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Vicki Gunvalson, Real Housewives of Orange County

Bravo

"I was depressed.

"Deep, deep, deep, deep. I wouldn't take my life... but I was at the lowest place I have ever been. Period… He did it. He lied to me. He lied to the viewers. He lied to everyone else for whatever reason, I don't know and I will never know why he did what he did. I loved him, that's all I can go to bed with."

It's been six months since E! News uncovered one of the biggest scandals in reality TV history about Vicki Gunvalson's ex-boyfriend Brooks Ayers.

I am sitting opposite the OG of the OC in her immaculately decorated living room and she's in tears as she relives the nightmare of the past year.

It's her first big interview since my four-hour interrogation of Brooks last fall. Our investigation led to him admitting he had falsified hospital documents, and questions about whether he ever had cancer at all still linger.

To this day, Brooks contends he didn't make up his illness to get more screen time on The Real Housewives of Orange County.

Vicki and Brooks split up in the months before his sit-down with E! News. "August 4th," Vicki reminds me of the exact date she saw him, his face clearly etched in her memory. He broke her heart and it didn't help that in the weeks and months following our report, Vicki found herself at the center of accusations she was Brooks' accomplice.

So to get a call to ask if I would interview her, at Vicki's request, was surprising to say the least. In the days that followed our bombshell exclusive, she contacted me on Twitter, upset by what we had uncovered. I had questioned her involvement, and yet here I was sitting next to her as she emotionally answered questions about her role in the scandal.

What followed was an honest and heartfelt conversation, as Vicki explained how it felt to fall in love with the "wrong man" and then fight the battle of her life to bounce back. Here are excerpts from our nearly hour-long conversation:

Brooks Ayers, Vicki Gunvalson

Peter Kramer/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

It takes balls to sit down with me.

"It's OK, I've got balls somewhere in there."

Let's get the elephant out of the room first…

"Yeah, absolutely. I've got nothing to hide. Let's do it."

How are you feeling about Brooks at the moment?

"[She takes a deep breath] Well, there are a lot of emotions that have happened after he left me. It was actually August 4th of last year when everything was starting to tumble around. He was living here and then he left. I haven't seen him since the day that he pulled out of the drive way and I was just in shock like, 'What is going on?' Why don't you tell me the truth of anything?' and he was like, 'You are never going to know, you don't deserve to know because you are going to share it with the cast.'

"Here we are, almost a year later. My emotions are still sad more than anything that, number one, I have known this man for 10 years. I never, ever thought that it would end this way… I was just so, so sad. I felt betrayed by my cast members. I felt betrayed by him. I had lost my mom a few months before that. It was just all this emptiness that had happened in my life and I had this big house and I just…I cried. I asked God for answers and I journaled a lot…I can't hold a grudge or hatred towards him…I asked God to allow me to forgive him…

"I'll get it out in the room: I never lied for him, ever, and the fact that the cast members tried to pin me up against the wall in different schematics was really hurtful."

You were potentially betrayed twice, by him and your friends.

"I know…I was so hurt on how they reacted to the information being relayed from him. I would have thought that they would have said, 'You know what Vicki, if he's lying or not lying, we still love you.' There would be no reason for me to lie. So that was the hard part, my friends… I never lied for him. What would be my benefit? So I think that was my biggest thing this year, getting back on the season, is handling all of those issues that they thought I [lied]."

The hardest thing about betrayal can be the judgment, when other people question why you didn't notice the red flags.

Brooks Ayers, E! Interview

E!

"Yeah, they were pink and yellow, they were not red. [She shakes her head.] I'm not a detective, I trust everybody…Why would I think it's a lie? I am not going to be like Tamra [Judge] and go out and do detective work on someone that I am sleeping with and loving…The truth will always come out one way or the other so…I just loved him. That is all. I was guilty of loving him hard. So here we are a year later. He's good, I'm good and [she shrugs] life goes on."

Where are you now on the cancer issue?

"I do believe there were lies being told, I don't know to what level. I mean, I do believe he was sick, nobody can lose the amount of weight that he did. Nobody can throw up and have fevers the way that he did. Nobody would fake going to doctors the way he did. I saw the bills of all of these supplements he was taking. Why would he spend that much money if he wasn't sick? I don't know…there are a lot of questions that I will never know [the answers to] but it wasn't like he was totally healthy the whole time."

When we uncovered that the medical documents he had given us were fake, how did it feel?

"It was like a punch in the stomach… And I'll never know the truth, 100-percent the truth. And if I worry about that and fester about it, with how busy my life is, I am going to be stuck. So, I had to push it aside, I have to push it behind me. I have great, fond memories of him. We had a great ride. It was a bumpy-ass ride, but it was a great ride. And it's over, it's done, I wish no harm for him, but I don't want him harming me, you know."

Yes, it's done. I understand.

"Don't make me cry… When I love, I love hard. When I am in, I am in...In a normal situation, if you were sick, or your boyfriend or a family member, would you ask them for medical records?"

No.

"No. That is where it started crossing the line and I think that is where he pulled back and said I am not sharing anything with you."

I didn't think you were going to return this season.

"I didn't either. I didn't think I had the strength but, you know, my story wasn't finished. I am not going to end as a victim. I just loved my man.  And I went in knowing that it was going to get a little bumpy, but I have been on this show for 10 years and this is my 11th season. I started at 42 years old, I just turned 54, so I started 12 years ago."

That is a long time…

"I am not going to let these women have the last say in what they believe the truth was. I know my truth and my truth is what I've said—and did I want compassion for him? Absolutely. I wanted them to be compassionate for the man that I loved who they have been targeting. Tamra, especially, for years. So I wanted her to show some compassion with somebody being sick, whether he's got a virus or whether he's got cancer… And I didn't want her coming out saying, 'You folded because we are all right.' They're not all right."

Do you think coming back this season means you have been able to turn things around?

"I think what you will see in this season is that it definitely starts off very awkward, but the best part about this season is that we have a new cast member. She brings a whole lot of opinions and I love her, we have a great relationship…[The new season] starts off very somber and sad and I only know what I filmed, I don't know what the other ladies filmed, but from what I am hearing they were still willing to carry on this Brooks conversation and I was seven months out of there. I don't want to talk about it anymore.

"I have been through counseling, I have been through enough tears, I've done my vision boards. I've done anything I can possibly do to move on. And I even tried to start dating and [at first] it was awkward and weird, but now I am two months into a great, healthy relationship. Life goes on. They were stuck in last season and I wasn't."

Vicki Gunvalson, Tamra Judge, Real Housewives of Orange County

Bravo

Have you forgiven yourself for what happened?

"Ummm…[she pauses]. I learned a lesson. I think God gives us things in our life that are really truly to learn a lesson and some of the things that I take away from my relationship with Brooks is really, for the first time in my relationships, I was all in…We weren't engaged but I really cared for this man… I would question him and he'd come back to me. I learned so much about me: how I can forgive, how I can hold on anger, how I can really just move on—and it took a lot of soul searching. There were mornings where I called in sick to my own office, I was upstairs crying my eyes out like, 'What the hell just happened to my life?'…One year after and we are all healthy and I've got my daughter back, and good things have come from it. And I would have never had her back had I still been with Brooks, and that is the most important thing."

Vicki Gunvalson, Briana Culberson

Rachel Murray/WireImage

How has your relationship with Briana changed?

"We are like sisters, and our relationship is awesome. She actually lives here right now with the babies…I just respect Briana, she is just solid. She is just an awesome daughter… And she really likes my new boyfriend. And they are like really close and it's cool."

I've heard some lovely things about your new boyfriend, Steve Lodge.

"He is an amazing man. He has never watched the show. Can you believe that?"

That is great!

"I put it on my vision board last year that my ideal man would be 6 feet or taller, and would never had known me from TV—and knows me for me, be Christian, and have a family that my daughter would love. All of these amazing things and every single one came true with him! It's odd. I don't know if it's a life-long relationship…"

You deserve it.

Vicki Gunvalson

JB Lacroix/WireImage

"But he deserves me [she laughs]. No—but yeah, I deserve peace…His daughter, and my daughter, we went to Sea World together. We went to Disneyland together…We're doing good family stuff and it feels good."

Are you having a hard time trusting someone again after Brooks?

"Hell, yes [she laughs]. Heck, yes. I am not all in. I am definitely guarded. I don't know if I will ever love the way I loved again. I just feel like…I don't know…"

You will.

"Will I? You promise?"

I promise.

"OK, I'm holding back because I don't want to go in too soon, too fast."

I've heard he does romantic things like send roses to your hotel room.

"He knows he's got to court me in order to get me… I need to know that I am special or that I am thought about and he didn't know that about me, he just did it! In Ireland there were a dozen red roses and I was like, 'Are you for real?' And then I got home and we celebrated a month anniversary and he sent roses to my office and I was like, 'OK, this is nice.' Right?"

[Lodge, meanwhile, is an FBI agent who's running for local office in Anaheim, Calif.] "You know what he does when he walks into a room, he demands attention and it's the oddest thing. And if he walked in right now, you'd be like, There is an FBI agent in the room," and he is not wearing any badges or anything but he looks like an FBI agent all the time."

That's very sexy!

"Very, and he just dresses in a suit impeccably and one of the things on my list was, I want a guy with a suit, you know? [She laughs.] He's good. He's just solid."

Back to the other ladies. How did you repair your relationship with them? It must have felt like everyone was against you!

"They were. The hard part for me was, 'How do I get blamed for something that is dead?' and that's where I got really mad. Like, 'Damn it, this is not my toe to toe. This is not my issue, this is Brook's issue.'  So that is when I started getting mad like, why should I be intimidated, why should I be scared of talking to these women? I didn't do anything. That's like if one of their husbands did something, would I blame them? No!"

Let's talk Tamra.

Tamra Judge

Charles Sykes/Bravo

"Oh, the little girl, my spitfire, my stir-the-spot, stir-the-pot, that is her claim to fame. I am emotionless about it. I mean, you can be friends with Tamra in one minute, and in one hour she can turn on you… She can talk crap about me for years but if I say one thing, she blasts me. So I am OK with it. I am actually quite emotionless about it."

I think when I have been betrayed by a female friend it's almost been more painful than being betrayed by a man.

"It hurt but I expected it from her. So when you are expecting it, it doesn't hurt anymore. Because that is how she wants to be portrayed, as a lasher-outer or whatever people want to call it… She goes after me because I am the OG of the OC so you are going to see the season where we have really great moments and then all of a sudden, she will turn! It's like, 'Where did that come from?' [She laughs] I thought we were good.  I laugh it off now because I think it's funny, it doesn't bother me, it's like, 'Oh, she is going to do that.'"

And yet…

"My emotional tie is with Tamra because we have been through so much together, and I sincerely want the best for her, and I don't know if she sincerely wants the best for me. And that is where I go like this, like, 'Do you really want the best for me? Then don't do x, y, z'…It's an interesting relationship."

How long as it been since your mom died?

"A little over a year."

How are you feeling about her now?

"Oh, it's horrible. When the [ATV] accident happened…I really thought I was going to see my mom. I thought was going to heaven and I was at peace with it. I was in so much pain and I was aware that we were rolling but I was really like, ‘Mom I'm coming home.' Cause my life's been hard the last year and I raised two great kids. And I got two great-grandkids…I'm going to cry…I was at peace with dying. So, I guess it wasn't my time. I need her. You know? I need her. I feel real alone sometimes."

Would you say the past year has been your lowest?

"Yeah…I have images in my head of being upstairs in my bed, drawing the drapes, drawing the blinds, having complete silence for days. Not getting up to eat, nothing, because I was so…I didn't know how I was going to make it. I wanted my friends to be there for me. They didn't understand what I was going through. They thought I was faking something. Well, I never did fake anything. But God pushed me up out of bed, and you know…I prayed about it, I journaled about it. And I was like give me the strength or let me die. One of the two. I can't live in this place of flux and I got the strength and now I'm back, you know? I know I get so emotional about my mom. I try so hard to be strong but I miss her."

I understand.

"I'm so mad at her that she left me and I need her, you know?"

You lost your mom…

"I lost Brooks."

You lost the man you loved, you lost friends…

"Yes, and friendships. I don't know if I can ever forgive them for how they treated me."

For abandoning you?

"It's really hard…so, my relationship now with the new girl, Kelly, is clean and that's what's healthy, having someone who doesn't judge you, [who isn't] saying, 'What did you know about Brooks?' I don't want to talk about Brooks anymore and I'm really attempting to start a good friendship with Kelly and bring her into a really hard group of girls, a really hard group. These are strong women, just like myself…But you attack me, I'll attack you back. I'm going to defend myself. And that's when you hear me screaming and getting chaos on the show because I can't stand people attacking me and lying about me."

What do you think got you out of that lowest point? What was it that made you finally open the curtains?

"I was depressed…In the deepest…deep, deep, deep, deep…"

Were you suicidal?

"I would never take my life but I was at the lowest place I had ever been in my life. Period…I have a girlfriend down in Del Mar, she came and picked me up and she was like, "You are going to snap out of this, this is not your fault, those girls aren't your friends, you did nothing wrong, we believe Brooks, we loved you and Brooks.' She snapped me out of it. I was like, 'You're right!' Why do I have to feel sad for something I didn't do? He did it. He lied to me, and lied to the viewers, and lied to everybody else for whatever reason I don't know, and I will never know why he did what he did. But I believed him and I loved him. That's all I can go to bed with every night.

"I mean, you met him. Did you believe him?"

For our first two-hour interview…yes.

"'Cause he's very charismatic."

Second one, no.

"Too much fumbling?"

There was just something wrong in the second interview. But that's not your fault…

"I'm not getting blamed for it."

No.

"Shame on the women for making me feel like I did something wrong. That's what I'm mad about…[But] it's OK, it's a new year, it's 2016. I got through it, I learned a lot and it's good now."

Does Steve know about that low point? Is he aware of everything?

"I tell him everything…I didn't want to go into a new relationship with any skeletons or any unknowns, so I told him how much I loved him, I told him how much I felt betrayed and how I'm scared… I said, 'If I'm too much for you, just leave right now.' I'm a handful you know?

"He's like, 'I'm not going anywhere. We all have a past.'"

Yolanda has announced she's leaving [The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills].

"I don't blame her. I don't blame her. She's sick. She's got enough money. She's been in the limelight and the limelight hasn't been good to her. They accused her of faking Lyme disease? It's not something you can definitely diagnose…but it's a very debilitating and serious disease. I'm proud that she was able to endure it."

Why do you think you've survived?

"You know why, I think I survived because I've been real. And I don't think about what I'm going to film each season… At the end of the day, I have an insurance business and financial services and that's what I do. I work hard every day, 15-hour days. I don't have a man supporting me. And I think I relate to a lot of women that are single, or widowed, or divorced, or for whatever reason they have to bring in the money in their home. And I think a lot of women relate to me.

Especially through heartbreak. Everybody's been through the end of a relationship.

"I got my heart broken, really bad, and tell me one person in the world that hasn't. Then you haven't loved, you haven't lived."

Don't miss Melanie Bromley's exclusive interview with Vicki Gunvalson tonight on E! News at 7 p.m. & 11 p.m.