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Of Mansions and Petty Drama: A Review of ‘Selling Sunset’

Reality TV is the world’s greatest guilty pleasure. The characters are messy, melodramatic and infuriating. The storylines range from bizarre to downright outlandish — riddled with loose ends, plot holes and unresolved conflicts. In fact, ninety-nine percent of the time, we’re not truly enjoying the show so much as itching to throw a heavy object at the screen. Yet, our eyes stay glued. We keep returning, like a compulsion we can’t resist. It’s our ultimate hate-to-love relationship: we love reality, and we sort of hate ourselves for it.

Courtesy of Victoria Stuewe

In Los Angeles, California, the epicenter of all things glitzy and glamorous, Selling Sunset follows real estate agents at The Oppenheim Group as they sell million-dollar homes to the elite. Everything gleams with opulence, style and luxury. The real estate scene is a brutal, Darwinian environment and the agents must not only navigate the market’s choppy waters, but also complicated dynamics with each other. Relationships are forged, then crushed. Personal lives collide with professional lives. And houses get sold.

The characters ranked

The characters, oh, the characters. They confounded me, frustrated me, impressed me and most of all, they engaged me. Let’s start with my least favorite of the bunch — the problematic clique: Christine, Heather and Davina.

Christine, the “head” of this clique, repelled me not just because of her snobbishness and selfishness. Mean-girl-energy, when it comes to reality, is palatable enough. Barbed confidence can be respected. But Christine showcased a level of savagery, of unnecessary cruelty, that shattered any sympathy her high school experiences curried — so it’s a no from me. And botox and burgers? Really? Yeah, no.

Next comes her henchman, Davina, whom I disliked even more intensely than Christine. Davina was not blunt with her colleagues, she was a manipulator, a gas-lighter but in the face of pressure she crumbled. She willingly handed over her dignity to those she viewed as superior, then attempted to crush the dignity of those she viewed as inferior — like when Chrishell was facing her heartbreaking divorce (we’ll get to that in due time).

Even Heather, Christine’s other henchman, knew when to buckle down. Heather, the least bad of this clique, simply craved approval from everyone around her. She was a follower, reporting back to Christine in hopes of winning her favor. She was a vegan, a stepmother (as she’s repeated too many times). But unlike Davina and Christine, she was no bully — she can be redeemed.

Brett and Jason, the agents’ bosses, along with Maya, were middle of the road. They sold their houses, viewed the drama mostly from afar and only intervened in the most heated situations. Then again, this passivity also meant they failed to censure Davina or Christine, letting their toxicity run rampant throughout the workplace. Is keeping the peace truly worth the cost? At the end of the day, they only perpetuated Christine’s tyranny.

Finally, my favorite clique: Amanza, Mary and Chrishell. Granted, none of them were perfect. Amanza was chronically late, Mary too afraid of confrontation and Chrishell too easily affected by others’ opinions. But, unlike the other posse, they all worked on their weaknesses — from season one to season three, there was a clearly defined arc for each of them. Amanza apologized sincerely for her tardiness and attempted to improve. Mary, by the season three finale, knew when it was time to step forward and defend her friends. And Chrishell developed a thicker skin, allowing her to meet Christine and Davina with poise.

Moreover, the friendship between them seemed to be the only pure, sincere product of this show. They didn’t gossip behind each other’s backs — far from it, in fact. If one was struggling, the other two were unflappably loyal and protective, forming a shield against the other clique — as true friends should.

The storyline

While the characters were the pillars of this show, the world of real estate was their foundation. At the end of the day, they all had a job to perform, no matter the fractious tensions among them.

Like any other middle-class citizen in the U.S., I craved a glimpse into the humble abodes of L.A. and Selling Sunset was absolutely saturated in wealth. Honestly, all the drama was simply a cherry on top — I came for the real estate aspect. A higher price-tag also equaled higher commissions, meaning higher stakes. I rejoiced when one of my favorite characters successfully sold a listing, then cringed when she didn’t.

Not only that, their clients could often be pretentious, aloof or simply stubborn. Watching this show, I was fascinated by how deceptively simple their jobs were. To be a real estate agent, you have to master subtle persuasiveness and nuanced interactions. You have to truly know your client, their personality and desires in order to find the right home for them. Needless to say, it was a boom-and-bust cycle of highs and lows and I reveled in every minute of it.

The emotional factor

I felt many of the emotions I expected to: astonishment, irritation, anger. Yet, never did I expect sadness to wheedle its way in. The intimate cast of Selling Sunset allows for us to get attached to them, opening up a whole new spectrum of feelings. During season three, when Chrishell suffered a devastating divorce, I pretty much bawled my way through all of it — my heart seriously ached with empathy for her.

For the entirety of the show, their difficulties were the very definition of “first-world problems”. Yet, a divorce was something so mundane, so universal, it brought new vulnerabilities to light. The concept of tearing up over a reality show seems dubious during this time, but trust me. One day you’ll be on episode one and the next you’ll be on the season three finale, feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut.

All in all, Selling Sunset was phenomenal and refreshing. It was escapism at its finest, and 2020 sure needs it.

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

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Phyllis Feng is an Ohio-based writer who loves venturing into a diverse array of topics, from literature and music to mental health. She always seeks to emphasize honesty and empathy in her work. In her free time, you'll usually find her with a book and a mug of tea in her hands.

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