Five years into filming 'The Real Housewives of Orange County,' and Gina Kirschenheiter is still having firsts on season 17.
"There is something that I'm eager to watch on this season," Gina confesses to ET, "it is a situation -- you're not gonna be shocked -- that happens with Shannon [Beador], and I -- to this day -- have not really gotten full clarity on exactly what was said, how it was said, the context, 'cause I wasn't there, but it is very significant to me and it will definitely change how I walk into that reunion."
"I'm either gonna be like, OK, actually it wasn't as bad as I thought, or confirmation it is that bad -- and if it is I'm going in guns blazing," she warns. "I'm not even joking. It was the most angry I've ever gotten in five years, so very personal. It hit hard. I'm trying to not even now overreact about it, because I want to believe that it's not as bad as I think it is... but time will tell."
Much like Gina, viewers will have to wait and see what exactly was said that pushed her to that point; it's one of many unexpected emotional moments that played out for the 39-year-old while filming season 17. Fans are currently in the middle of watching Gina struggle to be around new Housewife Jenn Pedranti, whose marriage ended due to an emotional affair she carried out with her now-partner, Ryan Boyajian. Gina stormed off from a group outing on a trip to Montana, stowing herself away in a nearby tractor to cry after listening to Jenn attempt to explain/defend her situation.
"I definitely did not realize that Jenn's situation would be a trigger at all," she confesses. Gina's marriage to her ex-husband, Matt, ended in 2019 after she discovered his infidelity.
"I was trying really hard not to let that bother me, and it wasn't at first, but it was just when it was being brought up so much -- and listen, it's not the fact that Jenn is talking about her life; the thing that really triggered and bothered me was it felt like every time we talked about it, Jenn was just talking about all of the ways that basically her partner and husband, Will, let her down," Gina continues. "That felt more personal to me, because she felt like she was trying to justify why she did what she did, and I didn't realize it was going to hit me so hard, but it did, you know? And I felt like I'm the Will in this situation."
"To be at the table, and hear her so upset that they didn't go on vacation or out to dinner -- and I'm not minimizing whatever happened in her relationship -- I'm just saying that's not a good enough excuse for me to exit out of a relationship the way that you did," Gina says, "and I've been impacted so greatly by this and it just came up, and honest to God, I was just way too sober for this."
Season 17 is Gina's first season where she's not drinking; she gave up alcohol after filming season 16, not because she believed she had a problem, but because she realized she was using it as a way to mask her true feelings.
"I was just like feeling all the feelings," she says of filming this time around, "and I think that it really showed a huge difference to me and I actually think that it was a positive thing, because if it was last year, I probably would have felt those feelings and I would have been like, you know what? I'm going to have a glass of wine, and I'm just going to take myself down and I'm not going to allow this to come out, and I'm going to continue to use this crutch and I didn't have that."
"So, things came up and I was a little messy this season," she admits. "Honestly, I don't regret it, because I'm in a really good place and, if nothing else, Jenn and triggering all this stuff coming up, it made me look at something that I didn't want to look at and that was really healthy for me."
Gina calls the process "cathartic," realizing she held back on confronting her buried emotions about her divorce out of fear it would "affect my real life relationships with my ex, or my co-parenting or my kids." Gina and Matt share three children, Nicholas, 10, Sienna, 8, and Luca, 6.
"I think it's important to show even though I'm in such a good place with my ex, and we co-parent so well, but that doesn't mean that I still don't have feelings, and I'm not affected by this trauma that I've experienced from the past," she says. "I think it's going to continue to come up. I think it's actually better for me to show people this message, that you can still continue to have those feelings. You're entitled to those feelings, and you can own those feelings, you know? Have them, release them. Get them out, but at the same time, you don't have to let it affect your current relationship where you are, if you have to co-parent and manage a relationship with your ex. To me, that is completely different than my personal feelings about something that I went through. It doesn't even have anything to do anymore with my ex."
There will be more discussion surrounding Jenn's situation in the weeks to come, as the women dig into her "interesting relationship with the truth." Gina's not sure she even has the full story at this point.
"Look, she is in this relationship, right? So if it, just like me, if it's something you don't really want to look at, you are just not going to look at it until you are ready to look at it, no matter who is shining all those bright lights in your face," Gina remarks. "You don't want to look into the light? You're not going to look into the light, honey."
Much of the talk hones in on Ryan, whom Jenn describes as a serial cheater. It's unclear if he's ever been unfaithful to her, but Tamra Judge -- who introduced Jenn to the group -- shocked the yoga instructor by claiming Ryan proclaimed he would "f**k" Tamra, who is married, before pursuing Jenn. That coupled with a resurfaced story about a NSFW picture Ryan sent to a mutual friend (by accident, Jenn claims) created tension between the women. In a recent Instagram Q&A, Tamra told her followers she had no plans to bring up Ryan's past behavior on camera; Gina doesn't exactly buy that.
"I don't even think she could have helped it if she tried," Gina says. "I also think Jenn, she is a very nice person, but I think she understood that that was going to be something that was going to come up and be discussed. Now to the level or, like, some of the specifics of these stories from the past and how they met? I don't know if Jenn realized, or Tamra even."
Heather Dubrow inserted herself into the Jenn saga on the Montana trip, chasing after Gina, as she broke down in tears. As Gina attempted to call her boyfriend, Travis Mullen, to unload the drama on him, Heather pulled away the phone and hung up on him, telling Gina this was not a problem for Travis to solve.
"So, that moment, I actually do not fault Heather for," Gina shares. "Heather was the only one who followed after me. Heather got into that car. I was really, really upset, and I think that Heather was there for me as a friend in that moment, and I think that that is what friends are supposed to do. She gave me, from her heart, genuine advice that she felt really was in my best interest. Now do I agree with it? No. Do I think it was the best advice ultimately? No, but I think that Heather is in a different relationship. She is in a successful relationship and marriage, and it works for her, and I think she was just trying to give me her advice based on what she feels really would work."
"The part that disappointed me with Heather was not that she gave me that advice, it's that she basically cut me off from my support system, which is Travis," she continues. "I was having a really emotional night, and then she wasn't there for me later on to be my support system. So, it's like, you don't let me talk to Travis, I am in the house with the girl who's triggered me and upset me, and Taylor [Armstrong], who I don't know that well, and you're up partying?"
Heather's owned up to the fact that navigating the dynamics of season 17 was difficult for her. She returned to the show in season 16 after four seasons away, joining an almost all-new ensemble. She sort of became the de facto queen bee, with much of the story swirling around her. Season 17 saw the return of Tamra, a firebrand of the franchise known for her pot-stirring, shifting the dynamic once again.
"I think that if Heather just was more comfortable doing her own thing, and allowing swirls to come around her, then that would happen you know? But I think she was so focused on trying to be around and a part of what I think she thought was that ultimate eye of the storm, which is Tamra, and I think that that didn't really go her way," Gina teases.
That said, Gina admits season 17 is the first of her five on the show that she feels entertained by when she pulls back and watches it as a viewer.
"I haven't been able to say that really!" she quips. "It's just the tip of the iceberg, for sure. There is like a lot that happened, I can't even remember all of it. It was, like, so much. We have a whole 'nother trip, so much more drama. It's a lot. It's a lot."
On top of all that, Gina -- who's now a real estate agent and managing her skincare brand, CaraGala -- added a new job to her résumé: podcaster! She launched the aptly titled Orange Country with country music singer-songwriter Shane McAnally last month. Each episode plays like the listener is eavesdropping on a conversation between two friends, as Gina and Shane sound off on whatever topics pop to mind.
"I really have operated in my life as a person who is just here for the moment, and here for what the world has to bring me, and I have found that that works for me," Gina says of singing on for the podcast. "It's brought me [Housewives], it's brought me a lot of positive stuff in my life, and Shane just came into my life and we hit it off so well."
She hopes their candid chats show listeners how people have way more in common than they might think.
"We just had such a connection, and we're so like, we stan each other and each other's worlds," she says. "I like that there's no rules. I like that it is unpredictable. I like that we cover a lot of different varieties and topics and, honestly, that is what it is like when Shane and I are just existing together anywhere."
The first three episodes featured just Gina and Shane, but this week, episodes now welcome guests, starting with former The Real Housewives of New York City star Leah McSweeney. Gina's not opposed to inviting her fellow orange-holders on, either; she does spill some show secrets on the pod, like her casting story and the fact that she saw inside Shannon's buttocks while filming RHOC's current season.
"I have to say, sorry to disappoint the viewers, but that was off camera," Gina reveals to ET. "It was like while we were getting ready to film, and so I don't know if any of the cameras caught it or not, but definitely me and a lot of the crew certainly did."
Gina says Shannon simply offered up the view. "If my memory serves me right, I think she might have just gotten it bleached or something?" Gina recalls. "I think she was eager to show it off."
The Real Housewives of Orange County airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Wednesdays. New episodes of Orange Country also debut Wednesdays, wherever you listen to podcasts. Check out the latest episode here: