the cameras. It was a big lesson there."
Kyle says the women get to break the fourth wall and talk about their experiences as Real Housewives (no, "called up all my girlfriends for a trip…" set-up) and really bonded during their brief stay together, getting inside looks at each other's lives.
"Teresa was really missing her boyfriend a lot," Kyle reveals. "We teased her so much because she was like, Louie this and Louie that. Louie this and Louie that. Then at one point she was taking a picture of a hammock. I said, 'What are you doing?' She goes, 'Louie loves hammocks!' I was like, you're going to take a picture of a hammock because Louie loves hammocks?! It was really funny."