'RHOC's Jen Armstrong on Noella Bergener's 'Agenda' and Watching Back Her Own Marriage Woes (Exclusive)
By Brice Sander
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Dr. Jen Armstrong knows how to read a person in an instant. It's part of her job as an aesthetics doctor -- walking in a room, immediately diagnosing any situation and realizing whether she should or shouldn't help -- that proved helpful when she signed on for The Real Housewives of Orange County.
"Sometimes you walk in when it's intense or bad, and you're like, 'Oh, I know exactly what's going on here...' So yeah, I do pick up on people pretty quick," the Newport Beach-based doc tells ET over video chat. "There was definitely, with some of the cast members, a hesitation to get close to them, because you don't want something used back against you. I felt more comfortable around some people than I did others."
"I felt comfortable around Heather [Dubrow]," Jen explains. "I mean, even [her husband, Dr. Terry Dubrow] just being a physician, we had so much in common. And so I felt like she had really good intentions. I didn't feel as comfortable with Emily [Simpson]. I remember the first night when we were filming at Heather's party, the sushi party -- the big party with the lawsuit -- and she got information on Nicole James, and she goes, 'Let's go get her!' And I remember hearing that and being like, 'I need to be cautious around this one.'"
Jen also found her guard up around fellow newbie Noella Bergener, whose life exploded early into filming season 16 thanks to a divorce and financial woes. Jen and Noella came to the show by way of the same person, former orange-holder Braunwyn Windham-Burke, but had little in common; as Jen put it during one of their first interactions on camera, they both "breathe oxygen." Jen's kept an arm's length from Noella nearly all season, and she says it's for good reason.
"People are like, 'Why can't you form a relationship with Noella?' Because it's here, it's over here. It doesn't exist," she says, flailing her limbs left and right to make her point. "I didn't even hardly know this woman before the show."
When ET spoke with Noella last month, she spoke cryptically about her past history with Jen, claiming that she was never really mad at the dermatologist for tagging her on Instagram (as was the basis for their main argument on the show). Instead, she says, she harbors resentment for something Jen did off camera before either one of them were cast on the show, "putting words" in Noella's mouth that could've damaged her family and her livelihood. However, Noella wouldn't cough up what those words were.
"I'm calling bulls**t," Jen fires back. "I don't even know what she's talking about, so I can't comment on it."
Jen actually finds Noella's claim quite comical, seeing as that's been her experience with her new castmate.
"The issue that I had with Noella is that she was making up blatant, false statements about me without even knowing me," Jen shares. "You can have your opinion of me, you can think that I'm ugly, or thirsty or whatever she's called me -- she's called me all these names -- but there's things that you can't do: You can't make up blatant, false lies about myself, my practice, my family. You're not allowed to do that."
"Three times on film, she said, 'Yes, I made up blatant lies about you, and I apologize,'" Jen reveals. "Don't know if they're going to be playing that! So, that was like our opening, right? Our opening was, you're making up blatant lies about my livelihood and me as a person. So I'm not going to walk in with trusting, open arms. I'm going to walk up with a massive defense and be like, 'Knock it off!'"
Cracks quickly formed between Noella and the majority of the cast. First, Jen pulled back from Noella after she confronted the MD for tagging her in a photo promoting her business on Instagram. Then, Heather told Noella she probably wasn't a good fit as a friend after Noella called Heather a "fake b***h." Gina Kirschenheiter put some distance between herself and the model after Noella made a literal scene out of Gina revealing Heather only invited Noella on a group trip after Gina begged her to do so. And this week, viewers will see Emily reach a breaking point with the 36-year-old over always bringing up her divorce. It seems the only ally Noella might have left on the cast is Shannon Beador.
"The [rest of the group] came against me saying I'm so insensitive, and I'm like, 'No. No, I'm not buying what this girl is selling. No,' and then they picked off one by one, right? So it came full circle in the end, like, 'Oh, you're right,'" Jen remarks. "I wasn't actively going against her, but I was like, 'Let's just let this play out, because this is a personality trait...'"
"She just seems very confused," Jen adds. "She seems like a very confused person. Like, one day it's over here, one day it's over here. Even moment by moment, we'll swing from different-- like, we're calm and now we're hysterical and then now we're calm, and she doesn't really have an idea of what's actually going on in the room in front of her. So there's not really any question I have for her. I just am not impressed."
Jen says it became clear to the women as they shot the series that Noella -- a self-proclaimed "super-fan" of the franchise -- "had an agenda on the show."
"The cameras would turn off and she'd be like, 'Wasn't that so good? The fans are going to love it!'" Jen claims. "I'm like, knock it off. Like, no! Don't do that!"
It seems the women's issues with Noella will come to a head on the group's upcoming trip to Aspen, Colorado. As teased in the midseason trailer, Heather tells the mom of two, "You are a liar and a thirsty girl and I am done," as Jen watches on, her jaw going slack.
"Oh, I don't want to spoil anything, but just like she was making up lies about me, that will probably translate to making up lies about other cast members," Jen shares as a preview. "And I don't tolerate for that. There's plenty of interesting things in truth."
For her part, Jen is laying out a lot of her truth in her debut season. Her own relationship woes take center stage in the current batch of episodes, as she dealt with distance and frustrations in her marriage to her husband, Ryne Holliday. On last week's episode, Ryne walked away in a middle of a discussion about how Jen needed more support and affirmations from him.
"I think it's very cathartic to be on the show," she says. "It's almost like it puts this magnifying glass on things in your life ... and it's an opportunity to fix it and address it. So it got worse with Ryne before it got better, but in the end it did actually help. It was more healing."
"I mean, verbatim -- we obviously talked about [him walking away from me] afterwards -- and he said, 'You and I have a hard time talking about stressful situations...'" she recalls. "He has a hard time supporting me in a way that I accept it, and he felt very uncomfortable. He's like, 'On camera, they would just watch us fail.' I'm like, 'Well, walking out is like even more of a failure...'"
"But he told me that he didn't want to fail in supporting me on camera, which is kind of ironic, because the whole season he's failing to support me on camera," she continues. "He was just like, 'I'm not going to be able to help you in this situation...' and he just ran. It was very emotional for me. I was embarrassed. It was a betrayal. I actually did need him."
Viewers will see Jen get emotional over Ryne's decision to ignore her attempts to work through their issues, getting pushed to the point where she tells her mother, "I guess I'm just, like, tired of being in this relationship."
"When you're trying so hard, you just keep trying and you keep trying and you're not moving forward, at some point you're like, 'It would be so much easier to just have a new relationship,'" she says of that moment. "It's like you're spinning your wheel, spinning your wheel, and I'm not going anywhere on this hamster wheel. So it's very frustrating for me, especially because ... I'm a very goal-oriented person."
Jen says her marriage is definitely a work in progress, but she and Ryne are committed to making it work. They actually tried out a month-long separation, but ultimately opted back into the relationship.
"He came back to me and was just very kind and genuine and open, which I don't get a lot of from him typically," she shares, "and I'm like, 'Well, this is the husband I wanted.' This is how it's going to be, then open arms. Let's work on it."
"I think that that was an eye-opener on maybe what we were losing if we did actually separate," Jen notes. "And so we've come back with more gratitude for each other, more appreciation for each other, and for the first time I feel like it's very genuine. We genuinely want to be together and we're working on it, where before it was going through the motions."
Jen says she's bracing for impact a bit as these struggles play out over the next few weeks. She'll be watching back one dinner party through her fingers.
"Ryne walked out on camera, obviously that was traumatic for me," she starts. "So the next event that I take him to, I get very nervous about bringing him, and I basically am inebriated. So that will be fun to look forward to, like my college days all over again!"
Overall, Jen's first season as a 'Wife was a net-win, and she'd be down to return for season 17 now that she knows the game. Her biggest lessons learned: sit up straight and speak up more often.
"I would insert myself more on conversations," she admits. "I'm used to being in professional environment. When someone's talking, you don't talk over them. Someone's screaming, you call security. So it was a whole new world for me. I'm sitting there, like, 'Do we call security? What do I do here?' ... You scream right back! And you just talk louder. They talk loud, you talk louder."