screenshot braunwyn windham-burke kelly leventhal real housewives of orange county

In the world of Real Housewives, fans often witness several “eras” for each of the given spinoffs, as old cast members leave and new ones get phased in. Real Housewives of Orange County was the first show in the franchise and, as a result, has seen quite a lot of change over the years. The last two remaining “OG” housewives – Vicki Gunvalson and Tamra Judge – left after Season 14 However, the “new blood” that supposedly stole their seats, including Braunwyn Windham-Burke and Kelly Dodd, are now exiting the show themselves, and are speaking out about it, too.

The news was confirmed early Wednesday that Real Housewives of Orange County is making some serious changes for Season 16. Not only are controversial figures Braunwyn Windham-Burke, Kelly Dodd and newbie Elizabeth Lyn Vargas out, but the long-running reality series is franchise alum Heather Dubrow is returning. Windham-Burke’s exit is probably the biggest shocker of them all, considering how much of her storyline contributed to the drama in Season 15, and it sounds like the decision to depart wasn't hers to make. Here's how she put it in a statement to People:

I'm incredibly sad to not be able to come back to The Real Housewives of Orange County next year. I loved every moment of being a Housewife, and am so proud of my time on the show - the good, the bad, and the in-between. It feels revolutionary to say, but I was able to get sober and stay sober on reality TV. That is something for which I will forever be grateful. And I came out, becoming the first gay Housewife in the franchise's history. What an incredible honor to look back upon, especially during Pride Month. I know I may have been too much for some, and that's okay. I am real, and I am happy being me. I'm so grateful to those who have stood by me. There is a lot more to my life, and I hope you'll stick with me on this journey as I move forward in my next chapter.

Braunwyn Windham-Burke’s two-season arc on the Real Housewives of Orange County will definitely be remembered, with lots of applicable adjectives like outrageous, confusing, hilarious, and vulnerable, just to name a few. She quickly learned that hiding anything on reality TV is an impossible feat, and still attempted to get more raw and real in the latest season. Windham-Burke took viewers and her castmates on her rough road to sobriety (through AA meetings during a pandemic with a house full of 7 kids, no less). Moreover, she came out as lesbian while revealing that she was still living with, and staying married to, her husband.

Likely, it will be a little disappointing for Real Housewives of Orange County fans that Braunwyn Windham-Burke is exiting, since her storyline's loose ends won't get tied up at all. But Kelly Dodd's exit is a different story altogether, following speculation that grew earlier this year concerning her chances of being fired. At the time, she denied that was the case, but did confirm her outright exit on Twitter. See her tweet here:

Kelly Leventhal’s exit from the Real Housewives of Orange County is also a little different than Braunwyn Windham-Burke’s because she was on the show for much longer, starting in 2016, and she garnered a pretty notorious reputation for being a blunt speaker. Such blunt speech about the other ladies in the heat of the moment - including comments about Tamra Judge’s estranged relationship with her daughter and Shannon Beador’s weight gain - eventually transformed into something much more serious. Dodd was criticized for saying that COVID-19 was “God’s way of thinning the herd” as well as for her thoughts on wearing masks and the Black Lives Matter organization.

The two women’s departures from the Real Housewives franchise are heavy blows to expectations for constant drama. But at least fans can expect the return of alum Heather Dubrow, along with Emily Simpson, Gina Kirschenheiter, and Shannon Storms Beador back from last season. It isn’t clear who else, if anyone, will fill out the line-up, but you can be sure we'll be keeping a close eye on the situation as we head into the 2021 Summer TV season.

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