Season 11 of The Real Housewives of Orange County has finally, thankfully come to a close. After 18 episodes and one three-part reunion filled to the brim with shrieking outbursts, abuse rumors, ambush accusations and one freak accident in a dune buggy, I'm breaking down what made the season memorable and what could change for next year. Plus, find out where it stacks up against season past in my annual season rankings!
WHY IT WORKED
- The redemption (and re-crucifixion) of Vicki Gunvalson: The biggest reason to tune into the beginning of Season 11 was to see how the OG of the OC would recover from the last year's fake cancer debacle. Finding herself on the outs with all the other 'Wives, Vicki began the season on her very own personal apology tour, seeking a clean slate with her friends. The OG's efforts were fascinating to watch - while some of the women chose to forgive her and move on, others (like former bestie Shannon Beador) were hesitant to jump back into a friendship with Vicki. But slowly, Vicki successfully managed to reintegrate herself into the group, and by the time the ladies took off to Ireland, all was relatively right between the OC 'Wives. However, Vicki's friendship with newbie Kelly Dodd came back to bite her when the rookie revealed damning gossip the OG had shared off-camera about both David Beador and Eddie Judge. And by season's end, Vicki was once again an outcast, with most of the other women vowing to never let her back in.
- Kelly Dodd, drama magnet: If there's one thing newbie Kelly Dodd was good for this year, it was stirring up trouble. Though she was brought into the group by Meghan King Edmonds, the rookie consciously bonded with Vicki and alienated the other women with her juvenile jokes, quick temper and crass behavior. Round after round, she feuded with virtually all the other 'Wives - from accusing Shannon of setting her up at the 70's party and turning the sushi night into a shouting match that pushed Heather Dubrow over the edge to instigating the infamously dark and nasty bus ride in Ireland and attacking Tamra Judge as a mother. By reunion time, Kelly even took things a step farther by essentially rescinding any apologies she had made throughout the season and standing by almost every bit of her bad behavior towards her costars.
- Fancy Pants in the mud: While she's always been my personal favorite Housewife in the OC, it's safe to say that Heather Dubrow had a fairly easygoing season last year. Sure she was affected peripherally by the fake cancer controversy, but all in all Fancy Pants built her mansion, launched her sparkling wine and hawked her and Terry's new skincare line. This year it was much more entertaining to see Heather right in the middle of the drama - whether she was standing up to Kelly's "low, base bullsh*t" at the sushi dinner or facing off with Meghan in the dramatic aftermath of the Glamis accident and #HospitalGate.
- A hooley kickin' Irish adventure: Top o' the mornin'! Personally, I loved the ladies' vacation this year to the Emerald Isle. It was a unique change of pace and Meghan King Edmonds' desire to explore her Irish heritage was the perfect excuse to go somewhere other than the typical tropical island graced by OC Housewives getaways. From the moment they arrived, the trip was full of drama - from the pub crawl turned brawl between Tamra and Kelly and the Naked Wasted 2.0 scandal to the bus ride from hell that tore the group dynamic to shreds on the way to the airport. However, the trip was also full of laughs and great moments, including the women milking cows at the landmark Bailey's farm and Vicki getting her flirt on with every Irish man in sight.
WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE
- Mean girls and bullies: As the drama in Ireland raged, I was shocked to see fans all over social media turning on Tamra, Heather and Shannon - labeling them a clique of mean girls with Kelly cast as the poor, bullied outcast. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around how this narrative was formed, but it's safe to say that no one came out of the season with their hands entirely clean. Over the last two seasons, life in the OC has gotten so toxic that I come away from every episode with a serious case of Orange County fatigue. Let's stop with the labeling, the bullying and the classic strategy known as the "OC gang-up," shall we?
- Kelly Dodd, horrific Housewife: While newcomer Kelly fueled the drama this season like a gallon of gasoline dropped onto a forest fire, I seriously question the impact the rookie had on Housewives as a brand. Honestly, there aren't many 'Wives who come across as legitimately, genuinely terrible people, but Kelly took the franchise to a new low with her vulgar outbursts and vicious attacks throughout the season. (Not to mention the inexcusable bashing, fat shaming and bullying she did to fans on social media while and after the show was airing.) As a self-proclaimed expert on all things Housewives, I have to say that Kelly's inclusion in the cast dragged the entire show down and brought out the worst in the women around her.
- A lagging second act: The season both started and ended strong, but a number of episodes in the middle sure were rough. The fallout of the Glamis accident was fascinating but once Heather and Meghan made up at their summit dinner, we were subjected to Shannon's terrible mother-in-law, Kelly crying over her toxic marriage at Glen Ivy Spa, Vicki's ill-advised partnership with a cancer charity and Meghan throwing a party to open a candle store in a mall. Snooze. No thank you. I'll take brawling in Ireland over a completely disengaged Jim Edmonds any day.
- Cast shake-ups: As I mentioned above, the dynamic between the first ladies of Bravo has gotten so toxic and angry, that I've reached the conclusion that it's time for a major casting shake-up, a la RHONY Season 5. Could it be time to axe half the cast and move forward with a cleaner slate to reset the show? I say yes, but the question then to be asked is who should stay and who should go? By reunion time it was crystal clear that Meghan had mentally and emotionally checked out, making it a foregone conclusion that she's making her exit and taking baby Aspen with her. Personally, I'm completely over the back-and-forth between erstwhile besties Vicki and Tamra. We get it, you hate each other, it's never going to be like it was. However, as Vicki screamed at the reunion, RHOC is "her" show and the only way she's leaving is if she wants to. So, if we can reasonably assume that Vicki's sticking around for Season 12, that puts a major target on Tamra's back as the 'Wife most likely to be unceremoniously ousted. Kelly is also up in the air. A week ago I would've said she was a shoo-in but after her husband attacked Andy Cohen on Twitter, now I'm not so sure. So, partly as wish fulfillment I'm going to say next season's cast will be Vicki, Heather, Shannon and two new girls. Kelly may sneak in there too, unfortunately, but maybe my wish will come true that she's a one-and-done.
- Season 8: To me, the eighth season serves as the high water mark for the OC in terms of pure entertainment value. The cast was perfect and the season's storylines carried over from the previous year to give viewers a real sense of closure on the Gretchen/Alexis chapter. The addition of Lydia McLaughlin as a rare sixth Housewife was a perfect fit, and the return of Lauri Peterson ushered in the new era of OG Housewives returning to the franchise. Also, there's no denying that the visual of Vicki Gunvalson screaming "I HAVE NEVER BEEN WITH MULTIPLE PARTNERS IN MY LIFE!" at the top of her lungs while dressed as a snow bunny on the slopes of Whistler was pure Housewives gold worthy of being inducted into Bravo's Hall of Fame. The season also gave us what I consider to be the best, most dramatic reunion in RHOC's history - rainbow of dresses included. Plus, you know a season is particularly special when Bravo decides it deserves its own behind-the-scenes Uncensored special.
- Season 7: This season ushered in the Golden Age of Orange County. Heather Dubrow joining the show added the class and real wealth - as well as a brunette voice of reason - the show so desperately needed. It's a season I love re-watching and it gave us plenty of classic Housewives moments including the "pretentious intervention" of Alexis Bellino in Costa Rica, the bunco party explosion between Vicki and Gretchen decked out in full 80s garb, the introduction of Brooks as the OG's shady boyfriend and what has been arguably the best season finale in OC history (#BowGate and evil eyes anyone? "YOU WERE MY FRIEND, MY SOULMATE, MY SISTER!"). The current success of RHOC can be traced back to this memorable season.
- Season 9: Losing Gretchen, Alexis and Lydia was a bit of a reset for the franchise and moved the show in a new direction. However, Shannon Beador and Lizzie Rovsek were definitely the right replacements for the departing veterans and the Canadian newbie. After a slow start, the season really picked up at Shannon's Christmas party with drama between Heather and Tamra and Heather and Shannon, which eventually led to the epic "take the Beadors down" clash between Heather and Terry and Shannon and David at poor Lizzie's ill-fated beach house dinner party. The scandal surrounding David's email (and off-camera affair) added real weight to the season and the trip to Bali was a gorgeous, exotic experience that left me aching to visit.
- Season 5: Three words will explain my love for this season: Loony Lynne Curtin. Plus, this year was the end of Jeana Keough's time as a Housewife, introduced Alexis to the series and featured the 'Wives running around in masks at Vicki's sleepover TP'ing Jeana's house. We watched Lynne and her family get evicted from their home, Tamra's marriage to Simon implode and the girls take a weekend getaway to San Francisco. Easily the best season of early, pre-Heather Orange County.
- Season 11: Yes, this season was an improvement on last year, but still failed to catapult itself into the upper echelons of the OC's season rankings. Blame Kelly Dodd.
- Season 10: Last year, I said in my wrap-up that I was burnt out from this season. Unfortunately, my feelings haven't gotten any more positive with time. Brooks Ayers' fake cancer debacle took over the show like an actual cancer, to the point that we're still dealing with its effects two years later.
- Season 6: The sixth season was a major weak spot for the franchise. Peggy Tanous was boring and it was nausea-inducing to watch her and Alexis fight over Jimmy the Chin Bellino and one-up each other season long. Equally gross was being subjected to Tamra's naked bathtub make-out session with Eddie. That and her lesbian fling with Fernanda Rocha are both things I don't ever want to relive. Tamra throwing a glass of wine at Jeana in the finale is often cited as an epic moment in Housewives history, but I found it to be forced and inauthentic. Just my opinion.
- Seasons 1-4: At this point, the early seasons of the show all kind of run together as the series getting its feet under it. Memorable moments include Tamra and Vicki plotting to get Gretchen "naked wasted" in Season 4, Vicki's family van tirade, the Bass Lake controversy surrounding Gretchen's relationship with Jeff, the OC Angels smackdown and Lauri's fairytale wedding to George Peterson. Oh and obviously the classic moment where Vicki showed up at Michael's frat house to surprise/humiliate him in front of his college friends. Classic Vicki moment right there.
With that, my coverage of Season 11 in Orange County is over. What were the best and worst parts of the season for you? Who do you think should come back next year? Let me know in the comments!