An average first-time viewer, watching the popular Netflix reality show Selling Sunset, probably doesn’t know the first thing about luxurious million-pound homes in LA. Three episodes in, the average viewer feels like they can appreciate the value of an infinity pool, the importance of a ‘him’ and ‘her’ closet and is already googling ‘how to get a real estate licence.’
Now in it’s third season, Selling Sunset takes place in the glamorous, but at times grotesque, LA. The show revolves around ‘The Oppenheim Group’, founded by identical twins Jason and Brett Oppenheim, who run one of the most successful real estate brokerages in the area. The show is introduced by stating that the success behind the brokerage is five successful agents at the company, brining to mind the saying: “behind every successful man is a woman”. In this case, five women!
Unlike many reality TV shows, such as The Real Housewives franchise, we see women actually working for their money, as both the highs and lows of their job are explored. The series reveals the hardships of what it is like to be a successful woman in a male-dominated industry, where houses don’t sell themselves, no matter how big the rooftops are. But twenty seconds into the first season’s trailer suggests that this show is not just about watching boss women sell over 2 million-dollar worthy homes. At its core, the women’s cattiness to one another is what makes many people press ‘next episode’ faster than Netflix can load it.
It appears that these women are best friends one minute, the next they’re making each other cry (in front of all their co-workers). One of the agents, Christine, tells the camera in season one that the new girl, Chrishell, will have to prove herself. In the meantime, she makes snarky comments that she will have to ‘sit on the floor’ until she proves her worth, as Chrishell tells the camera that starting at the brokerage was like “high school” all over again. Chrishell and Mary later cry on multiple occasions due to the behaviour of Christine and Davina, named the ‘villains’ of the show by fans on social media.
Each season has more expensive homes, which means even more pressure on these women as their commissions rise. If more success equals more drama, does it mean that successful women cannot co-exist in the workplace? We can tell that the office environment is not healthy or helpful in Selling Sunset, especially for new agents. It is not a space where one can ‘flower’ and make mistakes. Recent agent Amanza admits that she has “so many questions” but is “scared to even ask.”
“It’s hard to think of one reality show that focuses on women working together and keeping their personal life out of the equation, but male-oriented reality shows tell a different story.”
Outside the LA bubble, the rise of co-working spaces for women in Europe and the US is evidence of women actually thriving in environments that are female-only spaces – take ‘The Wing’, an office in New York founded by Audrey Gelburn, for example. Member and full-time entrepreneur Atumi Lui said “working in a female co-working environment is like coming to a safe haven”, according to a BBC interview back in 2018. Another all-female co-working space, ‘Hera Hub’, had one of its members, Rielee Rey, describes the space as giving her “a strong belief in the concept of sisterhood”, a concept that she has received “from other members at Hera Hub”, where she experienced an “encouraging, inspirational and nurturing” environment – as explored in an Elevate article: ‘Why Women Thrive in a Female Focused Co-working Space.’
If female co-working spaces act as a place for women to thrive and become more successful, it does make us wonder what the dynamic of the Oppenheim group would be like if it was run by two women. Would Netflix even choose to document the lives of these women, if it were an all-female brokerage and the agents weren’t so bitchy? “Women love to argue” noted Paul Nassif, a previous cast member of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and it seems that platforms like Netflix really want to capitalise off this outdated stereotype.
It’s hard to think of one reality show that focuses on women working together and keeping their personal life out of the equation, but male-oriented reality shows tell a different story. Gordan Ramsey’s infamous Kitchen Nightmares consists of the chef getting angry with the people he works with, but it is about the subject at hand. We never learn about Ramsey’s personal life, and it’s rare we learn about the restaurant owners’ personal lives either. Another example is the recent reboot of Queer Eye. This show is nothing but positive, as the Fab Five give well-deserving people makeovers – portraying five gay men working together to improve the life of someone else.
Perhaps some might argue that Selling Sunset would not be as gripping if it only focused on the selling of homes. However, if we look at some of the most successful reality TV shows in the UK, many of them have nothing to do with the personal lives of the cast, or feature any sort of bickering at all. The Great British Bake-Off is a great example of this, simply centring itself around baking, and reaching 6.9 million viewers in 2019. Gogglebox is another perfect example – in 2013, the premise of watching people watch TV may have sounded like the most boring thing in the world, but weekly the show engrosses up to 4 million people. In comparison, The Real Housewives franchise never gets more than 2 million views, proving that not everyone is drawn to cattiness, as much as TV companies like to say they are.
So when will platforms, like Netflix, shine a positive light on women who work or compete with one another? Perhaps it starts with audiences voicing their dislikes and concerns with shows that live up to these stereotypes, and demanding more content that portrays the true experience of women working together in an all-female space. However, as we know, reality TV is strange. The worse the show is, the more audiences can’t turn their eyes away from the screen.
Words by Tasmin Fatodu