On the season premiere, former RHOC star Heather Dubrow returns to the cast and brings with her a new friend, Nicole James. It turns out that Shannon and Nicole have a history, though. Shannon knew her as Nicole Wiese.
"I met a gal 16 years ago in preschool, when [my eldest daughter] Sophie was 4 years old," Shannon recalls, chatting with ET ahead of the premiere at her home in Newport Beach. "She had a daughter who was in the class with Sophie named Lauren [pronounced La'ren], very unique pronunciation of the spelling of 'Lauren.' And I was room mom -- and this girl looked exactly like Pamela Anderson, with the platinum hair, you know, the kind of sexy outfits, the big lips, everything -- and so I got to know her at a birthday party, and I invited her to my home for a barbecue, and we spent some time together, the kids hung out. But I was building our [home in the] Crystal Cove [neighborhood], the twins [Adeline and Stella] were 1, and I just was overwhelmed."
"So, we just kind of lost touch with each other," she continues. "It was like, maybe a two, three-week friendship. But during that time when she was at my home for a barbecue, she said that she was involved in a lawsuit against [Heather's husband, plastic surgeon] Terry Dubrow, and so when Heather called me and said, 'I know, we have a mutual friend named Nicole...' I said, 'Nicole Wiese?' And she said, 'No, Nicole James.' So I looked on the Instagram, and I thought, well, that's not Nicole Wiese."
Nicole's look was toned down from what Shannon remembered, her hair now a reddish brown. The sexy outfits a little more refined that what she recalled.
"I texted Heather, 'Are you sure it's not Nicole Wiese?' And she said, 'No.' But they both, Nicole James and Nicole Wiese both have a daughter named Lauren [pronounced La'ren]. So that just kept nagging at me like, and the bigger question was, why would they be friends when there was a lawsuit? So it can't be this girl... but it is!"
It's Shannon's understanding that Heather was either not aware of this past legal action, or it had been amicably resolved, seeing as the two women have been in the same circle of girlfriends for at least eight or so years. She had no intention of ever bringing up Nicole's past, she says.
"My thought is, but if it is [the same Nicole], then they've resolved it, this is a 20 years old issue," she surmises. "So, you're not gonna see me bring it up on camera and, you know, potentially harm someone's business, I'm not gonna do that. But I stupidly told a couple castmates, [Gina Kirschenheiter and Emily Simpson] after un poco tequila [at an off-camera dinner], because it was bothering me. At that point I didn't know for certain if it was the same girl, so... I shouldn't have done it. I take responsibility, I shouldn't have said anything to Emily and Gina because it was never my intent for this to become a story or be shown on camera."
Gina and Emily's side of this story is a bit different. In the premiere, the two question whether this is some sort of master plan Shannon concocted to cause conflict in the (largely new) group.
"It’s typical Shannon behavior, where she likes to stir up trouble on the down-low so that not everybody is privy to it," Emily remarks in a confessional, as the episode flashes back to a moment from season 15 in which then-cast member Braunwyn Windham-Burke alleges to Emily that Shannon asked her to investigate then-newbie 'Wife Elizabeth Lyn Vargas' life, namely her financial situation that "didn't add up."
"That way, if it comes back up, she can play the innocent victim, like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,'" Emily says.
"I don't do that, I'm not the investigator," Shannon offers back, defending herself to ET. "I don't even Google myself, like, I don't. I look at the social media for a little bit. I'm just not, I'm not into that. So no, I don't dig up dirt on people, I don't."
"I don’t understand what her endgame is here," Gina later tells Emily in the premiere, as the two discuss how to handle the information. "Like, I’m not going to go out of my way to say anything, but if the situation arises and anything’s being discussed, like, I have no problem just, like, telling Heather what’s going on."
Gina attempted to get Shannon to bring what she knew about Nicole and Terry's history to Heather on camera, but Shannon shut her down. Repeatedly.
"When you're on a cast, there's kind of an unwritten rule that you don't go after kids or businesses," Shannon tells ET, defending her choice to keep it a secret. She says she wanted no part in potentially damaging Terry's plastic surgery practice in the process of making this show.
"When you film with someone and you bring up something like that, and there's a camera rolling, that makes it public information and I wasn't gonna do that to her, to Terry, or to anyone. No, I didn't want that to come out," Shannon declares. "I would never want to hurt somebody to make information like that public. And if [the viewers] don't believe me, then there's nothing I can do about it."
"Shannon is just not self-aware," Gina claims in the premiere episode. "She was very eager to share her juicy gossip about this girl, Nicole. And the right thing to do is to tell Heather. Because I don’t think I’m capable of pretending this is OK."
"Look, I admit my part," Shannon admits to ET. "I will always take responsibility for mistakes, and I made a huge mistake by telling two cast members about the potential of these two girls being the same Nicole. But it's not all my fault."
The fallout from this information coming to light (thanks in part to Gina flat-out telling Heather) will play out in the coming weeks on RHOC. And in Shannon's eyes, Gina is the instigator.
"She met Heather one time [before this came up], so you know, I don't understand," she sighs. "And to sit down with her one minute before dinner at a beautiful party that she spent a lot of time planning [to drop this]? I don't know... I still don't understand the reasoning behind it, but there are explanations that you will see, and you will see my POV on it, coming up."
As teased in a montage of heated moments at the end of the premiere, Heather seemingly shuts down production at the party after the lawsuit rumor comes up; in another tease, Emily walks away from Nicole in tears, screaming, "You’re f**king trash! F**k her!" Shannon owns up to the ordeal setting back her rebuilding of a friendship with Heather.
"It was no bueno," she says. "It's kind of like square one, or even beyond. Negative."
With that said, though, the two women are in a good place in real time. Shannon heavily hints that Heather understands her side of the story once she gets a chance to properly explain it.
"From the morning I woke up after that night [I let it slip], I said, 'Uh oh, what did you do?'" Shannon says. "It was a moment you know -- you're right about me coming onto the new season and not really having close friends by my side. So, I filmed with Emily and Gina, and you see it in the first episode. And you know, I don't know... it felt like I kind of bonded with them and they talked about it like, 'We're the the last three standing.'"
"So I felt like, oh wow. Have we really come full circle? Can we really be really good friends together? Because I want to see the good, or I want to see the positive, so yeah... dumb," Shannon continues. "Dumb."
When RHOC first began filming season 16, fan blogs reported Nicole to be a full-time cast member. It seems this drama bomb changed her positioning on the show (it's unclear who made any decision of that sort, though); she is not listed as an official member of the ensemble by Bravo.
"I don't know," Shannon says when asked about Nicole's casting status, before adding, "I really didn't get the chance to know her much at all this year."