Right from the jump, it was abundantly clear why Bravo had chosen Salt Lake City as the latest dot on its map of Real Housewives installments across the country. Or, rather, why the six women tapped to join Andy Cohen's coterie had made the decision such a no-brainer.
When the first season of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City premiered in November, no time was wasted building up to the dramatics. In the first few episodes we heard about "hospital smell" and "grandpa-f--ker." We met a woman who'd converted to the Mormon faith but also launched a tequila company—two things that, according to LDS doctrine, run antithetical to one another. Then there was the one who'd agreed to marry her step-grandfather in order to inherit her grandmother's church. (Hence the "grandpa-f--ker" taunt.) These ladies came to play.
As the season progressed, things only got more wild, delivering the drama that Bravoholics have come to expect from the beloved franchise. And through it all, an overwhelming fan-favorite has emerged.
We're talking, of course, about Heather Gay.
Throughout the duration of her 13-episode inaugural season, the divorced mother of three has proven that one doesn't need to do the glass throwing or drunken screaming to pull focus and endear herself to viewers. In fact, it's her steady, yet never not humorous, resolve in the face of the theatrics unfolding around her that's positioned her as the season's MVP. Let's break it down, shall we?
It was immediately clear that Heather's personal story was compelling. Here was a woman who'd married into what she described as "Mormon royalty," descendants of Howard Hughes' right-hand man who'd inherited a healthy amount of money from the recluse's estate. But she eventually bristled at the elements of LDS doctrine and history that she found less than palatable. At the time of filming, she was a handful of years removed from a divorce that had clearly been bittersweet for her, releasing her from an unhappy marriage while also making her something of a pariah in the only community she'd ever known.
We met her as a successful businesswoman, having turned her cosmetic medical service spa Beauty Lab + Laser into a thriving, multimillion-dollar company, but still conscious of how her independence is perceived in the conservative Utah enclave and how it might make life difficult for her teenage daughters Ashley, Georgia and Annabelle. We've been party to remarkably healthy conversations between mom and her kids about their new lives and what they all hope to build out from under the shadow of the Mormon church. Watching Heather struggle to balance her pride in having risen like a phoenix from the ashes, as she mourns all she's lost in the process, has been a singularly fascinating and tender experience.
Then there's the role she's played within the group dynamic. As the season-beginning blow-out between Jen Shah and Mary Cosby created a fissure within the cast that would reverberate throughout the entire run, Heather's often served as the de facto audience surrogate—always a good role to fill if you're looking to endear yourself to the fans—willing to call out craziness when she sees it, even if it's good friend Jen who's at fault, while never turning her back on anyone either. As cast sentiment soured on Jen by the time the ladies embarked on their trip to Las Vegas, Heather admitted to the group that she wasn't willing to let Jen's bad behavior overshadow the good qualities she still recognized in her, while still taking the time to level with Jen about the mess she was making of everything.
It was a display of what true friendship ought to be, driven not by naïve, blind loyalty, but a willingness to communicate in the hopes of fostering growth in someone you love dearly. And while it's true that, by season's end, she still found herself at odds with Jen anyway, you can't say Heather didn't try—or that the fault even really lay with her. (Here's hoping these two work out their issues during the three-part reunion special and come back for season two in a better place.)
She's let her emotional maturity shine through in other ways, as well, including her continued refusal to gossip about other people's marriages. When Jen started planting seeds about deeper discord in Meredith Marks' already-rocky romance with husband Seth, Heather told anyone who tried to bring it to her attention that she wanted no part of it, that it was no one's business and that the rumormongering said more about Jen than anything else. A respectful queen with boundaries? We love to see it.
And then, of course, there are just the moments of levity that she's brought at exactly the right time. During Whitney Rose's 1920s prohibition-themed speakeasy party, where Jen lobbed the aforementioned "grandpa-f--ker" in Mary's direction before running out in an alcohol-infused huff, there was Heather, concerned about securing her table's lollipop chicken drumsticks before leaping into action and helping Jen's husband Sharrieff find her in the parking lot, telling him to look out for the "flapper with cankles."
We've watched her spit game as the cast's sole single woman, leaving Jen's Sundance party with an attractive gentleman in a true baller move. On the flip, we've watched her know when to back away from a failed fix-up, as she did after Sharrieff's friend Big Easy monologued at her for a staggering 98 minutes while only sipping on a Shirley Temple. She poked fun at herself with affable charm as the only lone rider during a couples' snowmobiling trip. And in the season finale, she marveled over the word "stanchion" after learning of its existence from her party planners. (For the record, a stanchion is the pole that a velvet rope is attached to to create partitions.)
At every turn, her presence has been nothing short of an absolute delight.
"I know that I'm unfiltered," she told The Salt Lake Tribune in November. "I know that I speak from my heart. And I know that I do things that I regret and cringe after I hear myself say them. So I'm terrified of what I've done to ruin my own life, but I'm also excited to see how this plays out. All I want to do is be liked! This is probably the wrong arena for that, right?"
Perhaps it is, but from where we sit, she's got nothing to worry about.
The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City's three-part reunion special begins Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 10 p.m. on Bravo.
(E! and Bravo are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)