There’s a story circling Hollywood, hovering over Sunset Boulevard like a frenzied publicist turned Tinseltown attack drone. The tabloids are obsessed with it, and to an extent, I have been, too: What’s up with the cast of Netflix’s Selling Sunset?
Last week, Twitter supervillain Chrissy Teigen claimed that the show is probably fake, seeing as how none of her many real estate agents had ever heard of Selling Sunset’s cast before. When I interviewed the show’s prima donna villain, Christine Quinn, and asked about the show’s timeline of events, she calmly told me: “I know you’re a smart person, Joan.” Earlier this week, rumors sprang up that stars Mary Fitzgerald and Romain Bonnet were married two whole years before their TV wedding.
As the dust settles from these various landmines peppering Netflix’s latest mega-hit, the publicists of Selling Sunset have descended, presumably mass-emailing journalists and outlets in an effort to get their reality TV starlets some airtime “in response” to the rumors. It’s a predictable conclusion to the chain of events. Stars and the celebrity press are locked in a parasitic death spiral. People needs people just as much as people need People, you might say.
Most celebrity interviews in the Hollywood blogosphere are not the machinations of journalists. They are usually pitched to us and carefully stage-managed by the publicists who conduct them. Often, they will sit on the phone with the star, ready to cancel the call or interrupt a pesky, non-affirmational question. (Refer back to my interview with Luann de Lesseps about “cabaret” for a fabulous example of a pitched interview gone awry.)
Selling Sunset, a genuine breakout for Netflix, has also become a veritable tabloid goldmine. Its one mildly famous cast member Chrishell Stause—at least before filming ever commenced—brought some legitimacy to its early seasons, with her divorce from This Is Us star Justin Hartley papering tabloids as Season 2 premiered in 2019. The divorce had the unique side-effect of bolstering the profiles of Stause’s cast members. The outspoken Christine Quinn entered most tabloid Rolodexes when she “reacted” to news of the divorce via her onscreen rivalry with Stause.
In July, Quinn told Page Six that Stause and Hartley went to therapy before their divorce, launching a press cycle that has persisted up through the premiere of the third season earlier in August. Soon after, Stause claimed that Quinn’s comments were “a complete lie or total conjecture” on Twitter.
This eventually spun into a summer-spanning feud between Stause and Quinn. It also platformed Quinn in a legitimate way, giving rise to dozens of interviews about her on-screen persona, her feud with Stause, and the veracity of the show—including my own interview with her. There was now blood in the water, and the sharks were circling.
In my interview with Quinn, she certainly alleged that not everything on-camera played out exactly as it appears. When I asked about comments she’d made about Stause’s relationship, including how secretive it was on-camera, Quinn said: “At the end of the day, everyone knows what they sign up for. I just want them to be honest with themselves moving forward.” This idea soon popped in subsequent interviews, with questions about the show’s overarching legitimacy. In response to our interview, a publicist for lesser-character Davina Potratz emailed me, asking if I would interview their client about how she feels “out of touch” with her cast, and “grossly misrepresented” on the series. The publicist cited my interview with Quinn as the basis for Potratz’s response.
Soon after, rumors began bubbling up that producers had fucked around with the timeline of events. (Again, a thread in most of Quinn’s interviews, including ours.) After I published Jezebel’s Dirt Bag column on Monday, detailing these allegations, a publicist for another lesser character, Maya Vander, also pitched me a response, claiming that they’d read my blog and Vander was looking to respond to “criticisms of the show.” I then got a second email from other lesser-character Jason Oppenheim’s publicist, who wrote that there was a “stream of unfounded accusations hurled at the hard-working real estate agents of The Oppenheim Group.” Their client, I was told via email, “would like to put those accusations firmly to rest once and for all with both a detailed list of when each agent became a licensed real estate agent and when they joined The Oppenheim Group along with the attached screenshots of their official date of license by the State of California. The Oppenheim Group was formed in 2014.”
I was also provided with a statement from Oppenheim:
Mary, Heather, Maya, and Christine were licensed and successful real estate agents at The Oppenheim Group many years prior to filming our show. Amanza worked with us as a designer, and has been a close friend of Mary’s and mine for many years. Chrishell was a practicing agent at another brokerage, many years previous to filming Selling Sunset. As a licensed agent, Davina had transacted many deals before joining the team in 2018. Any insinuation that the agents on our show are not experienced, successful, or licensed, evidences a complete disregard for the facts. Even a superficial investigation would identify previous team photos, hundreds of millions in transacted sales, and more than 50 years of combined licensed real estate experience from these agents.
The publicist also sent me each agent’s digital real estate license in screenshot form, perhaps in an effort to prove the veracity of their onscreen performances. Interestingly, Potratz’s license shows she has no affiliated brokerage, nor is she operating under a DBA (Doing Business As). I asked Oppenheim’s publicist if she has any affiliation with the Oppenheim Group currently, and in the meantime, have included their licenses, as they were sent to me, below.
This is how the Hollywood fame engine operates. The process feels like it has sped up somewhat since the beginning of the pandemic, with most stars finding more time to tweet and post on Instagram and sit around for interviews, but the basic trajectory has remained the same. Stars like Chrishell Stause and Christine Quinn will find themselves cursed to float up above the pack, while down in the streets of Los Angeles, side characters and bit players huddle for warmth beneath their celebrity glow. What’s interesting about the Selling Sunset conundrum then isn’t the rumors at all—it’s the cottage industry that sprung up around them.
Nothing is lost—for Netflix or the cast or the many publicists and journalists who orbit them—if the show is actually fake. Because here I am, still talking about it.