As the women of Real Housewives of Atlanta neared the strip club Crazy Horse 3, they were eager to party after a traffic-delayed drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. But not everyone was in agreement about the plans for their girl’s trip. “I don’t want to go to a strip club,” Porsha Williams said in the limo, already en route to the club, in her inaugural season of the show in 2012. “Kordell would not be okay with that.” Williams was referring to former NFL star Kordell Stewart, whom she recently married on WE TV’s Platinum Weddings. She kissed the girls goodnight and returned to her hotel.
Ten years ago, the world was introduced to Williams as a bright-eyed newlywed, hesitant to ruffle anyone’s feathers. At 31, she was the youngest cast member of the season with a charming knack for getting facts really wrong. She thought, among other things, that a year was 265 days, and that the Underground Railroad was an actual train (despite her grandfather being Hosea Williams, a civil rights leader in Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle). Her sometimes cringey naivete sustained both her fresh-faced appeal and her cast mates’ fear that she might be easily manipulated.
The day after the strip club visit, Kandi Burruss, a former Xscape singer, asked what everyone wanted to know: Did Williams leave on her own will or because of her husband?
According to Burruss, Stewart didn’t want Williams’ friendship with the women to interrupt her “wife duties.” The cast was already worried that Stewart was controlling and Williams’ answer only stirred up more concern. She characterized him as “traditional” and was proud that he “let [her]” on the trip. In a confessional, NeNe Leakes observed, “When I watch Kordell and Porsha, I can tell you that Porsha has dreams, but she’s married to somebody who has a different dream. I kind of feel like Porsha is trying to fight for her independence.”
Williams ended up getting that independence in a shocking turn when she found out on Twitter that Stewart filed to divorce her in 2013. By the time she returned to the franchise in Season 6, she was finally ready to unravel the half-truths she’d spent a season crafting, namely that her picture-perfect marriage was a sham. It wasn’t until after their divorce deposition that viewers—and her cast mates—got a more robust picture of what Williams said she was experiencing at home. Williams claimed that she would be locked out if she wasn’t home at a certain time, had to ask for grocery money, and was unable to have friends or family over. “I was living a lie,” she said in Season 6. “I definitely wanted people to see my marriage as a completely different picture than what was happening. Kordell was a whole nother person behind closed doors.”
After her divorce, Williams remade herself too, transforming from a demure wife shy of strippers to an impassioned drama queen accused of sleeping with Bolo, a dancer who was hired for Cynthia Bailey’s bachelorette party last season. It almost felt like a recasting of her character. Early on, Williams thinly veiled herself in morality, often citing Christianity for her decisions. Now with Porsha’s Family Matters, a new Bravo spinoff, and a scandalous engagement to 55-year-old entrepreneur Simon Guobadia—who was married to RHOA guest star Falynn Guobadia last season—Williams’ evolution seems a lot more thorny.
In the wake of ABC's Desperate Housewives, Bravo changed the perception of a “housewife,” touting women much saucier than the wives living on Wisteria Lane. By the time the network expanded to Atlanta in 2008, Bravo’s first Housewives franchise with a majority Black cast was a departure from the stereotypes endorsed by its competitors. VH1’s Flavor of Love and Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club promoted a dramatization of “angry Black women” whose claim to fame was often contingent upon instigation. RHOA, which also received criticism for its showdowns, was not reality television’s antidote, but it did show affluent Black women in a way that had been relegated to white women. Cast members like NeNe Leakes and Kandi Burruss became household names, and Williams, despite her tumultuous trajectory on the series, made herself into the show’s next big personality, embodying what Housewives is all about: women controlling their narrative.
Porsha’s Family Matters feels like troubleshooting for Williams’ surprising Mother’s Day-post-turned-engagement-reveal, in which she placed her new emerald-cut diamond on Guobadia’s chest. The last time we’d seen the two together, Guobadia was married to Falynn whom we met (along with Simon) when Williams went to their house for a pool party last season. The public didn’t know they were dating, let alone engaged.
As much as Williams’ tenure has been characterized by maturation, it’s also been marred by drama. After a heated debate with Kenya Moore during the Season 6 reunion, Williams lost her temper and physically dragged Moore across the floor by her hair. The brawl cost Williams her coveted peach, a symbol denoted by the franchise to display status, and by the next season she was demoted from a co-star to a guest star. Bravo’s Andy Cohen claimed that the change in status wasn’t a result of her altercation and instead was a reflection of her storyline. “It had nothing to do with anything that happened at the reunion last season,” Cohen said on Watch What Happens Live. “Really, it was about the amount of story we got from Porsha this season. We went into it assuming she would be a full housewife, holding a peach. We just haven’t gotten enough to merit that.”
By Season 8, Williams returned as a regular, but she seemed to chase even more drama. She got into another fight, this time with Bailey during a yacht excursion on Lake Lanier, and she spent the next few seasons trying to undo her violent reputation. Her friendship with Phaedra Parks (the two affectionately called themselves “Frick and Frack”) gave her an ally among the group, but it also put her in the crux of defamatory rumors of sexual misconduct against Burruss. In Season 9, Williams accused Burruss and her husband Todd Tucker of attempting to drug her for sexual coercion. After tracing down the source of the accusation, it was revealed during the reunion that the rumor was fueled by Parks. It was a rock-bottom moment for Williams on RHOA, and after Parks’ termination from the show, Williams’ storylines focused on her engagement to entrepreneur Dennis McKinley, giving birth to their daughter, and unfortunately, his infidelity.
In the last decade, Williams documented her journey in love and loss as a newlywed, a divorceé, a single woman, and a fianceé. Beyond her ever-changing relationship status was a woman who was finding her voice and having fun doing it. She traded in her Stepford wife persona for a more seductive image, all while actively protesting the injustices following Breonna Taylor’s death, breaking out of every box she had once been placed in.
The women of Atlanta are best known for their GIF-worthy rejoinders, so it was a fair assumption to think we would learn the truth about Williams and Guobadia in season 14—until Williams announced that she would not be returning to the show. “After ten life-changing years, it is finally time to begin my next chapter,” she wrote on Instagram. A month later, the network announced Porsha’s Family Matters, a limited series spinoff (similar to opportunities given to other RHOA alum like Kim Zolciak, Burruss, and Leakes) which would ostensibly follow Williams and Guobadia as they build their new life together. But Porsha’s Family Matters doesn’t reveal much, except that her inner circle seemed just as blindsided about her relationship with Guobadia as the public.
The best part of Porsha’s Family Matters is that it largely functions like a who dunnit, using the perspectives of the cast—not just Williams and Guobadia—to contextualize the chaos playing out in their lives. Together, the couple claimed that they started dating during the tail end of Guobadia’s divorce. Williams said they got engaged after a month of dating (while McKinley and her sister Lauren said it was two weeks), they “[g]ot engaged on Thursday, and Simon and I thought that the judge was going to stamp and finalize [the divorce] that Friday.” McKinley, who after cheating on Williams, felt the need to weight in on the situation: “This man is married and got engaged to another woman at the same time.”
For fans who waited to learn the details of Williams’ new life with Guobadia, Porsha’s Family Matters does not scratch that itch beyond its pilot. The season is centered around a family vacation where Williams and her sister attempt to blend her family together “in the name of healing,” despite coming to blows at a dinner on the trip. The viewer is belabored with a few episodes about Williams’ refusal to return McKinley’s Versace robe. Even the series’ biggest tension is trivialized: Guobadia shows Williams that his divorce is final and the two share a kiss. It’s such an anti-climatic moment that you almost forgot you’ve waited nearly an entire season for the update. Did fans wait idly in anticipation or is this bait-and-switch another way Williams is controlling her story?
It’s a whiplash-inducing watch. Days after her show premiered, Williams told Tamron Hall that she didn’t have a wedding date yet, but was enjoying being courted by Guobadia. Hall called her bluff, speculating that Williams was withholding information. There is a bit of skepticism that comes with watching Williams, a woman whose most memorable line (“Who said that?) resulted from one of her most damaging lies toward Burruss. Williams has received redemption before and can now consider Porsha’s Family Matters as a settled debt with the network. Her engagement to Guobadia eclipsed what RHOA, and its dwindling viewership, could now do for Williams. Suddenly, the woman who didn’t “merit” enough for a peach had the whole orchard.
Kristin Corry is a senior staff writer at VICE.