Even just three episodes in, The Real Housewives of Orange County Season 16 is showing marked improvements.
RHOC ratings are up, due in part to Kelly Dodd’s welcome absence.
But two of the show’s OGs, Tamra Judge and Vicki Gunvalson, have also not made a comeback.
It’s not unreasonable for fans to wonder if they’ll ever see them again.
Vicki Gunvalson and Tamra Judge both appeared on Season 14 of the show.
Tamra had been with the series for twelve years, having joined for Season 3.
Meanwhile, Vicki had been with the series — with the franchise — since day one.
That was it, for both of them.
Reportedly, both Vicki and Tamra were offered "Friend" roles on Season 15.
Like NeNe Leakes did years ago, they both turned down the offers — declining to return to the show.
Of course, in NeNe’s case, the season that followed had dramatically lower ratings.
This gave her a powerful negotiating position when Bravo asked her to return, leading to her spending years as a top earner in the franchise.
Clearly, that gambit is not "one size fits all," because Tamra and Vicki are nowhere to be seen.
This franchise is sometimes home to extremely controversial, contentious departures.
Infamously, Kelly Dodd’s bad behavior brought about a boycott and widespread outrage before she was not asked to return.
Braunwyn admitted on camera to domestic violence against her husband, making her departure from the show very welcome.
But Tamra wasn’t spreading dangerous pandemic misinformation.
At the time of her firing, neither was Vicki.
(It looks like Vicki’s brain broke down completely during the pandemic, given her feud with Dorinda Medley in the Birkshires)
Instead, the show’s dynamic had just gotten stale.
The same people teamed up. The same people hated each other.
Something had to change.
Vicki had been with the show since the very first season, but not even her (now ended) engagement to Steve Lodge could make her storyline fresh or exciting.
Tamra’s storylines, from her troubled adult son to her on-screen disagreements, also needed freshening up.
While Tamra did find out that her ex, Simon Barney, had cancer, it was only just before the Reunion — and never played up for the cameras.
Numerous reports and some hints from Andy Cohen have said that Tamra could return to the show one day.
Not on Season 15 — not unless she had accepted a three-episode farewell, which she did not.
And clearly not on Season 16, though Tamra has filmed for other Real Housewives projects for Peacock.
The idea was to give her some time off of the show so that the cast could find a new, fresh dynamic.
At the time, the idea was clearly that Braunwyn’s well-intentioned chaos would take center stage.
Shannon would have to find a way to navigate the show without the Tres Amigas, and Kelly would have to find a new enemy.
Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic was only one of many problems with the season.
Shannon did find a new approach to the show — befriending Kelly and feuding with her ex-besties.
Braunwyn’s sobriety journey and coming out as a lesbian were then overshadowed by her wrongdoings, and people wanted her gone.
So Season 16 is a brand new do-over, this time featuring Heather Dubrow.
While Noella Bergener is making a splash and Gina Kirschenheiter continues to be a real asset to the show, Heather has received a lot of credit for fixing things up.
Ratings are dramatically improving … but Heather’s return really makes people wonder about Tamra and Vicki.
The odds seem decent that Tamra will make a comeback on the show.
She remains a key part of the franchise in people’s minds.
If Season 16 is a success and there’s a new dynamic in place, Tamra’s return could be just the right element of disruption.
She and Shannon are no longer friends, and despite some past feuding on the show, this is a big change from their former status quo.
It would be interesting to see Tamra react to Noella and Nicole while also finding a way to speak to Heather without Vicki or Kelly around.
Despite some missteps along the way, Tamra is well-liked by some, and even people who don’t necessarily like her enjoy seeing her act out.
Vicki’s return is always possible, but it does not strike us as particularly likely.
Unlike Tamra, there have been no real indications that Bravo wants her back on the show.
If she were about to be California’s First Lady or if her breakup drama had somehow been on camera, things might be different.
But the only thing that crashed and burned harder than her engagement was Steve’s pitiful campaign for Governor.
Thankfully, the recall election was thwarted.
Unfortunately for Vicki’s fans — and yes, she still has a lot — this means that it’s unclear what kind of storyline she could manage.
No matter how Season 16 works out or what happens in their lives, any return to RHOC will require negotiations over contracts and salary.
That means that everyone involved has to want this to happen badly enough to reach an agreement.
Whether they return or not, we can all be thankful that Season 16 is is treating us better than Season 15 … so far.