Does it technically count as a cast trip if the host only invites one other Housewife along? That was my question at the start of this week’s Real Housewives of Orange County as I watched Heather Dubrow and Gina Kirschenheiter jet off to New York. Obviously the answer is no. (I didn’t say it was a hard question.) But something I loved about the whole thing was — and I know I’ve said this in several recaps this season but — how much it reminded me of vintage Orange County.
To be clear, I’m talking about the days before cast trips were even part of the Housewives formula. Before Heather ever waltzed onto the show with her champagne glass and Cheshire cat smile to elevate the franchise to a new level of wealth, class and aspirational living. I loved it because Heather and Gina‘s trip harks back to the days when Vicki Gunvalson was dragging Jeana Keough all the way to her hometown of Chicago to meet her friends from high school. Where Kimberly Bryant would make not one but two cameo appearances after hightailing it out of Orange County following the first season. And then the pair would road trip to see Shane Keough play for the minor league Kane County Cougars. Only back then, the OGs certainly weren’t flying private.
It’s also smart strategy when it comes to filming. Because inviting another Housewife to join you not only draw attention away from the cast members you’re leaving behind, it also pretty much guarantees that a producer and camera crew will follow you. Think about it. Did we get to see any of Jill Zarin‘s family trip to South Africa during Season 4 of RHONY? Were cameras there to document Lisa Hochstein‘s annual European vacation in Saint-Tropez on this season of RHOM? No and no. But if you use a page out of Vicki and Jeana‘s OG playbook, your trip can suddenly become the A-plot for the episode.
The first stop on Heather‘s New York getaway is her old stomping grounds upstate, where she’s taking Nicky Dubrow and Max Dubrow on a college visit to her alma mater, Syracuse University. After checking into the local Sheraton (gasp!), Heather takes Gina down to Faegan’s, which was apparently the hottest bar in town back in the day. The pair reminisce about their respective college experiences — Gina went to Hofstra University on Long Island — and you really do see a real friendship cementing between the budding pals.
That’s one reason why Heather‘s always been one of my favorite Housewives. For all her wealth, privilege and champs, she really takes time to get to know her fellow ‘Wives on a human level. It’s why, over the years, she’s been able to connect in an authentic way with everyone from Tamra Judge and Vicki to Lizzie Rovsek, Lydia McLaughlin and even Alexis Bellino, who revealed during her episode of Life After Bravo that she and Heather are actually on great terms these days. (No seriously, if you don’t believe me, watch Alexis tell the story of how they made up in her own words here.)
The next day, the Dubrow Collegiate Crash Course™ continues as Heather takes the twins to tour the campus and relives her past life as a musical theater major. They even get to stop by her old sorority house. Which the current students have obviously decked out with a “Welcome Heather” banner emblazoned with a bottle of champagne. That night, she hosts a live episode of her podcast on campus at the invitation of the alumni association. And then it’s off to New York City for the next leg of the journey.
Back in the OC, Shannon Beador is bound and determined to have more fun than her cast mates off in New York. So she invites Emily Simpson, Dr. Jen Armstrong and Noella Bergener over for an at-home cooking class. This does not sound like that much fun for the three. Being that as a lawyer, doctor and professional tornado of chaos, respectively, they each try to stay as far away from a stovetop as humanly possible. But they’re game to try it for a night, even if it includes wearing the hairnets and chef’s coats Shannon has so lovingly provided for the occasion.
Over a meal of chicken and apparently one single raw shrimp, Shannon can’t help but bring up the idea that Gina thinks she’s jealous of her friendship with Heather. The accusation’s clearly been gnawing at her ever since Emily planted the seed in her head a couple episodes back. In fact, to prove she’s so totally not jealous, she decides to call Heather right then and there. Except…the call goes straight to voicemail. Like, without even ringing. Is Fancy Pants screening her old frenemy’s calls now? Heather and Gina do call right back on FaceTime to tell the group how much they’re loving New York, but the underlying tension has already been stirred up.
While Dr. Jen calls it a night early to attend to the ongoing marital problems in her home, Shannon, Emily and Noella decide to turn the cooking party into a late-night pool party. Next thing you know, Noella’s topless, Emily’s drunk and Shannon’s neck-deep in the pool with her chef’s coat and hat still on. And poor Archie is subjected to all of it. See how much fun they’re having?? This is way better than a free trip to New York on a private jet, promise!
The next day, Dr. Jen gets a house call from the relationship therapist who once saved the Beadors marriage for another couple seasons. Bet you didn’t have her surprise return on your RHOC bingo card, did you? Since Ryne Holliday is seemingly nowhere to be found, Dr. Jen has a solo heart-to-heart with the couples counselor. The newbie says she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save her marriage. And through tears, she makes the breakthrough that she’s brought her unresolved issues from her childhood into her relationship with Ryne, and that some of that stems from how critical and hard she is on herself.
I very much appreciate the raw vulnerability of Dr. Jen airing the problems in her marriage and taking accountability for her part in the issues at hand. But I’m also left to wonder if Ryne‘s really gone or if he was just flat out refusing to film at this point in the season. The doctor did admit in a conversation earlier in the episode with Emily that she was considering asking Ryne to move into a vacation rental for a month so they could each have some space and time apart. But we never saw the fallout from that cringeworthy dinner at the Dubrows, and I’m curious to know whether Dr. Jen’s drunken antics caused any ramifications in the couple’s already-fraught relationship.
Gina and Heather finish up their New York adventure with a big family dinner at TAO, home to many a scene filmed by the likes of Tinsley Mortimer, Dorinda Medley and Luann de Lesseps over the years. Heather’s mom Carole Kent and her aunt and uncle are the first to arrive. And Gina’s parents came into the city from Long Island. Right way, it’s hilariously clear that, despite both hailing from New York, the two ‘Wives are products of entirely disparate worlds. On one hand, Gina’s parents fawn over her, telling her how proud they are. Meanwhile, Heather’s mom is busy re-setting the table properly and lecturing the waitress on exactly how she wants her filet mignon cooked. (Which, for the record, is “not moo-ey.”)
As the meal progresses, it also becomes obvious that there’s a bit of tension between Heather and her mother. And it’s about the time that the veteran ‘Wife is explaining how she and her mom are both completely different and yet exactly the same that it dawns on me. Heather and Carole‘s dynamic would be the OC answer to Tinsley and Dale Mercer if only the didn’t live all the way across the country. It’s incredibly entertaining, and to be honest, I’m kind of obsessed with the subtle mother-daughter clashing. I need more Carole, STAT! And let this be a lesson that the old adage is true. The fancy orange doesn’t fall far from the apple tree.
Back at the hotel, Heather and Gina finally get a chance to see what their friends in the OC have been up to in their absence. And videos of the pool party immediately prompt Gina to FaceTime Emily for an explanation. Why isn’t Shannon wearing any pants? How much tequila was involved? Naturally, Emily uses the opportunity to stir the pot. She promptly spills everything Shannon was saying about Gina at the party, calling her ego inflated and slamming how full of herself the younger ‘Wife seems to be these days.
Emily also lets slip about Shannon‘s “who’s having more fun” competition. And interestingly, the comment sparks a memory in Heather of the Season 10 cast trip to Mo’orea, where Shannon spearheaded the exact same thing with Tamra and Vicki…complete with getting wasted and jumping in the pool by the end of the night. It’s not a connection I would’ve made off the top of my head. But Heather’s not wrong. Now the stage is set for a face-off between Gina and Shannon that’s been brewing under the surface all season with Heather in the middle. And honestly, I can’t wait.
TELL US – WHICH LOOKED MORE FUN: THE TRIP TO NEW YORK OR THE POOL PARTY IN THE OC? IS SHANNON JEALOUS OF GINA’S FRIENDSHIP WITH HEATHER? CAN DR. JEN SAVE HER MARRIAGE? WERE HEATHER AND HER MOTHER GIVING YOU DALE AND TINSLEY VIBES TOO?
[Photo Credit: Bravo]