Caroline Manzo says she nearly returned for the upcoming 10th season of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, but she turned down an offer from producers who refused to give her a full-time spot on the show.
The mother of three was was one of the original Housewives of the hit Bravo franchise when it premiered in May 2009. Manzo, 57, opened up about the alleged offer and her decision not to come back on an episode of son Albie Manzo’s podcast Dear Albie, posted Tuesday.
According to Caroline, staffers from RHONJ‘s production company Sirens Media had reached out to her about the gig “two, three weeks ago.” While this isn’t the first time Caroline said she’s been approached about a return, this time they had a firm proposal, allegedly telling Caroline they’d want to see how she fit in with current cast members in a part-time role before potentially extending her part into something bigger.
That position, which Bravo designates as a “Friend of a Housewife,” has helped bring other former O.G.’s back to fold, including RHONJ‘s Danielle Staub and Jacqueline Laurita, as well as The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills‘ Camille Grammer. Other alumna have even had a chance to return full-time after being a “Friend of” for a season, including Shereé Whitfield and Porsha Williams (both on the The Real Housewives of Atlanta) and Luann de Lesseps (The Real Housewives of New York City).
But Caroline wasn’t happy. “It’s very insulting,’ she said on Dear Albie. “It just makes me angry that you picked up and call me like I’m a fool. Ten years I’m playing this game, there’s no fool. You are talking to no fool. … I’m nobody’s ‘Friend.’ I’m not ‘Friend of’. I’m not ‘Housewife, maybe.’ I’m Housewife!”
“Pay me what I’m worth; You got an OG here,” Caroline added. “I’m going to be arrogant … it’s just a matter of respect! I was one of the original women who built the show. I’m one of the original women they still talk about. Don’t come back to me like a newbie and I’m going to fall for your bulls— because I’m not. You come back to me and give me a reasonable compensation and a reasonable position where I feel I belong.”
She continued: “They wanted me back to see how I blend with the women — that’s an insult. I helped build that show. I wasn’t the cause of that success, I was part of that puzzle. A very, very important puzzle. You don’t insult me like that by saying, ‘Let’s see how you’re do.’ You know how I’m going to do. You know how I’m going to blend, and you know what I’m going to bring.”
“I helped build this show,” Caroline said. “I don’t want to sound like a bitch, but I supposed I have to. You’re not going to figure me out after five years being able to see, ‘Well gee, does she blend?’ Whether I blend or I don’t blend, I’ll always be Caroline. And that’s something I swore to my family and I swore to my viewers over the years. You’ll always get me. So if me is not good enough for you — or maybe the paycheck is something you didn’t want to write at this point, which is my guess — that’s the bottom line. I’m not thirsty. We live a very happy, comfortable life. We’ve gotten used to being off television. So for you to ask me to come back under those terms, there’s no terms here. So either I come back full-blown Caroline Manzo, Real Housewife of New Jersey and you pay me, or I stay home and I watch you.”
Reps for Sirens Media and Bravo did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, but Caroline stressed on the Albie’s podcast that executive producer Andy Cohen was not at all involved in the discussion.
“Andy never reached out to me, because it has to go up the food chain and it didn’t reach up to that level,” Caroline said. “I did speak to him last year about it and I voiced my concerns, so I guess he figured, ‘Okay, she’s not an option anymore.’ And he’s always got wonderful things to say. Whenever they ask ‘What Housewife you’d like back?’, he always says ‘Caroline Manzo,’ and I respect him and appreciate him for that.”
Albie, 32, said he and the rest of their family — dad Albert Manzo, 59, brother Chris Manzo, 29, and sister Lauren Manzo Scalia, 30 — had all supported the Manzo matriarch’s decision. “The decision from a family standpoint was that she was going to come back,” Albie said.
“I was down to do it,” Caroline said. “I was going to come back, guys. They called me, I did not reach out to them.”
RELATED: RHONJ’s Dina Manzo Says She Hasn’t Spoken to Sister Caroline in 2 Years: ‘We All Changed’
Caroline left RHONJ after season 5, amid a feud with fellow original Housewife Teresa Giudice. When she joined the show, her sister Dina Manzo was also a Housewife, though the two had a falling out behind-the-scenes and haven’t spoken in years.
After walking away from Housewives, Caroline and her family spent three years on their own Bravo spinoff, Manzo’d With Children. The series ended in October 2016.
On Dear Albie, Caroline revealed that she missed parts of RHONJ, but not all of it. “I’m forever grateful for it, of course. But I just didn’t like what it became,” she said. “I wasn’t running from anything — you know me, I’m like a bull in a China shop when I’m presented with something and I feel strongly about it so that’s no fear there. But it’s just not the way I live my life.’
Ultimately, she said if she does return to RHONJ, she would be ready to go up against Staub and Giudice. “I am your truth and they can’t handle that. I am your truth, and that’s their problem,” Caroline said. “So this truth has no problem going back to tell her truth, but you’re going to treat me the way I deserve to be treated. And if you don’t, I live my life happily ever after. There’s no thirst here. My house is paid for. Life is good.”