On Saturday afternoon, in the sweltering heat of a backyard in Southampton, Jill Zarin was hosting what appeared to be her own Real Housewives: Ultimate Girls Trip.
If you’re a Bravoholic who follows the spinoff franchise and the gossip about it in what the stars themselves obliquely refer to as “the blogs,” that might be surprising news. The former—and O.G.—Real Housewives of New York City star was a member of 2021’s Ex-Wives Club season of the series. It was a short-lived return to Bravo, as her negotiations to appear in a Legacy season of RHONY derailed plans for the show entirely. Now, Legacy will air as its own season of UGT—pointedly without Zarin.
Lucky for a few hundred Southamptonites, Zarin created her own RHUGT: the Jill Zarin Luxury Lunch, an annual event that raises funds in honor and memory of Zarin’s beloved late husband, Bobby Zarin. With more than a dash of see and be seen, Housewives from several different franchises attended. Zarin runs with a fabulous circle of people, after all.
It was an auspicious time to be speaking with Bravolebs and with Zarin, specifically. Whether or not reality stars deserve to unionize was a hot-button issue over the weekend. (We spoke with the Housewives about that debate; in the week since, several unnamed stars participated in a letter accusing NBC and Bravo of exploitation.) And Zarin had just had a newsworthy summit with former frenemy Bethenny Frankel, talking through their 15 years of complicated history on Frankel’s Re-Wives podcast.
It was fortunate, in other words, to be around stars who are practiced in “mentioning it all,” given how much news there was to discuss at Zarin’s event. First, though, I had to get there.
“I do find a pirate in the end…”
After being counseled by every possible weather app to limit outdoor time due to unsafe temperatures, I arrived in Southampton to the entirely outdoor event. And by outdoor, I mean, outdoor. Zarin’s team has historically chosen the hottest week of the summer to host the lunch, late July, because nothing says luxury quite like desperately trying not to pass out.
After checking in at the press table, I asked to use a restroom and was directed toward two nearby port-a-potties. Or mobile restrooms? A little Housewives spin. An attendee joined me in line and introduced herself as Jill’s “Aunt Cookie,” asking about my relationship with Jill, like we were at a family reunion. I immediately flashed back to an earlier season of RHONY, when Jill held a photoshoot with her equally spirited mother and sister in advance of their book, Secrets of a Jewish Mother. I was home.
And at that moment, the doors to the port-a-potty opened, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Zarin appeared, trailed by a member of her glam. She was cinched into a floral appointed a-line gown, her hair pulled back into a chignon, looking every inch the Housewife host. “Aunt Cookie!” she exclaimed. I briefly said hello to Zarin, before we traded places, minus the glam. Little did I know this would be the last time I would successfully get her attention until the end of the event.
While guests at least had the benefit of a large tent to schvitz under, the press line was positioned in direct sunlight with no assistance to protect against the elements, aside from some bottled water being handed out (a blazing and unrelenting heat, much like Tamra Judge’s return to The Real Housewives of Orange County). Without direction from the powers that be (Jesus? Hanukkah Harry?) I found myself wrangling interviews as Bravolebs arrived.
The first person I spoke to was Real Housewives of New Jersey star Margaret Josephs. It was Josephs’ first time to Zarin’s luxury lunch, as filming commitments precluded her from attending in previous years. (God bless a hiatus!)
“I’m happy that I’m here, that I could spend some time in the Hamptons,” Josephs said. “Jill is so supportive of charity, and women in general.” Josephs mentioned that her mocktail line Soirée was one of the event sponsors, “which I’d love you to try.” So would I, Marg. Is there a flavor called “Inside”? Does it come with ice?
Josephs said that even with—and perhaps due to—difficult moments, Housewives is a sisterhood, a sentiment echoed by many others. “I really feel like it’s a big sorority. And I think that’s so important. And Jill is like that. She calls, she shares information. And I think I’m very much like that. Because we’re all in this together. Right?”
Who needs an arsenal when you have great friends!
At one point a group of Bravolebs stood next to me and posed for a group photo before a small throng of photographers and iPhones. I held Josephs’ can of Soireé so that she could join, and dreamed of being pushed into a cool body of water, a la Danielle Staub’s ex. Real Housewives of Atlanta star Cynthia Bailey posed for a selfie with Leeanne Locken from Real Housewives of Dallas, whom Bailey later tagged on Instagram as someone else.
As Housewives scattered, I expanded my search.
I found de Lesseps inside the tent, seated at a high top near the event’s flower wall. A photo line location I didn’t know existed, likely because it came with shade. We chatted as she fanned herself.
I asked de Lesseps about the experience of filming Legacy as a Girls Trip. “It was trippy, because we actually were in the same house [as their prior RHONY St. Barths vacation].” No you weren’t, I gasped. “Yeah, [from] years ago,” she said. “There’s no pirates [this time]. Well, I do find a pirate in the end,” she said with a smile. “But it was fun. It was really fun to be with the O.G.s, to have a good time. Of course, you know, we broke down the fourth wall. And we talked about things that you get a different perspective on. There’s always some drama, of course. And it wouldn’t be a Girls Trip without it.” She said the experience felt like a real girls’ trip, something that wasn’t filmed (heaven forbid). It was “fun and not dark or anything like that.” (…Heaven forbid.)
I asked if Legacy would return in a more permanent iteration. “I don’t know the answer to that,” she said with a laugh.
Kristen Taekman was a surprise addition to the RHUGT: RHONY cast (one some believe happened as a result of Zarin’s absence). I congratulated Taekman on her return to Bravo in the Peacock era. I asked what it was like to film after several years away. “It’s like riding a bike. I feel good about it. You know, everything happens for a reason. I will find out what that is.” I cackled.
I asked if this trip had a Scary Island theme, as Bravo fans have hoped. Taekman said that while she’s seen many episodes of Housewives, she’s only seen clips of the most well-known trip in Housewives history. I responded with Johan face, and she told me to send her a link. She felt RHUGT was a cross between Scary Island and the original St. Barths.
“It was a crazy reunion for [the original RHONY],” Taekman said. “I watched the St. Barths episode, because production told me to. You’ll see why,” she said smiling, as I marked the premiere date in what was left of my curdled brain.
The next topic to unpack? Ramona Singer, of course! After battling on RHONY, how did they get along on Girls Trip? Taekman referenced a recent Singer stinger, when Ramona told Page Six that she didn’t know who Taekman was. Taekman said they had a New Beginning shortly thereafter (Singer’s specialty, including the short). “We talked, she called me, and we totally ironed it out. So we were like, great. She called me to apologize. And so I feel good about that. Because we went in on an even playing field.”
Something tells me Singer is going to have thoughts about equality. As she always does.
“Time heals all wounds…”
I continued my search for Zarin, and found her on another side of the tent, surrounded by attendees. She asked one guest for their phone number, and said she would help another with a challenge of some sort. I introduced myself again, and Zarin said she would speak to me in just one moment, which led to several moments more than one. I felt the effects of heat stroke kicking in, and hoped to stay alive long enough to ask her about Legacy. At one point, she took my hand and held it as she continued talking to people, seemingly to keep track. Having my own Jewish mom, it felt like when I was dragged to shul. This was a high holy day, indeed.
Finally, I was able to successfully pull Zarin away, and directed her to a small pocket of shade near the tent. While Zarin didn’t want to discuss Frankel’s recently-announced plans to unionize reality TV, she was happy to discuss their recent sit-down. Zarin mentioned that one of the reasons Bethenny finally agreed to talk was due to having control of the environment and content.
“I think a lot of reality stars, actors, everybody, are seeing the opportunity with the future of media, that they can go direct,” Zarin said.
I expressed shock that the reunion finally occurred. Zarin had a sage response: “Time heals all wounds. Sometimes it takes a long time.”
I asked Zarin if she felt that this was an airing of feelings and healing of wounds that might also, at long last, lead to a rekindled relationship. “I always hope that,” Zarin said. “I do.”
I asked Zarin if she would consider returning to Bravo. “100 percent not,” she said. I mentioned the possibility of future Ultimate Girls Trips.
“You know, I should never say never,” Zarin said, moments after saying never. “But I just don’t see it. I know that. If they wanted me on the show, they would have made me a fair offer. And even Andy [Cohen] said to me, ‘sit tight,’ you know, like he’s working on it. Because he also thought that it wasn’t a fair offer. He knew what it was. And he didn’t think it was a fair offer. And he told me to ‘sit tight’ and I sat tight and nothing happened. And that was it. And I moved on.”
Zarin noticed her boyfriend Gary Brody, and invited him to join. He said she needed to take pictures with Jill & Ally branded pickleball paddles. A high-level pickleball team owner was in attendance. Nevertheless, I persisted. What if the network came to her with a fair offer, I asked. “I think the door is closed now,” Zarin replied. I asked if not being invited on the Legacy trip was a punitive response to her negotiations for the original spinoff. “100 percent,” Zarin said. “Let me ask you a question. They invited me to do Legacy, and I said I wouldn’t do it for those reasons. And then they went and did it as an Ultimate Girls Trip and didn’t invite me back for no other reason than, what?”
Brody tried again to end the interview. People were leaving, he said. Harnessing my own inner Zarin Fabric, I held on. I told Zarin there was something incredibly unfortunate about a woman being punished for knowing her worth. She mouthed her thanks.
After they left to pose with pickleball paddles, I thought of what Zarin said about her late husband earlier in our chat. She mentioned finding signs from the universe that Bobby was still present. “It’s like a kinehora, and I know it’s Bobby,” she said, referencing a Yiddish term to keep away the evil eye/knock on wood, a definition I absolutely Googled because I’m Reform. “I take it as long as I can get it. You hope that you do things right in the world. And, you know, you can give back. I want to keep Bobby’s memory alive,” Zarin continued. “It’s hard to keep people’s memories alive, because life goes on. And people, when they pass, they tell you they want life to go on.”
At this point I was drenched in sweat (a RHONJ pool of its own making). I considered the legacy of Jill. She is the ideal reality TV personality: equal parts controlled and vulnerable, emotional and commanding, able to self sabotage and advise. Today was her girls’ trip, but with greater meaning. She clearly understood the value of inviting Housewives to drive attention to the event, one created and continued in Bobby’s memory. No matter her future with Bravo, her life, and his memory, is forever entwined.
Meanwhile, I realized there was no working internet, and an event employee said hotspots were unavailable. I missed a return bus as my phone and body flailed. Near tears, and feeling truly lightheaded from that godforsaken press line, I frantically texted a friend back in Manhattan, who ordered me an Uber. And I had my own Ultimate Girls Trip on the LIRR.