Tamra Judge is embracing her new reality -- a reality without reality TV cameras -- as best she can.
"Yeah, it's a new chapter, you know?" the now former Real Housewives of Orange County star tells ET via video chat. "After being on the show for 12 years and, in hindsight, I think I needed a change, I really did. And this was a big change."
"It was just such a huge change, but I always knew that this day was gonna come," she adds. "I mean, being on TV for 12 years is a gift. I didn't go to school, to college or, you know, [get into] acting, and to be on national television for so long is, it's really given me a huge platform. I opened up two businesses, there's a lot of good that's come out of it. So, I can't really complain."
The longtime star of the Bravo hit announced she was handing in her orange back in January, just one day after the series' 'OG,' Vicki Gunvalson, posted that she was exiting, too. That meant two thirds of the "Tres Amigas" were out, leaving just Shannon Beador standing on RHOC.
"Yeah, it has been a little weird," Tamra admits, as she would typically be filming the series at this time of year. "I try not to think about it. I'm a person that doesn't really dwell on the past. I like to move forward, but sometimes it catches up with me and I get a little sad. Like, you know, oh geez. It was a huge part of my life."
RHOC was in production on season 15 when the coronavirus pandemic was declared; filming was shut down as the cast started sheltering at home.
"If I’m not filming, nobody’s filming," Tamra jokes. "If I was still on Housewives, none of this would be happening. No, I'm just kidding!"
Tamra, somewhat surprisingly, says she didn’t have "FOMO" when she saw the show was shooting before the near-worldwide shutdown, admitting she was "getting tired of filming." Still, when Shannon posted a photo with Tamra’s frenemy, Kelly Dodd, on Instagram, fans paid close attention to Tamra’s own social media activity. She seemingly unfollowed Shannon for the second time on Instagram since exiting the show, then cryptically posted this message: "Fake friends are like shadows. They follow you in the sun, but leave you in the dark."
Tamra says that message was 100 percent about her feelings toward Shannon and Kelly hanging out.
"It just hurt my feelings," Tamra says. "She was always the one telling me last year, 'Don't hang out with Kelly, don't hang out with Kelly, don't hang out with Kelly,’ you know? And then, all of a sudden, it's like, she's not returning my phone call. And I'm not -- when I'm saying not returning, we talk once in a while. Once every few weeks. But, before we talked every single day, multiple times a day. So now, it's just, you know… I had text her, I called her. Nothing, no response. And it just hurt my feelings, that's it."
Tamra claims that as soon as she and Vicki were off the show, Shannon stopped returning their calls and texts.
"As soon as we're not on the show anymore, she just doesn't have any time for us anymore and it really just kind of hurts my feelings," Tamra shares. "I felt like on the show, off the show, whatever, she was my friend, you know? I helped her through this divorce, I spent hours in the middle of the night answering phone calls and then, it came to a point where me and Vicki really went through some hard times, when neither one of us were gonna go back to the show, we really went through, what is our identity? Who are we? You know, what is happening? We just lost a seven-figure income and there was a lot of stuff going on including [my ex-husband Simon Barney] fighting cancer, and my kids and what they're going through and I just kind of felt like I never got that, like, ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling?’ kind of thing."
Tamra says, when she and Shannon finally did connect, it was an emotional call.
"She finally called me and we talked for an hour and it really broke my heart, 'cause I told her, I said, I feel like I've not only lost my job, but I lost my best friend," she shares, tearing up. "I'm just, I'm hurt. I'm just hurt, ‘cause I really didn't expect it, you know? And it was always like, ‘I'm too busy…’ and, ‘Oh, I'm this, I'm that,’ and I just feel like I've always been there for you, why? Right now, I need you the most and you won't even answer my calls. So, it just got to a point, when she posted that picture with Kelly, I just thought, I can't watch this. There's no hard feelings. I just can't watch this, and I haven't heard from her since."
Tamra admits that it could "absolutely be" that Shannon just needs time to adjust to her new normal, shooting the show without Tamra for the first time and figuring out what that looks like, but she doesn’t know for sure.
"It's just a matter of, like, just call me," she says. "Talk to me. What's wrong? I thought, I don't know… and maybe it's just me being super sensitive, I don't know. But, she… I thought she was my best friend. So, it's just hard."
Tamra says she’s learning who her "true friends" are after Housewives.
"I was just left out in the cold in a very trying, hard time in my life," she says. "I had other people that have been my friends for, you know, 20 years, off the show, that have been nothing but supportive, calling me and asking me, how are your kids doing? How are you doing? You know, how is the transition? How is Simon doing? It was just a huge eye opener."
Tamra admits that her following and unfollowing of her former co-stars could be sending mixed messages, but she felt it was necessary for her mental health.
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Heather Dubrow Shares Advice for Tamra Judge and Vicki Gunvalson After 'RHOC' Exits (Exclusive)
"I think it was really important for me," she says. “Heather Dubrow did this, and now I understand why she did it … after she left the show, she kind of unfollowed everybody. Didn't really hear from her for a while and I kinda did the same. My first instinct was, after I knew I wasn't going back, is just to disconnect, because I don't need to be reminded of what I'm not involved in."
"I had so many mixed emotions," she shares. "Here I am, dealing with my kids’ emotions, my emotions, moving, walking away from a job that I had for 12 years and I just I wanted that friend, that friend that I could sit there and cry on the phone with and it was just, I guess, I wasn't important to her."
With that said, Tamra has hope that she and Shannon can repair things in the future.
"I love her to death," she says. "I love her like a sister. You know, we’ve gone through ups and downs before."
Tamra could have returned to RHOC in a "limited role" that, she says, would have paid her hundreds of thousands of dollars, but she just wasn't interested in that opportunity. That offer came, she says, after she spoke with producers about not being able to share as much as she normally does on the show; her ex's cancer battle wasn't yet public, and she wasn’t willing to exploit that story for TV. It would also mean that she wouldn’t be as free to go on trips, out to dinners, or drink and party with the cast, as she needed to be available for her family as much as possible during this time. She says being upfront with the creative team behind the series about that may have cost her a full-time slot.
According to Tamra, with the "limited role" offer, she would have shot just enough material to give her some sort of goodbye on the series, but she'd rather be all in or all out, nothing in between. That means, whatever "send off" Tamra gets won’t include her input.
"I hope they don't do it like they did Bethenny," she says, referencing how Bethenny Frankel's exit from The Real Housewives of New York City was handled in the show’s season 12 premiere. Cameras followed the women as they got alerts that Bethenny was exiting; the footage was cut together with interview footage from some of the cast eye rolling and essentially saying, "Good riddance."
"It's weird," Tamra adds. "We've been on this show 12, 14 years, and just not to have us? They can either just act like we don't exist, or we are gonna get a million flashbacks of us, you know, looking like jerks and, like, Kelly and people going 'Well, you know, nobody wanted to be around her.'"
Tamra and Vicki hope to give fans some closure, in a sense, with a new show they’re working on; the women teased a "secret project" they were filming back in March.
"We've been approached to do a show together, I can't really say too much," she confesses. "We were about ready to meet with networks and everything got shut down because of the virus. So, we are on hold right now."
So far, Tamra and Vicki have just shot a presentation to shop around, but she promises that it’s an "amazing concept" that could be "franchised, just like the Housewives, with Housewives that exit."
"I told [Vicki], I said, 'Listen, you and I paved the way for the Housewives franchise and I think that we are really gonna pave the way for the next step after Housewives is over.'"
Tamra says she and Vicki are talking daily while they’re both sheltering in place at their homes in Orange County. Both women are small business owners -- Tamra has her gym, Cut Fitness, while Vicki runs Coto Insurance -- and are leaning on each other as they navigate the economic impact of the pandemic. Tamra jokes that her fitness studio is the most expensive gym membership she's ever had at this point. Luckily, she says, her CBD business, Vena, is booming, as customers are seeking out anything that might help with anxiety. She and Eddie are donating 10 percent of their profits directly to coronavirus relief efforts.
"It's just our way of giving back," she notes. "We just felt like it's something we had to do. We're all in this together, and the more that we can help, the faster that we can get out of this."