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Candiace Dillard Bassett says she's been living in what feels like a prison of her own mind for the last year. This week marks the one-year anniversary, if you can even call it that, of the physical altercation that unfolded between Candiace and her The Real Housewives of Potomac co-star, Monique Samuels, at a Maryland winery on Oct. 16, 2019. After nearly 12 months of speculation and gossip over what occurred, the incident finally played out on the show just weeks ago.
"I'm just now starting to get to a place where I can be light about it," Candiace admits to ET over video chat. "Leading up to everything, I have felt so trapped and so muted because we are contractually obligated to not talk about things that are happening on the show, and there were certain people that were doing a lot of talking through other people and blogs."
It seems safe to assume that "certain people" means Monique, though Monique has repeatedly stated that she doesn't speak through fan pages or leak stories, even though her co-stars retain their suspicions. The version of events that initially made its way to "the blogs," as the Housewives say, is very much Monique's recollection of things: that Candiace initiated the fight, threw wine in Monique's face and Monique reacted. But the footage shows a different story. Yes, Candiace started a verbal tennis match, but Monique was the first person to make things physical, flipping Candiace's hair before yanking it and holding Candiace down as she delivered wop after wop to the back of Candiace's head, all while their castmates looked on in horror, attempting to separate the women.
"It was awful to watch," Candiace says of seeing the footage for the first time. "My heart was palpitating, I was angry all over again. I was frustrated. I was sad. I was embarrassed. I was every emotion -- I was every emotion -- it’s still awful to see it playing in perpetuity on the internet."
"I really hate that this is now a part of our legacy," she shares. "I hate it. I really hate that part. … There's this conversation about whether or not we have a responsibility to represent all Black women, and I'm in the few that believe, at least for me, I do feel a responsibility to represent Black women, because we are not yet in enough spaces to be understood."
"There are people in parts of the world who, we are the only Black faces they see on a primetime television show," Candiace notes. "There is a responsibility there for me … and I think that the only thing we can continue to do is to try and show that we are more than [a stereotype]."
When the footage is broken down frame by frame, viewers can clearly see that wine didn't fly into Monique’s face until after she had a grip on Candiace, and Candiace says she never threw the wine; it left her glass amid the tussle, while Candiace was in "full keep-my-wig-on mode," she says.
"The biggest lie and the most hurtful, most traumatic thing was telling the blogs that I initiated the fight by throwing a glass of wine on her, because that is what I was viciously attacked for," Candiace shares. "That's what I got death threats for, that's what I got threatened to have my a** beat for. 'You deserved this, Candiace, because she threw a glass of wine…' and then it was a whole glass, and then it was a bottle on her. That's where it all started and that's what I've had the hardest time, mentally dealing with."
"When the fight actually aired, It felt like there was a little bit of a weight was lifted off of me," she confesses. "People are seeing what actually happened, and seeing people for who they really are versus believing a year of rumors and lies."
Candiace owns up to not staying completely out of the fray, going on Instagram Live regularly at the start of the season to share what parts of her story she felt like she could at the time. That only seemed to make things worse, though, as each time Candiace would go live, Monique would, too, to counterpoint anything Candiace said.
"I wish that I was stronger and strong enough to just shut up completely, but I wasn't," Candiace says. "I wasn't strong enough and I think it's important to acknowledge that. That was me having weak moments by addressing it and speaking on it."
Candiace says she's spent the last 365 days trying to unpack and process what happened to her. She's come to the realization that she may never fully understand the incident, and she's making peace with that.
"Everyone is saying, 'Oh, Candiace is not a victim…' I'm not a victim, I've never reported myself to be a victim, at any point in this," she says. "I have always, always taken full responsibility for my mouth. I am a verbal acrobat and I will give you the business with this vocabulary, all day, every day. I've always owned that. That is my weapon. That's how I have always been raised to emote, and that's how I've always been raised to communicate, was with my words. I have never not owned that. But nowhere in a civilized society should someone who is communicating verbally, should that person be physically accosted because the other party cannot measure up to my verbal acrobatics."
Up until the episode aired, RHOP fans seemed largely on "Team Monique," but then a shift happened -- the fan accounts' Instagram polls will tell you this, too -- and "Team Candiace" grew. While she may have pushed Monique's buttons, the vast majority of viewers believe (and Monique even admitted the same on camera) that Candiace did not deserve to be physically assaulted.
"I thought that I would be happier about it but, it's still… it's still -- I don't want to cry... it doesn't change what happened," a tearful Candiace says of the shift in viewer support.
"Don't mistake my tears and my folded tissue for me thinking that I'm some damsel in distress," she later adds. "I'm not. I'm just someone who, this is how I emote, I cry. Some people cry, some people smoke, some people drink. I cry."
Candiace hasn't spoken to Monique since the altercation, and she still doesn't understand why her one-time friend never reached out to her, especially after seeing Monique attempt to piece her side of the story together, facts seeming to shift each time she recalls the events of the night.
"I've never dealt with someone who could so egregiously lie like that," she says. "I just can't wrap my mind around someone who can sleep at night and not be remorseful."
At the end of the most recent episode, Monique tearfully admitted to her pastor that she wanted to reach out to Candiace and make things right, but that invitation never came. Monique could have changed her mind after learning Candiace opted to file charges against her, but Candiace says that would be a bogus excuse. She claims three weeks went by before she elevated the situation to a legal level, and at that point, Candiace thought it was the only move to make.
"I think that her sitting down with her pastor was a stunt," Candiace muses. "I think she did it because she had to. I think, from the powers-that-be, she was being told that she needed to reroute this narrative, and that was the way that she knew best to do that, was to pimp out her pastor and her pastor's wife and try to create some alternative universe."
"Where she's less than smart is, you can’t film that scene in about November of 2019 and then scratch my face out of the cast photo, write me a song bragging about what you did," she adds, referencing a social media post Monique made when RHOP's premiere date shifted and the rap she released ahead of the season, "Drag Queen."
Candiace says seeing Monique feed into the narrative that was out there at the time of the incident, liking comments on social media about "dragging Candiace," only added insult to injury. Then, when neither Candiace nor her husband, Chris, never heard from Monique or her husband, also named Chris, Candiace realized any relationship they had was done.
"You're not sorry. You were never sorry, and all those tears that she was crying? I believe those tears, I believe they were real," she says, "but they were tears for her embarrassment and for her not being able to control herself. There was no place in there where I think that she felt any kind of remorse for what she did to me."
Monique filed her own charges against Candiace, but all charges were eventually dropped. Candiace says she never got a clear answer as to why, and she's opting to move on rather than reopen "Pandora's Box," as she calls it, and continue letting the altercation hang over her.
Again, Candiace takes full responsibility for her contributions to what occurred, but she wouldn't take any of it back and isn't going to apologize for her words. Candiace says, if you peel back the fourth wall of reality TV, as Bravo is getting more comfortable doing, you'll see that she was just doing her job.
"Things escalate quickly on all Housewives shows, don't they?" she poses. "Is that not what everyone watches Housewives for, is the verbal spats and the verbal altercations and the back and forth, and then we kiss and make up and do it all over again?"
"You've seen women crack glasses on tables and curse and scream and throw plates down," Candiace adds, referencing now-iconic moments from other Housewives, like Beverly Hills, Orange County and New Jersey. But in none of those cases did any cast member lay hands on another. There have been others, though, where things have gotten physical. Monique and Candiace's incident is certainly not the first fight on The Real Housewives.
At the end of the day, Candiace is, in a way, glad the incident occurred. She believes chances are high that had the attack not come when it did, it would've come at an even worse time. For Candiace, it almost felt predestined.
"Yes, I would have walked away -- I wish I would have walked away -- and if I could do it again, I would have walked away," she notes. "But here's the thing about me walking away: I had made a sport of it up until this point. … So if I had walked away this time, would she have come after me again? I venture to say, yes. I'm actually glad it happened here versus us maybe getting all the way to … [our cast trip in] Portugal … where it could have been much worse. I don't want to go to Portuguese jail. I have a bright future. I can't be in Portuguese jail."
Monique does not go on the cast trip, and didn't attend any group events for the remainder of the season after the winery incident. It remains to be seen how much she actually appears in the back half of season 5, and Candiace has made it clear that she has no interest in filming with Monique in the future. She will have to face her, either in person or virtually, at the reunion, though, which the cast will shoot later this year.
"It's a lot of prayer and, you know, medication -- the flower kind, if that's possible," Candiace says of gearing up for the sit-down. "It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be easy for me at all. I think the only reason that I'm even OK doing it is because there is a part of me that wants to, I think, laugh and be entertained by whatever version of this ordeal she will bring with her and just finally put it to bed."
"For me, the reunion would be that hard stop on this entire ordeal and I'll be able to close that book and burn it and move forward," she adds. As for what Candiace's future on the show looks like after that, she’s not sure. No casting decisions have been made for season 6 (it hasn’t even officially been picked up by the network yet, either), but it’s likely that either Candiace or Monique won’t be back.
"That's none of my business," Candiace says. "I'm not an executive. I am Candiace Dominique Dillard Bassett and I can only do what's right and what's best for me, and what is best for my health, mental health and my safety -- and everyone understands why I would never want to work with someone like her again. A friendship is completely and utterly out of the question."
With that said, Candiace seems very much interested in sticking with RHOP, and offers this advice to Monique: "It's in her best interest to have a seat and continue to work on herself. The way that she has conducted herself in this entire ordeal is less than savory, and that's putting it very kindly."
Candiace isn't a fan of how another cast member, Ashley Darby, conducted herself after the altercation, either. Ashley missed witnessing the incident firsthand, but immediately took Monique’s side in the aftermath. In the coming weeks, viewers will see Ashley agree to write a statement on Monique’s behalf, seemingly as part of the legal battle that eventually went nowhere.
"There isn't a whole lot I have to say about Ashley," Candiace says. "She's not a person I have any interest in having a relationship with. I don't find her to be genuine. I don't find her to be someone who has a soul. She's just, she moves in a particular way that does not work for me. And I really have nothing to say about her. I wish her well, I suppose."
The midseason trailer for season 5 shows Candiace and Ashley’s husbands seemingly getting into a physical fight of their own, with Candiace and Ashley firing off verbal attacks at one another, too.
"Alcohol and perhaps other substances and crazy people don't mix," Candiace teases of the moment. "I don't want to give anything away, but certain people just should not be allowed to be around the group, and that's been proven time and time and time again."
"It's old," she adds, referencing Ashley's husband, Michael. "It's old, and it makes me feel sorry for Ashley, honestly, that she doesn't think she deserves better than someone like her husband. But that's her business."
Unlike Monique, though, Candiace says she can work with Ashley.
"Ashley is not someone that I fear for my safety around," she quips. "She's not someone who I'm so disgusted by that I can't be in the same room as her. I just have no interest in having a relationship with her. She's not my people, so that's Ashley. As far as the other person? Yes, she's in the ground."
In the end, 2020 has been a year of tests for Candiace, as it has been for many people. From dealing with the fallout of the altercation, to reckoning with past homophobic tweets that came to light at the start of the season and the reckoning on race the nation is having, Candiace says she's taking this time to figure out who she is and who she wants to be moving forward.
"The short answer of what I said to all my friends when they called to ask if I'm OK, clearly I'm strong enough to handle it, because I'm still here," she offers, wiping away tears. "I've learned that words have consequences. I've learned that there's a time and a place for everything, and I've learned that I'm resilient."
"I can really handle anything," she adds. "And I think the goal is to learn how to better handle anything."