Fans were shocked by the news that Jeff Lewis and Jenni Pulos have parted ways after a nearly 20-year friendship. And even though she will remain his co-star on season 11 of Flipping Out, within the first few minutes of the premiere, tensions between the pair seemed to be running high.
At the beginning of the episode, Lewis informed his viewers Pulos had been on maternity leave for six months after giving birth to her daughter Georgia Grace. While she was gone, a new employee, Tyler Meyerkorth, stepped in as Lewis’s assistant and worked five to six days a week.
“Really he’s become kind of my right-hand man,” Lewis said in the episode. “The only issue is, Jenni is back.”
Lewis said Pulos would have a more flexible work schedule, only coming in three-and-a-half to four days per week and taking Wednesdays off to be with her kids. (She also shares daughter Alianna, 5, with husband Jonathan Nassos.)
“In a way, it was so insane that she even made it into this world that every time I look at her and every breath and every moment, I want to savor it,” Pulos said of her younger daughter who was conceived through IVF after a difficult pregnancy journey documented on the show.
“I want to be there for it,” Pulos added. “So I will always be torn working and leaving my children. It’s bittersweet.”
In the episode, Pulos tried to get down to business on a car ride with Lewis and Meyerkorth, and remindied Lewis that his windows will be dropped off the following day, only to learn Meyerkorth had already coordinated a delivery.
“Tyler is 2.0 me,” Pulos said in the awkward moment. “And I’m just…not sure.”
Later, Lewis proposed that Meyerkorth become his permanent full-time assistant and Pulos take on a new position in the company—an idea that made Pulos visibly uncomfortable.
When the three went to lunch with one of their regular clients, Heather Madden, Lewis announced that Pulos would be receiving “a promotion.”
“Is there more money with that, then?” Madden asked.
“No, we just give them a nicer title and they’re happy,” Lewis responded.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a promotion,” Lewis said in an on-screen interview. “I think it’s a ‘You’ve been here for a long time. Let’s find a spot for you.'”
However, Pulos told the cameras she would “take it as a promotion.”
“Tyler seems to be doing very well with all the duties of being Jeff’s Girl Friday, if you will,” Pulos added.
Madden, Lewis and Pulos began brainstorming ideas for Pulos’ new title, with suggestions for a marketing job, a managerial role, and an “ambassador” for Jeff Lewis Design.
“What do you call the position of somebody who has to play clean-up after you’ve come in and fired your client?” Madden asked. “That’s what Jenni would be really good at.”
Ultimately, they decided on VIP Client Liaison, a title he unveiled at the mandatory dinner for his staff members at the end of the episode.
WATCH THIS: Flipping Out Star Jeff Lewis Shows Off His Gorgeous Home
Throughout the premiere, Pulos still accompanied Lewis and Meyerkorth to all of their construction sites and seemingly acted as his right-hand woman. When Lewis asked her to come up with awards for the company dinner, she smiled and agreed. The group brainstormed awards for “most likely to get fired” and “most likely to quit,” before Pulos threw out they should hand someone an award for “most likely to never leave.”
“I think you’re kind of a shoe-in for that,” Lewis told Pulos, in a statement that’s now been contradicted by news of the longtime friends’ falling out.
On September 6, PEOPLE exclusively reported that Pulos had parted ways with Jeff Lewis Design and ended their nearly 20-year friendship, according to a source.
Following a huge fight between the two, which will reportedly air during this season of Flipping Out, the pair haven’t spoken at all. “It’s sad,” one source said. “They used to be inseparable but their differences just got too big to overcome.”
Lewis spoke out about the split on his SiriusXM radio show, Jeff Lewis Live, on September 7, alleging that Pulos hasn’t worked at his house flipping company for several seasons, and they had been faking their working relationship while filming the show.
In the same segment, Lewis claims that Pulos had reported him for “abuse and victimization,” to Bravo and Flipping Out’s production company, Authentic Entertainment — charges he says he was cleared of — and later for wrongful termination and creating “a hostile working environment.”
“Her making this claim, it put my entire career in jeopardy. My family, my livelihood, everything,” Lewis said, speculating that his Bravo show would likely be cancelled. “I just lost my job. I’m pretty sure of that.”
(Reps for Bravo and Pulos had no comment, while reps for Authentic Entertainment did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.)
Despite the focus on find Pulos a new role upon her return during the season 11 premiere, Lewis wants to set the record straight that their split didn’t have anything to do with maternity leave.
“She doesn’t work for me seven months out of the year,” he said during the radio show segment. “She’s not employed by me. I don’t pay her. She’s not on my payroll. That is one of the things that is a problem for me because I do try to live my life in an authentic way. Living in fear, reacting out of fear, I was afraid that if she left my office, people wouldn’t watch.”
Flipping Out airs Tuesday nights at 10PM on Bravo.