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June 28, 2018 03:26 PM

Few reality TV personalities have crashed onto the scene like Ashley JacobsSouthern Charm star Thomas Ravenel‘s girlfriend.

This season, she declared war on Kathryn Dennis — the mother of his two children — and completely melted down on a group vacation to Hilton Head. Plus, Andy Cohen teased her “intensely dramatic” sit-down at the reunion, which the California native filmed in Ravenel’s absence. (The ex-politician skipped the taping as South Carolina police investigate allegations of sexual assault levied against him.)

But when the cast first met Jacobs, she wasn’t yet this season’s lightning rod — she was simply their friend’s new love interest, and she made a favorable first impression, Austen Kroll says.

Kroll, 31, was introduced to Jacobs at a dinner when she first moved to Charleston last summer to be with Ravenel.

Ashley Jacobs/Instagram

“She was looking very healthy and beautiful, like strikingly beautiful,” Kroll tells PEOPLE of Jacobs, who has admitted to dropping “a lot of weight” due to anxiety and stress.

RELATED VIDEO: ‘Southern Charm’s’ Kathryn Dennis Says She’s ‘Completely Moved on From the Past’ & Describes Her Ideal Man

“I was like, ‘Thomas has done it again; of course he’s found a woman who’s 20 years his junior.’ And she was an extrovert, very talkative, and when I left I remember being like, ‘All right, well this is a wild one for Thomas, but of course she is,’ and that’s kind of what I thought,” Kroll adds. “I had no idea that she was going to turn so self-righteous so quickly, and that’s kind of what it was. It was like she thought that we should be vying for her friendship and not the other way around. I was like, ‘Look, I don’t need to vie for your friendship, it is what it is. If you don’t want to be friends with me, I will survive. Trust me.'”

In the end, though, “Doesn’t every show need a villain?” he says. “And she plays it beautifully.”

Southern Charm airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.

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