“All I can say is, please be easy on me,” she asks of the audience. “Have some grace and mercy.”
The now-sophomore star of the Bravo hit sat down with ET at Uptown Social in her adopted hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, to preview the journey ahead, which largely focuses on a revelation that rocks the show’s friend group: that Taylor hooked up with Austen Kroll, buddy of her (recent) ex-boyfriend, Shep Rose, and the ex-flame of Taylor’s “best friend,” Olivia Flowers. While rumblings surface within Taylor’s social circle as soon as the premiere episode, it’ll be a slow burn throughout the season to figure out the truth of the… state of affairs.
“It’s going to be really tough, it really is,” she says of watching it all back. “Everybody makes mistakes. I feel like Hannah Montana, but seriously: we’re human. I’m not perfect. I think that after the breakup, I was just a very broken and hurt person and hurt people hurt people, so there’s a lot of that going on.”
“There is just a multitude of different situations, how I handled things, how I handled myself,” she rattles off when looking back at the twists and turns of last winter. “I mean, I felt like I was reliving reunion all over again, where I would just black out and I would go, ‘What did I do? What did I say? Why did I say that?’”
Taylor unleashed on Shep at the season 8 reunion, which the pair filmed in the wake of their decision to split after two years together, confronting him over his infidelities during their time as a couple. There’s more to unpack on that front this year, too, as Shep reacts to the news of Taylor’s supposed betrayal with Austen.
“I really have a hard time believing that he was emotionally rattled, just seeing how he handled our entire relationship,” she scoffs. “I have a really hard time seeing him have any emotion when it comes to us and what our relationship meant, because I know what it meant to me and it meant everything, and when it all came to an end, I felt as though he just was like, ‘Welp, that was a fun run, good to see you, buddy! Onto the next one…’ and so, I didn’t really think it would matter to him, especially considering he had been cheating during our entire relationship.”
Taylor says it was partially the shock of how Shep handled himself after their separation that led her to Austen, who got more emotional than Shep over the split at reunion. His protective nature seemed to briefly blur the line between friendship and something more for Taylor, leading to the hot-topic hookup.
“You know, it was just a moment of feeling comfortable, vulnerable and a sense of love that you maybe got confused with, because you are so close to this person,” she explains, going on to clarify that they never crossed over into anything more than friends.
“I always love and respect and have an adoration for Austen but, no, no love interest,” she says. That leads into the game of semantics that plays out within the group, as Taylor swears on her own life that she never “hooked up” with her co-star.
“You know, people say, ‘What does the term ‘hookup’ mean?’” she teases. “When I say, ‘I swear on my life, I didn’t hook up with Austen,’ in my definition, I didn’t.”
When the dalliance first started circulating within the group, Taylor struggled with how to handle the situation, leading to “lies” called out by her co-stars.
“I would absolutely handle things differently,” she confesses. “I had so many up-and-down moments of just wanting to lay everything out on the table and come clean about all of it, but I held back because I was trying to protect, I guess, myself and Austen and the situation, knowing that what was at hand wasn’t anything. So, I didn’t feel the need to, like, expand upon everything, but as the rumor mill kept turning, I was like, ‘I think that we need to lay it all out there’ … but Austen beat me to the punch.”
Taylor avoiding confirming the truth, then Austen apparently exposing it for the group, stung hardest for Olivia, as it was a double-edged deception: her ex and her bestie hiding something from her. The two fell out over the ordeal.
“If you test somebody’s trust or friendship’s trust– I’m such a forgiving person, where I go, ‘If this happened one time I can forgive and forget, let’s move forward,’” she reflects, “and I think that’s what Olivia and I have going on here. So, that doorway is still open — it’s not shut forever — and I can only hope that we’ll continue to throw it wide, back open at some point, but we’ll just have to revisit that some other time.”
“We have this special bond, getting to know her when she moved to Charleston was really sweet and special, especially having the four of us, myself, Shep, she and Austen, all hanging out,” she adds. “It was really special, so I hope to rebuild that to some extent. I don’t know if it will ever be the same. I know that I can get there, but it’s just kinda surface right now, or tabled, and will resurface at reunion.”
“It’s wild to even think about that all happening after I just experienced it with Olivia,” Taylor says, “and having never lost a person who is super, super close to me, so of course Olivia has been incredible in reaching out to me and, you know, on that level of our friendship where it’s, like, this weird, horrible club to be a part of, but there we are, we’re together in it.”
“You will get to see a little bit of my brother [on the season] and just know that he is, like, the most awesome, fun-loving, easygoing, caring human being and I’m excited that people get to see that, experience that,” she adds.
That said, Taylor’s not exactly looking forward to reliving one of the tougher season’s in her life, literally. That includes Whitney Sudler-Smith’s claim that she sent him a nude photo at some point. Taylor promises there’s much to be revealed on that front, too. His description of the pic may not exactly be accurate, but she did send him an image.
“It was a very drunken night, I knew what Shep and Whitney had been up to the past few months, galavanting around Charleston, trying to pick up girls and so, I did that to get under Shep’s skin,” she confesses, “and that was very childish of me.”
“I am owning it,” she continues. “I’m not proud, but it was definitely a jab.”
Then, there’s the speculation she and Shep rekindled their romance, maybe just for a night on a group getaway.
“We have not dipped into any kind of relationship,” she declares. “You’ll see what happens, but there’s just a level of comfortability I think that everybody kinda goes through that little aspect after a breakup… it felt right, I knew it was wrong, but it was comfortable, it was easy.”
Amid all this, a new suitor emerges for Taylor: new castmember Jarrett Thomas, aka JT. He’s also rumored to be the first person to bring up the Taylor-Austen hookup story. Taylor’s waiting to see if that’s true, and reveals she friend-zoned the guy, who seems to be a bit of a powder keg. The trailer for the season sees him confront both Shep and Austen, the latter turning physical.
“He is just, like, this really fun, funny, easygoing guy that will have you peeling over in laughter,” Taylor says of the newbie. “I’m the type of person that, I love to laugh, so anytime that JT’s around, I know that it’s gonna be a good time and good laughter. Does he want to fight everybody? Both, probably true, he does. We’ve even got into our arguments and had our disagreements, but yeah, you’ll kind of see our friendship unfold. It’s a definite friendship.”
“The conversation that JT and I have had is, we are friends and that is where we want to be,” she continues, “and like, I love and enjoy you, and I enjoy your company, and I know you feel the same way, but what I do does not concern you. So if you are going to continue to bring things up, you got to stop.”
There is someone special in Taylor’s life these days, though she’s keeping his identity sort-of under wraps for now, save for some cheeky selfies shared to social media.
“I mean, it’s insanity, and when your life is projected out to the world for everybody to weigh in on it, you feel like you’re trying to get out, you’re trying to take a breath, but you’re just drowning,” Taylor says of figuring out life in the public eye. “I just, you know, I kept on trying to, like, fix it in ways that I thought would best work and, reality is, I probably should’ve just gotten a therapist and started fresh.”
“I really think that this time around I will learn my lesson,” she laughs.