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If there’s one cast member who really popped in the first episode of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” — from throwing a beyond-extravagant party to feuding right off the bat with another cast member — it’s Jen Shah.
“She is electricity,” said Heather Gay, her fellow “Housewife” and longtime friend, in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. “She is charismatic. She is funny. She is sharp. She is volatile. She is passionate. She is crazy. And I love people like that. They’re terrifying, but they’re the most fun.”
She’s also the first Polynesian in the main cast of any of Bravo’s 10 “Housewives” shows, dating back to the premiere of “Orange County” in March 2006.
“That’s why I’m so excited. I’m the first Polynesian housewife!” she said in an interview with The Tribune. “I told Sharrieff [her husband] if it wasn’t for the coronavirus, we’d be throwing a luau for the whole state of Utah.”
Episode 2 of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” airs Wednesday on Bravo — 8 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV; 11 p.m. on Comcast.
Sharrieff Shah is a former University of Utah football player who’s now an assistant coach for the Utes. “He was all in from the beginning,” Jen said. “He was, like, ‘I’m doing this because I’m supporting you.’”
She signed on to “Real Housewives” hoping to have fun, she said, and because producers were looking for women who run their own businesses in Utah. “That was really the determining factor for me to get involved,” Jen said, “because I felt like I needed to represent that we do have successful minority businesswomen here in Utah.”
She describes herself as a workaholic — she’s the CEO of three marketing companies, with offices in Salt Lake City and New York. And she said she had to learn to be upfront and direct to succeed in business, dating back to when she got a job at Franklin Covey right after graduating from the U.
“Back then, you didn’t see a lot of female executives working outside the home. So it was a new thing, I’m sure, for all of these men that I worked with,” Shah said. “And I had to work really, really hard to show them that I deserve a seat at the table. I didn’t have any other choice.”
That experience gave her the skills she needed “to be able to go walk into any boardroom and not be intimidated,” she said.
She and her husband are the parents of two sons — Sharrieff Jr. and Omar — and she hopes “RHOSLC” viewers get to see her “soft side.” They definitely see her interact with them, and they humor her at times.
“My family keeps me humble, because they act like — ‘Yeah, this is no big deal,’” she said. Although Sharrieff Jr. told her he was worried that “Real Housewives” would affect his odds of being accepted into medical school.
“I was, like, 'What are you talking about? What do you mean? No! This isn’t ‘Girls Gone Wild,’ this is ‘Real Housewives’!” Jen said.
And — who knows? — maybe the show will help her husband and the Utes.
“There might be some moms of some prospective five-star players out there who watch the show,” Jen said with a laugh. “I might be the determining factor to bring them to the University of Utah. You never know.”
She’s extreme, which is the sort of thing that makes for good “Housewives” material. Producers intentionally cast women with big personalities who go in for big events.
“It’s like our lives just fit into this,” Jen said. “I love throwing parties. Whenever I do anything, it’s over the top.
“ ... This is us. Coach Shah is not going to put on any show or front for anything. It’s like our life just fit into this,” Jen said. “I told my husband the other day, ‘Honey, this is a return on investment on all the shopping I’ve done. I can wear all my clothes.’”
Still, one of the reasons she’s glad that the U. football team has been able to return to practice is that her husband isn’t home to see everything she buys online get delivered.
“He’s been saying, ‘Oh, my gosh. If we get one more box shipped here today!’ Usually, he’s gone with football and not here to see them. So I’m glad they have a season and he’s not home to see the UPS delivery every day.”
She said that, long before the show premiered, people would ask her sons what it was like in their family “‘because your mom is so over-the-top and extra with things.’ And they’re, like, ‘That’s just how she is. This is just normal to us.’ They don’t know any different. They’re used to it.”
Jen owns her own excesses and is not in the least bit shy about sharing her opinions. She’s the first to admit that she can get mad fast, but adds that she cools off just as quickly.
“I’m definitely very passionate,” she said. "Being Tongan and Polynesian, we’re just a passionate people. We love very hard and we fight for things very hard. And things can upset us. I can go from zero to 100, and then I’m, like, ‘OK, love you.’
“Some of the girls [in the cast] probably weren’t used to that type of personality. In my culture, we’re used to that, and you just kiss, hug, move on, and you’re good.”
Certainly, she and Mary Cosby are rubbing each other the wrong way. It stems from “OdorGate” — which is slightly complicated. Jen had been visiting her aunt (who had to have both legs amputated) in a hospital, then met up with Mary. When Jen hugged Mary, Mary said she had to struggle not to vomit because of the “hospital smell” on Jen — and, according to Jen, Mary made unsympathetic comments that crossed the line into rude.
The feud escalated, Jen said, because Mary refused to acknowledge, let alone apologize for, offending Jen. “That’s all I wanted!” Jen said. “Just say you’re sorry, because it was very hurtful what she said about my aunt. I just wanted her to say ‘Sorry,’ so we can move forward.
“ ... I am the type of person who gets along with everybody — until there’s a reason not to. And it’s usually if you’re disrespectful to my family. Or something with my business.”
Jen said she thinks her fellow “Salt Lake” cast members need to watch the other “Real Housewives” series if they want to see real drama.
“I mean, I’m not going to pull anybody’s weave off or anything like that,” she said. “I watched the [‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’] reunion and I’m laughing and thinking, ‘Wow! These girls in Utah need to watch an episode of “Atlanta” and then I’m going to be like nothing compared to that. I’m a walk in the park.’”