As seen on TV

‘Real Housewives of OC’ begins season 8 Monday

 

Vicki Gunvalson is making it look easy.

On an unusually dreary day in Orange County last month, inside a soundstage situated between a furniture outlet and a mattress store, the excitable insurance agent is perched on a chair in front of a green screen spilling her guts out to a camera — well, a producer sitting beside a camera.

Nothing is off limits: her divorce, finances, fights with her children, her relationship with God, you name it.

Of course, opening herself up for the world to see — and judge — has become second nature to the reigning queen of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Orange County, which begins its eighth season Monday. Most of Gunvalson’s life has been proudly captured by reality TV cameras since 2006, back when Anna Nicole Smith was still alive and tweeting was still for the birds.

It’s Gunvalson’s new reality. Over the past eight years, she’s remained the one constant in The Real Housewives universe, which now includes editions in Miami, New York, Atlanta, New Jersey and Beverly Hills.

While the rest of the inaugural Orange County ensemble moved on or wasn’t asked back or whatever, and others have come and gone, Gunvalson stuck with the show, and the show stuck with Gunvalson. Why has she continued to allow reality TV cameras to document so much of her personal life?

“I have a sense of responsibility,” she says. “I would’ve been [expletive] at myself if I backed out of season five or six and saw the success of the franchise keep going, and I elected to pull back because I couldn’t handle it anymore. There’s nothing I can’t handle. I just have to figure out a way not to crumble when times get tough when I’m doing this.”

When she debuted on the first season, the 42-year-old Gunvalson was married with two teenagers and sold insurance from home. She’s now a 51-year-old first-time grandmother with her own insurance company and 12 employees. She’s also still trudging through a drawn-out divorce.

Sure, Gunvalson wishes she would have said and done some things differently over the years, but she has no regrets. In the same breath, she can blame the experience for the collapse of her marriage but praise it for giving her more confidence across all aspects of her life.

Real Housewives of Orange County creator Scott Donlop, who cast Gunvalson for the series, remembers her apprehension about joining the show like it was yesterday. At that point, nobody had any inkling the series would last for eight seasons, let alone ignite a cultural phenomenon.

“I remember sitting in Vicki’s dining room with her then-husband Donn and her asking me, ‘Why would you put me on a television show? I don’t know anything about television,’ ” says Donlop. “She kept asking me, ‘What are we going to do?’ ”

RHOOC was originally marketed as a reality TV take on Desperate Housewives set behind the gates of Coto de Caza, a ritzy private gated community. The show began as more of an aspirational suburban anthropological experiment than the secret-spilling, cheek-kissing, wine-tossing, trip-taking, Bunco-playing soap opera that it’s known as today.

Later this year, it will reach a TV milestone: its 100th episode. To mark the occasion, Bravo is planning a standalone two-hour special that will pull back the curtain on the series and revisit past cast members.

While much of the show’s veneer has been wiped away in recent years by tabloids, social media, talk shows and a savvier viewing public, that hasn’t deterred viewership.

Gunvalson isn’t sure if the network will invite her back to yelp her signature “WOO HOO!” for a ninth season. She’s game, but she’s at peace knowing the cameras will eventually go away.

“There will be a day when the curtains close or Bravo tells me they’re going with a younger crowd or that I don’t have a story anymore,” she says. “I don’t believe I’ll never not have a story. I’m Vicki Gunvalson. I’m not boring. I’m always juggling 900 things at once. There’s going to be a story.”

Derrick J. Lang

AP Entertainment Writer

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