Season 15 of Bravo's original franchise is the Real Housewives like you've never seen them.

It’s been a big year in Real Housewives. Hair has been pulled. Secrets revealed. Fourth walls shattered beyond hope of repair. But Bravo’s not finished yet: The Real Housewives of Orange County returns for its 15th season on Wednesday, and one should never discount the franchise OG when it comes to bringing the drama.

“I’m excited for 2020!” OC Housewife Shannon Storms Beador says in the season 15 trailer, in footage from one of her confessionals. Her take now? “It’s not so great,” she admits to EW. “It’s been an insane, insane year.”

And Bravo’s cameras caught it all. As Beador’s confessional enthusiasm suggests, the new season began production before 2020 fully embraced its destiny as the nightmare hellscape we now know it to be. The cast — which consists of Beador, Kelly Dodd, Gina Kirschenheiter, Emily Simpson, Braunwyn Windham-Burke, and newcomer Elizabeth Lyn Vargas — started filming in early February of this year, expecting another season of international group trips, gossipy shopping excursions, and tequila-induced confrontations.

“It’s always a slow start, so we were just sort of gearing up. I remember I was thinking, ‘I gotta get down the bottom of that, and then I’ve gotta figure that out,’” Beador recalls of the season’s early conflicts. “And then we get the call: we’re shutting down.”

Shooting stopped and quarantine began right after the ladies took a trip to Palm Springs, about five weeks into production. To keep the show rolling, all the cast members were asked to film themselves at home, coping with the uncertainty of the pandemic along with the rest of the country. Despite the anti-glamour of lockdown, “I wanted to be authentic,” Beador says of her self-filming. “I would document the good and the bad. I wanted to show that sometimes it was a struggle.”

“Each one of us has a very different personality and we all handle things differently, so I think it will be really interesting to see,” Beador says. “I would be the ‘panic person’ of the group. And I… did fulfill that during the pandemic.”

In past panics, Beador’s (supposed) ride-or-dies Vicki Gunvalson and Tamra Judge were always there by her side — but not anymore. The announcements of the departures of both of the SoCal blondes came at the beginning of this year, marking the end of Judge’s 12-season tenure as a Housewife as well as the conclusion to Gunvalson’s historic run on the franchise, having been the only original cast member still appearing on the show after 14 years (though demoted to “Friend” last season).

With Gunvalson and Judge off the show, the Tres Amigas didn’t last off-camera. “When I heard [they were leaving] I was sad, I was shocked, I was upset about it,” Beador says. “But you know… there were a lot of untruths said about me by both of those women, and I know that they’re untruths but I choose not to go back and forth in the press because that’s not the person I am. So it’s been sad for me to know that friendships that I thought were genuine and valid and authentic aren’t. So that’s been a tough pill for me to swallow.”

Gunvalson and Judge’s exits leave Beador, who joined the cast in season 9, as the current longest-running OC Housewife, which she says feels “surreal,” but “I don’t think about things like that.” Her story continues with the addition of boyfriend John, whom she mentioned in the season 14 reunion but appears for the first time in the season 15 premiere. “He was not excited to be on the show,” Beador says with a laugh. “He’s pretty private. But you know, I have let it all out, for better or for worse, since I started on the show seven years ago. And he understood that relationships have been a part of my journey, and if I’m in a relationship with someone, I have to show it. And I think he’s very genuine when he filmed with me, so I’m grateful that he did.”

Also joining the lineup is new Housewife Elizabeth Lyn Vargas, the founder and CEO of a music video streaming service who also holds the distinction of being the “second [new] cast member that Shannon Storms Beador gets along with!” Beador exclaims. “She’s got a lot of layers, that one. I like to use the word ‘complex’ when I describe her. I had a lot of fun with her — not to say I didn’t have issues that came up later on.”

Because despite quarantine, the ladies still found time for issues. Production resumed, at a distance, in the summer — at which time Beador and her three daughters had all tested positive for COVID (all four have now recovered). She wasn’t allowed to film with the rest of the cast, however, until she had tested negative again. “I was just devastated,” she remembers.

Despite the disruptions to shooting, the ‘wives made the most of the time they had: “I have issues with every single cast member this season, in the short time we filmed,” Beador says, not without cheer. “I think it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Season 15 of The Real Housewives of Orange County premieres Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 9 p.m. on Bravo.

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