Last Wednesday, Tamra Judge slithered back onto the set of Watch What Happens Live just one day after appearing on the show with fellow former Real Housewives of Orange County veteran and Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip: Ex-Wives Club co-star Vicki Gunvalson.

Sporting a flashy Versace catsuit, Judge grabbed an orange off the Clubhouse shelves and said, “The Judge is back and drama is in session,” thus officially confirming her rumored return to RHOC after two seasons away. And the announcement comes just when the original Housewives series could use some livening up.

Like many fans, I first found out that Judge would be returning to RHOC several days prior because one of the many Bravo fan accounts I follow on Twitter reposted a video that the unquenchably thirsty former Housewife Jill Zarin shared in which she “accidentally” mentioned the news.

As soon as I saw it, I was overjoyed. I found myself texting proclamations like, “This is what we needed,” and, “Tamra’s here to save OC,” to my friends. We reminisced in group text chains about all the good times and great lines we had gotten from Judge over her 12 seasons on the show: “You are psychotic, Jesus jugs,” “Did you go to Bass Lake?” and, “Here’s your fucking letter, bitch,” to name a few.

Then, suddenly, my pretend amnesia (as Teddi Mellencamp would surely call it) wore off and I remembered how I felt about this very same Housewife not two-and-a-half years ago.

I was never staunchly anti-Tamra, but by the close of Season 14 of RHOC, I, like so many others, was calling for her exit from the show. The season was a snooze-fest and Judge’s storylines—playing referee between her feuding sons and “helping” Emily Simpson on her weight-loss journey—weren’t bringing the compelling drama we crave. Even sobbing in the bushes during Gunvalson’s “farmhouse chic” engagement party in the season finale couldn’t save her.

But, now, here I am ready to see Judge back on my screen in her Cut Fitness sweatshirt and array of bedazzled trucker hats, which never seem to go out of style in Orange County. The news of the comeback, the drama surrounding the announcement, and the ensuing fan excitement combine to perfectly encapsulate the magic of The Real Housewives. The women who star in each franchise evolve—and often devolve— right before our eyes, and our opinions of each Housewife and their respective shows flip and flop as much as Beverly Hills star Kyle Richards on a dance floor.

As with any fandom, there are the diehard stans who will stick by their favorites and viciously defend their most vile—and occasionally illegal—behavior. But for the most part, the Bravo audience doesn’t have blind loyalty because the women on these shows are, as the title suggests, real.

Just like all of us, they go through life stages. In some of those stages, they exhibit incredible empathy and vulnerability and are effortlessly entertaining. Then, sometimes, perhaps due to personal circumstances—or, more commonly, because the fame, attention, and popularity have gone to their heads—they become insufferably smug or boringly rehearsed. Fans adjust their feelings accordingly, online and in-person debates about them ensue, and then cast changes are made. This never-ending cycle is what keeps the franchise endlessly fascinating.

In the case of RHOC, the series somehow managed to get even snoozier after Judge’s departure. Emily Simpson and Gina Kirschenheiter seem like perfectly fine people but they’re simply too normal to carry a reality show. Heather Dubrow, on the other hand, walks an interesting line between relatability, with personal storylines involving her kids and marriage, and being completely disconnected from reality, with her often grotesque displays of extreme wealth.

Yet, Dubrow is so controlled with the image she presents on television that she never allows herself to let go and get messy—literally or figuratively—which doesn’t make her all that fun to watch. Shannon Beador, with her oddities and insecurities, is entertaining, but she needs a close friend in her corner to call her out when she’s spiraling. Armed with many years of experience, history with the existing cast, and a recently rediscovered fearlessness, Judge could right this ship.

She’s not afraid to scream in someone’s face, try out a ridiculous new hobby, contradict herself, show her boobs, ugly cry, or admit her mistakes. Plus, with so much unresolved conflict between Judge and Beador, who were very close friends once upon a time, there’s a built-in storyline for the start of the season. Fans will undoubtedly connect with an arc about the struggle to mend a broken friendship that we actually care about.

Even with all those qualities that make Judge an impeccable Housewife, she admits her work on the show had become stale by the end of her initial run. On last Wednesday’s Watch What Happens Live after show, she told host and Bravo Daddy Andy Cohen, “Being off for two years is probably the best thing that you could have ever done to me, even though I didn’t like it… I was on the show for 12 years, and once you’re on that long, you become a professional ‘Housewife.’”

In an episode of her podcast Two Ts In A Pod, which went live the day after the WWHL announcement, Judge again stated that the break from the show “reset her,” this time to her co-host Teddi Mellencamp—one former Housewife whose return I actually don’t think I’ll ever be celebrating, but who knows. “I’m, like, fresh, starting all over,” Judge said. “There are certain things I won’t do going into it. I won’t feel like I have to make good TV.”

Judge’s return to RHOC comes with an added layer of interest and excitement because it was announced as Season 2 of The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip, which she also stars in, came to an end.

This season, the cast, which was made up entirely of ex-Housewives, featured some very honest conversations about how it feels to be fired from Bravo—or “put on pause” as the demon who haunts Blue Stone Manor insisted on putting it. And while some of the ex-wives clearly did view this as an opportunity to worm their way back into a more permanent position on the network, Judge played it cool. Over the course of the Peacock spinoff’s seven episodes, she maintained an enjoyably breezy presence while still engaging in the drama, especially when called out specifically for such sinister acts as eating in her room and not participating in “Dorobics.”

Fans responded to this more grounded version of Judge, and she credited her hiatus for how she comes off on RHUGT. “Ultimate Girls Trip was so awesome because I didn’t have anything to lose. I didn’t have to worry about, ‘Is my contract going to get renewed?’” she said on her podcast. “It was just I’m going in and I’m going to be me, and that’s how I’m going into Housewives.”

Wacky, ambitious, flawed, angry, complicated, funny, smart women just being themselves is The Real Housewives at its best. And getting to watch, react to, and change our minds over and over as those women live up to that gold standard, fall flat, then eventually get back into their groove, only enhances that Real Housewives experience. That’s clearly illustrated with this latest journey for Tamra Judge. Or at least, in Judge’s words, THAT’S MY OPINION!





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