Following the success of Bravo’s Southern Charm, a reality docuseries chronicling the lives of a group of glamorous southerners in Charleston, the network decided to introduce Southern Charm Savannah. Debuting under the same ‘charm’ umbrella with airtime slotted on the heels of its predecessor, Southern Charm Savannah has so far met with mixed reviews and an underwhelming viewer response. The future of the newly added series remains uncertain. However, as someone who had the opportunity to screen the premiere before it aired, I was disappointed that my friends didn’t react with as much excitement to the drama that played out as I did. I embraced Savannah as an enticing and salacious newcomer to reality TV.
Complaints about the new series ranged from the most vapid (“I like to see richer and fancier people”) to legitimate gripes (“there’s an undertone of racism due to one of the characters,” “Too many of the cast have ‘just returned’ to Savannah so this ‘group of friends’ doesn’t feel authentic as a unit” and the most common: “They’re nothing like the original Southern Charm cast.”). While I feel Bravo made a branding error placing Savannah under the “Southern Charm” franchise, negative viewer sentiments have not deterred me from tuning in to what I personally see as riveting drama.
Luckily, I have also discovered other people who are enjoying the show, including Ronnie Karam and Ben Mandelker of the Watch What Crappens podcast, and my pal Kara Berry who is partnered with me to recap Southern Charm Savannah weekly for The Huffington Post. (Kara Berry also hosts The Berry Good Podcast in which she discusses ABC’s The Bachelorette). For others who are enjoying Southern Charm Savannah, or for those who simply cannot look away, one character has garnered a lot of attention. That woman is the buxom and blonde Ashley Borders, whose captivating features, lined red lips and sex appeal bring “1960s screen siren” to mind.
While viewers have honed in critically on how Ashley, a mom to a 13 year old boy named Izzi, is often in her bathing suit and shows ample leg while dressed, Ashley is a liberal free spirit stifled by the Georgia heat. She likes to go swimming often and also on the show, we see her skateboard around town as she runs errands. She works primarily as a fashion stylist, has film credits to her name and manages multiple gigs with the goal of providing for her family. It is also important to her to give Izzi the travel-filled lifestyle she had as a kid.
“I’m an open book,” says Ashley as she candidly explains how she found the opportunity to do several hours of work per month for Delta airlines. “It’s something I’m able to do between styling assignments,” she relates, “and there was never any secret about this, though some of my cast members seemed to have misunderstood and misconstrued things. It helps me to enrich my life and Izzi’s life with travel.”
When she is styling clients, Ashley explains, they pay her travel expenses. However, when she wants to travel with her only child for pleasure, she now has more of an opportunity to do so because of her work with Delta.
Following is more from my interview with Ashley in which she addresses what her co-stars have said behind her back and explains the group dynamics.
SHW: Before filming, how close were you with your cast mates?
AB: I literally had just met Hannah through Louis (she’s the only one who did not attend Savannah Country Day School and hails from Atlanta) and so you see how we’re trying to get to know one another on the show. The others I had known, but aside from Nelson, they were younger than I was. I knew them but because they were about two grades behind me in school, we didn’t know each other very well. At age 16, I left to go to college. Back in Savannah Country Day school, I wasn’t really a part of the social cliques. I enjoyed traveling a lot with my family and getting my fashion business started as a teen. I think the group as a whole never really knew me well. Also, they never really tried to find out from me who I really am.
SW: One thing that viewers noted is that you’re always down to swim and you’re in a bathing suit a lot. Then came Strip Golf, the game you played with Daniel and Lewis for which you were criticized. Can you address that? Don’t think I didn’t notice the double standard there. You stripped down to what appeared to be a one piece bathing suit and got a lot of flak. The guys participated by taking off their shirts and no one really gave them a hard time.
AB: Growing up, I basically lived in the water and always was getting into the pol. This is not a sexual thing at all because it’s really hot in Savannah and I’m always swimming. People walk around in bathing suits and we get into pools or the water. Also, I wasn’t always comfortable with my body and I’ve come to embrace the imperfections. Unlike what Hannah said in her testimonial, I have NOT had lots of plastic surgery. With my bathing suit or my clothing, it’s just about comfort in a hot climate where I frequently jump in the water. Being in your swimsuit here in Savannah is not a big deal. The context for Strip Golf was totally not evident through what was shown on TV. I wanted to help my good friends at Club One with their drag show and the idea was that whoever lost our golf game would go in drag. I really wanted to show people that Savannah is much more diverse and interesting and that we have lots of different friends. There’s a notion of stuffiness and conservative ideals in the South and I wanted to show that there are people who are open minded. I help dress the drag queens sometimes, so I wanted to get my friends involved in helping them out. The point of the golf game was stepping out of one’s comfort zone. I showed that I was not afraid to do the same. And through this, I was introducing the idea of doing drag which is something that’s out of a straight man’s comfort zone. What was not shown on camera was the full discussion as to how this all correlated to my friends’ show. It translated from the golf club to Club One because Daniel was able to really get into it and he performed in their drag show as “Coupons Galore.”
SHW: Who are you closest to of your cast mates and what has their response been to how you’ve been portrayed on the show?
AB: Nelson and I are cool. We hang out often and are good friends. Daniel and I - I think - are cool too. The big thing is that I don’t have the same schedule as everyone else. I’m very busy with my work which entails a lot of traveling. I have seen everyone after filming and it’s been fine. Viewing the show now is an interesting experience and it’s been eye opening to see what people have said in front of the cameras but never directly to me. I have a few problems with regard to being misunderstood, but I don’t have hard feelings towards anyone at this stage.
SHW: The guys are seen discussing your job as a stylist and being skeptical about your work situation at the end of last episode. What did you make of that?
AB: I’m confused about where this was coming from as well. Hopefully we get chance to talk about it. I’d like to explain that as an entrepreneur with a styling business that includes freelance assignments, no job is beneath me. I have 15 different assignments on a given day, such as to style a client or to be on set to do so at a music video. I actually just returned from a styling assignment in Geneva and I’m talking to you through the jet lag as I’ve just gotten back to Savannah.
SHW: Explain to me a bit more what you do for Delta.
AB: Professionally successful friends of mine took on extra hours working at Delta in order to travel when it’s not for business. This inspired me to do the same. It allows me to travel to different parts of the world with Izzi. Again, traveling to other regions and getting to see how people live outside of Savannah is something that was ingrained in me. Travel was important to my family growing up. So I work with Delta’s Ready Reserve for flight benefits. It is an additional job that provides work in exchange for flight mileage. It’s something I’ve only been doing for a year.
What I get to see is that people from all walks of life do this which is really interesting and fun. There’s even a movie producer who is doing this along with me! I saved thousands last year in plane ticket fare because of this job. Now of course, you see from the guys’ discussion on the show that there’s someone in town who gossiped and said ‘Ashley doesn’t do anything else, this is her job’ in a derogatory manner. It made it look like a negative thing. But I do this in addition to my styling work in order to give my son the life I want to give him. I think it is smart and I feel that no task is ‘below’ anyone. I’ve never been hiding it. Lyle has never even asked me about it, so I was surprised to hear what he was saying at the end of the last episode. We never even had a one on one conversation to this day. If viewers want to verify all that I’ve done, it’s out there on Google and on Linked In and you’ll see what I’ve work hard for. Aside from not thinking any job is below me, I think I’m resourceful because I’ve figured out ways to optimize things and economical ways for extra travel.
SHW: You spoke on camera about your marriage lacking romance and being together with your husband Dennis for Izzi’s sake. How are things at present with you and Dennis?
AB: So viewers will have to tune in and see what happens. Regardless of where we end up, we respect each other and Izzi is our number one priority and that will not change. Whether people are together or not, when you have a child, relationships are tough. I was candid about my marriage on camera so that other women know it’s OK. Other people hide things and this makes them feel lonely and isolated. Acting like everything is perfect and peaches ‘n cream is not entirely relatable or endearing.
SHW: I’ve seen pictures of you with some of the original Southern Charm (Charleston) cast. Are you friendly with them?
AB: I met Shep before we started filming and I met Kathryn once. We actually had dinner together. Besides that, our shows are really two separate entities, but you never know what might happen this season. (Previews show that some of the Charleston crew comes to visit the Savannah cast)
SHW: Getting back to your friendship with Nelson for a moment: It’s no secret that you are quite liberal – I actually loved when you were frank about Donald Trump’s past bad behaviors - and Nelson is quite conservative (and from social media, he appears to be very much pro-Trump). The two of you seem to get along beautifully and have a genuine off-camera connection despite having very different outlooks. How do you make that friendship work?
AB: My political and social opinions, which are quite on the left, are rare here in the South, so I’ve learned to diplomatically deal with everyone’s political views. Nelson and I have political conversations and when I don’t agree with something he believes in, we can have a civilized dialogue because we’ve known each other so long. I’ll speak in a kind way that’s not attacking even if I’m suggesting he think about something differently. He does the same with me. We have a friendship that is real and that means we don’t always have to agree but can respect each other’s political contentions. I will say that it gets fired up sometimes and there have been times when we’ve had to separate ourselves. The reason I like him is that whether I agree or not, he will speak his opinion and what he believes. I’d rather know someone I disagree with than someone who is apathetic, or someone who doesn’t delve into why they believe things. With Nelson, there are no personal insults, just respect and agreeing to disagree.
SHW: It’s been a real pleasure speaking with you Ashley and getting to know more about the person we see on camera.
AB: There’s one thing I want to reiterate for emphasis – a note I’d like to end on - because it’s been bugging me the most. Regarding the hours I put in at Delta, I think it’s quite snobby to look down upon people. I did not like seeing that conversation between the guys at the end of last episode about my work. There have never been any secrets about what I do. I’m also not afraid to do anything and I’m not above or better than anybody. We’re all equal, we just do things differently. When I started working in fashion and film (which I consider to be my career), I swept floors so that I could work my way up - and I did. The hours I do each month for Delta Global Services humble me and help keep me grounded. This type of work also helps me to be a better boss because I’m able to see things from different sides.
Catch Ashley Borders on Southern Charm Savannah, Monday nights at 10/9c on Bravo.