Hindsight is 20/20 for Emily Simpson as she looks back at her friction with Heather Dubrow on 'The Real Housewives of Orange County.'
"There's a lot of Emily," the 47-year-old cracks of season 17, which many fans have described as her best yet.
"There's funny Emily and there's empathetic Emily, and there's friend Emily and there's a**hole Emily -- I don't know, you probably can't say that -- but I think there's just multitudes of Emily," she says, "and so I feel like, meaning my best season, it's probably more just of a 360 view of me, as opposed to, I don't know, more of just a flat character."
Emily hasn't been afraid to get in the mix this year, often challenging Heather Dubrow, to mixed results. Heather hit her boiling point on the cast trip to Mexico, feeling "dogpiled" by the other women criticizing how she operates within the friend group, repeatedly. Looking back, Emily admits some regret over how she handled Heather on that vacation and the season at large.
"At the time, when you're in it, you're very tunnel vision," she reflects. "You don't really see what's going on, you're frustrated about things that have happened that aren’t shown and you react, and all I could do was react at the moment. But then later, you're like, yeah, you know what? I wish I would have taken a step back. I wish I would have had conversations with her that were more reasonable, and I wish I would have been more of a friend to her in that moment and not let her get attacked."
It all seems to boil down to the women believing Heather attempts to control the narrative too much, and doesn't just lean into what's naturally playing out within their circle. Heather's POV, however, is that, no matter what she does, she's met with criticism from the ladies.
"It was a wolf-pack mentality," she continues, "and, at the time, I didn’t see it; I was sick, I was on antibiotics, I was frustrated with her, but I wish I wouldn't have let that frustration get the best of me. I wish I would have been able to bring it back in, take it down and think, we'll talk about this later, 'cause she's getting too much right now."
It was a snowball of resentment that slowly built over the course of the season, picking up speed after the cast attended BravoCon 2022 in New York City last October, in the middle of filming. That's where a she said/she said battle apparently broke out over labeling the women of RHOC "losers." It's just unclear if that word came out of Heather or Tamra Judge's mouth... or Shannon Beador's, seeing as Emily misremembered Heather's insinuation that it was Tamra, adding another layer of confusion to the saga. In any case, from anyone's mouth, the word was upsetting to Emily.
"I guess that's something that triggers the anger in me, to be referred to as that," she shares, "just because I’ve worked so hard on my own to pull myself out of situations, where I’ve become successful, and so that word is very-- I hate to say 'trigger.' because I hate that word, but it's very triggering for me, because I think it brings up past emotions."
"I mean, her explanation was that she wasn't exactly talking about all of us .... but 'a bunch of losers' refers to a multitude of people, not just one," she says. "So I feel like that blanket statement clearly encompassed all of us."
After explaining herself, Heather questioned why the women were buying into Tamra's version of the "loser" events over hers.
"At that point, I just wasn't very trusting in what she was saying," Emily confesses. "I also don't believe Tamra to be a liar. I think Tamra can be a lot of things; I can think she can be mean, I think she can be too much, I think she can be over the top, I think she can be aggressive, but I have never known Tamra to just make up something and throw it out there. I do believe that whatever she said was centered in some truth. There was something there."
The tension in Mexico pushed Heather to proclaim that she "hates" these women, repeatedly.
"I mean, I think it was valid at that point," Emily laughs. "If I was sitting at a table and everyone was attacking me, I would call [my husband, Shane] and say, I hated everyone, too."
"I think that's how she really felt," Emily remarks. "I think she felt attacked by everyone at once, and so I feel bad. I'm sure she did hate us."
Emily claims a lot of the group's frustrations with Heather were born out of mounting off-camera conflict, which in hindsight, she admits she wishes she'd have dealt with in the moment. Some of that involves the conversation surrounding Shannon's relationship with John Janssen. For much of the season, Emily, Tamra and Gina Kirschenheiter have claimed Heather initiates gossip sessions about it; but, when the editors go to roll footage, Heather's never said much on camera.
"Because she doesn't do it on camera," Emily clarifies. "Heather is very smart. She is very smart. I do think that she can be calculated in some ways about what she presents on camera, and what is off camera, whereas I feel like I am just more of a ding dong that just says everything on camera and then ends up having to deal with the aftermath of it."
On the note of Shannon and John, the women at large seemed to believe Shannon was hiding the truth of her relationship from the show. The two broke up shortly after filming, following months of Shannon avoiding addressing their issues with her friends/on camera.
"Honestly, with the whole Shannon and John thing, we were all well aware that she was telling all of us things off camera," she continues. "I honestly would've never brought it up on camera -- I do have certain boundaries -- and when Shannon was telling me those things, I had conversations with Heather. We all knew she was doing it, it ended up being brought up on camera because Heather had told production, 'You need to start following the real story with Shannon and John.'"
Now nearly a year removed from filming it all, Emily realizes Heather is way more sensitive than she initially thought, which led to what she calls "a season of misfires" in their friendship.
"I think I read her wrong, 'cause to me, when I look at Heather Dubrow, I think she's so strong and stoic, and she's very poignant with her words and how she deals with people," she reflects. "So, to me, I just thought she could take it."
Everything will come to a head on Wednesday night's season finale, which finds the women gathering one last time at a circus-themed party.
"All I know is, Heather and Tamra literally chased each other around that party for probably an hour and a half, and I kept thinking, how are we ending this?" Emily teases. "The camera crew just keeps following them around this party and I was like, I don't know, maybe it will just be 'To be continued...' at the end."
If it went unresolved at the finale, chances are it came up at the recently taped reunion, which "friend of" the cast Taylor Armstrong told paparazzi would be the "dirtiest ever" in a now-viral video.
"I wouldn't say it was dirty," Emily says. "I feel like things were resolved and everyone got to say their piece. I think there were dramatic moments, I think there were funny moments. It wasn't dirty. I have no idea what Taylor was talking about."
Emily says she and Heather walked away from the taping in a better place than they let the season.
"Heather and I went to dinner after the reunion," she shares. "I do truly consider Heather a friend, and I hope she feels the same way about me, and I think both of us are intelligent enough and professional enough to realize when those things happen on camera, because you've been in this situation where you're just filming non-stop and you're tired and you're traveling and you're irritated with each other, and you say things and you call names, you're able to realize later, when you take a step back, that you are really friends, you do care about each other."
"I saw Heather after we filmed," she continues. "She had a birthday party a couple months later, I was the only one on the cast that went to her birthday party. So, I feel like I've shown up for her and shown her that I'm sorry about certain, isolated events where I was not at my best, but I am truly your friend."
Season 17 is the second season in a row that Heather's "quit" the show on camera, but Emily doesn't see her going anywhere.
"I mean, I quit in Mexico -- they don't show that, but I ripped my mic off and quit," Emily reveals. "We were tired, we had traveled to BravoCon, traveled back [to Orange County], traveled to Mexico, and the filming schedule was just unreal. It was, like, 2 o'clock in the morning and we're still at dinner filming and I just lost it, and I took my mic off and I was like, 'I'm done! I quit!' So I feel like we all have those moments where we just can't take it anymore."
Emily says it was "reasonable" for Heather to reach that point after the pile-on by the other women in Mexico.
"But she'll be back, I'm sure she will because she's Heather," Emily says, starting to laugh. "She likes to be on TV."
Emily's hopeful the full season 17 lineup -- herself, Heather, Tamra, Gina, Shannon, Taylor and newcomer Jenn Pedranti -- gets a second go-around. Emily's tenure on RHOC has been marked with the most turbulent cast changes in the show's history.
"I would love that, and I think the season was very well received," she notes. "I would say, you couldn't have six more different women, but that's what makes it interesting, because if we were all the same and we all got along and we all held hands and sang 'Kumbaya,' like, no one would want to watch."
As viewers watch the final episodes of the season, Emily wants them to keep in mind that this group really does care for each other, even if they fall into fighting and name-calling from time to time. She's looking at the positives there, too, embracing Heather and comparing her to Sesame Street's mammoth-like character, Mr. Snuffleupagus.
"I have looked at lots of memes with me next to a Snuffleupagus and I am like, I don't know, I like the eyelashes," she cracks. "I like the big eyes, the hair. I am like, I am just going to go with it. I am going to take it as a compliment."
The Real Housewives of Orange County airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.