"Truthfully, I think for everybody, [between the] pandemic up and downs … it just was a tough year," the 36-year-old admits to ET over video chat. "I'm grateful for it, but I'm glad it's over."
Season 5 was different for a number of reasons, especially for Carl who experienced the death of his older brother, Curtis, while cameras were rolling. Curtis, 40, died of a drug overdose after years of battling an opioid addiction.
"I never could have imagined something like that ever happening," Carl shares. "I mean, obviously my brother having challenges over the years, certainly it was something we thought might happen, but in the environment while filming Summer House with all my friends? It was a surreal, surreal moment."
Cameras captured the August moment Carl got the call from his family that Curtis was gone, and tracked his every move in the moments after, from sharing the heartbreaking news with his close friend Lindsay Hubbard, to tearful moments with his other castmates on their Hamptons share house’s front steps, through his decision to step away from filming for a period of time to grieve his big brother.
"It was obviously very traumatic and very difficult," he says. "I mean, I was mic’d up.It's a crazy experience. I just felt really alone … [and] it's been a wild time to go through it again and relive it. I will say I've made a lot of changes."
"It’s put a lot of perspective in my life and what's important," Carl continues. "My brother hated me on Bravo. We kind of had a beef, because I was on Bravo looking like I'm the man and drinking and having fun, and he's at home struggling. And I was kind of making light of his challenges and acting like I was fine, and I wasn't. I was low-key struggling. That caused a big rift between us. So the fact that I've had to face it now, [and] he's now on the show in some capacity was surreal, but I think his story truthfully can help a lot of people, and I hope mine as well."
Before Curtis' death, Carl made the decision to moderate his alcohol intake after not liking the person he saw himself to be while drinking on the show the previous four seasons. But, after the loss, Carl turned to alcohol to cope. Then, five months later, Carl says he decided to give up alcohol for good. He’s now more than 100 days sober.
"My brother never stuck to a program," he notes. "In January this year, it was the lowest I've ever been. I didn't crash a car or hurt anyone or get into a fight. It was my personal low and I needed to get help. So I actually have a sponsor. I'm really taking the next step of just really putting it out there that I struggle, and my life right now ... has been actually pretty, pretty amazing."
"I'm building a lot more confidence and self esteem by being a little more relaxed and calm," he adds. "So a lot of growth. And again, I'm very lucky that I have this opportunity to watch myself on TV look like I've looked over the years. I got actual evidence of what I don't want to do."
Carl says he's "probably" would not be sober today if it weren’t for having the mirror of reality TV. The near-brawl at the front door with co-star Luke Gulbranson this season was a major low for Carl. Now that he's sober, Carl -- somewhat ironically -- is embodying his one-time drunken catchphrase, "More life!"
"I just turned 36 in January," he points out. "The way we've been going at it on those weekends [on the show], I was doing that four or five nights a week without cameras, and I think you can imagine just all the side effects from not taking care of yourself, financially, physically, relationships, all those things have now improved, because I'm being open and honest and I'm actually dealing with my emotions in a sober way, which I wasn't before."
Those relationships include Carl’s once-strained family. His divorced parents came together to collectively grieve alongside Carl, opening up the door for some form of reconciliation.
"My mom's been able to make amends and move on from some of the issues with my dad and, in a weird way, I've got step-siblings now, because my mom's married and my stepdad had children, so I've got step-siblings," he shares. "We've got this beautiful new family. It's very modern, of course, but I've got to be very grateful, and I'm very lucky to have what I have. It's evolved and changed very rapidly, but I'm adjusting to it the best I can."
Carl says it all feels "meant to be," especially the "sharing the experience on TV" part. There's still a little more of Carl’s last summer set to air on Thursday’s season finale. Then comes the reunion, which the cast shot in-person in New York City a couple weeks back.
"Honestly, the group had not been together all at once since filming ended," Carl reveals. "Clearly there's a lot of emotion. You rewatch things back. I think how people deal with how they watch it back certainly impacts how a reunion can go."
"You lived the experience in the summer, and then you watch what happens and certain people don't react well to how things are presented sometimes," he adds. "I think you're going to see a lot of just really interesting discussion around certain people's behaviors last year, as we experienced them, as they're viewed and then how they react to them. Very different experiences from when it was in the summer then to the reunion."
While Carl didn't immediately call out co-star Hannah Berner there, it’s safe to assume that’s who he was referencing for the most part. The comedian found herself at the center of much drama in season 5, feuding with multiple housemates over the course of filming.
"There are some folks sometimes that, falling on swords or taking criticism can be a challenge," Carl offers. "You're going to see a lot of realness, you're going to see some not realness, which will be interesting. Me being vulnerable, talking about my brother and then on the other side, sometimes maybe someone not being as truthful or honest, it'll be interesting. A lot of emotion."
"There were certain things that Hannah needed to discuss," he ultimately coughs up. "Myself, watching back two episodes ago, her having sex in [Kyle Cooke and Amanda Batula's] bathroom, I'd like to hear her side of that one, and I think you'll see that come out from her."
"Listen, I've been in the hot seat before and I've had to answer a lot of questions that are tough," he goes on to say. "You stir the pot, you cause 'psychic' rumors, you drag people's names through the dirt on podcasts and you post random memes of leaning into a storyline that's just on the show recently, people are going to be upset. I think all of us, we should get along and be able to express our frustrations. At times, it got a little heated more than it should have, but I do think people really said how they felt and I give a lot of people credit for that, because I think sometimes some of our gang will bite their tongue."
When ET spoke to Kyle and Amanda in March, the couple confessed to some fourth wall issues at the heart of their disagreements with Hannah. Namely, they claimed that Hannah viewed the show as a job and once told Kyle, "I’m paid to be your friend."
"I think it's hard on our show -- we're real friends, so we really try to be real friends," Carl says, "and I think sometimes some of the stuff that's breaking the fourth wall is, are you actually our friends? And I think sometimes people question that when you go through this experience, and I think you'll see a lot of the real colors come out on the reunion about who people really are and who's really, actually friends over here."
Even with the harsh truths on display, Carl says he walked away from the reunion full of "optimism."
"I'm really proud of where I've come from since September, and I'm really proud of the growth I've had within my friendships that are sitting up on that stage," he says. "A lot of the friends up there really got me through the most difficult time in my entire life, and are still getting me through the most difficult times."
"It's almost like a weird, little soccer team or, like, dance squad," he says of his cast. "We're a team, we're a family and you're only as good as your worst player."
As for where this "team" goes after season 5, Carl predicts changes. He’s quick to point out that no two seasons of Summer House have featured the exact same cast.
"As in every summer house, there are changes, no doubt about it," he promises. "Every summer's never the same as the last. It wouldn't be fun if it was everybody the same. I think relationships have evolved. [Danielle Olivera and Robert Sieber’s] relationship is thriving. Lindsay's no longer was [Stephen 'Stravy' Traversie] and she's now dating others. It sounds like [Paige DeSorbo] and [Ciara Miller] are dating others. Hannah's engaged. There's a lot of different changes now. So it would only make sense that there were changes, in my opinion.”
"I misspoke by saying boyfriend," Carl admits. "She's dating. She's allowed. What I also wanted to try and say on Watch What Happens is, I think Paige should be independent and have her fun. She's coming into her own as a woman."
"We've always had good conversations," he says. "You would have seen me just kind of like, ‘Hey, I'm not telling you to break up with Perry by any means. I just think if you're having these feelings, it's coming from a real place. I think you should really go for your career and keep doing your TV hosting and fashion stuff.’ I'm just trying to promote her and make her feel good about what she's doing with her career, because I think some people are like, ‘Move to Miami, marry Perry. Like, [lock] it down.’ So I'm just trying to give her some other opinion."
While both Carl and Paige have a "never say never" mentality when it comes to a potential romance between the two, they’re fine as friends for now. Carl says he’s just now at a place where he feels ready to date again, after spending the better half of the last year on some self-improvement.
"Getting sober was huge," he reiterates. "I'm going to tread lightly and be just very open, because I'm dating sober now. I think anybody I date has to fit into that lifestyle."
"I don't need her to be sober," he clarifies. "I just need her to be OK with me being sober. Other things, I need a sense of humor. I need somebody who's also intellectual and can have a deeper conversation. …. It's all on the inside and things I like, but obviously I need to be attracted to them on the outside."
Plenty of viewers, women and men, are attracted to Carl. It’s hard to not see thirst tweets and Instagram comments when looking at anything related to the show. A recent shot of Carl rubbing sunscreen into Luke’s back on the beach sent fans into a tizzy, but all the attention is still a bit weird for Carl to process.
"I'll be honest, it's uncomfortable a little bit," he confesses. "I was never, ever viewed by anybody as like, ‘That guy's hot…’ It was just like, ‘Oh, he's a guy. Like he's fun. He's cool.’ No one has ever like, up until my later 20s was like, ‘Hey, you're a good looking guy.’ I was incredibly insecure growing up. I was a late bloomer. I've had screwed up teeth in the past. I'm blown away by people saying that. I think it's a reflection of just taking better care of myself and what's going on internally, but it's still the same Carl."
"But I don't know, it's overwhelming to get all that support," he adds. "But truthfully, I've had people in the same DM say, ‘You're a piece of s**t and now you're a babe.'"
Carl says he prefers his personality to his appearance, even if that personality once made him wonder if people actually liked him.
"I remember after season one and season two, like me and Kyle going, 'I don't think we're going to get to do this again,'" he reveals. "Like, they don't like us. So it's been a labor of love and a lot of fun, but you know, we're very lucky to be here."
And they all take the good with the bad. Carl is quick to point out that it’s not easy living life on reality TV, especially when it comes to love lives. Just look at Lindsay’s struggles in season 5.
"Being on TV's hard, dating on TV is really hard," he says. "I think Lindsay, that's been a challenge, is finding that person that can really fit in. Nothing against Stravy. Stravy's a nice guy, but we clearly saw, he's not meant to be on TV. Just his personality, he's just not very outgoing. And clearly, their relationship also is having its challenges."
"Lindsay needs someone that's confident as hell, and is obsessed with her, and wants to have fun with her," he adds. "Lindsay's learned a lot. She's not with Stravy anymore, so that's all I'm going to say."
Yes, rumors are circulating that Lindsay is now seeing one of the new (and yet-to-be revealed) cast members on Winter House. Essentially the Bravo Cinematic Universe, if one can call it that, is expanding and mixing more than ever. Carl recently took a boys trip to the Nemacolin Resort in Pennsylvania alongside Kyle, Luke and Craig, plus Craig’s Southern Charm co-stars, Austen Kroll, Shep Rose and John Pringle. It could open the door for a season 6 of Summer House that sees familiar faces move in, not just stop by like in seasons' past.
"Well, Craig … he took a pair of shoes and Kyle's pants from us and he has to return those before he can come back in the house," Carl cracks. Before then, though, is the season 5 finale, which sees Carl officiate a "wedding" between Kyle and Amanda.
"I'll never forget the first summer of Summer House, filming, you know, Amanda literally had no idea what the hell was going on," he recalls. "Comes in and I'm like, ‘Hi man, I'm Carl.’ And I was like, little did I know five, six years later, I'd be standing up, having a wedding, and being an officiant for them. I'm so happy for them. Obviously we've seen their ups and downs, but they've been at an amazing place."
On top of Summer House, Carl, Kyle and Amanda all work together on the Loverboy brand.
"I feel like I've been a big cheerleader for them," he says. "A lot of times, people were throwing arrows at their relationship. And it's, like, now we're at this culmination to be able to send them off into the sunset. So we had a lot of fun with the wedding."
Summer House's season finale airs Thursday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo, with the two-part kicking off on April 29 at a special time, 9:15 p.m. ET/PT.