Bravo's Southern Charm looks a little different this season, but it could've looked even more different. OG star of the show Shep Rose confesses to ET that he almost walked away from the series after a self-admittedly difficult sixth season, joining departing cast members Cameran Eubanks, Naomie Olindo and Chelsea Meissner.
"Last season was hard for me, and I'm not pointing fingers because I've pointed them at myself, as well," he says over video chat. "I was disillusioned. I talked to Cameran and was like, 'I don't think I want to do this anymore,' just because of social media. … It's just hard when people are hammering you … [and] it's hard to block everything out."
Season 6 saw Shep get in the mud, so to speak, with some of his co-stars. Madison LeCroy spread a rumor that Shep gave castmate Danni Baird an STD, an allegation they've both denied, and he retaliated by bringing two women whom Madison's boyfriend, Austen Kroll, may or may not have hooked up with to an all-cast event. Things then got heated at the reunion, with Cameran in tears over the state of their group, and Shep appearing unwilling to own up to his bad behavior. He faced questions over some controversial social media posts.
The break between seasons 6 and 7 wound up being longer than expected. Typically filmed in the fall, cameras didn't go up until early in 2020 for the new batch of episodes, providing the cast a little extra time to contemplate their place on the show.
"Cameran always signs up at the last second, she's always like, 'I want to get out,' and then she does it and we have a ball," Shep notes. "This season, I don't think she sort of liked last season. I don't think she liked the tone of it -- I sure didn't, but I wanted to … continue and sort of let my soul shine through, hopefully. So, that was kind of my determining factor. I was like, let's do this again, because we can do it better."
Seemingly cementing Cameran's choice to opt out of Southern Charm was Kathryn Dennis' choice to bring up a rumor that Cameran's husband was cheating on Cameran, on camera. The cast largely believes the rumor to be just that, a rumor.
"She just said, 'It's not worth it to me and I'm not gonna do it,'" Shep shares. "[But] we found out that no one person is bigger than the show. Sure, we have our moments, people who have been on the show since the beginning, Whitney [Sudler-Smith], me and Craig [Conover]. I wonder, if I left would it still [work]? But I think we've got ourselves a good season."
"I think Cameran, one of the reasons she left is she was just, like, there was always a sense of decorum in our group," he adds, suggesting that got lost in season 6. "Like, there would be some screaming matches, but you didn't cross certain lines, you didn't really go for jugular, because after all we are Southern Charm, right?"
"We're all going to bury our head in our hands in certain moments, but as long as it’s an even flow, and it peaks and troughs and stuff, then I can deal with it," he says.
Shep hasn't asked Cameran whether this is a full-on end to her time on reality TV (she appeared on MTV's The Real World before Southern Charm), or just a pause.
"I know that she really enjoyed -- and she might not admit it -- sort of the juice of the show, meaning the gossip and knowing what everyone is saying," he confesses. "She was like, front-row seat to all the salaciousness and ridiculousness, and I think she took joy in that. So, maybe she'll want to jump back on the train. Obviously, I think we'd all welcome her."
Cameran will just have to tune in, like the audience, if she wants a front-row seat to this year's action, which is already in full swing just one episode into season 7. The premiere ended in the middle of a party Shep threw, which saw tensions rise between him and Madison once again thanks to the appearance of Madison's one-time fling, Peter, and Peter's new girlfriend, Liz, at the event. Madison called it a "set-up" to incite drama, but Shep denies that allegation.
"I started seeing a therapist, actually, and we talked a lot about the stress and anxieties that are of the seasons past and behaviors in the past, so it was clear -- it was like, do not wrestle in the mud, because … it was a no-win situation," Shep says of his mindset headed into season 7. "I did not come in with my dukes up, and I was mad at myself for even getting involved with her last year."
Shep does confess, however, that the delayed schedule of shooting may have put some subconscious pressure on the cast to deliver at that first big event, which happened to be Shep’s party. He totally understands why Madison would have interpreted what went down in the way that she did.
"We hadn't filmed in a long time, so I feel … we all put pressure on ourselves like, OK, here we are again. What does everybody know? What's going on?" he muses. "So, there was a little bit of an information dump on that first big party, where everybody was together. There was a lot of murmuring."
Shep says his real frustration with Austen and Madison is, they want no one in their business, yet seem to make their relationship ups and downs everyone's business.
"We're all sort of sick of the whole, what are you guys? What the hell? Can you define yourselves? Can you define your relationship?" he explains. "At a certain point, is it Madison or is it Austen? It takes two to tango. So, yeah, she might have him wrapped around his finger, but he's the idiot that’s wrapped around the finger, and he allows himself to be whatever it is that he is to her."
Expect things to only get more complicated from here, as Shep teases information comes to light that he feels obligated to tell Austen, even if Austen doesn't want to hear it.
"Here's the dilemma: If you hear something about our friend who's in a relationship, whether it be him, her, anybody, do you tell them or do you keep your mouth shut?" he asks. "I think a real friend tells, but Austen doesn't even know if he wants to be told. It might just be rumor, right? But if people are talking about it, what do you say? What do you do? How good of friends are you? Do you want to get involved? And I don't want to get involved, but then my friendship overrides that sometimes, you know?"
"In a reality show you can't -- there's no points for keeping something secret," he adds. "The truth shall set you free. I'm just a big fan of truth."
Shep says he finds Madison both "dangerous" and "fascinating," a somewhat chaotic force in their friend group who, he says, doesn’t own up to her own faults, or at least the faults Shep perceives her to have.
"Remember last season, there was that DM thing with Danni's boyfriend and Madison got all pissed with Danni?" he recalls. "'How dare you tell people that I DM'd your boyfriend!' Like, wait a second. You just took yourself out of the equation. So, I don't know. I kind of want to wash my hands of the whole Madison and Austen thing, for sure."
Outside of the Austen/Madison drama, there's the return of what fans are dubbing "old Kathryn," a messier and maybe more devious version of Kathryn Dennis than viewers have seen in recent years. In the premiere, she laid into Cameran after Cameran asked her over text message to stop repeating the cheating rumor on camera.
"I don’t give a f**k about what Cameran thinks," Kathryn said in her confessional. "She literally hurt me to my core by the meanest, nastiest things you could ever say about someone. So, everyone who thinks Cam is just this guys' girl that is wearing Lily Pulitzer with a big ol' smile and perfect teeth? She is an a**hole."
"Whatever problems you might have, it's probably not because of someone else, typically," Shep says in response. "So, to pass the buck and to have this stored up negativity? Cameran never did anything to undermine her."
On the premiere, a montage of Cameran's past comments about Kathryn (and her relationship with former Southern Charm star Thomas Ravenel) played out, showing Cameran turning down an invitation to have coffee with Kathryn to work on their relationship, among other things. Cameran continually cited not wanting to involve herself in Kathryn and Thomas' dysfunctional relationship as her reason for keeping Kathryn at a distance.
"I think Cameran wishes she could do that over again, because all Kathryn was asking for is to have a cup of coffee and she politely declined, but does that make her someone who has been sort of rooting for Kathryn's demise or has like tried to undermine her?" Shep questions. "Definitely not. So, I hate the rumor that was brought up. I don't believe it. But you know, again, we all signed up for this, so I don't know [what] other people's thought processes are. Wish I did."
Things only get more serious from there, as Kathryn will face allegations of racism later in the season. Those surfaced as the Black Lives Matter movement surged this summer, forcing Southern Charm to shift from being somewhat frivolous to largely serious.
"I welcome it," Shep says of addressing the call for racial justice head-on, on camera. "If we can be a part of that conversation, I mean -- I don't know if anyone will take our opinions seriously, because of our insanity in our six seasons prior, but maybe it can get some people thinking or talking."
When the racism allegation hit "the blogs" and Charleston, South Carolina, natives posted photos on social media of the cast filming at the removal of a John C. Calhoun statue this summer, some chatter popped up online around whether there was room for a show like Southern Charm in 2020. Up until now, the series has largely existed in a bubble of white privilege, a topic the cast will also address on air this year.
"I don't think there's ever been a mean-spirited sort of, looking-down-our-nose-at-others mantra on the show, not once," Shep says. "But to tip-toe and not be yourself, or not -- we're just showing our world, you know? And I'm happy to show all of it, really, ‘cause I don't have anything to hide, and I don't have any hatred in my heart. I really don't. And I don't think anybody on the show does. So, I'm happy to tackle these things [and] think it'll be done well."
As for Shep’s story this season, that will focus heavily on the lady in his life, Taylor Ann Green. It’s the first serious relationship the 40-year-old has even brought to the show.
"I was not gonna do it until it was actually real and felt right," he shares. "It just so happened a few months before we started filming, I met Taylor and we, you know, we approached it very pragmatically which is big. We didn't have stars in our eyes. We were just like, OK. I'm happy."
Shep says therapy has helped ground him more; he wakes up every day and asks, 'Are you happy?' And, so far, the answer has been, yes.
"That's kind of where my head was at with the whole thing, and I was happy every day," he gushes. "Normally, I'm looking for the exit -- and usually I can find it quite easily."
"She just was so kind and good and everyone loves her," he continues. "Everyone loves her, including me and so, we kept staying the course and then, you know, maybe had that conversation: OK, are we gonna try to do this? And we did."
Shep jokes that the coronavirus pandemic quarantine has turned Taylor and him into a "married couple," but cautions that he's not quite ready to take that next step. For now, he's sticking with his day-by-day outlook on love.
"I always thought -- and I still might think -- I'm the [George] Clooney/Warren Beatty model, you know? Like, have fun, have fun, have fun, have fun and then one day, you say, OK. I've had enough fun," he explains. "I'm trying to be present and not try to project to the future too much. But presently, I'm quite happy."
Shep hopes that happiness shines through on what turned out to be a somewhat difficult, if not a bit odd, season of Southern Charm.
"Someone earlier told me, 'It'll be like a time capsule for 2020,' and I laughed at that," he says. "And maybe that's true."