In 2006, fans went behind the gates via Bravo cameras to sneak a glimpse into the life of Vicki Gunvalson — the accomplished powerhouse behind Coto Life Insurance in Orange County who, at the time, was married to Donn Gunvalson — parenting her two college-aged kids, visiting the Chicago suburbs to see her vibrant mom and planning to attend her 25th high school reunion at Fremd High School in Palatine.
Now, a decade of reality TV later, Gunvalson — still “whooping it up,” her own catchphrase — is flying home to Chicago to celebrate her 35th high school reunion.
Here, the “OG of the OC” [Original Girl of the OC] spills dramatic details of season 10, which premiered in June, what it’s like being the longest-running reality star and her future as a Real Housewife.
SPLASH: First of all, what’s it like to be on a reality show for ten years? Not many people have accomplished that.
VICKI GUNVALSON: Nobody has, by the way. There hasn’t been anyone who’s been on a reality show for ten years. So, I guess that means I’m not boring — the viewers still want to watch me. There are many moments when I don’t want to be on a reality show, because there are some raw things that happen, like the death of my mother. Those were dark days and I had to relive those, so that’s the disadvantage.
S: Looking back, how does it feel to have the death of your mother on camera?
VG: It’s hard. It’s going to be on DVD and it’s going to be on re-runs. I broke down at the moment, because my mom was healthy, she was fine. I felt like I was living somebody’s nightmare.
S: On the flip side, you have footage of your grandsons being born and growing up — does that balance it out?
VG: Yes. You’re going to see this year I go to Oklahoma [when] there’s a tornado scare. You’ll see my beautiful boys [Troy and Owen Culberson].
S: Your Midwestern values on the show really shine through. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re in Chicago?
VG: The next time I go back, which will be in September, I won’t be spending time with my mom. We normally do all these different things — we’d go to Geneva or the St. Charles area and shop at the little boutiques. My siblings are still all there, so when I go back it’s just strictly visiting and spending quality time together. I’m very fortunate to have my connections with my high school friends.
S: We’re seeing things heating up on the show right now, especially with you and Meghan Edmonds. Is this just a case of you being tough on the new girl, or is something deeper going on?
VG: I didn’t want to cause any problems with Meghan — she just consistently kept rubbing me wrong and it keeps unfolding. I didn’t mean for it to, I wanted to like her — she’s a human, she just got married. I don’t mean any ill harm for her, but she kept pushing my buttons. I’m not going to [sit] back and let her do that to me. I think she had to try to make her way on the show — you can’t be passive when you go on a reality show. She’s had an opportunity to see me for ten years [on the show]. She’s trying to secure her job I guess; I don’t think in real life people act that way.
S: Did you and Shannon Beador have fun together this season?
VG: We do — we did. I’ve only known Shannon a year, so she’s very new. Every year, they’ll bring in somebody new. Something happened this year that was really disappointing with Shannon. You’ll see that happen later on.
S: How is your on-and-off boyfriend, Brooks, doing?
VG: He’s trying to stay quiet and out of the conversation [and] the topics of cancer. Unfortunately, he has cancer. Some cast members want to manipulate that. He’s had cancer since 2009. It recurred; this is his third time with it. It’s not funny. We don’t think it’s funny to even joke about that or even make it a storyline. But unfortunately, some of the cast members wanted to shoot holes in [his] treatment plan and therefore, caused all this controversy. You’re not going to see much of Brooks this year. He is trying to get healthy and stay positive. He’s a human and this isn’t his job — this is my job. He’s doing what he has to do to get healthy and being around toxic stuff sometimes is not the right thing for him. We believe God’s going to cure him and heal him. We believe in miracles. But, Jeff [Beitzel] died, which was Gretchen’s fiancé three or four years ago and now LeAnn [Edmonds Horton] just died — Jim[Edmonds’] ex-wife. And so when we’re talking about cancer, this shouldn’t be debated or questioned. This is somebody’s life.
S: With everything you know now — through 10 seasons of the show — what advice would you give yourself if you were just starting “Real Housewives”?
VG: My life has completely changed from 10 years ago. Just embrace and enjoy every moment that you’re on [the show]. This too shall pass — it’s a show. I believe in just enjoying every moment [you’re alive], because you don’t know when life’s going to take it away.
S: How long do you see yourself as a Real Housewife?
VG: I have no idea. I take it year by year. I don’t even know if I’m going to be alive next year. I can’t predict tomorrow. I just do what I do — stay focused and keep working. My family is my first priority and everything else will just fall into place. I don’t know how long the show will last, in general — I can’t believe it’s been on this long; I never thought it would last more than one season.
S: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
VG: Go [Fremd] Vikings! Remember there’s a person behind the people that blog, the people that go on Twitter, the people that go on Facebook. Some of the things I read, most of the things I don’t. My mother always taught me: If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. If you don’t like the show, don’t watch it.
“The Real Housewives of Orange County” airs Monday nights at 8 p.m. on Bravo.