'RHOC': Heather Dubrow Processing 'PTSD' From 'Very Tough' Season 17 (Exclusive)

Heather Dubrow previews the journey ahead on 'The Real Housewives of Orange County's new season, which sees the return of Tamra Judge.

Heather Dubrow has two words to describe season 17 of The Real Housewives of Orange County: "Very tough."  

"This was not an easy season for me," she admits to ET, sitting down inside her new Los Angeles penthouse. "I think, first of all, I was dealing with a lot in my life, in my personal life with my children, and we don't show everything about our kids and our families on the show, obviously; they are minors, you know? You don't tell everyone's stories for them, but you are still dealing with those things and so that, and two kids going to college and being involved in this group... it's a lot."

"I could very easily sit here and say, I had a terrible season and everyone was mean to me and it was just the worst," she adds.  "I mean, do I have PTSD from some things that happened? Yeah, I really do."

Heather returned to RHOC last year, her first season back after exiting the series in 2016

"It was so weird coming back last year," she reflects. "And then that first sushi party at my house was such a disaster that, I mean, I guess I thought it couldn't be much worse than that, right?"

But it did get worse, according to Heather. While she was at first excited for Tamra Judge's comeback (she rejoins the show after two seasons off of it in Wednesday's premiere), their relationship takes a turn for the worse. Amid filming, reports surfaced that Tamra "went nuclear" on Heather. 

"It wouldn't be inaccurate," Heather says of that characterization.

"There's a few things I’m especially dreading, yes, but there's one trip in particular that was really, really, really difficult," she teases, "and it made me question many people and many things."

Andrew Eccles / Bravo

"I am curious to watch it back and see if I was right, if I was misguided, if I was overly sensitive, if I took something wrong, if I put something out incorrectly," she rattles off. "I am willing to watch it, think about it, and be self-actualized enough to really look at it and decide how I feel after."

Now months after filming, Heather describes her once close relationship with Tamra as "cordial," but with the caveat that they "have some things to work on." 

If it's any consolation, Tamra is not the cast member Heather calls her biggest disappointment of the season. That title goes to Gina Kirschenheiter. The two bonded in season 16 over their New York roots, but Heather started to question if the friendship was one-sided once cameras went down.

"I feel like Gina should know me better than what was portrayed," she laments, reacting to comments Gina makes on the season premiere about not inviting Heather places because they're not "fancy" enough for "Fancy Pants," her nickname within the group.

"It flabbergasted me," Heather confesses. "I mean, the season ended last year and we were still hanging out together. I put together lunches for everyone, we all hung out together, I had Gina's parents over for dinner, which was so fun -- and her dad brought me coasters, 'cause you know I am coaster-obsessed, which was really sweet -- and we had seen then in New York, we'd had dinner with them, and so it was really lovely and I felt like we had all this time together... and then I never heard from her or saw her again and, in watching the first episode, I was like, hmm... maybe I have to re-think what happened there."

Season 17 also sees some growing pains between Heather and Emily Simpson, Gina's bestie. A tense trailer exchange features Emily questioning whether she and Heather even have a friendship.

Astrid Stawiarz / Bravo via Getty Images

"I don't know," Heather says of what went wrong. "When I rejoined the show last year, Emily and Gina had told me that the cast pretty much ignored them for their first three years, and I was the first person that sort of came in and was like, 'Hey! Who are you? Let's get to know each other...' and that whole thing, but sometimes when the head cheerleader comes back to town, that is appealing."

The "head cheerleader" would be Tamra, who famously was not a fan of Emily's during their time together on the show, despite the fact that she introduced her to the group. Tamra gained respect for Emily by watching how she operated in the cast during her years away from the series, and now calls them "great friends." 

Tamra introduces two more people to the crew this year, yoga studio owner Jenn Pedranti ("a great addition," per Heather) and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills alumna Taylor Armstrong. For now, Heather reserves her opinion on the former diamond-holder, as there's drama set to play out between them on season 17.

"We're here as women to support each other, and I felt like I was supporting her and that really wasn't taken in the way that it was offered," Heather previews. "It went really south."

Heather's been labeled everything from "pretentious" to "controlling" during her runs on RHOC, and it's that perception of her that most often results in conflict with the other women.

"Look, I'm smart enough to know that I don't have control over anyone or anything except for myself, that I know," she muses. "I mean, do I like to have a perfect party? Do I like to bring a perfect gift? Yeah, of course I do. Do I wanna try and be the perfect friend, the perfect mom? I mean, there is no such thing as perfect, but do I want to shoot for it? Yeah, of course I do. But controlling other people, I learned that lesson a long time ago." 

Andrew Eccles / Bravo

"I mean, it's attributed to me that I can fire people, that I can hire people," she lists. "There was a story that I had this season pushed four or five months because I was trying to get scenes taken out of the show. I mean, it's silly. Obviously, I don't have any power, at all."

Heather promises, "I don't look down on anyone, for what they have, for what they like, for what they do." It disappoints her that some of her co-stars continue to see that in her, though. She's also aware of the fan conversation around it all; memes popped up ahead of Heather's return, joking about what her reaction would be to seeing Gina's "casita," which is actually a nice townhouse.

"Her house is gorgeous," Heather proclaims. "I think the bottom line is this, when you like someone, you see the positive sides of all of the attributes of a friend, and if there's things that aren't exactly right for you, you let 'em go. When you want to be upset with someone, or you don't like someone, you really do the opposite."

To expand what people see of Heather beyond whatever makes the cut in each week's 42-minute episode, she's launched a network of her own on Fireside, an interactive streaming platform co-founded by Shark Tank's Mark Cuban. He'll make a cameo on season 17. She also rebranded her podcast, formerly Heather Dubrow's World, to Let's Talk. Before the name change, though, Heather ruffled Tamra's feathers with a comment she made while recapping season 16. 

"I feel like once you become someone who talks about shows, especially a show you are on, how can you then go back to that show?" Heather asked in an episode, answering fan questions about Tamra's pivot into podcasting. She co-hosts Two Ts in a Pod with RHOBH alumna Teddi Mellencamp, a show grounded in discussing the Bravo universe. 

Astrid Stawiarz / Bravo via Getty Images

"It puts you in a different category," Heather said on her show. "Now you're a blogger. How could you then become a cast member again?"

"I don't remember the blogger comment," Heather says. "But I don't think there's anything wrong with that question and, again, certainly I don't have the power to block anyone from being hired, right? But I guess Andy Cohen said something very similar afterwards, and I think Tamara's under the misconception that I called Andy and -- I promise you -- that didn’t happen."

While it's set to be a rocky ride ("Didn't end well," Heather quips), there are some things she's excited to see play out as the episodes air. She and her husband, Dr. Terry Dubrow (of Botched fame), unexpectedly sold their Newport Beach mansion, "Chateau Dubrow," for $55 million when a buyer appeared out of the blue. She had to leave behind the famous etched glass, which featured a bird/egg-themed design meant to represent the Dubrows, their kids... and their frozen embryos.   

"What's so crazy, do you remember when we joined the show we were in a different house, with the double staircase?" she beams. "There was like an entry way to our our primary suite, and I had put our monogram or our initials -- T and H -- in the marble in the floor, but I put it in a circle so that you could easily crack it out, so that whoever bought the house, could replace it. It's been bought and sold four times and it's still there. And so is the etched window."

"Little pieces of Heather Dubrow around Orange County," she jokes. Million Dollar Listing's Josh Altman handled the Newport deal, while Selling Sunset's Heather Rae El Moussa found the Dubrows their new Century City apartment. The move, however, doesn't mean Heather's leaving Orange County anytime soon.

"My kids are still in school there right now, Terry's practice is down there," she explains. "We're kinda just doing the opposite of what we've been doing for the last few years, maybe one extra day in L.A. as opposed to Orange County."

"I'm really proud to be a part of-- the Real Housewives franchise is amazing, the platform is incredible and it's pop-culture history," she continues. "It's really cool and I'm grateful for it. How long will I do the show? I mean, probably as long as they'll have me."

And as long as she's around, she'll use the platform to spread awareness about issues close to home. That includes being mom to queer kids. In 2020, her eldest daughter, Max, came out as bisexual, while middle daughter, Kat, announced she identifies as a lesbian last year. Then, this past March, Heather subtly shared that her and Terry's youngest child was now going by the name Ace and using he/him pronouns.

"I want to make something clear: we weren't making an announcement," she notes. "That subtle post ... it was to stop other people from talking about our child. It is what we're doing to try to protect our child."

"The truth about our family is, we're a public family and my youngest, Ace, has been on TV since he was nine months old, and so unless our intention is to move to the middle of the country and live off the grid and get new jobs, I mean, it's-- we are who we are, and here we are for better or for worse," she continues. "We do have a platform. I would never tell my children's stories for them. I would never exploit them, but we are already known and I want other families and other kids to know, it's OK. This is normal, this is biology, and you're all gonna be OK. Let's just love each other. So, if we can help in any way? That's a win."
The Real Housewives of Orange County airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo. Find more of Heather by subscribing to her Fireside channel or her podcast, Let's Talk