How Selling Sunset became TV’s most addictive reality show
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At a lavish event in a Hollywood Hills mansion listed for nearly £33m, estate agents – and stars of Netflix’s Selling Sunset – Chrishell Stause and Christine Quinn are facing off.
So many times you’ve brought toxic energy to me,” Stause tells her co-worker. “Every time I deal with you, you do something insanely, ridiculously hurtful. Like telling all the girls not to like my Instagrams.
Like when you had a party and you made fun of me on the drinks list to hundreds of your guests.”
It was a custom cocktail consisting of Hendrick’s gin, pineapple juice, tonic and lime, and called “Chrishell’s Two-Faced Tonic”.
As the two women lay out their feelings, the pair’s friends and co-workers watch from the sidelines, taking bets on who will get thrown into the swimming pool.
That tension-filled moment was an early highlight of Selling Sunset, which enters its fifth season on 22 April.
A reality show documenting a fantasy land of extreme wealth, with stiletto-heeled agents selling luxury homes to the world’s richest buyers, the series has since reached a level of success and visibility beyond the cast and crew’s wildest imaginations.
“It [became] this watercooler show,” Stause tells me. “People started watching it and then started talking about it. Next thing you know, it felt like everybody was watching it and talking about it.”
Selling Sunset creator and executive producer Adam DiVello – who previously produced the OG SoCal reality shows The Hills and Laguna Beach – is similarly grateful for the overwhelmingly positive reception.
He gets sent “hundreds” of potential show ideas a week, “and usually it’s never the right cast of people.” Not so with Selling Sunset.
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“People ask us all the time, ‘Are you scripted?’ And I’m always like, ‘If I did [script the shows], I’d be coming up with much bigger storylines,’” DiVello says. “Thank God we’ve got so lucky with our cast. We find the right people to follow, you know?”
From its inception, Netflix’s Selling Sunset has won over audiences with its depictions of ultra-expensive Los Angeles real estate and endlessly juicy inter-office drama.
But if you ask DiVello why so many extra viewers tuned into the reality franchise during Covid lockdown, he has one word: “Escapism.” He continues: “I think people just wanted an escape. People love to see the homes.
They got to see people going out, doing things, and enjoying life. Nobody was wearing masks at the time [of filming].”
Based in West Hollywood, luxury real estate company the Oppenheim Group is run by brothers Jason and Brett Oppenheim and employs agents-turned-influencers Stause, Quinn, Mary Fitzgerald, Davina Potratz, Heather Rae El Moussa (née Young), Maya Vander, and Amanza Smith.
The show appears to exist in a world seemingly untouched by sickness and loss. It features cameos from A-list potential buyers, such as Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown, Shang-Chi star Simu Liu, and rapper French Montana.
Each episode is a visual wonderland of sprawling mansions, infinity pools, lush landscapes, walk-in closets with more square footage than most peoples’ master bedrooms, and dazzling, spacious kitchens.
Even major celebrities are fans. Via social media, Stause learned how “Mindy Kaling watches our show. And Lena Dunham. All these powerhouse women that are off making their own television shows. And all of a sudden you learn that they’re watching your show. It’s pretty exciting.”
Born Terrina Chrishell Stause in Draffenville, Kentucky (but not at a Shell gas station, a long running rumour she has since clarified),
Stause is both sweet and pragmatic in person. That practical streak is no doubt a result of a hardscrabble upbringing, which she explored in more depth in her recently released memoir, Under Construction: Because Living My Best Life Took a Little Work. Growing up, Stause’s family experienced poverty and homelessness; once she graduated from college, Stause immediately drove to the West Coast, where she worked as a waitress and auditioned for TV and film roles.
Prior to Selling Sunset, Stause was best known for playing Amanda Dillon on the soap opera All My Children and Jordan Ridgeway on Days of Our Lives. In 2016, she obtained her real estate licence, and two years later she joined the Oppenheim Group. Though she’s achieved real personal and professional success on Selling Sunset, becoming ultra-close with Fitzgerald and the other women, her foil is undoubtedly Quinn, whom she accused of trying to ruin her life in the season four finale.
DiVello felt it was important for the show to feature a well-rounded array of “characters” that viewers could easily relate to. Season one kicked off with the Oppenheim Group hiring Stause, who had recently acquired her real estate licence and could serve as an audience surrogate.
“We try to focus on [casting people who] are representative of everybody out there,” DiVello explains. “There needs to be someone big and loud like Christine.
Then you have somebody like Mary, who’s more of a moral compass type of person. I think everybody finds somebody that they attach themselves to, or find themselves in. I think we all do that with reality TV shows to some degree.”
This is perhaps another indicator of why Selling Sunset has resonated on such a deep level with fans around the world.
Netflix does not make its viewer data available, but Parrot Analytics estimates that the show currently ranks at the 83.2th percentile in the reality genre, which means that it has higher demand than 83.2 per cent of all reality titles in the UK.
Even though the Oppenheim Group agents seem to have picture-perfect, always-Instagram-ready lives, the show doesn’t shy away from showing heavy duty personal issues and how they deal with them.
Arguably one of the series’ most affecting storylines played out in season three, when Stause received a text message from her husband of two years, This Is Us star Justin Hartley, explaining that he would be filing for divorce.
With her permission, the cameras followed Stause and captured her shock and emotional arc in real time. In addition to her divorce, she lost both of her parents to lung cancer between 2019 and 2020.
Her co-worker Amanza Smith has also spent part of the series attempting to win full custody of her two young children, whom she shares with her ex-husband, former NFL player Ralph Brown. Brown, who stopped paying child support in 2015, went missing in 2019 and has not resurfaced.
You’re gonna sink or swim on social media. I feel like I’ve found the right way [to deal]
As Selling Sunset moves into its fifth season, it will continue to explore the agents’ careers and relationships.
There’s Stause’s romantic relationship with Jason Oppenheim, Mary Fitzgerald’s promotion to office manager, Heather Rae El Moussa’s engagement and wedding, and the entire group’s ongoing fallout with Quinn, who befriends a new agent from Manhattan Beach, Chelsea Lazkani.
The series will also follow the romantic arcs of season four’s new additions Emma Hernan and Vanessa Villela.
Arguably the most anticipated storyline of the season will be Stause’s relationship with Oppenheim, though the pair parted ways after a few months of dating in December 2021.
As she prepares to watch their relationship back, Stause says the entire process – filming and promoting season five – has been “a blessing and a curse”.
“In real life, you would have moved on a lot quicker,” she says before taking a more optimistic tone.
“That being said, I feel like we’re closer than [ever]. If you have two people that really respect each other and there was a real love there, then in the long term it actually really helps build that foundation for a relationship where there’s nothing that we haven’t talked about.”
She adds, “It’s one thing to say you’re friends with your ex when they walk in a restaurant and you’re like, ‘Oh hey, how are you? I hope you’re well.’ This is different. We had to really get in the trenches. I’m proud of that. I’ve never had that with someone after [a breakup] before. I truly do count him as a really close friend.”
For his part, Oppenheim says the split is still too fresh to discuss in depth. But he is equally sincere when he talks about seeing Selling Sunset launch Stause and the other women into new stratospheres of fame and opportunity.
“The most rewarding part is watching people I love most succeed,” Oppenheim says. “And in so many different ways: professionally, socially, and financially. As I started feeling more comfortable in my own success, what becomes more rewarding these days is watching those that I love and care about becoming successful and us sharing together in something.”
Fitzgerald echoes Oppenheim’s sentiment, but she’s candid about the challenges that come with filming a successful Netflix reality series. “It is a little weird,” she says. “I’ve never had a goal to be in the public eye.
So when I go out, if I’m on a red carpet [or] at events, I’m ready for it, and I’m like, ‘this is fun’. But if I’m just sitting at a pub or on vacation at a pool and I see people staring at me, I’m like, ‘Why are they—ahhhh, this is weird!’”
The cast is also subject to social media pile-ons, which they engage with to varying degrees. While Oppenheim hardly spends any time on Instagram, Stause says she’s “embraced” the online feedback.
“You’re gonna sink or swim,” she acknowledges. “[But] I found this supportive tribe that really encourages transparency.
I feel like I’ve found the right way [to deal]. I’m not trying to say I’m invincible to having those days where maybe someone says something that strikes a nerve. But I will say they are very few and far between.”
For DiVello, who has produced multiple reality shows about luxurious cities in warm climates, including the forthcoming Selling Sunset spin-offs Selling Tampa and Selling The OC, the genius of the show ultimately stems from leaning into the concept of Los Angeles as a visual dreamland.
“On The Hills I felt as though LA was one of the characters on the show,” he says. “We showcased Los Angeles in a way that it was a fantasy world… I have so many people that come to me and they say, ‘I moved to Los Angeles because of The Hills.’ And so I think with Selling Sunset, I was really excited to do the same thing again. But now it’s [the 2020s]. How can we up the game?”
The show has certainly built on that momentum. On 24 April, Netflix will film the show’s first-ever reunion special with Queer Eye’s Tan France set to host. Looking further ahead, DiVello is content to keep Selling Sunset going for as long as Netflix, viewers, and the Oppenheim Group will have him.
“I think what’s nice about this show is that it really is about the Oppenheim office,” he says. “As opposed to The Hills, which was really about Lauren [Conrad], right? It’s like Sex and the City and she was the Carrie Bradshaw. But this is a working office.
There’s going to be agents that come and go, and people have babies. There’s a lot of questioning [about] who’s staying and who’s going, and [if] people [are] at the point in their lives where they can continue to do this. So as new agents come in, I think hopefully it can go on and on forever and ever.”
‘Selling Sunset’ launches its fifth season on Netflix on Friday 22 April