"I was just a lot more vulnerable this year," Naomie tells ET ahead of her return airing on TV. "Normally if I was afraid of something, I would just overcompensate by being condescending or something, but instead I'm like, 'Mmm... I'm kinda scared right now.' So I was a lot more honest about my feelings."
Naomie didn't hold back about her feelings when she exited the Charleston, South Carolina-set show at the end of its sixth season, departing alongside longtime co-stars Cameran Eubanks and Chelsea Meissner. The trio addressed their decision to collectively leave on social media at the time, calling out what they saw as a toxic environment at the time. Naomie specifically name-checked castmate Kathryn Dennis for spreading rumors about Cameran's marriage on camera, comments which kicked off the drama in season 7. Naomie's public shaming of Kathryn boomerangs back to her in the season 8 premiere.
"I definitely wasn't expecting the Kathryn situation," she says. "I didn't think she was going to make such like a big deal about it. So navigating that was really scary."
"Kathryn and I get to a point throughout the season where we're totally cordial," she teases. "I mean, we have to be around each other all the time, so it's way easier to just be like, 'Alright, we're good, we're good. I'm not going to worry about it anymore...' than it is to constantly be told to 'f**k off' at these luncheons, which is what was happening there for a while."
Other than Kathryn, Naomie says her castmates welcomed her with open arms. "I had talked to pretty much everybody before and was like, 'How do you feel? Would you be supportive of this or not?' and everyone was like, 'Hell, yeah! Come back!' So it was really good," she shares.
Naomie notes there was also a comfort level in this crew that wasn't there when she left, with her off-camera friends Leva Bonaparte and Venita Aspen joining the show while she was gone.
"I felt really safe, you know?" she reflects. "I know that Leva will defend me no matter what. Like, I just knew certain dynamics were there and they were a sure thing and we just have each other's backs in such a great way. That's a big part of the reason why I felt so comfortable coming back, too."
Naomie's decision to part ways with Southern Charm wasn't limited to her not loving Kathryn's behavior. She was also in a relationship with Metul Shah at the time, and the two were moving to New York City to pursue his career in medicine.
"I thought leaving when I did was the best thing for my life at that time," she says. "Filming was starting and, like, negotiations and stuff were starting for season 7 when my dad was really sick in the hospital and he ended up passing away I think right around filming time. So, it just wasn't really a priority whatsoever, but I think I would have left regardless of that."
"I thought that my life was going to go this direction," she continues. "I was like, 'Maybe I need to be a more private person, maybe the person that I'm with wants to move from Charleston, and so maybe we won't live here...' It was just a multitude of things, and it just leaves you kind of out there for people to insert their opinions and all this stuff and I just didn't know if I wanted that anymore so."
Cut to the summer of 2021, and just 10 days into living in NYC, Naomie and Metul break up after she discovered he had been cheating on her. She immediately returned home to Charleston, "tail tucked between my legs," to start over. Part of that process has been reflecting on how she got herself into that situation in the first place, with Naomie realizing she changed too many things about herself to become the woman she thought Metul wanted.
"I’m glad I didn't do anything differently back then because I learned so much from it," Naomie says. "I think that now just finding-- or, like, anybody that I would be with moving forward would have to be someone that has a really robust sense of self that doesn't need me to be constantly checking in on them and being like, 'Are you OK with this? Are you good? Is this too much? Am I too much?'"
Once she signed herself back up for the show, Naomie says Leva forced her into watching the season she missed so she'd be up to speed on everything that unfolded with the group in her absence -- though Naomie confesses to fast-forwarding through the cringe-worthy season 7 reunion, which may or may not have contributed to Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez calling off their engagement.
"I kind of skim-watched the first [reunion episode] and was like, 'OK.... I've seen enough,'" she says.
As reports first surfaced that Naomie was rejoining Southern Charm, it was believed she'd serve a background role on the show. But, when the trailer dropped, she was front and center in the action. The premiere episode plays almost like The Naomie Olindo Show.
"I was very surprised," she admits. "I did not expect that. I mean, I know that I filmed a lot, and there was a lot happening, but everything was being shared in real-time and things just kept happening, so we just kept kind of rolling with it and then I think it snowballed into this. But I don't know that the whole season will be like that. We'll see. I have no idea."
Well, it might be; Naomie's not only back, but she's also the narrator of season 8, a role held by Cameran for the show's first six seasons and Naomie's ex-boyfriend, Craig Conover, in season 7.
Fans are eagerly awaiting what Naomie and Craig's dynamic looks like on-screen in this fresh batch of episodes, seeing as their time together on previous seasons of Southern Charm was largely while they were a couple -- or fresh off their breakup. The two hooked up just before season 8 went into production while both were on trips to Las Vegas, but Naomie says that's where their reconciliation began and ended. Craig is not "the one who got away."
"It was just a very short amount of time, where we both were kind of in an in-between phase," she explains of the Vegas moment. "This is somebody that you've known for a really long time, that you trust, that you're comfortable with, and so it was kind of a comfort thing where you know that it's not really gonna pan out, but that's OK, because you trust them and it really wasn’t-- I didn't realize the show was gonna make such a big deal about that."
Craig is now dating Summer House star Paige DeSorbo, who's set to make guest appearances throughout season 8. Of course, the internet instantly pitted the ex, Naomie, against the new girlfriend, Paige. Naomie's quick to shut down any and all feud speculation.
"I really like Paige," she declares. "I think that they're really well suited for each other and there's absolutely no bad blood there. ... We had a lot of conversations throughout this season, too, because it was almost like people kept thinking that Paige and I should fight, and Paige and I should not like each other. I mean I like her a lot. I think she's great. I have no problem whatsoever."
Naomie says she and Craig are also in a friendly place, with the Sewing Down South founder sending out a group text to the cast ahead of their press days to remind everyone that, at the end of the day, the show is entertainment.
"Like, 'Alright, here we go! No matter what happens, had a great time. Sending love to you all and none of this matters and everybody's fine,'" Naomie paraphrases. That messaging, though, hints that maybe not everyone is fine. When pressed, Naomie says Shep Rose probably has the toughest go of everyone in season 8, but qualifies that by saying, "at baseline, everybody's always a little bit worried."
"I'm excited for people to get to see me not tethered to anything or anyone," she offers as a tease. "I was just so free and having an absolute blast and doing whatever I wanted."
"I was really sad when I came back and pretty depressed," she continues, "and kind of working my way out of that and starting to have fun again with the support of my friends, and just living my life was the best thing that I could've done, you know? And so that will play out in real-time. You'll get to see every step of it."
And that includes dipping her toe back into the dating pool. "Like I said, very open," she quips. "I was very open this year."
Southern Charm premieres on Thursday, June 23, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.