'Winter House's Ciara Miller on Falling for Austen Kroll and Love Triangle With Lindsay Hubbard (Exclusive)
By Brice Sander
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Ciara Miller admits to telling a bit of a white lie when it comes to her romance with Austen Kroll. Back in April, after wrapping filming on Winter House, the Summer House star told ET there was nothing romantic going on between her and the Southern Charm-er ("No, we're not dating," she declared. "I thought [the speculation] was funny, but I'm not mad at it. He's cute.").
Now, as Winter House airs nearly seven months later, it's clear something was going on between the two Bravo-lebs, who hooked up in a hot tub on night one of their 17-day vacation in Stowe, Vermont.
"Honestly, even in the moment of that interview, something was still happening, but I wasn't going to tell you," Ciara cracks over Zoom. "Just not yet. I mean, everything was still playing itself out."
"I did go to Charleston and we had a lot of fun there," she adds, referencing her and co-star Paige DeSorbo's post-filming getaway to South Carolina where Austen (and Winter House castmate/Paige's now-boyfriend Craig Conover) lives. "But I kind of knew I needed to take a step back from it for a second and realize that we're not filming. We're not living together anymore and the dynamic is definitely going to be different."
Ciara says she lied at the time because "I genuinely liked [Austen]."
"I wanted people to really see that we liked each other and it wasn't like this thing for TV," she adds. "It wasn't anything that was forced or produced."
"It was like, do I like someone who's also in the public eye? That's also so new and so scary, because I am kind of a private person and I do want to hold onto a certain level of that," she notes of waiting to say anything publicly about Austen. "And then, yeah, it's like lightning speed of a relationship, kind of diving into things that wouldn't necessarily take place like having talks about like your exes and stuff."
Ciara says the heightened reality of filming the show brought her and Austen close, fast, with the Kings Calling Brewing Co. founder winning her over in stolen off-camera moments.
"Whenever you're filming with someone, it does speed up your relationship and you get to know them on a deeper level," she notes. "Your trust is really tested, and I feel like there were so many moments where I felt like I could trust him, and feeling safe and secure is something that's so important to me. And I feel like he always made me feel that way, like with everything that went down on and off-camera, and that definitely catapulted me really liking him."
Ciara did not expect to find romance while filming Winter House, especially not with Austen.
"Initially, I didn't really like him," she confesses. "I tell him this all the time. I was like, 'I thought you were just way too much.' But he definitely grew on me in the most positive way."
Reaction to the coupling has been mixed, with viewers and co-stars alike a bit confused about what drew these two together. As Paige remarks in the season trailer, "Hold on, let me get this right: Three girls fighting over Austen Kroll? I'm just confused." (More on the love triangle/quadrangle in a bit).
"I mean, he has such a big personality," Ciara offers of what drew her into Austen. "It's really hard not to look at him when he comes into a room, because he does grab the attention of a lot of people. He's loud, he's rambunctious."
While there are about 10 days of the vacation still to play out on Winter House, Ciara confirms she and Austen are not together at present. Her long weekend in Charleston helped them realize neither one was quite ready to commit to anything.
"I still kind of have these feelings towards him," she shares. "Even though we're not dating or anything, it's not like... I don't know. It's just for right now this is what's best for both of us. I'm not saying that the door is shut completely on at a hundred percent."
Ciara mostly blames timing for the two calling it off; Austen was fresh off his breakup from Madison LeCroy (one of the women in the Paige-questioned quadrangle), while Ciara was making a full-time move from Atlanta to New York City.
"He was not ready for anything like that and honestly, don't think I was either," she says of putting a label on their relationship. "He was three months post a relationship. That's way too soon. He also was not ready. I don't think I was truly ready either."
Ciara was processing those feelings in real time while filming. It's why she told Austen she was "scared" to like him, as teased in the sneak peek at the season. "I was like, 'I'm scared to fully like you because I don't want to be hurt in the midst of this, and I don't want to feel like I can be my best and truest self with you, and then after we leave the house it be nothing at all," she recalls.
Complicating this romance is one Lindsay Hubbard, the Summer House OG who formed a friendship with Austen off-camera, years ago. Lindsay showed up late to Winter House, after Austen and Ciara first hit it off, and immediately cozied up to Austen, seemingly expecting to blur the lines in their friendship. Austen hit the breaks, though, making it clear he was into Ciara and would be pursuing her rather than complicating his and Lindsay's friendship. It came to light, quickly, however that Austen and Lindsay's relationship was already a blurred line, having crossed over into hook-ups in the past.
"Honestly, I wasn't privy to a lot of what I've been seeing," Ciara admits of watching the show along with the audience. "I just did not know, and then there was also the element where she was saying these things, but would also wake up the next morning and be like, 'Oh, well I don't remember any of it.'"
On her first night at the share house, Lindsay confessed that she was "in love" with Austen, a comment she took back the next day. "She's like, 'I say that to everyone.' So like, OK, that's fine. So if you don't remember, great. Me either, and I'm going to continue doing what we're doing," Ciara declares.
Some viewers have taken issue with Ciara and Lindsay appearing to be upset with one another over Austen, rather than upset with Austen over any love triangle, but Ciara says she took any issue she had up with Austen.
"At that time, I was never upset with Lindsay," she shares. "I never said anything to her that was negative, and I think that there were a lot of moments where she kind of like... I could tell that she had feelings towards me, but never said anything. So I mean, we were in that house together. There was definitely opportunity to talk if somebody wanted to talk."
"My issue was with Austen and I told him multiple times," she continues. "I don't even think you guys really even get to see how many times I'm like, 'My issue's with you.' I'm like, 'If this is something that you are curating and that you want to go address and handle,' then I was like, 'OK, then you guys need to go and figure it out. I will absolutely take a step back.' And I just kept like, reiterating, 'You need to clear up this situation because you're involved in it. I'm not going to speak to her because it's not about me and her. It's about you and her.' So, I made that very clear with him and honestly, he did do a good job being like, 'No, I want something with you, not her.' And that was kind of what contributed to me being like, 'OK, I feel like you're being open and honest. Cool. We can move forward.'"
Ciara has "no comment" when pressed about Lindsay's approach to the triangle, which at times reads as if she doesn't care about Ciara's feelings at all.
"We're cordial and friendly," she offers of her and Lindsay's present-day dynamic. "There's been a lot of things that have gone down, just in terms of Winter House and Summer House that it's like it's hard to kind of... I think-- obviously, we're not filming anymore, but we definitely need space apart."
Yes, much of this cast already filmed another season of Summer House before Winter House's premiere, which muddies the timeline a bit when it comes to what they can and cannot share about their current lives. From the sounds of what Ciara had to say (or maybe, what she didn't say), it appears things only get worse between her and Lindsay.
Rumors about Lindsay and Austen hooking up while filming the upcoming season of Summer House popped up recently on fan accounts, though whatever that was or wasn't is surely over now. Lindsay made it no secret that she unfollowed Austen on social media and is taking a "break" from their friendship after a tense appearance on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen, in which Austen chose Ciara over Lindsay for nearly every category in a "this or that" game of topics including kissing and cuddling. Lindsay sat front row in the audience for the taping.
"I just, I can't, like, be OK with keeping that kind of person in my life," she said on the Reality Life With Kate Casey podcast. "I don’t need to train a 34-year-old man how to be a good friend to me. It’s just not in the cards."
"I don't feel like he did anything that was rude or disrespectful," Ciara says of the WWHL game. "If he didn't feel like she was the better cuddler or whatever, OK. Who cares? You want him to lie? I think that that's kind of crazy."
"I mean, maybe some expectations weren't met in that room and you can't cater to that all the time," she quips.
The other Lindsay-related rumor floating around the social media sphere is that she and Summer House co-star Carl Radke may now be a rekindled item, after previously dating two years ago. "No comment," Ciara offers when asked about the coupling. "Truly."
A relationship she is invested in, however, is the one between her bestie, Paige, andCraig. The pair confirmed their boyfriend/girlfriend status the week of Winter House's premiere, after months of dodging speculation about their relationship. While Craig was in a different relationship while filming the Summer House/Southern Charm mash-up series, viewers are picking up on flirty moments between the two each episode.
"I love Paige and I love whoever Paige chooses," Ciara proclaims. "I do love Craigy, too. I mean, honestly, it's very fun. I feel like I'm their child sometimes when it's the three of us because I'm like, OK, Mom and Dad, and then they're adopted child. I love them together. They have a lot of fun and they can just kind of be kids and be themselves and I'm here for it."
Before Paige connected with Craig, her sights were set on Winter House newbie Andrea Denver, an Italian model whose playboy ways come to light as the season goes on, not to Ciara's surprise.
"I've done the whole super f**king hot model-type of thing, and I always kind of say they're fun to have fun with, but models, I just don't take them seriously, male models," she opines. "Yeah, he's hot. He's Italian, cool. But he knows he's got plenty of options, so I just kind of like, I love Andrea, but I did kind of feel f**kboy energy."
"But also, he was very attentive to her and everything, so either he plays the part really well, or he just really knows how to deal with the ladies and, honestly, dedicated a lot of time to her," Ciara adds. "And I'm like, I get it. Paige is that girl. Everybody wants to be her friend. I'm like, she's America's best friend. You would be lucky to even stand on the same ground as her."
One of Ciara's "super f**king hot model-type of thing" experiences is actually on Winter House with her: Luke Gulbranson, her Summer House co-star and ex, who's become the object of Winter House newbie Gabby Kniery's affection.
"I think she asked me would I care? And I was like, 'No, girl. Have fun. Whatever,'" Ciara says of Gabby going after her ex. "I don't really feel like I gave her a warning because I think I kind of already knew. I actually really did think that Luke and Gabby would hit it off, because I just kind of thought that Gabby was definitely Luke's type. But then I kind of like was reading his vibes when they were together and I was like, 'Yeah, he's not into it.'"
Luke, honestly, was more focused on building an igloo (still unclear as to why) and exploring the wilderness than hooking up with a housemate.
"He was the happiest he's been!" Ciara jokes. "He was like, I'm in my element. He's tapping trees for syrup. He is building igloos, wanting to just run wild in the woods. He honestly was living his best life in Vermont."