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Woo-hoo! Vicki Gunvalson has a new man on ‘Housewives’

Palatine native Vicki Gunvalsis only original cast member left.

Palatine native Vicki Gunvalson is the only original cast member left.

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8 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays on BravoVicki Gunvalson will do a book signing at the grand opening of Snap Fitness, 840 N. Illinois 83 in Mundelein from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 11.

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Updated: March 4, 2012 8:12AM

Returning for its seventh season on Tuesday, “The Real Housewives of Orange County” is the matriarch of Bravo’s hit franchise.

The reality TV show that chronicles the domestic dramas of the (kinda) rich and (wannabe) famous has spawned a half-dozen similar series from New York to Beverly Hills.

But only one of “Orange County’s” original cast members has been there from the start: Palatine native Vicki Gunvalson.

While many high-heeled housewives have come and gone, Vicki survived. As the 2.56 million viewers of last season know, her longtime marriage to Donn did not.

“I never would have guessed it — that our marriage wouldn’t make it — when we started this seven years ago,” said Vicki, who’s in the final stages of divorcing her husband of 18 years.

The two first met while working together at Wickes Lumber in Vernon Hills.

“He got a job with Home Depot, and they moved us out here [to California],” she said. “We had no intentions of being on a TV show. It just sort of happened.”

Vicki doesn’t blame the show for her divorce, but she admits it played a role in the demise of her marriage. The pressure and time commitment that went along with filming a reality TV show — coupled with her propensity to spend long hours at work selling insurance — drove the pair apart.

“This season, I’m in a much better place,” said the mother of two, who turns 50 this month. “I’m becoming the person I feel like I was always meant to be.”

This season also features a new housewife, Heather Dubrow, the only brunette in the bunch. (Good luck, Heather. Dark-haired ladies typically don’t last long on the “O.C.” See: Jo, Tammy, Quinn, Lynne, Jeana.)

One thing that hasn’t changed this season: Housewife Alexis Bellino still seems thoroughly overwhelmed by White People Problems.

As for Vicki, she said viewers can expect to see fewer tears and more of her trademark “woo-hoos!” You’ll also see a new man in her life, Brooks Ayers from Tupelo, Miss., who has Vicki’s love tank on full again.

“I’m totally, madly in love with him,” she said.

Vicki’s new relationship has fueled some friction with the other housewives, namely Gretchen Rossi. Gretchen took a lot of heat from the ladies last year about her boyfriend, Slade, allegedly not paying enough child support.

“I just feel like [Vicki] was being a hypocrite,” Gretchen said. “The man she started dating had a similar situation as Slade.”

Gretchen “kind of lost it” this season when Vicki implied that Gretchen doesn’t know what it’s like to have a sick child.

“Slade’s son … has been sick for multiple years, and I just thought she was really out of line,” Gretchen said. “That’s really where you kind of see me kind of blow my gasket with her.”

Slade’s son’s battle with cancer inspired Gretchen to write a new song called “Unbreakable.” The burgeoning musician heads to Las Vegas this season to perform live with the Pussycat Dolls.

While Gretchen and Vicki continue to go at it like Elton and Madonna, Gretchen finally has buried the hatchet with her nemesis, Tamra Barney.

“I saw myself last season on camera, and I was just a very bitter, angry, resentful person,” said Gretchen, explaining why she wanted to make nice with Tamra. “I just kind of woke up one day and realized that’s not who I am.”

Tamra, whose marriage also disintegrated before viewers’ eyes, continues to adjust to life without a husband — or breast implants.

“It’s definitely challenging,” Tamra said, referring to her decision to have the latter removed. “Your body changes when you, you know, change from larger breasts to smaller. Now I feel like I have a big butt.”

That seems like the kind of conversation you’d hear a lot of in image-conscious Southern California, where Vicki still feels like she doesn’t quite belong even though it’s been her home since she left the Midwest at age 32.

“When I see what goes on here sometimes I think, ‘They wouldn’t do that in Chicago,’ ” Vicki said.

Here’s what else they (Bravo) wouldn’t do: “The Real Housewives of Chicago.” The network toyed with the idea a couple of years ago but dropped it. Rumors were the Windy City’s socialites were just too bor-ing.

Vicki balks at that notion.

“No matter where you put cameras, there’s going to be drama,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter what state you’re in. I think we’ve proven it with this franchise.”

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