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A bad year brought out the best for Bravo's The Real Housewives of Dallas, a silver lining that does not go unnoticed by star Stephanie Hollman. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, divisive political atmosphere and more struggles of 2020, Stephanie and her co-stars are having their most fun yet in season 5 of the franchise.
"The fighting is there, but it's not horrible," Stephanie notes to ET over video chat. "It's not, like, people trying to kill each other."
Longtime fans of RHOD might read into that "kill each other" line and flashback to season 1, when then-friend-of the show Marie Reyes alleged that LeeAnne Locken threatened to "gut" her. LeeAnne memorably told the women, "When I say 'kill,' it means something different than what you're thinking." When LeeAnne exited the show after season 4, it made way for "the lightest season we have ever had," Stephanie says. It's a sentiment shared by co-star D'Andra Simmons.
"I think that we were all able to just breathe a little bit," Stephanie remarks. "Everyone kind of came out of their shell, and it was just refreshing. No one felt like they were holding back. Especially for D'Andra, she always felt kind of nervous, like she didn't want to offend LeeAnne. So, for D'Andra, I think it was a very different her, she was so light and fun."
Season 4 ended on a very not light and very not fun note, with the ladies confronting LeeAnne at their reunion over her use of castmate Kary Brittingham's Mexican heritage in a derogatory manner. LeeAnne tearfully apologized on the reunion set, then ventured backstage and lamented, "I can't change what happened, only try to do better in the future." LeeAnne didn't get a chance to show any growth on the show, though, and she's taken to social media to call foul, seeing as Brandi Redmond's own racism scandal has been handled differently in front of the cameras.
A years-old video of Brandi being racially insensitive toward Asians resurfaced online between seasons 4 and 5, and the cast rallied around the former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader in its aftermath, offering support and compassion. Stephanie, Brandi's longtime best friend, admits seeing Brandi's scandal play out makes her reconsider how the cast handled the LeeAnne debacle.
"I look at LeeAnne with a very different -- and I think Brandi would actually agree with me -- a very different lens," she shares. "My heart goes out to her maybe more than it did when it was airing, because I realized what happens behind closed doors and how that really hurts someone, so I don't want to sit here and throw salt into a wound that I'm sure she still has, and I know that she did it and has to live with that, but I wish her the best I want to put that out first."
"For Brandi, it was something that for some reason I guess she thought she was making a joke," she continues. "It was just a really stupid decision that she did and she has to live with the consequences, and she has to apologize and make things right and learn from it and grow from it. But I think intent matters in the world, I really do, and it wasn’t done with hate in her heart and it wasn’t done to be mean to somebody."
On the season 5 premiere, Kary offered similar insight into the difference between the two women's racist actions: Brandi showed the women remorse, guilt and willingness to change, while LeeAnne's apology didn't come with any immediate action.
"Brandi went and sought help, and she is trying to be a better person," Stephanie says. "She is really trying to learn, and I think people will see that throughout the season. It wasn't just her throwing up a blanket apology. She is making choices in her life to really better herself and move forward in a better way."
Stephanie hopes more of Brandi’s journey to educate herself is shown in the back half of season 5. The soon-to-be mom of four is staying off social media until after she gives birth, Stephanie says, for her own health. The vitriol online in the wake of the scandal made Brandi suicidal, and per Stephanie, she nearly didn't return to the show.
"I was surprised she came back this year at some points, because she struggled with it," Stephanie reveals. "Like, do I come back? Do I walk away? It's a hard thing, I think, for her to put out there, and she knew it would bring up a lot of things and it was a tough decision for her to make to come back. I don't know if she’s always glad she did, but I think she's glad she stared it in the face and was at least able to apologize to the audience and people she offended."
Part of that apology came in the form of a tearful conversation with season 5 newcomer Tiffany Moon, a Chinese-American doctor who was cast before Brandi's video made the rounds online. Tiffany's heartfelt yet stern approach to Brandi's situation was just one of many winning moments for the doc in her first few episodes. But while the audience took to Tiffany right away, her co-stars did not.
"She was very slow to come in, I think she was testing the waters, so it didn’t feel like an organic fit until a bit into the season," Stephanie explains of the group's chilly reception to Tiffany, though some castmates still seem standoffish -- or maybe even afraid -- of their outspoken new co-star. Kameron Westcott recently blocked Tiffany on social media, and Kary hasn't been shy to mean-tweet the newbie. Stephanie doesn't think Tiffany’s recent comments about being unsure if she wants to do another season have anything to do with her co-star conflicts, though.
"All of us say that every year," she says. "There's always a moment, especially during the airing of it, where you are like, I can't do this again. You know, it's hard to relive things, but it’s really hard with the audience, and cast members get their feelings hurt easily. It brings a level of discomfort and it always, always will."
For her part, Stephanie has totally warmed up to Tiffany… even though they've had their online misunderstandings, too. After Stephanie made digs about TIffany bragging about her designer goods on the show in a confessional interview, Tiffany tweeted out the closet tour Stephanie filmed for Bravo’s website.
"In my defense, I did call the day before and say, 'I don't want to do this, it's not my thing, it doesn't feel very organic to who I am,'" Stephanie says of her closet tour. "I don't like to go around and be showy on what I have, or they have. It didn't feel right for me. So, in the interview, I can't pretend like I wasn't saying that. I was just honest. Now that I have gotten to know Tiffany, I don't think that way at all. I just felt like, I don’t want to bond over materialistic things, because a lot of the time in Dallas that happens and then, it's not a real friendship. I love Dallas but it happens a lot in this city."
"It was just me being honest and how I felt in that moment, which I have to do because it is my job," she adds.
On a similar note, Stephanie's comment that she would rather eat her husband Travis’ "a**hole" than try a chicken foot, a delicacy in Chinese culture, also rubbed Tiffany the wrong way. It’s a lesson in respecting other culture’s customs for the Lone Star ladies.
"I did try the chicken foot, and it was not my thing," Stephanie notes, seeing as she made the crack before the cast ventured out for dim sum. "I tried it, but I have never tried Travis' butt, but if he wants me to, I can give it a whirl I guess? But it was a joke. I like to make really stupid jokes in my confessionals. It's how I have fun with them, but no, I do not plan on doing anything with my husband’s butt anytime soon -- not even for Valentine’s Day."
Stephanie and Travis' relationship has been at the center of her story in season 5 -- on and off-screen. Rumors circulated at the start of the season that Stephanie and her husband are part owners of the production company behind RHOD. Online commentators cited this erroneous report as the reason why Stephanie gets a "good edit" -- and why Brandi got a shot at redemption. Stephanie calls the whole thing "ridiculous."
"I'm not going to lie, it really hurt my feelings and I had a day of crying, because it made me feel like people were saying I'm not a good person and the only way I can be likable is if my husband owned it," she shares. "It's personal, but no, I do not own a production company. I don't own any of Bravo, or any of Goodbye Pictures, we have nothing to do with it. That rumor actually came up at our reunion last year and I wish they aired it because everyone was laughing, but I know who started the rumor -- and I'm sure people can guess."
"And also if I owned it, I would do a different cast many times," she adds. "If I didn't like someone, I'd be like, 'Get rid of her!' It didn't make a lot of sense … [and] people always want to think the worst."
Then there's what viewers are seeing on the show, as Stephanie and Travis butt heads (no pun intended) over Stephanie's decision to launch a charitable foundation tied to Travis' company, Hollman Lockers, which provides makeovers and updates for schools in need. Travis belittled Stephanie's dream for the organization over and over again, something he didn't totally realize until he watched the show back on TV.
"He felt I was going to start something and then he was going to have to pick it up and do it for me, which happens in our marriage sometimes," the former social worker says. "He was scared I would pick up something, and his company is attached to it, and then it would become his thing to do, which it hasn't. I am getting ready to do our second school this Monday, but he didn't have a lot of faith that I wouldn't throw it in his lap and make it, and put more work on him."
"It was a learning experience for both of us," she continues. "I like watching the show with him because I think he did realize he was hard on me, and one thing I can say about the show is personally, and with friendships and marriage, is that you can learn a lot about yourself and your relationships and you can really grow from it."
Stephanie thinks Kary is having a similar experience with season 5, watching back some cringe-worthy moments of her own and changing her behavior. The jewelry designer seems to want to start fights whenever she can, and with whomever she can this year.
"I remember during the season being like, 'Girl…'" Stephanie confesses. "She was going through a lot of it at the time, [but] it just comes across as she's angry to me, over little things."
Kary was dealing with her teenage daughter's battle with depression, as well as unpacking her complicated feelings about her own mother and attempting to repair that broken relationship.
"She took that and did not manage it well, and it just came out as aggression towards some of the girls," Stephanie says. "I know what she is like, she sees it and regrets the way she handles things, but I do think in life, you can say how you feel without it being hurtful or mean-spirited."
Stephanie says she's talked to Kary about her behavior and hopes viewers get to experience the "super fun and quirky" woman she knows her to be as season 5 continues. There is still a lot of season 5 to see.
"There is going to be a lot of fun," Stephanie promises. "A lot of the girls had really great personal things going on, and I love personal stories. I love seeing what's going on behind the closed doors of the ladies … because a lot of the time you realize why they are the way they are, and then I am really excited for people to see a lot more of Brandi and some of the stuff that hasn't really been shown. I walked a lot of it with her and watched her struggle, so I am excited for them to see that."