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For Sanya Richards-Ross, joining “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” in Season 14 had a clear lesson: "You come for the reads, but you stay for the relationships.”
The 37-year-old is a four-time Olympic gold medalist, track and field star, mother, wife and now, "Real Housewife."
Season 14 of “RHOA,” which premiered in May, stars Kandi Burruss, Marlo Hampton, Kenya Moore, Drew Sidora, Richards-Ross and Shereé Whitfield, and airs every Sunday at 8 p.m. on Bravo with episodes available the next day on Peacock.
After the departure of longtime cast members Porsha Williams and Cynthia Bailey, Richards-Ross joined this season alongside the return of Whitfield and promotion of Hampton to full-time wife, setting the stage for a refreshed look at life in Atlanta.
TODAY sat down with Richards-Ross to hear all about her first season on “RHOA" and all that’s to come.
Richards-Ross was ready to return to reality TV
Richards-Ross' first reality TV experience came on the show “Sanya’s Glam & Gold,” which aired on WeTV in 2013 and followed her life with NFL star Aaron Ross.
Speaking to TODAY, she Richards-Ross said she was always open to returning to TV.
“I always said I would leave the door open if the right opportunity came up. So when the producers reached out to do 'Housewives of Atlanta. I was like, 'Oh my god, like it’s a franchise that I really respect," she said.
Whereas Richards-Ross’ first show was solely based around her family, “RHOA” is centered around an ensemble cast.
Richards-Ross said the biggest difference between the shows is “showing up authentically as yourself while meeting women who have huge personalities."
How the challenge of filming ‘Housewives’ compares to the Olympics
As a four-time Olympic gold medalist, Richards-Ross knows her way around the most fierce competitions in the world. She said the experience of "Housewives" is “difficult in different ways.”
“Training for the Olympics is physically taxing, I’m on the track five days a week, I’m in the weight room. There’s obviously the mental element of the Olympics that’s very hard.
"For 'Housewives,' the tricky part is you’re joining something that’s 14 seasons, a huge juggernaut, a lot of big personalities, and you’re always trying to figure out where you fit, how you should be authentically,” Richards-Ross explained.
Richards-Ross talks the 'Drew' of it all
Richards-Ross was first introduced to the group through Drew Sidora. But in Season 14, the pair's relationship changes. Richards-Ross and Sidora disagree over many things, including if they’re even friends.
Richards-Ross said that before filming, her and Sidora “hung out two or three times." She explained that “it’s a bit of a stretch to say we were friends. She’s a new friend, a very new friend.”
In episode six, Sidora called Richards-Ross a “clout chaser" for only inviting Moore and Burruss — who happen to have the largest Instagram followings of the group — to star in the photoshoot for her business, MommiNation.
For Richards-Ross, the accusation was “heartbreaking.” Richards-Ross explained, “I’ve worked really, really hard to get to where I am, at a level that most people can’t even understand. So it’s not fair for someone like Drew to throw out that kind of claim.”
“I’m at the same table that everyone else is at, so what do I need to clout chase for? It’s disappointing that another Black woman who obviously knows how hard it is to get to certain levels would attach that to me, because that’s so far from who I am,” Richards-Ross said.
Meanwhile, when speaking to TODAY, Sidora suggested that Richards-Ross “take her a** back to the track where she belongs, because I think that’s where she’s heading," alluding to Richards-Ross eventually leaving "RHOA."
Richards-Ross’ response? “Drew would faster be a leading role in a movie than I’d be going back to the track.”
Richards-Ross added that she thinks Sidora is “constantly trying to make everything a sensational moment,” and “isn’t genuinely trying to have real relationships.”
"She’s happy to play the victim and she’s happy for people to think everybody’s picking on her when that’s not the case," Richards-Ross said.
Richards-Ross said seeing Hampton and Moore fight is a 'real struggle'
Longtime sparring partners Hampton and Moore take their drama to new heights this season, with Moore telling TODAY their relationship may be beyond reconciliation.
Richards-Ross said that she “really likes” both Hampton and Moore, but watching them fight became “a real struggle” as filming for season 14 continued.
Richards-Ross said audiences will get a deeper look at the intricacies of the feud as the season goes on, and noted that she can see both ladies “wanting the relationship to work.”
Richards-Ross said, “I really just try to side with whatever I think is right. Throughout the season, there are different times where I feel like Kenya could have acquiesced a bit and came more to Marlo’s side, and I feel that Marlo could put her pride to the side. It’s definitely a seesaw the whole season.”
Richards-Ross can’t wait for people to get to know her parents and family
A huge part of Richards-Ross’ storyline this season is her relationship with her family. Richards-Ross's household consists of nine family members total, including her mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and two nephews.
Richards-Ross said her family realized they all could move in together after the experience of quarantining together. She “loves” that viewers will get to see her multi-generational family dynamic play out on screen, including their “Jamaican culture” and “clashes while living under one roof.”
Her husband and son are on the show, too
Richards-Ross and her husband, Aaron Ross, have been married since 2010. They welcomed their son, Aaron, in 2017.
In the show, viewers will also get to see Richards-Ross and her husband debate having another child, which she said is a “real serious” and “very tough” dialogue between the two.
Richards-Ross finds it “extremely important” to share her relationship struggles on camera, as she hopes it shines a light on “what a millennial marriage” looks like.
Richards-Ross explained, “I think a lot of times women feel a lot of shame around either not wanting to have kids, only wanting to have one or voicing how they feel about how overwhelmed they are with family ... It helps to push along so many vital conversations that people are usually very scared to have or that stay very private.”
Richards-Ross answers rapid-fire questions about season 14 and teases what’s to come
Richards-Ross spills on what you should look out for as season 14 continues.
The "RHOA" cast member who causes the most drama: Hampton
The “RHOA” cast member who has the best storyline: Whitfield
The “RHOA” cast member who wants the best storyline: Sidora
The “RHOA” cast member who has the best confessionals: Moore
The “RHOA” cast member who surprises her the most: Moore
The “RHOA” cast member who has the best fashion: Hampton
The “RHOA” cast member who challenges her the most: Moore
The “RHOA” cast member who throws the best events: Richards-Ross
The “RHOA” cast member who she has the most fun with: Hampton
Her friends in the Bravo-verse: Claudia Jordan (former “RHOA” star), Lisa Barlow (“RHOSLC”), Askale Davis (“RHOP)
Where else you can catch Richards-Ross:"I’m still at NBC as a commentator for the Track World Championships, which are at the end of July. I’m a Nike brand ambassador, you’ll see my work with iFit on the show soon, and MommiNation is my blog platform that has been growing. It really is my passion project. I love what we’re doing there and building this resource to really support black moms all over the world. I have a lot on my calendar!” Richards-Ross said.
On what to expect for the rest of season 14: “It’s really just getting started, especially for me, as a newbie on the show. You’ll get to see me starting to build stronger relationships with the ladies that bring about really fun moments but bring some tricky moments, where you start to feel very close to someone and then something happens and you’re like, ‘Wait, is this going in the direction I thought?’”
She added, “This season gets stronger and stronger. It feels very nostalgic of seasons in the past where I feel like we’re really trying to support each other and be friends. A lot happens along the way but I think it’s I think it’s going to end in a great place. We end in Jamaica. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.”