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'Real Housewives of Orange County': Vicki Gunvalson, the working girl

February 14, 2010 |  8:52 am

Vicki gunvalsonShe might be considered the Ryan Seacrest of the insurance world with all the hours she's putting in. The last remaining original housewife in the O.C. clan, Vicki Gunvalson has watched as a revolving door of ladies have picked up -- and turned in -- those signature oranges seen in the opening credits. Along the way, we've seen the outspoken housewife spar with her fellow consorts, drive her kids crazy, and struggle to keep her love tank full. And, of course, there have been a lot of "woohoos" along the way.

Since the start of the show, the self-proclaimed workaholic has expanded her insurance business -- as if she didn't work enough. And even found time to write a book. So I was lucky enough to snag a few minutes with Gunvalson one morning, especially considering she didn't get home from the office until the wee hours of the night.

It's no secret that you're a workaholic. It's a frequent topic on the show. Tell me what a typical day like is for you.

I've got a staff of 10 and I have 700 insurance agents out in the field so to leave my office at noon to head over to a cooking party at 1 p.m. and then head back [to the office] at 3 or 4 p.m. ... it just would never happen in my real life. So I chose not to pretend it happens. My reality is I have a career and business. That's what I do. My mornings consist of waking up at 7 a.m.; I do a boot camp out here in Coto [de Caza] from 7 to 8, four days a week and then I go home and shower. I'm usually at my office by 9. My typical day would be eating lunch at my desk. Then I see clients all day. I'm actually doing estate planning, which entails retirement planning, and then I do a lot of life insurance. I'm typically home by 10 or 11 at night. So the days are long.

In a recent episode, we see the ladies take offense to you sort of insinuating that they don't work. After seeing the episode, how did it make you feel to see what they -- especially Tamra -- said once you left the party?

I was really upset about that, actually. I think they should just own it. It's great to be able to stay at home and raise your children. Unfortunately, that was not my reality. I had to be a working mother when my kids were little. I was divorced and single and I couldn't afford not to work. So when I say they don't work, it's not to cut them down. It's me just saying, "You don't understand. I have to go to my office and I can't leave to do a booty class at 2 o'clock in the afternoon; I can't do a cooking party. When I say that, it's not to hurt them. It's just to have them understand. If they don't work, they don't work. It's not to hurt them. So I got hurt when I saw what I saw on TV.

In the same episode, we see this tension between you and Simon [Barney] resurface. Tamra kind of stood back and watched. How are things between you and her since the season stopped filming?

When I left the dinner party, I had no idea Tamra was going to say the things that she did. I saw that on TV just as everyone else did. It was very hurtful. I called her and said, "Tamra, what did you do?" And she says, "Well, I was drinking and I had to side with Simon." And I said, "Yeah, you had to side with Simon; I understand that, but you threw me under the bus ... and you backed up and went over me again." But she apologized. You know, Tamra was in a tough spot. I don't know why Simon felt he had to blame me for anything. I never was in their marriage. I never talked about their marriage. The only thing I ever told Simon was, "You know, you gotta lay off on her a little bit or she's going to go." But things are great with Tamra. We just talked last night. I'm there to support her through all she's going through right now.

This season, we sort of see the different sorts of relationships: Alexis and Jim are vastly different than you and Donn. And some people questioned whether you had a right to comment on the power dynamics of the other couples given how you treated Donn in previous seasons.

If I treated Donn so badly, he wouldn't be here. I didn't treat Donn bad. I didn't abuse him. I didn't do anything. I told him my love tank was empty -- that was it! If people want to say that's treating him bad ... if I treated him so badly, he wouldn't be here. We have mutual respect for each other. Every marriage goes through their hiccups. I never controlled him. I never treated him bad. It is what it is. We've got a good solid marriage.

Discuss the other relationships. Are you friendly with all the girls once the cameras stop filming?

Um, no. I really only talk with Tamra. And I talk with Lynne [Curtin] a little bit. The other women ... I don't even think I have their phone numbers. I don't talk to Gretchen [Rossi] or Alexis [Bellino] ever.

I don't have time. That's the bottom line. I've got my good girlfriends and I just don't have the time to keep reaching out every time we have a new cast member come in. I do my best and try to make them feel welcome, but on my social level it's my husband, my kids, my career, and a couple of good girlfriends so ...

So is the addition of new members not something you welcome?

I think it's great for the show. We've got new dynamics. It never gets boring. We don't have any control of that. It's fine.

Let's go back to the beginning. You're the last remaining original cast member. What initially prompted you to take part in the show?

It kind of goes way back to six years ago. My son saw a little ad in a newspaper that they were casting for college kids coming home from college that lived in a privileged area. I was actually in Mexico with my husband and he called to say he submitted a two-page letter to Scott Dunlap, who lives in our area and is the creator of the show. And then they called back and wanted to come by and see Michael as he was off at college at that time. Then they started talking to me; they did a little trailer with Lauri [Waring] and myself -- cause Lauri was working for me at the time in my home. Four months later they called and said that we were their first pick. I said, "First pick for what? There's no way I'm going to do a reality show." One thing led to another. We never knew that it would air. We just kind of played around with it the first season. I didn't even put makeup on. I didn't really know what I was doing. Then it got picked up again -- and I was more careful about what I wore. It just evolved. It was not something I sought out. I was busy enough just taking care of my kids.

How would you compare the first season to this one?

Oh, my gosh. Huge difference. We didn't have a formal production company the first season. We were more compatible, I want to say. We were middle-aged working women, raising kids. Myself, Kimberly, Jeana, and Lauri ... Jo [de la Rosa], was obviously not married, but dating Slade [Smiley]. All those dynamics have changed because now they've got Gretchen and Alexis who are like 17 years younger than me. There's gonna be different dynamics when you bring in younger girls. They aren't really in the same life as we are. That's been a big change.

And there seem to be some honorary housewives joining in on the fun. The husbands are getting a lot more air time this season. What do you think of that?

It's just odd to me a little bit because before, we would do events and the husbands would never come. Now we go to Jay Leno and Simon's there. I just ... my husband's at work. When I say that he's at work, I mean he goes to work every day. There's just no way he would follow me to Jay Leno to sit in the green room. That's all different now; we never had that before. It is what it is. I can't change it. I have to move with the flow or I'll be constantly battling everybody. I don't take it to heart. It just seems like they should go to work; I don't know any other men who can, during the day, follow their wife around. I don't understand that. It's not my reality. My reality is my husband goes to work. And all the people I know, their husbands are at work during the day. They're not worried about filming, you know?

I asked Gretchen the same question. Given the tarnished relationships, talking behind each other's backs, and all the effort that goes into being on a show, why continue to take part? Is it mainly the branding aspect?

This is what I told Andy Cohen [the Bravo network's vice president] the other day. At the very end of my life, when I get called home and see God, he's gonna say, "What did you do with the gift that I gave you?" -- which was my public appearance on a reality show. And I'm going to have an answer because some of these people that are e-mailing me are saying that I've inspired them to get off the couch; or inspired them to make their marriage work. All these emotionally deep-seated things that I had no idea I was doing by airing my own life. I mean, I was in Mexico two weeks ago and a man came up to me and said he was getting ready to divorce his wife until he saw my renewal with Donn. That's huge. They renewed their vows. I don't care about product placement. All that stuff is short-lived. I care about really making a difference. If I can do that ... if I can employ 700 people who were unemployed prior to coming to my company -- Realtors, mortgage brokers, people who had the strength but didn't know what to do for a living ... I've been able to educate them on how to sell insurance. That's all worth it. That's long term, huge things that you're going to be able to say, "That's why I did the show." It will all come to an end -- with Gretchen's makeup and all those things ... those are short-lived things. Ten years from now when she's not on the show anymore, is anyone going to remember her name? Probably not ... unless she keeps in it. It's been a lot of fun. But when you're changing people's careers and helping them ... that's forever. Those are the reasons why I've continued to do it. And it's been a lot of fun. We've done a lot of fun things and gone places and been I've experienced opportunities that I would have never had a chance to if it were not for the show. And lots of woohoos! along the way.

And some less-than-fun moments along the way. In Thursday's episode, we learn of Briana's medical ailment. How are things with her?

It's still a problem. That was filmed in August or so. I actually thought I was going to pass out when the camera was on me. I've had a condition called cholesteatoma since I was 5 years old. I've had nine surgeries on my neck and they actually removed my eardrum when I was 18 and reconstructed it ...I've had just a lot of medical problems my whole life. So when she was telling me what was wrong with her, I was flashbacking to when my mom had to deal with it with me. She thought I was going to die. They actually went into my brain when I was 23. It was a really, really serious surgery. So I kind of got a sense of how my mom felt when I was 23. She had to go to counseling because she thought I was going to die. So when Briana was telling me this, I thought, "No. I don't want her to be sick." When they did the ultrasound on her neck, they found all these nodules. They actually found like eight. And they did the biopsy and they did come up benign. But the doctor asked us to come back in six months, which was this month. The nodules have increased to about 30. That's very rare. So we have another biopsy scheduled for next week. They're actually talking about cutting her entire neck open and removing all these nodules. It's not something that we're out of the woods yet. I'm very nervous about it. I don't like it in our life. I've spent a lot of my time on the Internet trying to figure out why these are growing. And people are really reaching out and giving me their advice on what to do and what not to do. I'm nervous. I'm very, very scared. I just want her to be OK. She doesn't feel good. And now they're actually popping out of her neck now -- so you can see them. She's a full-time nurse. She works from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. She needs to be not tired. She needs to be on all the time. She just needs to get healthy. That's my first goal: to get my baby healthy.

Do you think that goal is often overshadowed? What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

I think this year, people have been able to see the real me. Not the me that was being mean to Donn or woohooing all the time. We filmed four or five months and we grabbed some parts out showing me being mean -- that's not always how I am. Yes, we all have a mean streak, but I think the biggest misconception was that I treat Donn bad or I work so much -- wait. You know what, I really do work a lot. As I said on the show, which is true, my house is not in foreclosure, I have more money in the bank right now than I've ever had; I could retire right now if I wanted to. I'm not gonna stop. The fact of the matter is, the viewers are either going to like me or not. Everybody gravitates toward one of the cast members. I'm getting 200 e-mails a day saying, "I finally like you this year. I never liked you before."

Then there are the people who are fanatical with their criticisms for it ... yet, they still seem to watch each week. Why do you think that is?

I have no idea. That's the magical question. There are a lot of channels. I don't know. That still floors me. If you don't like me and you don't like the show, fast forward. There's obviously a reason why they're watching: It's a great show.

Do you watch any of the other editions?

Yes, I do. New York, I think I relate to. I really like Jill. I really don't have a relationship with any of the Atlanta girls. I'll watch it, you know. I favor New York. They're a little closer to my age. They work ... I respect women that are working and raising their families. It's not easy staying at home being a mom and it's not easing working and raising kids either.

And are you still in touch with Jeana?

Yes. She just invited me to dinner the other night but I couldn't make it.

And my last question: What's the deal with Alexis? We see the two of you butt heads during lunch in San Francisco.

I don't know. I don't know. Things with her and I ... we filmed the finale a week ago. I'm cordial, nice to her. That's about it. Like I said, we don't have each other's phone numbers. I don't know why she did what she did in San Francisco. I really didn't want to argue and fight with anyone this year. That's not my goal. She obviously may or may not like me. I don't know. I'm not losing sleep over it.

-- Yvonne Villarreal

Photo: Vicki Gunvalson. Credit: Bravo.

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