For the last 11 years, Jenni Pulos has been a fixture on reality television, sharing personal heartache and joy on Bravo’s home design show, Flipping Out.
All that changed when, last May, she says Lewis fired her from his company Jeff Lewis Design over an explosive lunch that will air in an upcoming episode.
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“I had no idea it was coming,” says Pulos, 45, who started on the show as Lewis’s assistant and then rose to executive producer of Flipping Out. “I didn’t decide. He decided he was going to terminate me from his business and so then in turn, the decision was made. I always saw myself seeing the show through.”
“It was puzzling to me. He said he wanted me to go and do my thing,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “We see things very differently. I believed I had been an asset to his business and he believed differently, I imagine.”
Pulos says Lewis, 48, floated the idea of appearing on the show in a supporting “friend” role, a proposal she denied. “I was not going to fake a friendship.”
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“After the final disagreement, I decided I was not going to continue a friendship with someone who though of me the way he did,” says Pulos, who remains, for now, an executive producer, though Flipping Out, which is currently airing its eleventh season, has not yet been renewed for a twelfth. Lewis said on his Sirius XM radio show that his contract with Bravo was not renewed before an October 15 deadline. He later clarified, claiming the show has not been canceled.
Pulos was shaken by the incident, and when PEOPLE broke the news of their split months later, even more stunned by Lewis’ public reaction.
Lewis crossed out her face with a red X on social media, and on his radio show, claimed that Pulos hadn’t worked for him for “years” and that their working relationship had been faked for the show. He also alleged that Pulos filed claims of wrongful termination and abuse and victimization against him, which she vehemently denies.
“Citing wrongful termination claim, wrong. Citing abuse claim, wrong. Citing victimization claim, wrong.” says Pulos. And as for their relationship on the show, “it was very real,” she says. “I was his employee and I worked for him. It was very authentic, and that’s important.”
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Still, Pulos, who says she has not spoken to Lewis since the termination, had refrained from hitting back. “My engaging would not have been the right move,” she says. “What good is that going to do? All I know is my own truth.”
When it comes to Lewis, she says, “I’ve always wished him the best, and will continue to wish him the best. He’s a wonderful designer and has so many talents. I learned a lot and I’m proud of what we built.”
Now, the mother of two (she shares daughters Alianna, 5, and Georgia, 17 months, with husband Jonathan Nassos) says she’s staying positive about the future and looking forward to a fresh start.
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“My message to my daughters is to focus not on the disappointment, but on the next triumph,” says Pulos. “Change can be difficult, but I’m embracing it. I am grateful for as far as this journey could take me and just so excited about what lies ahead.”
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