First introduced as a friend of NeNe Leakes, Tanya quickly saw her place in the group shift as she simultaneously connected with cast member Eva Marcille and saw her friendship with NeNe implode right in front of her eyes.
Tanya Sam recently stopped by our office for a sit-down interview with AOL’s Gibson Johns to discuss her first season on the highly-rated Bravo hit, where things went astray with NeNe, why she’s okay with not showing her professional life on the show and whether or not she would do the whole thing again (spoiler alert: she’s “sure” she’ll be back “in some capacity.”)
I will first say that the experience has been incredible. You go into this and people tell you what to expect, but until you really live it, you have no idea. Now that the show’s aired and we’ve gone through it, I look back and see how much fun it was. I had a really good time. One of the biggest pluses to come out of all of this is that I’m just in love with the fans of this show. They are so hardcore, and those that love you, love you, and the ones that don’t, don’t. The community of people who have embraced me and are fine with my quirky personality has been really wonderful.
This was sort of addressed on the reunion, but I’m not sure it was ever truly answered: Can you explain the shift that happened between you being described as “NeNe Leakes’ friend” and “Eva’s friend” this season?
This is one of those questions that I find really hard, because Atlanta is a small place and people always ask me how I got on this show. You have so many different circles of influence, so I had known Michael Sterling before I ever met Eva. We’re in technology, so I didn’t spend much time hanging out with Kandi or the music scene, but we were always at the same type of events. I went shopping at NeNe’s boutique and I happened to meet her there and she was like, “Hey, girl, your car is fabulous and bigger than mine, you should think of being on the show.” So, she planted that bird and it’s really about the rest of Bravo creating the other things. It wasn’t really under my control. We’re all grown women on this show and doing whatever we’re doing in our own right and it’s not like someone made me do this show at 40 years of age. That’s something we didn’t really get into at reunion because it’s always about, “Why are you here?”
Yeah, but I’ve always been very particular about that part because it’s like, I’ve been moving and shaking and building my career for a long time within my own right. The funny part about going from NeNe’s friend to Eva’s friend is that it felt really true in real life. We went on that girls’ trip where we had that competition, and it all started with the high/low sunglasses. I was genuinely being like, “Shout out to Swagg Boutique!” I wasn’t trying to put any more meaning to that, but I felt like I got persecuted the rest of that trip and wanted to get out of there.
Using your Hibachi room to invite the rest of the cast on your and Eva’s trip to Japan was so fun. Talk to me about your involvement in the planning of that trip for Eva’s bachelorette party and how it did or didn’t go according to plan.
That was really fun, because that was where Eva and I started hanging out. Our personalities are similar and the Canadian and California mix is very natural. We just started hanging out and at that time, two things had happened where the girls were on her about being shady and I realized that I had offended Nene. It was the perfect time for a girls’ trip and making it about her bachelorette, so I offered to plan it. I love to entertain and I thought it would be fun. I hadn’t been to Tokyo, but I had traveled around the world and it was so much fun. We got to do a lot of really fun stuff.
There was some major tension with NeNe on that trip, too. Where did things turned with her, do you think? Was that even in your control?
Destin was one thing, and when I went back and looked at that there were a lot of things said: That I was shallow, ignorant, small-minded. I had to let that go, and a lot of how I looked at it throughout the season is that this woman was going through something so great with her family. She would say these things and I would just let it roll off my back and remind myself to empathize with the position that she was in. Fans were like, “Why aren’t you standing up for yourself?” Maybe that was on me, but I didn’t feel like it was that deep. We came full circle at reunion and I was able to voice all that. But I don’t know where to pinpoint it.
Tokyo was really rough, and there were a couple days there where I was like, “I’m outta here.” Part of what happened in Tokyo was… I look at my friendships that, if you say something to hurt my feelings, you have to be open to me telling you why it hurt my feelings. There has to be that give and take, and I just don’t feel like I got that. After the season aired, we watch it along with you guys, so you kind of relive it a little bit and notice that we just weren’t talking as much.
Were there any things that you found out about while watching? What’s it like watching the whole season back?
For most of the season, it felt very true to self. Everyone always ask if you get misrepresented, but everything that comes out of your mouth actually came out of your mouth. The one thing is watching the reunion back, because it’s really long and intense and you often don’t hear what people say because you’re far away. There was stuff in the reunion about pulling a peach from your vajayjay that I was shocked about, because I didn’t hear it. [Laughs] That was the first time I wished I had heard stuff or wish I had a do-over.
Not really, and I’ll tell you why: This was such a great endeavor to venture on and it wasn’t really on my roadmap of things I wanted to do, but when the opportunity came up … you know that book by Shonda Rhimes, “The Year of Yes”? It’s about saying yes to everything. It was like, “YOLO! Let’s do this.” I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to juggle everything. It’s kind of like the plate spinner: I work full-time, I work in startups and technology, I help others build their businesses, etc. I was like, “I can’t really slip on that stuff.” But this was a good introduction.
A lot of people have wondered why Marlo hasn’t been promoted to a full Housewife after all these years, but the response is usually that she doesn’t want to show every aspect of her life on the show. That’s a demanding requirement of being a Real Housewife.
They’re literally in your bedroom! Like, I’m going through IVF right now, and we actually came to Columbia [University] to see a specialist here, and they could be in the ultrasound room and you have to be open to sharing things like that.
I didn’t know that you were going through IVF right now. What has your IVF journey been like? What are you comfortable sharing?
We have been doing this on and off for about two and a half years. We love our work and traveling, so we wanted to have babies a little bit later, but we figured we should be smart about it and store some embryos, and that’s what we’re doing IVF for. It involves taking needles — sometimes 5 in the morning, 5 at night — for a two-week cycle. You’re doing all these ultrasounds and watching your eggs grow in ovaries like grapes. I’ve done that several times, and I have one embryo but need more. It’s a lot of work. I like sharing that, and it’s one of those things people only sort of talk about. If someone told me when I was 30 to bank my eggs so I wouldn’t have to think about this at 40, then maybe I would’ve done it.
It’s kind of like Kandi being so open about turning to surrogacy to have more children: It’s refreshing to see both of you talking about these things publicly, so that they can become even more normalized.
That’s such a great example, because so many celebrities used to quietly do it, but now they’re talking about it because there are so many possibilities for so many people. Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade, Kim and Kanye… it’s not weird to do it. If you want a child, you have to do things to get there.
You’re from Canada, and I think that comes out not just in your voice but also in your disposition: You have a different outlook than a lot of these ladies. How do you view that in comparison to the other women?
When I first started hanging out with the girls in group settings, people were unsure what to make of me. They were like, “She’s bubbly!” And I was confused for a valley girl, which is a term we don’t even have in Canada. I like to laugh, and I think bubbly is better than b–chy any day, so it doesn’t really bother me. Go ahead and call me a breath of fresh air!
Totally. I liked it. So many people really identified with that and would write me these nice notes. Showing people another character on this show that kind of epitomized Atlanta and black women has been really great for the franchise and representation is key.
“Real Housewives” gets a bad rep a lot of the time, with critics saying that it doesn’t paint women in a positive light, but Roxane Gay argued the opposite during her recent appearance on “WWHL,” and she defended the show by saying that it shows a different side of affluent, aspirational, complicated women of color who run their own businesses. Did you think about how the show is perceived going into it?
I definitely did, but that was more other people’s opinions that they were putting on me, but that drove me to do it more. People were like, “Are you worried?” I was never worried about how I was going to conduct myself, because I’m just me. I knew I wasn’t going to snatch someone’s wig off, but I really started to be welcoming of the idea of putting some different characters in the mix. I do come from a different background, and that platform is so big. Atlanta is such a great place to live and it has such a deep history of being a progressive city for African-Americans, where you’ve got people who run Fortune 1000 companies and longtime CEOs and it’s so diverse, which I don’t think gets touched on a lot on the show. Let’s show more of that!
Come back next season, you mean? Yeah. It’s still early, and we haven’t started filming yet. I’m sure I’ll be back in some capacity. We haven’t made any announcements. Bravo hasn’t told us anything, so it’s mum’s the word on that. I’m definitely open to it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.