Ciara Miller left Summer House on friendly terms with Luke Gulbranson. Whether they're friends remains a bit of a question, though.
"I would say we're more friendly [than friend]," she admits to ET over video chat. "He's a good guy, we're just not supposed to be together. But I'm not saying that he's not a good guy. I think he's f**king hilarious, and we do get along and we have a lot of great things in common. It's just strictly platonic."
It's something Ciara, a registered nurse who worked on the frontlines against COVID-19, knew going into filming season 5 of Bravo's sleeper hit -- and something Luke seemingly learned over the course of shooting the episodes. Ciara joined the cast of the show as a friend of Luke's, and he was the only housemate she knew ahead of moving in for six weeks of non-stop cohabitating.
"Besides this being my first experience ever living with people, I don't even know what I could have expected," she says of the whole experience. "I definitely got a handful."
"As far as me and Luke, it's like, we had been there, done that," she explains. "There was definitely more that he had anticipated than I think I did. But I was down to just be friends, but then I got to the house, and then it turns out there was a triangle and it was a confusing triangle."
That triangle is/was between Ciara, Luke and Hannah Berner, who had a flirt-mance of sorts with Luke the summer before. According to Hannah, she and Luke never defined their relationship, but they also never ended it, creating confusing tension the second Luke stepped through the door with Ciara in tow. Ciara and Hannah unexpectedly bonded pretty immediately, with some viewers questioning whether Hannah quickly manipulated Ciara to be "against" Luke.
"I think it's crazy," Ciara says of that theory. "I think people are also forgetting that I've been dealing with Luke for two years prior to us coming to the house, so wouldn't that infer that I know Luke and I have dealt with his shenanigans prior to us coming to the house? So, if anything -- I don't think I was manipulated, just maybe my experiences were just reassured."
"I wasn't manipulated, because I feel like that is also inferring that I'm dumb and that I can't see things for myself," she adds. "No. The reality is that I've known Luke for two years prior to this, we've had our ups and downs, as well, and it confirmed that I think we were better off just friends and not having anything romantically. It doesn't ever work."
Ciara and Hannah compared notes on Luke, learning they had similar experiences with the hockey coach/model: a loose romantic entanglement that seemed to never reach an official conclusion.
"I had been burned," she shares. "Me and Luke, we had a one time, we had a second time, and then the whole love triangle, whatever you want to call it, was just the third time where I'm like, I'm actually OK. I want to be your friend, but I also need to distance myself, too, because I don't want you to get the wrong idea."
There was a bit of a learning curve for Luke when it came to Ciara’s newly created boundaries (including no texting her after 9 p.m.), but Ciara says the whole experience helped to finally set things straight for the pair, as well as for Hannah and Luke.
Hannah found herself at the center of drama after drama this season, and that continues in the final batch of season 5 episodes, after her boyfriend (turned fiancé) Des Bishop temporarily moves into the house.
"Some of the fights that she was having with people, I feel like it was from previous summers that went unresolved," Ciara surmises. "And it's like, with me, this is my first summer coming in. So, I honestly don't have the same beef with people that everyone else has in the house, because I haven't been there. So... I don't know. She just seems to catch a lot of flack no matter what she does. I guess we'll see. She didn't spend enough time with us when Des was here … it was kind of, she couldn't win, honestly."
Lindsay Hubbard and Danielle Olivera’s significant others, Stephen Traversie and Robert Sieber, also join.
"It became a love house," Ciara jokes. "I was like, OK… and we went from so many singles to couples! I was like, should I be here? Should I leave? I was like, is this a setup? Like, are me and Luke really supposed to be hooking up? No, I'm kidding. Honestly, it was great having different energy in the house. Des is hilarious. Robert was super cool and he could cook. I never turn down food."
Next up for the group is an in-person reunion, set to shoot this week in New York City.
"I'm definitely a little nervous for it," Ciara confesses. "I just want to lay the whole ‘Ciara was being manipulated by Hannah’ thing to rest, because I wasn't manipulated. I just saw the proof in the pudding and acted on it. So that might be the only thing that I put to rest at the reunion."
"I feel like if we could just straighten out some of these issues, we would have so much f**king fun," she adds of where the cast goes from here. "Of course, I'm totally down to do it again. This group is a lot of fun. I don't know whether some people will return or not or where some people stand. Or relationships, if they're too damaged to go back. But I hope that everyone comes back."
Ciara's already signed herself up for more Bravo fun, having recently wrapped production on Winter House, a Summer House spinoff series shot in Stowe, Vermont. Ciara, some of her Summer House friends -- Luke, Lindsay, Kyle Cooke, Amanda Batula and Paige DeSorbo -- and Southern Charm's Austen Kroll and Craig Conover moved into a ski chalet for what Ciara calls a "f**king crazy" experience.
"I'm actually fearful," she admits. "I'm scared of everything those cameras captured. But it's going to be a good time."
Internet detectives kept a close eye on the cast’s social media before, during and after filming (Bravo has yet to confirm the series), picking up on what appeared to be a close bond between Ciara and Austen. Some speculated that the two were secretly dating, but Ciara is quick to shut down those rumors.
"No, we're not dating," she declares. "I thought it was funny, but I'm not mad at it. He's cute."
Strangers becoming invested in her personal life is still new territory for Ciara. It’s the part of the reality TV experience to which she’s not sure she’ll ever get acclimated.
"It's so hard," she says. "It's so hard, but it's fun. I feel like I met so many amazing people, and some of the relationships that I've formed with these people in the house, I feel like we will be friends for a very long time. I hope forever, however long that is. And I am honestly really thankful for it, I am. But it is hard, because it's like, now I'm having people weigh in on my life and weigh in on me, and they don't even know me. They don't know my personality. They are questioning everything about me and it's tough."
"It's a battle not to deal with the cyber bullying and stuff," she adds. "But you take the good and the bad, take it with a grain of salt. And at the end of the day, I surround myself with people who truly know me and love me, and that's all I could ask for."
Getting vulnerable in front of cameras is also a challenge. Ciara broke into tears while discussing her strained relationship with her father on a recent episode. The two didn’t speak for a four-year stretch after Ciara’s dad got remarried to a woman whom Ciara did not like.
"I don't even know if he's even seen it, honestly," she shares. "I know that he didn't want to be a part of it at all, or a part of the show. So it's a tough subject because I'm like, do I bring it up and we see each other? Or do we keep coasting, like we've been doing? That's a tough one to navigate. That relationship, it's bruised, it's really bruised. But I don't think my dad realizes to the extent that it is."
Ciara says she "would love" for her father to watch the episode and realize the depth of the hurt that’s there, but she doesn’t have high hopes for any forward movement.
"I just feel like there's so much damage and there's so much that needs to be addressed that I don't really expect for him to ever see it from my perspective, unfortunately," she says, getting emotional. "I've built this tough skin to just deal with it and just be like, this is the reality that I'm dealing with. We might never see eye to eye on some of the situations that have gone on in our relationship, and I just have to accept that and forgive him on my part and move past it."
"I love my dad dearly," she adds. "I love my parents. I think they did a great job with the resources that they had and the knowledge that they had. And it's just getting him to see that I am an adult now and I do have these opinions and this outlook, and all I want you to do is just listen to me and love me."
Ciara does have her mom in her corner. She calls her "one of my biggest supporters."
"When I told her about [the show], she was like, ‘I think you should do it,’ when I was super on the fence," she reveals. "So she's been so supportive and she's been trying not to read comments, as well, but she's very excited for me and very excited about the whole thing. She just wants to support me in any way that she can."
And yes, Ciara’s mom supports her even when she airs her dirty laundry -- literally -- on TV. In nearly every episode of season 5, there’s a shot of Ciara’s bed covered in clothes and a variety of other items from her room.
"My mom's like, she knows," Ciara cracks. "She was like, 'That's Ciara. That's why we had to hire a cleaning person…' My mom used to tear me apart for my room. I get it. I totally get it. But I swear by a cleaning person -- it sounds bratty or pretentious or whatever, but yeah -- it's not like I'm nasty, like I have plates and cups."
"I feel like I brought so much stuff -- not as much stuff as Paige -- but I had very few hangers," she goes on to explain. "My dresser in the room didn't have actual drawers. So it was, like, I guess I could have just shoved everything in this thing, but it was a sliding one, so everything would’ve fallen out. It just became a battle that I was like, f**k it. It's going to go on the bed and I don't care."
Summer House airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.