Selling Sunset's Ice Queen Christine Quinn On Being the Cruella de Vil of Reality TV

Graphic: Elena Scotti (Photos: Screenshots via Netflix, Shutterstock)

Selling Sunset’s astronomical popularity feels like fate, either because its destiny was foretold by an ancient, cursed prophecy scrawled on the side of a Santa Monica Boulevard strip mall, or because of its lineage in the canon of reality television. Frequently called the “adult” version of MTV’s The Hills, the show comes from the same producers, Adam DiVello and Kristofer Lindquist, who cooked up Selling Sunset’s predecessor nearly 15 years ago. Indicative of their success this second time around, you can already find the cast plastered across tabloids and gossip blogs just a year after it first launched on Netflix. But of all Selling Sunset’s new entrants to the streaming screen, none have made a more dazzling—and perhaps frightening—impact than Christine Quinn.

On a surprisingly chill Los Angeles afternoon, Quinn laughs over the phone when I ask her about her notoriety. The show’s immediate villain, even in its opening moments when Season 1 debuted in 2019, she tells me its an “honor” to be considered Selling Sunset’s resident baddie. “I love it. I enjoy it. I relish in it.”

It would be a surprisingly honest admission from anyone but Quinn, who’s bluntness pairs well with her near-instant popularity. Onscreen, she’s the next evolutionary step in reality television’s long flirtation with those of a certain, blonde ambition: The Hills’ Kristen Cavallari or Heidi Montag, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Brandi Glanville or Yolanda Hadid or Erika Jayne. What I’m trying to say is, she is Lady Gaga’s portrait of Donatella Versace come to life. How can you not be enthralled?

Curious how a real estate agent slash actress from Texas constructed herself into the reigning ice queen of the Sunset Strip, I spoke to Quinn in advance of Selling Sunset’s third season, which premieres on Netflix August 7. Our interview was as candid as it was surprising, a rare peek inside the streaming giant’s reality television factory floor. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

JEZEBEL: Let’s jump right in! What’s something you’re most looking forward to seeing play out on screen in Season 3?

CHRISTINE QUINN: Obviously my wedding. It was just the most spectacular event. I want to see how it translates on film. I want to see, like, what can be done on television because I know how many details were incorporated at this wedding. So for me, it’s all about seeing how it can translate and transform on the screen for the people. And if we’re able to get the details, then I just hope that [viewers] fall in love and it inspires them to want to be different and want to do epic shit. You might as well!

Do you have a price tag you could share for the wedding?

All I’ve got to say is that my budget was love, but it was well over a million dollars.

Wow. Congratulations.

Thank you.

Now, something that we see in the trailer is Chrishell Stause leaving the wedding due to the circumstances that were transpiring in her own marriage and subsequent divorce. And, you know, recently, I think it was last week, Chrishell put out some comments on Twitter and then again on Instagram Stories saying that some of the things that her cast members—specifically you—have said in the public about her marriage are not true. Specifically, she said, “I heard Christine is giving press information about my divorce. Let me be very clear. She knows absolutely nothing about the situation and is obviously desperate to gain attention by doing so.” Do you have anything you’d like to say back to Chrishell?

Not at all. You know, the reporter simply asked a question. She said: “Have you met Justin Hartley? What do you think of him?” Yeah, actually I met him. I think he’s a great guy. [I said] he was nothing but nice, and that I thought he was wonderful to me. So that’s my comment.

A lot of the cast members like you, or Mary, and then more recently Amanza, have been very open about what’s been going on in your personal lives. We’ve seen your marriage, we’ve seen Mary’s engagement, Amanza’s life as a newly single mom. And Chrishell has been a little more secretive about her daily personal life. Do you have anything to say about signing up for a reality show and volunteering to have your personal life on TV?

That’s the thing. Going into this, I knew I was signing my soul away on the dotted line. But the difference was, I am creative and I love the process, and I just love to make people feel things. So for me, this was my chance to do it. I knew the apprehension going in. But people are on reality television shows and they’re not confident in who they are. You have to really be able to know yourself before you can be yourself. And I think that it’s not fair to the other cast members sometimes if every person on the cast isn’t sharing things, because that puts so much more weight on each person.

And I know I personally experienced that myself in Season 3 because, you know, I had so many events going on. Season 2 and 3, we shot at the same time. I had the events going on. I had the engagement party. I had the wedding. I had a bachelorette party, which we didn’t show because I was really, really, really sick and couldn’t do it. I actually had coronavirus! But like Khloe Kardashian talks about on the newest season of The Kardashians: When people don’t pull their weight, it makes it really hard. But at the end of the day, everyone knows what they sign up for. I just want them to be honest with themselves moving forward. Because it’s no fun for anyone else, you know?

It’s interesting that you say it’s really important to be confident and know who you are because something so clear is that you are very confident and also very sure of who you are, and it comes through on-screen. In recent interviews, like with Cosmo U.K., you talked a little bit about the fact that producers had an idea of you going into the production for the first season. They immediately saw you as the villain, as you say. What did it feel like knowing that? Knowing that these people wanted you to be the villain on camera?

Honestly, when people consider me the villain, I am honored, I’m flattered. I think it’s something actually really inspiring because to me, growing up, a lot of my favorite Disney characters were the villains. And I remember watching 101 Dalmatians and Cruella de Vil being this fabulous older woman dressed in fur. She had everything, you know, but obviously she had one flaw, and that’s human. We always do have flaws. But in the reality television industry, people see you as one dimensional. And that was what was frustrating to me. Yes, I am the villain. I love it. I enjoy it. I relish in it. But the difference is that there’s so many different layers to me, and when you’re only shown with one layer and you’re an onion, you can’t be cooked. And you want to make a sauce, you know? I just want to make a fucking sauce.

With a lot of shows like Selling Sunset, you see people kind of come back after the fact and say, “Oh, my words were twisted. That’s not really what I was trying to say. They gave me the villain edit.” But watching this show, and hearing you now, you seem really confident in what you say on camera, especially when you are critical of your other cast members. When going into a season, do you think about what you’re gonna say on screen, like, did you put together how you’re going to present on camera? Or were you being authentic and the producers only showed the bad parts?

Absolutely.

You think that they were like cutting out the parts where it was like, “Christine was being sympathetic,” or “Christine was like showing a softer side of herself?” Do you really think they selectively showed the—as people on the internet say—“bitchier” sides of you?

A hundred percent. I mean, you have to understand that we shoot hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of footage. We’re at dinner and there’s a lot of things that go on. We get into fights and then we’re like, “I’m just kidding. Anyway, but where were we?” But you don’t see that. There’s so many sides. And I understand that we have a limited amount of time to show everything. They have to get the juiciest part. They have to get the juiciest thing. However, where it crosses the line is manipulation. And I learned about manipulation in an interview with another outlet, where I found out they actually went so far as to one time dub a name over another name that I actually said. So that’s when I realized that this is a difficult world. You can do your best, and you can plan, and you can think you have it all. But sometimes behind closed doors, in the editing world, it’s really dark. It’s really scary things go on. It’s disheartening.

You mentioned the Kardashians earlier. That’s a show that has been frequently criticized for fudging with the timeline of certain scenes. It will come out that they filmed one scene like months after the fact, but the way it’s been edited makes it seem like it’s happening chronologically. On Selling Sunset, is what we see in the chronological order that it played out for you guys in real life, or do you think that they kind of messed around with the timeline of certain things?

I mean, honestly, I can’t comment on production, but I know you’re a smart person, Joan.

I appreciate that! Moving on, the cast has been very vocal about you on camera, and I was wondering what it feels like to be working with these people in an actual office, at an actual company. But then have a reality show where you can see what they say about you behind your back. What’s that feel like going into the office? Does it make it uncomfortable?

It is so uncomfortable. Thank God for coronavirus because we can all work from home. I think even if it wasn’t some coronavirus or not, we’d be working from home anyway because I still haven’t seen any of the girls, and I don’t think the girls have seen each other, except for a few times. Working in the office is so hard, we can’t do it. I mean, a lot of us don’t like each other to this day and I’d be lying if I said the show didn’t destroy—not affect—destroy our relationships. The only thing that could possibly bring us together would be a Season 4. It’s the only thing that would get us in a room right now. I’m being honest with you.

That explains a lot about the way that it reads on camera. You can tell in certain scenes, people are really uncomfortable. Did you feel like the mood changed immediately after Season 1 aired? Like, did you guys immediately think, Oh, this is kind of weird; this might change our dynamics? Or do you think just as it’s gone on, the awkwardness has gotten progressively worse? 

After Season 1, we were like: That was funny! Everyone was able to get over everything except that one person, obviously. Then we moved on. Another year went by and we go to shoot Season 2. We’re so excited. We’re so ready. Everyone’s ready to move on except for that someone else. With the dynamic of reality television shows, everyone has to be on the same page. When you’re not, drags the show down. It drags the show down. We were ready to start new. We went into Season 2 gung ho, but some people weren’t gung ho, and when some people aren’t gung ho, it just makes everything worse. We all just ended up hating each other because everyone else hated each other. It’s just really vile.

Something that was said a lot, and I think it was kind of the basis for the show in Season 1, was that the Oppenheim Group is like a big family. “We’re all a family. We all care about each other. At the end of the day, we all have friendships and relationships.” So, like, if it was a family in the beginning, what did you see as your place in this family? Were you the matriarch of the family? The big sister?

I feel like I was always the rich aunt with fur and diamonds just cracking jokes at the end of the table. That was my place in the family. But in reality, I was always the same. The difference is we never had to fight, and we all got along. And I was always crazy Christine. I would get drunk and say stupid things, and then we would just laugh about it like five minutes later. No one ever got their feelings hurt because we didn’t have to talk about it again, and no one would hold grudges. But when you’re shooting a television show, you have the five stages of one event. You film it. People talk about it. You talk about it. You talk about the interview. And you relive it in real life. And that’s a lot to deal with. It’s really, really, really hard to keep hearing over about the things you did, the things you said. The dynamics were so much different than it is now. I think we’re estranged cousins now.

Something that I think people who don’t maybe live in L.A., or around L.A. personalities, think when they watch shows like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or Vanderpump Rules or Selling Sunset is: These people’s lives are so dramatic. Like, I never am at a restaurant yelling at my friends. Do you feel like with the Oppenheim Group girls, when you would hang out before the show filmed, was the drama as bad, and you just didn’t have to think about it again because you weren’t filming?

No, no, no, no, no, no. We had a great time. We would party, get drunk, fall in pools, run around naked. That was the type of drama.

That’s interesting. Seeing on TV just makes everything worse?

I mean, I wouldn’t use TV as the word, but you fill that in. You’re smart.

Speaking of L.A., Tracy Tutor, who’s on Million Dollar Listing: L.A., was on Watch What Happens Live and had a few comments about Selling Sunset. She said she doesn’t really see you guys out at open houses, and that she doesn’t think Selling Sunset is really just about real estate. And I haven’t really seen anyone respond to the comments made by Tracy, who’s kind of doubled down on what she said. Do you think the show needs to be about just real estate? Or do you think that’s kind of an obtuse criticism, anyways?

I think it wasn’t obtuse criticism, but just very blatant jealousy. Shows are dynamic, you know, just like people are dynamic. This is 2020, for god’s sake. It doesn’t have to be a show only about real estate. Selling Sunset does so well, does have so many viewers, and is top ten on Netflix globally because it’s like you’re watching a movie or in an entire universe. Beautiful women are selling homes and they have drama and they do have real lives. It isn’t just like you show up to work, you do the job, you sell a house, and the camera cuts. That’s not real life. And, you know, one thing that was surprising to me was Tracy Tutor actually had a meeting at our office before we started filming with all the girls. I noticed on her interview she said she had never met or seen any of us. And I would like to say that that’s completely inaccurate, as she was trying to sell a condo building and she came to our offices to get us to try to help her sell her things. I find it ironic. I literally have an email of her saying she is looking forward to seeing all of us at the office to help facilitate the sale of her condos.

A case of selective amnesia, it seems. So something that has been on my mind more recently, when going back to Season 2 in preparation for Season 3, was how involved the Oppenheim brothers are in your love lives and your personal lives as bosses. They know a lot about like your day to day lives outside of the office. Do you think that’s normal for bosses? Do you ever wish your boss didn’t have to know everything?

I think there’s no such thing as normal anymore. I mean, what’s normal to the spider is chaos to fly. So it’s really all relative. Yeah. Do I think that normal bosses would be so entwined in other people’s relationships? Probably not. But you have to understand that there is a small number of us working in an office. So we know everything about everyone. We’re not a big company with hundreds of people. So obviously, we do love to talk shit. I mean, we love to talk shit. It’s fun for us, and everyone’s always overhearing everything and knows everyone’s business. So do I think it’s normal? No. But do I like the dynamic? Yeah, you know me, I love talking shit.

Does production have plans to continue filming anytime soon?

No. All I know is that Netflix usually looks at the numbers and the show around 15 to 30 days from when the last season comes out. But I’m sure that this is a much-needed getaway and escape from coronavirus.

For my last question: If you could go back, Christine, knowing everything that you know now about what the show would do to your life and your relationships, is there anything that you would do differently?

You know, I never want to go back in time. I think everything happens for a reason. You learn lessons from that. I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. I really wouldn’t.

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DISCUSSION

suffersfoolsgladly
Suffersfoolsgladly

No, you don’t “relish in it” you “REVEL in it”.

I had to say something. I’m sorry.