"It's The Teresa Show!" she proclaims with a laugh over video chat with ET, calling herself "the GOAT" -- aka "Greatest of All Time" -- more than once over the course of the interview. Teresa's time on The Real Housewives largely shifted what audiences expected out of these shows; her season 1-ending "table flip" is a pop culture touchstone. This season, it gets a sequel: the table shift. The moment already made headlines when the trailer dropped weeks ago: Teresa unloading the contents of a bar top on co-star Margaret Josephs during the cast trip to Nashville. It's all set to play out near the tail-end of the season, after months of Margaret attempting to "pop" Teresa's "love bubble," at least according to Teresa.
"When you're on top, they all come for you," Teresa teases of the journey fans will soon witness. "Same s**t, different year!"
"To me, I think [the season 12 table shift] is more epic than the table flip, because it's personal to me," she adds. "The table flip, I was defending Dina [Cantin, née Manzo]. Danielle [Staub] was going after Dina, and I was defending one of my best friends. But I don't like it. That's not me. I don't get like that. Listen, if you come at me, I never throw the first punch, but I'll always finish the fight. That's the thing. If you come at me, or after someone I love, my children, then it's just not going to be good."
Teresa kicks off season 12 "the happiest I've ever been," settling into life with her future fiancé, businessman Luis "Louie" Ruelas. The pair's whirlwind romance has played out off-camera up until this point, leaving room for much speculation about their relationship, and Louie's true intentions. An often repeated rumor is, Louie's using Teresa to get famous.
"I know people are like, 'Oh, he loves the spotlight...' No, he does not. He's so not into any of this," Teresa promises. "He fell in love with Teresa Giudice, and obviously Teresa Giudice is on a reality TV show -- not that he wanted to find someone that was on a reality TV show. You can't help who you fall in love with, unfortunately, and I'm grateful that he was supportive of what I do, because I know a lot of the Housewives that are single -- and I hear from them -- as soon as they meet a guy and they hear that they're on a reality show, they don't want nothing to do with it. And they're like, 'All right, see you! Nice knowing you! See you!' It's hard. People don't want to be in the spotlight."
"And trust me, from being in the spotlight, it's not fun," she adds. "And being in the public eye? You're being scrutinized and all that, and it's not fun. That's why I'm very overprotective of him. Obviously, I love him. It's not something he signed up for. He loves me. And that's it."
Teresa says Louie was a "natural" in front of the cameras, though, which turned out to be a "total turn on" for her. "He's so smart, he's so well spoken," she shares. "So I think he did phenomenal. He was nervous, of course, but I think not even trying to be a natural, he is. I'm like, 'Babe, you're so good.'"
While viewers will get the chance to know Louie over the course of the season, many fan blogs already act like they know his character. An arguably bizarre video of him shirtless, pleading for an ex to forgive him while surrounded by other shirtless men, made the rounds online around the time cameras went up on season 12. Naturally, it's a point of conversation among the women -- just not one Teresa's interested in having.
"If I don't care about it, no one else should care. That's it," she explains. "He's dating me, not everyone else. ... He's engaged to Teresa Giudice, yes!"
The "everyone else" Teresa refers to is really just Margaret. While the two had (mostly) been on good terms since Margaret joined the show in season 8, this past summer seemingly ended their friendship for good.
"I'm not sure [we can be friends]," Teresa confesses. "I've done nothing to Margaret, nothing at all [Note: Teresa did encourage then-cast member Danielle to pull Margaret's hair in season 10]. Didn't go searching into her past because, of course, she puts it all out there. Not that I even want to, because I don't want to. You know what I mean? So for someone to try to hurt you for no reason, it's like, where does that leave you?"
"I'm hurt and disgusted, I really am," she adds. "I don't know. And you know me, it takes a lot for me to forgive someone. So I don't know. I don't know, because that's the thing, I was so down, and then I was so happy. And then you're trying to hurt me. For what reason? You know what I mean? It's sad. In life, you should want to pick people up."
The season 12 trailer hints at Margaret asking a lot of questions about Louie, who's the first guy Teresa's been serious with since divorcing her husband, Joe Giudice. Their marriage was marked by similar questions from cast members, with unconfirmed accusations of infidelity flung about season after season. Margaret met Teresa when her marriage was petering out, in the wake of Teresa returning home from a year-long prison sentence for a fraud conviction related to her then-husband's business dealings. In the years that followed, Teresa experienced the death of her mother and her father, as well as the deportation of Joe after his own prison sentence.
"It saddens me, because when I met Margaret, I was in a sad place," she notes, while explaining how Margaret seemingly only wanted to be there for her when she was down. "I just had lost my mom and that's when I met her. She cried with me. ... Then, I lost my dad. I had a lot of sadness in my life since I met her. This time, I'm so happy and seeing one of my, supposedly my, friend -- I thought she was my friend -- so it just saddens me. It does."
"Here I am the happiest that I've been in such a long time," Teresa continues. "I met the man of my dreams. He's amazing and so good to me, so good to my daughters. And then to see that, you're going to just have to see how it plays out. It's very sad."
One might assume Margaret could explain away asking questions about Louie as being concerned for a friend, but Teresa scoffs at that suggestion. "I've been around the block and then some and then some," she says. "I've been through more than she has ever been. Nobody needs to show me anything ... nobody has to act like they're concerned for me. When I know more than you know, there's no concern there. Let's just leave it at that."
Cut between Margaret's inquisitions in the trailer are moments of Teresa reminding Louie there are cameras around and questioning why production is continuing to film certain heated moments.
"I'm protecting Louie," Teresa says of those fourth-wall breaking scenes. "There's a lot of times ... I'm like, you know what? I'm not doing this. This is bulls**t, and finally, I was speaking up like, I'm done. I've been around the block a lot. So it's like, I'm not going to do this. And he didn't sign up for this, so I'm protecting him. That's all it is. It's me protecting him. We have nothing to hide. He's amazing. And I don't care. I don't have to prove anything to anyone, except to myself and to my daughters."
Teresa jumps into protective mode more than once this season. She says she also felt a responsibility to help Jennifer Aydin walk through her own issues with Margaret, who brings up questions about the realities of Jennifer's marriage to her husband, Dr. Bill Aydin, as well.
"I feel really, really bad for Jennifer and her family, really bad," Teresa laments. "That bothers me, too. That's another thing that I carry, and it weighs on me because it bothers me so much because her children have to go through this now. It's not something that they signed up for. It kind of reminded me of my children. ... It's very sad. Very, very sad. And I mean, you know where it all came from, right? Yeah. So it's very sad."
All of this drama gets rolling in the premiere, but there's also some positive moments, too. Teresa and Jackie Goldschneider start off in a good place after their season 11 misunderstanding over Jackie's use of an analogy -- Teresa shares that Louie and Jackie's husband, Evan, are now close -- and Teresa is excited for viewers to see how grown up her four daughters are; Gia just turned 21, while Gabriella is 18, Miliana is about to be 16 and Audriana is 13.
"It's amazing," she gushes. "They're becoming these beautiful, strong -- let me add strong -- women. Because as a mom, sometimes you don't know if you're doing a good job. So seeing them and how they behave and they speak and how they act and how they handle themselves, it shows me that, Teresa, you're doing a good job, you know? ... I'm like, thank you, God. It's going good, because as long as your kids are good, then you're good."
Still, the girls find themselves in a bit of drama themselves. RHONJ is unique in the Housewives realm because family matters take center stage season after season, and this year opens on Teresa's daughters at odds with Teresa's brother, their "Tio Joe" Gorga, after comments he made on season 12 about their father. For those who missed it, Joe Gorga went off about Joe Giudice, essentially blaming him for the death of his and Teresa's parents.
"You should stand in your truth. If that's how they feel, speak your mind," Teresa shares of supporting her daughters. "And hopefully the other party will see where you're coming from. You'll see it play out on the season."
Something viewers won't see play out in season 12, though, is wedding planning. Louie popped the question to Teresa in Greece after filming wrapped (though personal cameras were there, so fans are likely to get a glimpse at the romantic moment). In fact, viewers may not see any of Teresa's "I do" duties on RHONJ.
"I definitely don't want [my wedding] on Jersey Housewives, let's just leave it at that," she says, adamantly. "I know the fans have been so invested in everything. I don't know, I have no idea. I don't know."
Teresa seems open to a spinoff or special documenting her big day, but she and Louie are still in the very early planning stages. Louie originally intended to get down on one knee in Capri, Italy, but COVID-related travel restrictions shifted those plans. Now, Teresa is toying with the idea of planning their nuptials on the Mediterranean island.
"But now I'm like, oh my god, I need to find a wedding planner in Italy, because I don't know where to get married in Italy!" she admits. "So it's very overwhelming with that, because it was moving in [together], then we went away, we got engaged, and then it was the holidays. So it's been one thing after another. Then, Gia turned 21. Now I'm going to have Milania's Sweet 16. She's going to be Sweet 16, her birthday's Feb. 2, I'm having her 'Sweet 16' [on] Feb. 5, so it's been one thing after another. Yesterday, we went to look at one place around here!"
"If I could find a beautiful place around here... but honey, I called and first of all there's no Saturdays available!" Teresa rattles off. "Everything's booked! The place we went to look at yesterday only had some Fridays and some Sundays available. Very few. But, like, I want a place that's so spectacular, the scenery is so beautiful. So if I find that-- there's not too many places in Jersey, so if I find... between Jersey and New York, if I find that it'll happen here. If not, it's gonna happen in, like, destination."
And while she doesn't yet have a date or venue locked down, Teresa knows one thing for sure: not all of her RHONJ castmates will be getting an invite!
"I'm not a fighter. I'm a lover," she professes. "I'm a lover. I'm all about the love. That's why I just want to spread the love."