Voices: When did Selling Sunset go from a feminist triumph to an all-out b****fest?

·4-min read
There used to be a strong central theme: powerful women (Netflix)
There used to be a strong central theme: powerful women (Netflix)

I have to admit that when Selling Sunset first came out on Netflix, I wasn’t convinced. Having never been a reality TV fan, I didn’t get why the show that follows cutthroat real estate agents trying to sell expensive homes to Los Angeles’s elite kept being recommended to me. But after hearing a few rumblings about it in the office and several rave reviews from friends, I decided to bite the bullet and get stuck in.

To my amazement, it was nothing like how I had imagined. I relished the opportunity to have a nosy inside some of the most lavish Los Angeles properties going – most of which looked like sugar cubes perched on some hill or another. I’d snort whenever the real estate sellers said what a “stunning” view the pad boasted, only to cut to a landscape of rubble and a lone, spindly tree surrounded by smog. And I thrived on the naff soundtrack and realtor Davina’s $75m listing drama.

But it wasn’t just about insanely expensive homes or the designer outfits more appropriate for the club than the office. There was a strong central theme: powerful women.

Sure, the Oppenheim Group was made up of impossibly tanned, toned blondes (and two dinky men), and, yes, there was some office tension even in the early stages, but what struck me the most was how fiercely independent and unapologetically successful these women were.

First, there’s Christine: she’s larger than life and isn’t afraid to speak her mind or wear six-inch heels on a building site. Then there’s Mary, who, once you get past the animated facial expressions and head bobbing, is a sweetheart who is genuinely good at hustling. Maya, pretty much permanently pregnant, acts as Switzerland in any given situation and manages to keep her cool. There’s Heather, too, who takes any given opportunity to talk about her now-husband Tarek or the fact she’s vegan.

As the seasons progressed, we were introduced to more and more newbies trying to make a name for themselves in the real estate business – most notably Chrishell Stause, a former soap opera star who, when she joined the show, was married to actor Justin Hartley.

That’s when things started to get a little... tricky.

It was clear from the get-go that she and Christine didn’t gel. But it soon developed into a full-blown war of words. I don’t think either of them remembers exactly how it started (and neither do the viewers), but the last two instalments have been dominated by the infighting their initial rift has caused.

Christine cannot help but dig the knife in deeper, taking every opportunity to slag off her co-workers in the press or during her face-to-camera segments. Her go-to response is to deflect responsibility with cutting remarks and her unique sense of humour. But the others seemingly cannot talk about anything else. They say they “hate” her and that Christine is toxic. Yet they are unable to have a single meal, meeting or coffee break without mentioning her.

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What’s more, whenever they do cross paths with Christine, it makes for uncomfortable viewing (and yes, I know many scenes are staged). As the latest newcomer Chelsea points out in season five, it comes across as bullying. Regardless of whatever Christine has said, it’s never OK to gang up on one person – or to try and get rid of them while they’re away on maternity leave.

To make matters worse, they often talk about building other women up and what it means to be self-made. But here they are, tearing each other down. Apparently, it’s Christine’s antics that will destroy the reputation of the brokerage, but from what I can tell, they all have a part to play. I cannot imagine any client looking at the show (if they deign to watch it) feeling compelled to do business with them. It’s messy.

Of course, this makes for entertaining TV. But for me, Selling Sunset is moving further and further away from the feminist triumph it once was. They are grown-ass women who are smashing it – why are they resorting to petty insults and slights?