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Real Housewives

Lydia McLaughlin: Why the OC's Canadian Christian Walked Away

Glenn Rowley

lydia-season-8

Every so often, a Housewife comes along whose rookie season is also her last. The list is a fairly short one: Karent Sierra, Peggy Tanous, Cindy Barshop, Joyce Giraud de Ohoven, Carlton Gebbia, Quinn Fry, Deshawn Snow, the entire cast of RHODC...For one reason or another, each woman just didn't work for the franchise. Some, like Cindy Barshop on RHONY, were entirely forgettable or didn't fit into the group dynamic, while others were so disliked by fans that they weren't worth bringing back for a second season. (Looking at you, Carlton.) However, Lydia McLaughlin of RHOC is a special case. After becoming a fan favorite in Season 8, she was asked to return the following year but chose to walk away rather than re-up for Season 9. For this week's feature, I'm looking back at her year on the show and her unprecedented decision to leave the Housewives behind. 

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At the start of Season 8, Lydia was introduced to the OC as a friend of fellow 'Wife Alexis Bellino. (Rumors in the press stated that Alexis refused to return to the show without an ally after becoming the odd Housewife out during Season 7, though that's never been confirmed). A fellow Christian, the two lived in the same neighborhood of Dana Point and had bonded over their young children and their faith. As the editor of Beverly Hills Lifestyle Magazine alongside her husband Doug, Lydia seemed like the perfect addition to the first ladies of Bravo. She had it all: a gorgeous husband, whom viewers dubbed "Jesus-Abs" throughout the season, two adorable little boys, a luxurious lifestyle and a fairy dust-throwing 420-loving mother.

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Almost immediately, Alexis recruited Lydia as her support after her fallout the previous season with Heather, Tamra and former BFF Gretchen. However, Lydia also managed to get her own good first impression of Heather, after meeting with Fancy Pants to discuss a spread of the Dubrow home in Lydia's magazine. In the first event of the season, Alexis invited her to the dinner party to celebrate the opening of Tamra's new gym CUT Fitness because she didn't want to see the other ladies without having any backup. This is not an enviable position to be put in as a brand new Housewife. With her only friend at odds with the majority of the cast, Lydia automatically became guilty by association when it came to the other 'Wives. The drama started almost immediately at the dinner party, escalating quickly to Tamra throwing Alexis out of the event with an epic "GET THE F**K OUT!" However, serving as a yes-man to Alexis wasn't in Lydia's plan and she quickly became a fair, level-headed voice of reason. For nearly a year, Alexis had been throwing around the word "bully" in both the press and on social media with regards to her castmates. However, as Alexis tried to play the victim in the back of the limo outside the party, Lydia calmly pointed out to her friend that - from her perspective - the other women hadn't been bullying her, and that the bullying accusation was powerful considering what the word really meant. "I had to go on Xanax for it, Lydia!" was Alexis' response, but right then and there, I could tell this newcomer was my kind of girl.

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Much to viewers' - and probably Alexis' - dismay, Lydia actually bonded with the other Housewives and became fast friends with Heather, Tamra and Vicki. She became so well-liked among the cast that she was even invited to Tamra's bachelorette party in Mexico while Alexis stayed back in the OC. While in Puerto Vallarta, Lydia both stood up for her Christian beliefs - opting out of the women's night with Mexican strippers, and whooped it up on a night of cab-dancing with Vicki and Tamra complete with light-up bow headbands. The trio's drunken adventure was the catalyst for drama throughout the trip, as Gretchen and Heather's feeling were hurt after being left out of the fun. Dubbing herself the "friendship whisperer", Lydia also played the peacemaker facilitating one-on-one sit-downs between Alexis and the other ladies. Some of these meetings went better than others. Thanks to Lydia's outside perspective, a fragile peace was established for Alexis with Heather and Tamra, with apologies all around and promises of moving forward. The former best friendship between Gretchen and Alexis, on the other hand, seemed irreparable as Gretchen refused to apologize and slowly found herself on the outs. 

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Lydia's experience on the show wasn't devoid of interpersonal drama, however. At the post-bachelorette salsa dancing party she threw for the girls and their hubbies, she went toe-to-toe with Gretchen's boyfriend Slade over his pattern of body-shaming comments about the 'Wives, from calling Vicki "Miss Piggy" to telling Lydia herself she needed to "eat a cheeseburger" because of her weight. By standing up for herself and her friends, Lydia showed that when push came to shove, a fiery temperament lay under her quirky exterior. No one was going to push the new girl around, especially not the infamous Housewife Hunter. Lydia was also responsible for the season's big cast trip, when she brought the women to Whistler, BC to show them her Canadian roots. Much of the season's impending drama came to a head during the Canadian getaway, as Tamra and Gretchen duked it out over their failing friendship and everything Malibu Country-related was laid out on the metaphorical table. In possibly the most epic moment of the season, Lydia had a ringside seat to Vicki confronting Lauri, in head-to-toe skiing gear, after finding out about the threesome rumors the former Housewife had been spreading behind her back. So much for the relaxing vacation to the Great White North that Lydia had been hoping for...

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At Vicki's Winter Wonderland party that served as the season finale, Lydia and her high pony faced off once again with Gretchen and Slade after the latter hit below the belt once again about the ladies' appearances, this time on his syndicated radio show. Delivering her "dirty is dirty is dirty" smackdown, she effectively called out Slade for not taking accountability for putting down women and thereby stood up for feminists everywhere. Inexplicably, her kind-hearted fairy dusting mother was also dragged into an argument with Vicki's son-in-law Ryan over putting her feet on the couch inside. The bizarre situation was only caught on the mic'd family members, so we didn't actually see the altercation, but Lydia didn't take well to the verbal abuse inflicted on her mother and promptly decided to leave the party after dressing down Slade's misogyny.

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The ensuing reunion, while epic, was hard on Lydia. In an array of rainbow-colored dresses, the women of the OC were especially brutal as allegations of abuse, betrayal and dishonesty flew around the room. And the newbie wasn't exempt from the innumerable clashes. She took issue with Heather, with whom she'd been friendly all season, over Heather's blog about the stripper antics in Mexico, and later sparred with Fancy Pants regarding the magazine cover issue from the beginning of the season. By the time Vicki's daughter Briana came out to drop the physical bombshell about Brooks, courtesy of a recording in the OG's boyfriend told Briana's husband to start "hitting her to get her to fall in line," Lydia had had enough. In the midst of the drama, she tearfully walked off the set, citing to Andy Cohen that it was too much darkness and toxicity for her to stay in her seat. Lydia's experience at the reunion would prove to be a critical turning point in her decision not to return to the show.

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During Season 8, Lydia became a breakout fan favorite for many viewers, and seemed to be a lock for the following season. However, when casting was announced for Season 9, her name was mysteriously nowhere to be found. In a public Instagram post, the Canadian Christian announced that she'd been asked back by Bravo and the producers, but had made the decision with her family not to return. Citing her faith, Lydia explained to fans that, while she had been asked back for Season 9 and had initially wanted to do it, ultimately she felt that God was calling her on a different path. So she walked away. This choice was virtually unheard of in the Bravo universe. Housewives is such a huge platform, with millions of viewers and fans, that making the choice to not take the opportunity when it's handed to you for a second year is not something many people would do. Yet, true to what fans had seen throughout the season, Lydia stuck to her values and made the decision that was right for her and her family.

So, the show sadly went on without her. It's hard to imagine how Lydia would have fit into the Season 9 dynamic, even with the benefit of hindsight we now have. With Gretchen and Alexis replaced by Shannon Beador and Lizzie Rovsek, I could see Lydia becoming friends with Lizzie and hopefully make up and continue to bond with Heather. She likely would've continued playing the role of "friendship whisperer" as the ladies' relationships were tested both old and new. However, it's impossible to predict where she would've fit in all the drama surrounding Shannon's marriage or with Tamra playing all sides and consequently feuding with pretty much all the other 'Wives. Ironically though, she continued to bond with Alexis and Gretchen, whom she'd feuded with the most on the show, after filming and remains good friends with both today.

lydia-book

Life didn't stop for Lydia once she said goodbye to the show. She was busy promoting her jewelry line, Lydia M Jewelry, overseeing BHL Magazine and raising her family. And, in a surprise moment, she also announced her third pregnancy shortly after leaving the show, adding baby Roman to big brothers Stirling and Maverick in November 2014. So, she would have been pregnant for most of filming, which would have added a great deal of stress and complication to being part of a reality show. Lydia also used her experience to pen a memoir, Beyond Orange County: A Housewives Guide to Faith and Happiness, which talked about the importance of faith in her life and further chronicled her decision to leave the Real Housewives. As part of her press tour for the book, she even appeared on WWHL! Additionally, she also spent time promoting the book on conservative media outlets like The Christian Post and Fox News - not the typical sources for Housewives news and gossip. In these interviews, she explained that watching Vicki and her daughter Briana fight during the Season 8 reunion was a major influence in understanding how reality TV could negatively impact families. Being so close to her mom, whom viewers saw on the show, Lydia simply didn't want something like that eventually happening in their relationship because it had been put into the spotlight of reality stardom.

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In the end, Lydia's decision took a great deal of courage. Surely, it wasn't easy to willingly walk away from all the perks and fame that come with being a Housewife. However, it isn't every day that we see a Housewife stick to her values so purely that it comes at the expense of personal success. As much as I'd love to see Lydia back on the show - and she's repeatedly said "never say never", I respect her willingness to stay true to herself. Lydia remains one of my favorite OC Housewives and as a person, I certainly look up to her for sticking to her guns and showcasing her strong values and unique personality on national TV. In the end, her opening tagline came to poignantly define her experience on the show as a whole. After all, "you only live once, but if you work it right, once is enough!"