‘RHOC’ Premiere Recap: Chaos Returns to Orange County

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

It feels a bit risky for this season of Real Housewives of Orange County to begin the same way as the utterly dreadful/borderline unwatchable Season 16, like the producers are placing a curse on the show.

Last season kicked off with a cold open of Heather Dubrow dramatically pulling up to her former mansion and walking through her home with a signature glass of “champs.” After four seasons off, the Malibu Country star had been summoned by the Bravo gods to rescue a show that was currently floundering thanks to Kelly Dodd’s controversies and Vicki Gunvulson flying off the handle. (Dubrow, sadly, did not.)

Season 17 begins similarly with a vignette of Bravo’s most fired Housewife Tamra Judge driving a motorcycle on a highway, intercut with some of her greatest one-liners (“That’s my opinion!”) and bitchiest moments (calling Emily Simpson Shrek.) Welcome our new Captain Save-a-Show!

Listen. As much as I’ve enjoyed Tamra in the past, I’ve learned never to rely on a Housewife to single-handedly rejuvenate a franchise. It’s the group’s chemistry that counts the most. We also haven’t really been given the opportunity to miss Tamra, between that cursed podcast with Teddi Mellencamp that’s kept her in the Bravosphere and her turn on Ultimate Girls Trip. Luckily, we have some more cast additions to take some of the weight off her shoulders. For now, though, I’m a bit skeptical that her comeback will live up to all the hype she’s created.

(Egg on my face if this turns out to be the greatest season ever.)

But let’s jump into this premiere! I’m not going to drag this episode for not being super eventful, because I understand the producers need to reset the stage from last season. Likewise, this entire hour feels like we’re going down a checklist, making sure everyone has a storyline/enemy in place before we launch into the inevitable screaming matches.

We start with some watercooler talk between Tamra, her husband Eddie and her mother Sandy. Since we last saw them, the couple moved back into a remodeled version of their old home. Their hideously designed gym Cut Fitness closed down during the pandemic. And oh, they’re still having obligatory sex banter to prove what a horny couple they are.

I was jolted awake during this scene, however, when Sandy casually references the gay rumors surrounding Eddie that have nearly made her daughter’s head explode and momentarily ruined a friendship. Eddie jokes that he doesn’t “take it up the butt” while he and Tamra are doing their stilted flirting. Without missing a beat, Sandy replies, “That’s not what I’ve heard!” Excuse me, Sandra??

Then we catch up with Shannon Beador, her dog Archie, and Emily Simpson on a hike. Shannon sets up her and Tamra’s beef this season, and it seems like either of them could be at fault.

Apparently, after Tamra was fired from the show, the two quickly lost touch. Shannon keeps saying that they just “missed each other,” gesturing like two opposite-pointing arrows. Then Tamra went on a press tour, claiming that Shannon discarded her like one of the rotting lemons on her dining room table. Presumably, we’ll hash this out next week. But it’s highly believable that Shannon wasn’t super interested in remaining besties with Tamra outside of the show. (She seems tiring!) I also think that Shannon may have missed, like, two phone calls from Tamra, and Tamra started to panic about being excluded from the group. Anyway, the scene shows Emily drinking water out of the same bowl as Archie, which is gross!

We’re also re-introduced to Gina Kirschenheiter and her boisterous bounty of children. Meanwhile, Terry Dubrow is recovering from a torn meniscus and is being weird about Heather’s butt. The couple talk briefly about their (sorry) completely fake issues with Gina, who they just befriended last season—mostly to gang up on Shannon. Apparently, Gina hasn’t been reaching out to Heather since filming wrapped. In a slightly arrogant but truthful moment, Terry says that people (aka brokies) assume he and Heather are too bougie to want to hang out with them. The part he’s missing is that they are too bougie. Also, who wants to hang out with the Dubrows outside of a luncheon?

<div class="inline-image__credit">Steve Granitz/FilmMagic</div>
Steve Granitz/FilmMagic

Fancy Pants, of course, denies this. But when she and Gina meet later on, Gina confirms Terry’s suspicions. “Heather Dubrow does not want to come to a dive bar where they are not serving food,” she says in a confessional. “Heather Dubrow just wants to be invited to the dive bar so she can say no.” I typically find Gina deeply annoying, but, here, she’s spot on. Regardless, she promises Heather that she’ll do better.

Now, it’s time to meet some new blood. Our newest full-time housewife is Tamra’s workout friend Jennifer Pendranti, who’s originally from Oklahoma but looks like the most Orange County woman you’ve ever seen. She has five kids, about 30 pets, a boyfriend named Ryan, and an ex-husband named Will, who still lives with her part-time. We get the impression that her divorce was a defining moment in her life. Later on, she mentions that her ostensibly conservative family had multiple interventions with her, so she wouldn’t leave Will. Her ex also still works for her family’s company, which is awkward.

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The episode culminates in a yoga event for Jenn’s studio where the entire cast, plus Heather’s friend Kristina, gathers. Everyone is playing nice in their first group scene—although Emily reveals Gina told her that Jenn cheated on her husband. Apparently, if Emily and Gina share dirt on the women with each other, it’s fine. If Shannon brings them some juicy goss, it’s a crime!

Anyway, the episode ends with Shannon and Tamra being forced to talk. Tamra dumps all of her ongoing personal problems onto Shannon to make her feel bad, but Shannon doesn’t break. Ultimately, they promise to hash out their issues. And next week’s preview teases an intense battle between the two of them in the middle of a restaurant patio. I suppose this will be Tamra’s first opportunity to really show us why she’s back.

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