While John Legend was serenading half the country last night at the Democratic National Convention, his wife Chrissy Teigen was addressing much more important matters on Twitter. Specifically, Selling Sunset, one of the shows that’s currently embedded in the Netflix Top 10.
In a tweet that proved more divisive than the two-party political system, Teigen wrote “I just watched all of Selling Sunset after watching everyone talk about it for so long! I don’t even think anyone on it is as mean or insane as you guys said? Maybe I’m just so used to it because I live here? This is pretty normal lol some are actually really nice.” When fans challenged her, she doubled down on her assertion writing, “I think people think they’re mean because they’re women in a really tough industry. I don’t *know* people like that but if I worked in a place like that I’m sure I would.”
Our knee-jerk response to her commentary was, “Yes, Chrissy, you’ve been living in L.A. for too long if you think that Heather Rae Young is motivated solely by her desire to be respected as a professional woman.” I know Chrissy knows this is reality TV and everyone’s winking at the camera, but her thread also speaks to a bigger question of what (and who) is actually real and who is playing things up for the cameras on Selling Sunset. Is Selling Sunset fake? Allow us to break that down.
While the Oppenheim Group is indeed a real brokerage firm in Los Angeles, it’s important to note that not everyone who works there is represented as part of the Selling Sunset cast. So of course only the most intriguing personalities that work there are featured, though it doesn’t help that owners Jason and Brett Oppenheim, seem to smirk at — and almost enjoy and encourage — the drama and in-fighting between their (it should be noted) female employees.
After Season 1 premiered in March 2019, it was clear that the show was devoid of any kind of diverse representation. Amanza Smith, who identifies as biracial, joined the cast to help solve that problem, and yet, as the only woman of color, she is often the target of everyone’s ire despite being, honestly, the most honest and real character on the show. When Amanza points out to her co-worker Heather that it’s tricky meeting the children of a new boyfriend (Heather’s new man happens to be HGTV personality Tarek El Moussa), Heather lays into Amanza, calling her “judgmental and evil.” But, like, every show ever has addressed this issue and no one disputes the concept of waiting a long time to meet your significant other’s children. Later, when Amanza takes over a house showing for Heather but shows up late (and yet still closes the deal), Heather says that Amanza needs to learn how to be “a little more professional,” and then calls her out relentlessly in front of all of their co-workers. This is not Heather being blatantly racist, but it paints her as one woman unsympathetic to another who was doing her best, and the optics being what they are, it didn’t help that she was dragging a woman of color for only trying to help.
One storyline covered on the show that’s all too real is Chrishell Stause’s divorce, which unfolded in real time last winter and is now chronicled on season three of the show. Stause’s marriage to This Is Us star Justin Hartley crumbled, very publicly, when it was revealed that he filed for divorce, letting her know via text. Stause’s co-workers at Oppenheim were, we think, genuinely shocked to find out about her split. Also real was Christine Quinn’s insane goth-meets-
All of this to say that, in a city as obsessed with image as Los Angeles, and in a world as obsessed with optics and racial inequity as the one we live in at this moment, this show is not manufacturing drama; rather, it is highlighting the systemic othering that already exists in the world. The fact that there are so many storylines that feature so many woman-on-woman micro-aggressions, and a character that was cast to be the lone symbol of diversity who is constantly berated by so many of her co-stars just for being herself, feels all too real. Whether this is exacerbated by certain cast members’ desire to become stars, a field producer’s behind-the-scenes whispers to amp up the dramatics, or sneaky editing, it doesn’t change the fact that they said what they said.
Liz Kocan is a pop culture writer living in Brooklyn. Her biggest claim to fame is the time she won on the game show Chain Reaction.