The untold truth of Vicki Gunvalson

When you think of The Real Housewives of Orange County, original cast member and resident firecracker Vicki Gunvalson probably comes to mind. She has been at the reins of the Bravo TV reality series since its 2006 debut — thanks, in part, to her high-strung personality, tumultuous love life (ahem, Brooks Ayers), and never-ending love for whooping it up. Woo Hoo! RHOC does a very good job at chronicling the insurance-selling guru's extravagant lifestyle behind the gates of the exclusive community of Coto de Caza, but this mom of two announced that she was moving into a new phase of her life after getting engaged to beau Steve Lodge in an April 2019 Instagram post. 

While her walk down the aisle will hopefully be televised, RHOC fans are well aware that there's much more to the tequila-loving Illinois native's life than the camera lenses can capture. Gunvalson went from being in an alleged abusive marriage to becoming one of the top sales agents in the insurance industry. And that's just one small portion of her dynamic life story. Here's the untold truth of Vicki Gunvalson.

Vicki Gunvalson was a beauty school drop-out

After Vicki Gunvalson graduated from Fremd High School in 1980, she enrolled at Harper College in Palatine, Ill. (via the Daily Herald). However, she eventually decided college just wasn't her thing after a year-and-a-half of studying, dropped out, and tried her hand at attending beauty school instead. "I started working out of my house, doing perms and cuts in my garage," she told the media outlet. However, it turned out obtaining the perfect blowout and teasing hair into stylish bouffants wasn't really her passion either. "I didn't like being on my feet all day, and I think you need to have a creative mind," Gunvalson explained. "I'm more of a numbers and sales person … the whole beauty industry didn't fit for me."

After leaving her days as a beautician-in-training behind, the future reality TV star understandably wanted to do something that would fuel her actual passions. Gunvalson started her career in insurance and financial services in 1991, according to her company's website, and she never looked back! Not bad for a college drop-out, right?

A death in the family inspired her career

Vicki Gunvalson grew up in Illinois and was one of five children to her subcontractor father and her housewife mom. Sadly, her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at the age of 59. While Gunvalson told Think Advisor in 2015 that he should've lived to "to 85 or 90," based on the disease's life expectancy, he unfortunately passed away at the age of 67. "He was robbed," she said. "And it was hard on us emotionally and financially."

Indeed, it was her parents' lack of long-term insurance that actually sparked Gunvalson's desire to join the insurance industry. After she and her sister began chatting "about their parents' retirement problems," they both realized it was something that was lacking on a larger scale. Gunvalson explained to Think Advisor, "[My sister and I are] both really passionate about wanting to help people and educate them that what happened to my family could just as easily happen to them."

Gunvalson allegedly suffered abuse at the hands of a 'loser'

When she was 21, Vicki Gunvalson married Michael Wolfsmith Sr., before welcoming two children together: Michael Wolfsmith Jr. and Briana Wolfsmith Culberson. However, Gunvalson later told Radar Online her now-ex "was an alcoholic. He abused me verbally. He had many affairs during our marriage." The reality TV star previously opened up about the ordeal in her official Bravo TV blog, revealing that she went through several months of counseling before deciding to end the marriage. "When the counselor said, 'I believe if you have the 3 A's in your marriage — Addiction, Adultery and Abuse — it's OK to get divorced,'" she wrote. "When I realized I had all three, it was the green light to file for divorce."

Gunvalson left her ex-husband in 1992, and as of the 2014 aforementioned Radar Online article, she and her children have maintained a strained relationship with him. "I don't talk to him," Michael Jr. told the publication. "He's a loser. He hasn't been a part of our lives for years."

Vicki Gunvalson's work sometimes gets in the way

Catch an episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County and, chances are, you'll see Vicki Gunvalson working hard for the money. For many years, the television personality was the only housewife who held down a job, according to her 2010 interview with the Daily Herald. As the president and founder of COTO Insurance & Financial Services, the bubbly blonde beaut has been providing retirement planning, as well as health and life insurance services, for nearly three decades.

Running a $15 million dollar annuity business means Gunvalson is, of course, super busy — so much so that she once admitted that her hectic work schedule has sometimes caused her to lack in certain areas of her life. In particular, this famous businesswoman often forgoes sleep for the sake of her job, which also caused strain on her second marriage to then-husband, Donn Gunvalson (but more on this below). "God gives us 24 hours in a day," Vicki Gunvalson told Haute Living in 2010. "When I get up there to see him I'm going to tell him I needed 36 to 40. I push so much into one day because I feel lost if I don't." 

She can thank her son for her reality TV career

It turns out that Gunvalson's reality television career would be non-existent if it weren't for her son, Michael Wolfsmith Jr. "My son saw a little ad in a newspaper that they were casting for college kids coming home from college that lived in a privileged area," the TV star told the Los Angeles Times 2010. At the time, she was on vacation in Mexico with then-husband Donn Gunvalson, so Wolfsmith took it upon himself to submit a "two-page letter" to the show's creator, Scott Dunlap. 

Since Wolfsmith was "off at college at that time," the show began conversing with Gunvalson and former RHOC star Lauri Waring, who had been employed by keg stand connoisseur. When The Real Housewives of Orange County got picked up for its first season, Gunvalson was completely shocked. "We never knew that it would air," she admitted. "We just kind of played around with it the first season. I didn't even put makeup on."

Did RHOC ruin the Gunvalsons' marriage?

After Vicki Gunvalson married Donn Gunvalson in 1994, he proudly stood by her side when The Real Housewives of Orange County debuted in 2006. However, it wasn't long before their relationship began to unravel and Vicki told her then-husband her love tank was "empty" (via People). While they were able to work through their relationship struggles and even renewed their vows in a 2009 episode of RHOC, their marital woes were just way too much for Vicki to handle. According to TMZ, she filed for divorce the following October.

Months after pulling the plug on her marriage, Vicki ultimately blamed the series for ruining her love life, telling CNN, "Six years ago when Donn and I started, we didn't have 90 percent of the problems that we have now and I truly believe it is the show. We had a good foundation." Between filming RHOC and running her business, there simply weren't enough hours left in the day for Vicki to dedicate to Donn: "If I didn't have the show I would have had more time for him. That's the reality."

She isn't the only RHOC star whose marriage ended while filming. Tamra Judge (pictured, left), Shannon Beador (pictured, center), and a bevy of other Bravo castmates also saw their relationships implode on camera, according E! News. So, maybe there's some truth behind Gunvalson's statement after all?

Vicki Gunvalson was a pro-bono housewife

Sure, she may be motivated to work extremely hard and bring in oodles of cash as the breadwinner of her family, but money wasn't even the motivating factor when Vicki Gunvalson agreed to appear on The Real Housewives of Orange County.

In 2015, she was crowned the third most successful saleswoman in her industry, according to Think Advisor. And thank goodness for that gig, because for the first few years as a cast member on RHOC, she didn't even get paid! Yup, people actually sign up to get glasses of red wine thrown on them without receiving any compensation. Fascinating. On the bright side, Gunvalson eventually (and finally) made some money moves in terms of her television career. Per Radar Online, her paycheck in 2017 was a reported $750,000 for that season. Not to mention, her insurance business is apparently also booming, with Gunvalson opening a new COTO Financial outpost that same year.

She's never going under the knife again (so she says)

Some celebrities play coy about their plastic surgery procedures, but Vicki Gunvalson isn't one of them. In addition to "a fat transfer to her face, a nose job and a chin implant" back in 2013, according to Entertainment Tonight, the Bravo TV cameras were on hand to film the recovery process after Gunvalson received a lower face lift in 2018. Following that final tweak, Gunvalson promised her boo, Steve Lodge, she was "done" with plastic surgery. But was she being honest?

Her fans held her to that promise, so you can imagine the level of outrage that ensued in March 2019 when Gunvalson was accused of going under the knife again. For her part, Gunvalson later shared a snapshot of herself recovering in a hospital room and insisted she had undergone "another NON ELECTIVE procedure" in the caption. In other words, the RHOC star wanted to make it clear that she did not break her oath to refrain from visiting her plastic surgeon, though not many people believed her.

Even if she had, it's her business. But since Lodge himself was so adamant about Gunvalson staying away from the scalpel, we doubt he would've posed by her bedside with a huge smile and a thumbs up if she'd ignored his wishes, right? Either way, get well soon, Vic'!

Is the 'nightmare' of filming RHOC finally over?

No matter which Real Housewives franchise you're a fan of, you've surely noticed the confessionals. These interview clips are shown in between scenes of the weekly episode to provide prospective and commentary about all the juicy gossip and catfights. They're an added element that viewers love, but as outsiders, we're not aware of just how much time goes into filming those talking heads.

While sharing some insight into the matter with Glamour in 2013, Vicki Gunvalson revealed that she's often given a "thick stack of questions, type-written in small font" and asked for her thoughts on certain scenes and scenarios, which she described as "a nightmare." She added, "You wear the same outfit all year long. You get three looks [total]. But for three months, you have to wear the exact same outfit, same hair, same makeup. You can never cut your hair in the middle of it because you're supposed to look the same."

Six years later, Us Weekly speculated that Gunvalson might have been demoted in Season 14 of RHOC from full-time cast member to a friend of the housewives — so the so-called "nightmare" of filming those lengthy confessional might finally be over. Would Bravo really cut back on the queen of the OC's screen time? We'll just have to watch what happens!