Tamra Judge and Taylor Armstrong preview the journey ahead on season 17 of 'The Real Housewives of Orange County' with ET at The Deck.
Tamra Judge turned lemons back into an orange.
"You know, like a good ex that drops you, they came back," Tamra cracks of her The Real Housewives of Orange County comeback, two years after producers fired her following a 12-year run on the show. The years she took off proved challenging for RHOC; COVID hit just as season 15 found its footing, forcing filming to shut down. When cameras went back up, the only story to tell was about the pandemic. Then, season 16 got a bit of a refresh, with the reintroduction of Heather Dubrow, who departed the show at the end of season 11, in 2016... but that didn't quite reenergize the flagship franchise in the way fans hoped it would.
"Had I known I was going to have two years off and then go back, I probably would had a much better vacation for two years," Tamra jokes, as she spent the first year or so lamenting being let go, before finding a new place in the Housewives universe on her podcast with The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills alumna Teddi Mellencamp, Two Ts in a Pod.
Teddi's not the only former diamond-holder in Tamra's orbit, though. Taylor Armstrong, a RHOBH OG, is now a resident of Orange County and an official "friend of" the RHOC cast for season 17, having pitched her own return to Housewives head honcho Andy Cohen after filming The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip: Ex-Wives Club. She's the first cast member to ever switch shows, save for a cameo here and there.
"I'm in such a happier place now in my life, I thought it would be fun to just go have fun with the girls and not feel the pressure of my home life and everything," Taylor shares, sitting alongside Tamra at one of their favorite spots, The Deck on Laguna Beach.
Taylor's time on RHOBH is regarded as one of the darker moments in Housewives history. Her then-estranged husband, Russell Armstrong, killed himself after their family filmed season 2; the aftermath of his death, and revelations about abuse in their marriage, retroactively became the entry point of the season when it finally made air.
"My life has changed completely," Taylor says, reflecting on when fans last saw her as a full-time 'Wife in 2013. She married attorney John Bluher in 2014, and her daughter, Kennedy, is now 17.
"That's a long story, but you know, I was in a miserable marriage and went through a lot," Taylor continues, "and I've grown a lot from then and I have much stronger friendships now, because I'm a better friend."
Tamra calls Taylor "a vault," revealing she learned of the city-swapping casting move via an internal production email accidentally sent to her.
"Walking into an existing cast vs. a cast where we started together has been a bit of a learning curve," Taylor admits. "I'm like, wait, what are you guys mad each other about?!"
Taylor binged through must-see moments from RHOC's past thanks to a friend who happens to be a superfan of the franchise, but the crash course couldn't prepare her for what she walked into: a tangled web of history with a lot of work to be done. Half the cast celebrated Tamra's exit from the series, with Emily Simpson comparing filming the series with her to playing a Survivor-style mind game. The two are now "really good friends," after Tamra cleared her of some negative thoughts put in Emily's ear by "fired Housewives."
"I kind of came back not knowing what where my spot was, either," Tamra reflects. "People danced on my grave when I was fired, people thought I didn't have a place on the show anymore."
Tamra says the comment that stung the most came from the person she thought she was closest to: Heather. While recapping last season on her own podcast, recently rebranded as Let's Talk, Heather wondered if Tamra's work on Two Ts -- a show wholly focused on talking about the world of Bravo -- might make returning to Housewives impossible. Or, at least, awkward.
"I feel like once you become someone who talks about shows, especially a show you are on, how can you then go back to that show?" Heather asked in the May 5 episode. "It puts you in a different category. Now you're a blogger. How could you then become a cast member again?
"Emily saying she'd dance on my grave when I left, I wouldn't expect anything less of her because we didn't really get along," Tamra shares. "I think that [podcast] was the most shocking, because I was like, wow. You know, I've always supported this person. I've always wanted them back on the show, and then when they got back, they made that comment, so that was more hurtful than anything."
Tamra doubles down to call Heather her "biggest disappointment" of the season. "And I don't mean that in a negative, mean way," she clarifies. "Just something happens at the end that I was really shocked... and disappointed."
"Heather's 'vault' is not a vault," she goes on to tease. "That's the only thing that shocked me. She talks for years since I've known her 'It's in the vault.' It ain't in the vault."
Taylor names Heather as the cast member who disappointed her the most, too. The pair seems to get into it over their acting endeavors; Heather worked steadily in Hollywood in the '90s and early 2000s, while Taylor's just now taking a crack at scripted. In one tense trailer exchange, Heather warns Taylor, "For you to s**t talk my career? F**k you."
"I got my feelings hurt," Taylor confesses. "I had known Heather prior, just socially, and always had a nice hi/bye kind of relationship with her. So, I was really surprised, of all the people that I thought it would have friction with, I never saw that coming. And it kind of comes out of nowhere."
"I felt... dismissed," she adds.
There's speculation among fans that season 17 could be Heather's last as a Housewife, at least in OC, as she sold her Newport Beach mansion and purchased a penthouse in Los Angeles.
"I don't think that that she'll be gone," Tamra says. "I think that Heather definitely has a spot on the show. We need fancy pants, for sure. I don't think it's the end for Heather by any means."
"Well, I might've ended her," she tacks on with a menacing laugh. "I mean, if she doesn't come back, it's because of me!"
While Heather and Tamra's friendship took a nosedive over the course of filming, she and one-time bestie Shannon Beador are back in business as BFFs. The two had to put the work in, though, to get there.
"There's actually a conversation that happened actually right here," she points across The Deck, referencing a moment viewers will witness in episode two.
"It didn't end well," she sort-of spoils. "I walked out on her, and it took awhile for us to -- a little while -- for us to get back on track, but once we did get back on track, it was like no time has passed."
Tamra calls her friendship with Shannon "easier" now than it was during their original time together on RHOC. "She's in a better place in her life," she explains. "Like, back then it was... Shannon was a lot. She was unhappy, and we would talk all day long, and now I feel like she's in such a better place."
Tamra didn't keep it a secret that she didn't love late-night calls from Shannon, often resulting in heavy conversations about Shannon's divorce from David Beador.
"We've put up boundaries, and I think you'll probably see that and us talking about that," she continues, "and we stick to those boundaries. We learn, and it's just... you know what? We are truly like sisters. I love her, I hate her, I love her, I hate her. We can argue about things, but at the end of the day, Shannon's a good person. She's got a good heart and that's really all that matters to me."
The two ultimately agreed to disagree over their fallout, with Tamra standing by her story that Shannon ghosted her as soon as she lost her job on the show. Shannon claims that's a narrative Tamra embellished. Their makeup was the final step in reuniting the "Tres Amigas," the trio they formed alongside OG of the OC, Vicki Gunvalson. She returns to whoop it up as a guest this season, crashing a cast trip.
"Do you know that that's the first secret Vicki's ever kept in her entire life, I think?" Tamra muses. "I had no idea she was coming. We had invited her, but she said that she had to work, so when she knocked on the door, we were inside doing something -- and I figured it was a production person, you know? Somebody trying to get in and I'm like, can you open the door? And they're like, no, you need to open the door. I'm like... oh, OK. So, I open the door and it was Vicki and I started screaming, she started screaming -- and I don't remember her screaming like that."
"Like that," as in the guttural sound that emerges from Vicki's mouth in the final seconds of the season 17 supertease. "It was kind of like how she left the show at the reunion when she was screaming through the door," Tamra remarks, referencing Vicki's uncomfortable final moments on the show in season 14. From Tamra's POV, getting the gang back together helped the show recapture some magic.
"Vicki, Shannon, Heather, myself, we're all girls that have been on the show," she reflects. "I know Heather has come and gone and come back, but I feel like it's people that I really, really know. Now, Emily and Gina [Kirschenheiter], yeah, I know them, but I don't have the history with them -- but that doesn't mean that I'm dismissing them in any way, but I feel like that core four really made it feel like it was a return to form, and then we sprinkle in Taylor, Jenn, which makes it that much better."
Jenn is Jenn Pedranti, a yoga studio owner whom Tamra introduces to the group. The show seemingly challenges their friendship, though; one standout shot from the trailer sees Tamra launch a napkin right into Jenn's face during an argument.
"We have a lot of history, a lot of built up things that happened during COVID, when I was off the show, which makes it very difficult to understand where I'm coming from on the show, because we had really kind of stopped talking for awhile, and I kinda separated myself from her and the friend group that we had," Tamra offers. "A lot of us kinda separated ourselves from her, and then she got cast on the show -- which she had been wanting to be on the show for years, and came to my gym and tried out for the show in 2018, I think it was and, Braunwyn [Windham-Burke] beat her out that time, and so back on the show here we are, we're on this reality show that's about real life and, you know, she met her boyfriend at our gym which caused big havoc..."
While Tamra won't go into details, Taylor fills in some gaps.
"I feel like there was some reality avoidance going on for people," Taylor says, "and I just don't know why you go on a reality show if you don't want to just put it out there."
"Where the confusion lies is that she told me prior -- 'cause my advice to her was to be very open about what happened, because so many people know and if you lie, you're gonna get caught -- so she told me, 'Oh no, I told the whole story...' So I openly talked about it!" Tamra admits. "And then I heard, 'Well that's not what she's telling people...' and I'm like, huh?!"
"But she's a great girl, she's a lot of fun, I think she fits in, I think that she's in for the long haul," she says. "I think that her relationship situation is complicated, and I mean, I love my Housewives complicated and messy!"
Those are labels Tamra's embodied over the years, too. "I'm not going say that personally I have changed in a way that I'm going to come back and rise above, because it ain't going to happen," she says. "That's not why they brought me back."
"Tamra's on fire this season," Taylor promises, with her flames firing in all directions. "You sprinkled it around pretty good, actually."
"I actually didn't go after anybody, but I'm very vocal in what I believe," Tamra says, "and I think that when you're on a reality show you have to be real, and when you're trying to hide things or not be honest, then that's when I see red."
"I would expect the same for me!" she adds. "If I had done something or said something or gone through something, I would expect the same coming my way."
Tamra says a lot of "real stuff" is unpacked this year ("Do I regret some of it? Yeah," she shares. "But I like my Housewives real and I like them to be honest.")... but if they need to pull out something else, she has an idea.
Turning to Taylor, Tamra makes her pitch. "If you start banging [my husband], Eddie, and then don't tell me and then I find out and then we have a big scandal? That would be awesome!" she laughs. "Our ratings would be huge. Just ask Lisa Vanderpump!"
The Real Housewives of Orange County airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo starting June 7.