the workplace behavior on “Selling Sunset” … is a problem

Have you watched “Selling Sunset” on Netflix? It’s a reality show about high-end real estate agents in LA with no professional boundaries whatsoever and lots of really appalling behavior. Vice asked me to talk about some of the most jaw-dropping moments on the show, and it both raised my blood pressure and was awfully fun. You can read it here.

(Note: some NSFW language/references.)

{ 158 comments… read them below }

  1. TdotKrayz*

    First. I’m contributing.

    Second, yeah, no. How do fools like this ever get hired and stay employed (because we know it’s not just fiction and there truly are dysfunctional workplaces like this) when there are tons of good people unemployed.

    1. pope suburban*

      I think at least part of it is these companies not *wanting* experienced, good employees. I worked for a nightmare company that actually has an overlap with this show, and I was the only person there who had had multiple, professional jobs before. Everyone else was hired straight out of school, and only had your average student jobs like making sandwiches or working in retail to compare it to. It felt, in retrospect, like a sleazy adult who dates teenagers because they don’t know better, and can maybe be convinced that this is what “real” relationships are like. The problem ranged from the office staff to the shop employees, and if you suspect that another lure of the “hire inexperienced people” strategy was to underpay them savagely, you’d be right! It’s all a racket to pay as little as humanly possible, do as little as humanly possible to maintain the workplace, and avoid consequences for terrible behavior. The Hellmouth apartment complex that’s been mentioned here a few times is another one of those; workplaces definitely breed and reinforce this kind of behavior, and end up alienating people who can see them for what they are.

      1. Wintermute*

        “Hire ’em in masses, train ’em in classes, kick ’em in the asses” as one old boss said. You’re SPOT ON when it’s the workplace embodiment of the sentiment that sometimes young people don’t have a frame of reference. I forget the name of the novel, and the exact context but in my dating life I’ve always been struck by an exchange in a novel. Middle-aged antihero type goes on a date with a co-worker, she tells him to stick to younger women because there’s a line between interesting and effed up and sometimes younger women haven’t learned the difference yet.

        1. pope suburban*

          Oh, that line sounds familiar to me too! It was kind of in the back of my mind when I was writing about this, in fact. It definitely came to mind when I was working there a few times, too. So many times, I’d see something completely bonkers, then see my colleagues totally unfazed by it, and was just at a loss. Like…it never would have flown anywhere else I’d worked, and it seemed so obvious that it shouldn’t, but I guess you get someone right out of college and you lie to them enough, you can get them used to anything.

        2. Auroralight37*

          “She informed me, matter-of-factly, that she was old enough to know the difference between intriguing and fucked up. “You should go for younger women,” she advised me. “They can’t always tell.”
          ― Tana French, In the Woods

          1. Wintermute*

            Thank you! I didn’t have enough actual quotation to find the source, now I will have it forever!

        3. RozGrunwald*

          “Middle-aged antihero type goes on a date with a co-worker, she tells him to stick to younger women because there’s a line between interesting and effed up and sometimes younger women haven’t learned the difference yet.”

          Ha. I dated that guy, for several years. He started losing interest in me when I got old enough to figure out that he was not creative and mercurial in a unique and exciting way; he was just an insensitive jerk who couldn’t hold down a job. He started sniffing around women who were the age I was when we first got together (as those ladies were still naive enough to fall for his act) and I dumped him.

          There’s a line in “Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office” that I always try to remember, something like: if you’re in a meeting and everyone is saying something can’t be done, and then you think to yourself “But I could make that work” – you are being naive. Put your hand down and do not volunteer for the hopeless assignment no one else wants. Good advice for work assignments, dysfunctional workplaces and relationships.

          1. voluptuousfire*

            LOL. “Put your hand down and do not volunteer for the hopeless assignment no one else wants.”–sounds like what my neighbor told me about her divorce from her ex-husband.

          2. TardyTardis*

            Roger that! All I had to do was to say the word and I would have been the vendor input specialist forever. I would rather have emptied bedpans first, and successfully avoided it till someone else ended up in that role. (I really wanted to be the Asset Queen, but she wouldn’t retire, the rat! ).

      2. Rachel in NYC*

        one of my friends worked someplace that she named Hellmouth (or something along those lines.) Moving employers meant leaving the field she wanted to work in all together but she felt it was necessary for her mental health.

        and she wasn’t wrong.

    2. Mongrel*

      Some of my experiences, which may be skewed, is that Sales of any sort get a much looser hand with rules.
      It’s normally self-fulfilling\reinforcing, they get a rockstar seller who has a few quirks forgiven because they’re really bringing in the cash\contracts and they’re the sort of things that mediocre managers love because revenue is easy to justify.
      After a few rounds of hiring quirky becomes the new norm and the allowable boundaries are pushing into dysfunctional.
      Rinse & repeat a few times and keep having higher-ups who are mostly focused on profit over everything else …

  2. Justin*

    My wife ran through this whole show, and one of my main thoughts was, “that sure is a very…. let’s just call it demographically homogenous group of mean, petty people.”

    But they are indeed a great example of terrible workplace behavior! And it’s presented as a positive “fun” thing, too.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I had to stop watching. And I love “trashy” shows, I think they can be fun! But I gave up because they all look the dang same and they don’t know how to behave themselves at work.

      1. Youngin*

        Same! I watched 3 episodes and the bully of the show was so nasty I couldnt anymore. And this is coming from someone that might as well inject the Real Housewives franchise into her blood stream. It was NASTY and I think makes the Owners look bad

      2. lapgiraffe*

        I’ve watched the first season so far and I don’t know who is who because they all look the same. And sometimes I yell at the boss guys when they’re expressing displeasure with how the women are doing their jobs “this is what happens when your only hiring criteria is blonde and former model!” Not that those people can’t be good at this job, I actually like the show the most when they are doing a good job (I really like Maya in particular thus far, I made the effort to figure out her name for that reason), but you gotta dig further than the superficial AND embrace diversity!!

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I just googled the name of the company and your’e right—they all look the same. It’s like a uniform! I don’t remember seeing their names on any of the houses I look at in the L.A. Times Hot Property section every Saturday (I like to look for weird or over-the-top houses and then we make fun of them on Facebook).

        It’s kind of funny. L.A. might be the Center of Slick, but it and Santa Cruz are also both packed with weirdos. I’d rather watch a show about those folks.

        Also, I truly belong there and not here, because I am a weirdo, thank you very much. :)

        1. Idril Celebrindal*

          I just did too and omg. They all look so similar. Also, the photos look so airbrushed and photoshopped that the headshots have no personality left and everyone looks plastic. It reminds me of that letter where the boss was photoshopping herself into oblivion on everything.

          I feel like any workplace where everyone in it agreed to be on a reality show would have to be a wretched hive of dysfunction and villainy. Either everyone was so divorced from reality that they all thought it was a good idea, or it was so toxic that those who would have objected were bullied into it. Most workplaces don’t have that level of sameness of perspective without also being toxic.

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      Ew. I need a shower and an exorcist just after reading the article. If I actually watched that show, I’d be tempted to think the planet would be better off with everyone dead.

    3. Riverlady*

      I got through a solid 1.5 episodes before my automatic tic of “Stop calling yourselves girls! You are grown-ass women! Is this an alternate universe Charlie’s Angels?” became too much

  3. HelloHi*

    I think we all cannot take the show too seriously. A lot of things they do are probably for ratings. Also, the group is much larger and there are plenty of people who work there and are not on the show. I think they actual work happens off camera. But I do see how some people watching it may get the wrong idea.

    1. kittymommy*

      I’ve never seen the show but I really hope this is the case. I refuse to believe that this company ca be successful with these individuals as their actual, working brokers/agents (not sure what the correct title is). The real work must be done by functioning adults. Right??

      1. penny*

        Yeah, I know someone who knows someone who works for Oppenheim Group and he is 100% not on camera, ever, (iirc he’s an accountant) and he says that the rest of the company is pretty normal (I mean, as normal as you can get when you’ve got some co-workers like this lol). They absolutely picked their most dramatic employees to be on the show AND they play up the drama.

        1. HelloHi*

          There is this guy I follow on YouTube, Graham Stephan, and he works there but is not on the show. On YT, he seems to be super normal and down to earth.

          1. In Progress*

            I was just going to comment something similar!!!

            1. Yay Graham
            2. I saw that he interviewed Jason recently and Jason seemed very smart, thoughtful, and driven. The show makes seem like such a douche.

          2. Red Stapler*

            You can catch a glimpse of him every once in a while in the background of the “office” scenes. He’s never in focus and never says a word. I get the impression that this is show is meant to be an entertainment division of the company. It’s produced by the same team that did _The Hills_.

    2. YoungTen*

      I was thinking that the whole time reading. its a “reality” show which we all know is anything but real.

    3. Name Required*

      Yeah, you can even see that on the show, too. Two people who are supposedly enemies are yelling at each other in one scene, and then you see them in the background of a party in another scene and they’re hugging and laughing. Reality TV is not real.

      1. acm*

        Yeah, the one being set up as the, uh, ‘W’itch character (at least in the first couple of episodes) will say shocking things and then the camera lingers on her juuust long enough to see a sly little smile pop out that at least *seems* to tell me that she has been cast in this role and is leaning into it hard and loving it.

    4. Coffee Cup*

      Also I think this is a bit unfair to (mostly) Mary and Maya, who demonstrably work hard and sell houses. Chrishell and Amanza are up and coming. Heather has her moments. Even the horrible Davina has been a successful real estate agent for years. Some (most) of the drama is exaggerated for the sake of the reality show, but I don’t think it’s fair to write the whole cast off.

      1. chewingle*

        So I guess my question is…why??? Are they just making so much money from the show that they can afford for clients to not want to buy or sell houses with them? Or does “any attention is good attention” apply here?

    5. Media Monkey*

      i’d also read that people who work in that area for similar properties have never seen them at any open houses or brokers opens. so i wonder if it is “reality” rather than actual reality.

    6. CFrance*

      I agree. It’s one of those virtual reality shows, and anyone exhibiting proper office behavior is not going to garner ratings! I doubt this show is the real deal of how a real estate office (even in LA) works. Having said that, there certainly are a lot of beautiful people in LA, and there is an air of artificiality in the celebrity world out there that I’m sure rubs off. Enjoy (or not) it for what it is, but don’t take it too seriously.

  4. Cobol*

    A theoretical question about this. I know some otherwise not completely illegal things are okay under certain conditions, with entertainment being one (e.g. I can say I’m looking for an actor who is a white male no older than 39).
    Does the fact that people tune into the show for the drama, and aside from money Netflix is giving them, it could also lead to more listings, make the behavior now legally acceptable?

    1. Coverage Associate*

      Comments below tell us 2 important things. First, the agents aren’t employees. They’re independent contractors. Second, there are agents not shown on the show. So probably there’s no EOO claim in the brokerage’s future.

      But, one episode mentioned that a particular neighborhood was favored by bachelors. Even then, I don’t think an employer (which this isn’t) can discriminate. Like, men and women selling men’s clothes in a department store will probably have different sales techniques, but the employer needs to give both a chance.

      1. Cobol*

        Just to clarify, being an independent contractor has no bearing on this. Nor does having other people not on the show.

        If I own a gym, and have personal trainers who give me a cut, or rent the space, I am legally liable if one is sexually harassing the other.

      2. Cobol*

        Oh and a point I missed. They are most definitely an employer, regardless of whether the people are contractors or full time employee.

          1. Cobol*

            Okay. I’m going to walk away, because this is not the type of site this is, but it is a TV show about a business. That the entertainment aspect might make otherwise illegal things legal is literally my question.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It depends on what the job really is. If it’s “real estate agent” (not just in name, but in reality), then no, there’s no suspension of the normal laws governing this stuff. If it’s “actor appearing in scenes about boundary-challenged workplace,” then yes, it would be different. If it’s both, it’s a lot hazier but I’d err on the side of assuming normal laws are in effect.

          2. Marthooh*

            It’s a TV show and a real estate office!

            (Please picture Dan Akroyd shouting this from your television screen.)

  5. HR Bee*

    I’ve never like “watched” Selling Sunset, but it’s been on in the background and I’ve caught a couple minutes of it here and there and OMG I THOUGHT IT WAS A SCRIPTED, FICTIONAL SHOW. Like ala The Office.

    My brain hurts just thinking that it’s reality. Do they have HR? Does she just sit in her office with a bottle of wine and cry?

    1. Filosofickle*

      Well, I’d argue “reality” is a stretch. It may not be fictional but that doesn’t mean it isn’t planned/scripted to an extent.

      1. Language Lover*

        Exactly. Reality shows are often scripted–not in the sense that every statement or word is written down in advance like your traditional fictional TV show but that scenarios are often planned in advance. It’s a mix.

        For instance, Chrisell’s divorce is real. As is Heather’s relationship outside of the show that she talks about.

        But the “Mary gets preferential treatment” drama with the listings feels very scripted.

          1. Amy Sly*

            Rule of thumb: if you didn’t see the words coming out of a person’s mouth, it was scripted. I was ancillarily involved with one, and they dubbed over a line completely changing its meaning. Apparently, they didn’t like an audience member yelling “I love all of you except the plants!” at a competition where some of the protagonists were competing. They changed one of the awards given out — in person it was for “best personifying the role,” on the show it was “best in show.” If that’s the kind of thing they could pull when they weren’t pulling all the strings, I can only imagine how much worse it is when they have more control.

        1. acm*

          You can definitely tell that sometimes they’re sitting around and were told more or less, “Okay, so what do you guys think about Mary’s engagement? Do you think this guy is on the up-and-up or taking advantage? Discuss.” One scripted show I really enjoyed was UnREAL – it makes watching reality TV a wholly different experience (a more interesting if queasy-making one, actually!).

          1. Riverlady*

            UnREAL is fantastic, though also a workplace with no boundaries. I really love it for its portrayal of how women of different ages can lean on each other in non-traditional ways.

    2. bluephone*

      Wait, it’s a “reality” show??? I’ve never heard of it before this column or the Vice article and assumed it was a scripted show, like HR Bee said.

      Honestly, any company that lets themselves get caught up in reality TV doesn’t deserve to have any business. If I were an off-camera employee of this company, I’d be polishing my resume and stalking recruiters every spare second I could.

      1. pope suburban*

        Funny enough, my former nightmare employer was approached by one of those shows maybe a year into my time there. The boss didn’t tell us which one it was, but we got the impression it was one of those business-rehab ones, like Kitchen Nightmares. My personal suspicion is that we irritated- justifiably, I am sure- some studio head or show producer who wanted to see us exposed on national TV. I think I might have been fine with that, but the boss opted out because he didn’t want to lose total control (This being exactly why I wanted the entire country to see him for the horrible tool he is; couldn’t happen to a nicer guy), so we’ll never know. It’s very weird working in Hollywood’s backyard sometimes.

  6. Oh No She Di'int*

    I completely agree that being steeped in inappropriate workplace behavior can warp your sense of boundaries for years to come, especially if it’s an early career experience. One of my first jobs was an entry level situation in an artsy-ish industry. I came in with a cohort of 6 or 7 other very young, very new employees. We were left essentially unsupervised too often and the talk turned to every out-of-bounds personal topic you can think of: sex, drug use, petty in-fights, and on and on. It was more like a dorm than a workplace. I truly thought of this as normal workplace behavior for years afterwards.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      I had a very similar experience in a job I worked at through part of college, made worse by the fact that for logistical reasons, my little cohort of 18 to 21-year-olds was physically isolated from the rest of the company, so they couldn’t see us, though they could hear us, if we were loud enough…

      And sometimes we *were* loud enough! I wasn’t personally, but among our number were 2-4 people who adored drama. It was very unpleasant and stressful for those of us who did not. I eventually moved to a different job in the same company, and while it wasn’t perfect, at least I never again had coworkers denouncing each other and calling each other names, so that was a bit plus.

    2. anon for this*

      I work in higher ed, which is no coincidence. I’d seen and heard so much about horrendous workplace behavior that I was basically afraid of doing anything else.

      This site has really helped me out.

    3. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I had a situation like this. My first career job was at a shoestring-budget kind of a company that hired a lot of new grads, then usually lost them a few years later after they gained some experience and were worth more on the open market than the company could afford to pay. A group of recent grads in their low 20s will pretty much act like they’re still in college if there aren’t older coworkers around to model professional norms. I ended up having a really hard time learning workplace culture in my second job, and getting a lot of unhelpful, vague negative feedback where people beat around the bush so much that the message went over my head.

  7. Youngin*

    I actually had to stop watching that show after the first 3 episodes. One of the girls (I cant remember her name but she is the self professed bully with platinum blonde hair) is super super nasty. I love me some reality TV but she came off as so mean spirited and was bullying the other girls right off the bat. Loved your take on this.

    Do The Office next! loll

    1. He's just this guy, you know?*

      Yes, please – I would love to see an article about some of the characters and situations from The Office!

    2. Toffee Apple Chew*

      The Office! I can’t watch it anymore because I yell too much about the blatant HR violations, sexual harassment, racism, and severely dysfunctional culture on that show. I’d love to hear Alison’s take!

  8. Rosy Glasses*

    I have a thing for reality shows like this — the one that always floors me is Vanderpump Rules. It’s crazy!

  9. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Good lord who thinks this is fun to watch? I have enough trouble watching Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, and he’s there to fix a recognized problem. So we the viewers are getting a view into someone else’s painful lesson.
    This sounds like watching someone shovel manure and then roll in it.

    1. un-pleased*

      I find Selling Sunset more fun to watch than anything featuring Gordon Ramsey. I don’t find his demeanor edifying. I’m in to look at cars, houses, and outrageous outfits.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Plenty of people LOVE these over the top “reality” shows or there wouldn’t be so many of them. Personally, I keep drama out of my personal life and have no desire to watch fake drama on tv either, but to each their own.

      1. LQ*

        I do love a good over the top reality show about absurdly wealthy people. I hate drama in my personal life but watching it on tv is very different. I’ve been burning my way through tv shows about very very rich people, because they have so much money that it is literally fantasy. More likely to end up with the power to shoot lighting out of my fingers than to have that much money. So watching a show where no one lives in the real world we experience today? Is an absolute escapist joy.

        Different people like different things.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          Umm, okay. Did you miss the part where I said “to each their own”?

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I like the British Kitchen Nightmares way better than the American one. He’s less yelly on that one.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Oops, hit send too soon– I did eat at Plane Food once and the food was really, really good. So he does know what he’s talking about. But the restaurant and food service world is hugely dysfunctional. No wonder it gets on reality TV.

      2. JustaTech*

        Second on the British version being much better. There’s more compassion, marginally less shouting, and, I don’t know, but there’s a difference in how British reality/competition shows are edited compared to American ones.

        Though the British version did feel the need to have Ramsey shirtless every episode, which was random.

      3. Lorac*

        Oh yes, Gordon Ramsey has even commented on that. He basically think Americans are nuts and want him to yell all the time, so he has to play it up to appeal to US viewers.

    4. Double A*

      Yeah I think after being force-fed four years of The Apprentice: Breaking Democracy I’ll never be able to watch reality television again.

  10. Ginger*

    I watch to see the real estate and some of the outrageous outfits.

    Season 2 had some “interesting” commentary around working moms and it made me so sad (and see red) when some of the women showed no mercy to the single mom who was running late. Turns out she has a time management issue but still. There was a bunch of dialogue around how they needed to have nannies to be 100% “on” and I thought that was so sad for many reasons but mostly that here we are in 2020 (or 2018/9 when it was filmed) and that women were not supporting women.

    1. un-pleased*

      Same. In Season 3, Amanza and her kids get more air time , and I think that’s important.

    2. Coverage Associate*

      The real estate as sport among certain Californians is totally real. And considering that real estate is now a stepping stone to president, I like how it does show that sometimes it’s just about dollars (and negotiations can go very slow for months and then very fast on the last day) and sometimes it’s more complicated, like buyers needing to sell their current house to buy the next.

      1. Ginger*

        Agreed – I love seeing the insights into negotiations. Same with other real estate reality shows.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Your last sentence is one of my favorite “songs”. In some ways women do worse things to each other than men ever thought of. It was more noticeable when I first started working, so I have to believe that people took advantage of how naive I was.

      Oddly, of everything that has happened to me the thing that sticks in my head the most is women (and people in general) who cannot say what they mean. They have to “hint” instead. Usually the hint was so obscure that I never understood it. When I failed scorn and ridicule followed, of course. I do understand that there is that social pressure where women cannot say what they actually mean…. unless of course they are scorning and ridiculing then it’s just “cattiness”. wth.

      I can’t watch a show like this. I tried watching The Office once or twice and I gave up.

    4. acm*

      Haha, I’m a couple episodes in (went in thinking it’d be HGTVish, like Property Brothers or something) and saying that I’m watching it for the real estate feels like someone saying that they read Playboy for the articles. XD And yet I let Netflix roll me over to the next episode…

  11. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    As I told one of my friends over the weekend, “You watch Love It Or List It for the realty; you watch Selling Sunset to try to figure out why Christine is so BITTER.”

    Really, though, I find the show entertaining in an “I cannot believe these people exist” way. But I would never in a thousand years work for that group. It’s poison all the way down.

    1. anon for extra care*

      Had friends on (and working for) love it or list it. While there are real aspects, the couples have to decide who gets to be the whiny, drama person, certain parts of the house may never be shown, and a lot of the proposed work is understood to be complete fantasy.

      1. Language Lover*

        And, from what I remember reading, the homeowners usually film both a “we’re going to love it” and a “we’re going to list it” and don’t have control over which one the producers will choose.

      2. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

        Oh, I didn’t say REALITY; I said REALTY. Like, if I’m wanting to watch something that’s mainly about houses, that’s the show I pick because I find the people on House Hunters to be insufferable and I love Hilary and David. I know very little of what I’m watching is real. I just meant that SS isn’t about the houses at ALL. Ha…

        1. tangerineRose*

          You might check out “House Hunters – Comedians on Couches”, where comedians watching from home make comments about the show while it’s on.

          1. tangerineRose*

            I watched that, and it was pretty funny because of the comedians (who were mainly showing common sense). If I watched it by itself, I think I’d be yelling at the TV because some of the house hunters are frustrating!

        2. Taniwha Girl*

          Yes, House Hunters is certainly not real! Apparently contestants have already purchased their houses and are touring (and sh-tting on) their friends’ houses!

  12. lilsheba*

    I think it’s ramped up for ratings, it’s well known that reality shows are not that “real”.

    1. Coverage Associate*

      I definitely got the impression that the people were portraying more of characters after season 1, purposefully being more dramatic or less relatable.

  13. Wintermute*

    “Hire ’em in masses, train ’em in classes, kick ’em in the asses” as one old boss said. You’re SPOT ON when it’s the workplace embodiment of the sentiment that sometimes young people don’t have a frame of reference. I forget the name of the novel, and the exact context but in my dating life I’ve always been struck by an exchange in a novel. Middle-aged antihero type goes on a date with a co-worker, she tells him to stick to younger women because there’s a line between interesting and effed up and sometimes younger women haven’t learned the difference yet.

  14. Coverage Associate*

    Something else I thought was interesting was how the one employee of color featured gets to start her real estate agent career on multi million properties because she is a long time friend of the owner.

    My own profession is similar in that pay is very different depending on your niche, but not your experience.

  15. EL*

    I used to really enjoy the show but I just finished Season 3 and absolutely agree that some of these behaviors are totally inappropriate.

  16. ggg*

    I was kind of excited about seeing the real estate featured on this show, but the absolute nonsense manufactured drama overshadows everything and makes it terrible.
    On the plus side, now I know what local realtors I should absolutely NOT hire.

  17. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Every time someone says “that’s over the top and would never happen in real life” (implying it’s all scripted) I’m reminded of my family and wide group of online friends who have seen it all and worse in their work history. It’s sad that just about everyone has a horrific work experience in their lives at least once.

    But, on the other side, it’s part of the reason we have AAM so we can find solutions and support when the things do occur…

    I’m not going to watch more of the show though. If I wanna see appalling behaviour I’ll go outside…(our town is facing a local lockdown due to people not behaving and hoo boy do some want to protest about it!)

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Sure, but this isn’t to say that it isn’t scripted. No one would suggest that The Office wasn’t scripted.

  18. Richard Hershberger*

    I gave up on reality television a decade back. It is in no sense “reality.” At best it is the producers creating a narrative through selective editing. At worst, the people shown on camera are following directions from the producers. It is not quite scripted, but it is more improv following standard cues than it is real interactions. At that point we have effectively a scripted show, but with amateur dialogue and acting. Some people enjoy this, but I find it tiresome.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I do think the people on the show are “acting” and over-dramatizing what’s happening. BUT I did work in entertainment in LA and some workplaces are pretty crazy there. Like things that would not be acceptable in any other type of big corporate environment are accepted in The Biz.

    2. Amorette Allison*

      This. Even bland things like “House Hunters,” the people appearing are told to argue about things to increase the drama. I haven’t seen the show and wouldn’t watch it unless I was paid — and very well at that — but it sounds about as fake as “reality” can be.

      1. AP*

        They aren’t even house hunting on House Hunters. It’s completely staged with couples that have already purchased their new home prior to taping the show.

  19. high school teacher*

    I’ve been reading so much Ask a Manager that whenever I’m consuming entertainment involving a workplace, I think “what would Alison say about this.” On the weekend post, Alison recommended the book Luster which I happen to be reading right now, and during some of the interactions at her workplace (in the novel) I thought about Ask a Manager! I binged all of Selling Sunset in a couple days, and I kept thinking what Alison would have to say about their workplace LOL. Alison, if you’re reading this, thanks for all that you do and thanks for engaging with the workplace issues in pop culture. I wish I could add a giant grinning emoji right here!

    1. Wintermute*

      Funny you mention it. I just got the audiobook for American Psycho, and since the prototype for Bateman was a New York real estate agent, this entire post reminded me a little bit of that, especially with the talk of wild outfits (seriously, look up some of the outfits they’re described as wearing from 80s vintage catalogs, they looked utterly ludicrous at times) and backbiting and sniping behavior (though, hopefully, no literal sniping).

      There’s a lot of petty office drama, fights over business cards, who has better haircuts, and whether the red snapper pizza is ‘brittle’ in that book, in fact the violence doesn’t show up until over five hours into the audiobook, until then it’s all rich people being awful to each other.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That whole book is a satire about the artificial lifestyles and ridiculousness of the people in question. I mean, there’s a scene where Patrick Bateman just blurts out something like “I nailed someone’s face to the wall” and his friends just go right on jabbering about which poser restaurant they should go to.

        1. Wintermute*

          I love that running gag, every time he says outright he’s a killer and wants to hurt someone either the music is too loud and they can’t hear, or he is misinterpreted (“murders and executions” is heard as “mergers and acquisitions” etc). My favorite running gag, though, is that they keep mistaking each other for other people and no one corrects anyone– they’re totally interchangeable units.

          Even though it doesn’t show up until the latter third, the extreme violence is SO extreme I hesitate to recommend it to anyone, if only because I don’t want them wondering what the heck kind of person I am, but you’re right you could almost cut those chapters out entirely and it would remain a biting satire on that kind of corporate culture and of the lifestyles of the upper class in New York in the yuppie era.

  20. bunniferous*

    Ahem. I have not watched this show so take this for what it is worth: Real estate agents for the most part are NOT really employees. We do have to hang our license at a particular office but we are considered independent contractors. I do understand some workplaces have team concepts, etc but basically we are a bunch of cats that are hard to herd. Now it could be this show has a lot of admin and transaction coordinators or folks who do punch a time clock, I don’t know since I have not watched it.
    All I know is that no one tells me when or where I have to work even tho I do work for my boss in a specific category. No one tells me what to do or how to do it except the government entity that gives us the listings I work with. I have to follow certain ethics for my designation (which are all commonsense and basic decency and fairness) but yeah, I am not really an employee.

    1. Cobol*

      I’ve seen this a few times, employing independent contractors instead of another type of employee does not absolve a business owner from hostile workplace, discrimination, and sexual harassment laws.

  21. MissDisplaced*

    So, I used to work in the entertainment industry in LA and some of the workplace rules were definitely more… lax.
    Behaviors didn’t rise to quite the level of Selling Sunset (because I assume these people are “acting” as this is a pseudo-reality show) but I did work someplace where the in-office conversations could be very much TMI. This included talking about industry gossip, dating horrors, bodies, etc., and really should NOT have been discussed at work, though it was often very funny and humorous because we had a lot of writers and creative types. I cringe now at some of that talk, but in my 20’s it seemed kinda fun.

    I also worked for a short time at an agency where one of the partners was the typical a-hole “schmuck of Hollywood” type trope like Kevin Spacey in Swimming With Sharks. Those types of people really do exist and man are they mean. And yes, it is excused because they’re the players and rainmakers, and if you want to work in the industry you have to put up with them. Maybe that’s changed with Harvey Weinstein and MeToo, but I doubt it will change completely.

    1. fads*

      I’d love a post on that actually – how to apply the “strictest” workplace rules to places where its really lax – entertainment, some startups, sometimes political campaigns. I’ve worked in places like that and I do think they need to be more professional, but also because of the nature of they are it’s really okay that they’re not as buttoned up as other industries

    2. Phil*

      Swimming With Sharks has more than just a whiff of reality about Hollywood. I can also recommend the short lived sitcom Action starring Jay Mohr.

  22. Frank Doyle*

    You guys should check out Bajillion Dollar Propertie$. It sounds like it’s exactly like this show, except that Bajillion is not actually a reality show, and is rather comedians (of the improv variety) spoofing a show just like it. Except that the real thing sounds just as, even possibly more ridiculous, than the spoof. (Seriously though, Bajillion is hilarious. I think it’s on PlutoTV.)

  23. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’ve heard of this show but didn’t realize it was on Netflix…thank you for this tidbit of awful information, just what I needed, MOAR bad reality tv.

    It’s often because many real estate brokers are just toxic “small business” owners that everyone runs far far far away from. They tend to take advantage of the young and recently graduated because they’re looking for people to exploit with the idea of possible-big-money which is really a fraction of what their full commissions are.

    I don’t want to work for anyone who lands on a reality tv show but I’ll watch the hell out of the awfulness.

    1. Jennifer*

      My former doctor is on Married to Medicine on Bravo. I stopped going as soon as I saw her there.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s one that I can’t watch, even though my fingers while under a blanket, like I watch most trainwreck reality TV. They gotta pay their student loans somehow though *sobs*

  24. Laura*

    It’s also noteworthy that Chrisell’s job before this was as an actress on Days of Our Lives. Which would make me think that some of the drama is manufactured

  25. No Vacancy*

    I agree that some of the scenes appear to be over blown and dubbed over with scripted dialogue. However, I worked in the multi family industry through my early 20’s and wow…it was so toxic and Selling Sunset brought back a lot of memories. I’m not sure what it was about that specific industry, but the drama was everywhere. I thought maybe it was my own problem because every property I worked at would have a very catty/overly competitive leasing agent or a tyrant of a property manager that shared too much about her personal life while always berating you about how female leasing agents should look. I finally got out of that line of work and quickly realized that a lot of the crappy situations w/ coworkers I found myself in were because someone was always gaslighting me cause the drama didn’t follow me as once I left. Good riddance.

  26. Mannheim Steamroller*

    The first rule of “reality” shows is that they aren’t reality. They’re almost as scripted as “scripted” shows; the main difference is that “reality” show writers aren’t unionized.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think most people know reality shows aren’t truly reality. But it’s still interesting to dissect, especially when such ridiculous behavior is being presented as acceptable at work.

    2. Grim*

      The “real” world must be getting thin on true workplace issues and difficult coworkers. Covid is done?
      Sounds like ‘The real housewives of Beverly Hills’, but instead of revolving around alcohol, it’s revolving around realestate.

    3. Lis*

      I think someone above mentioned that it is produced by the same people who produced some MTV reality shows which I found interesting as when I was watching it I was thinking “Wow the style and interpersonal relationships really remind me of ‘The Hills’

    4. Magenta Sky*

      And the actors are classified as gameshow contestants, which makes them a whole lot cheaper than union scale.

      Dissecting a reality show is exactly the same as dissecting a sitcom. It’s all fiction, and the actors are simply playing a role.

  27. lapgiraffe*

    As a salesperson I know what it’s like to take shit from customers and have to grin and bear it, but I’m amazed 1) how often these women get slime balls who are clearly not sincerely looking to buy and instead are looking to get with the woman in a sexual/romantic way 2) why they don’t shut it down sooner.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      When I lived in LA, I found that “sex sells” and it’s a way to get ahead for a lot of people in a lot of industries there. That town placed SUCH an importance on looking good, and creating the facade of looking like you have money–even if you didn’t. It’s not called La La Land for nothing.

    2. Lis*

      I think that is one of the things that points to it being scripted. How naïve do you have to be to appear on a show obviously sleazing on someone and having no intention of buying a house and not get paid for it? They must have signed a release.

  28. Phil*

    Let me say first that my view of this is skewed by the 40 years I spent in the entertainment business, most in TV.
    It’s not a workplace in the traditional sense, it’s a TV show. You aren’t employed, you’re cast. Even if you worked there first, as soon as they started shooting you’re cast. There are plenty of people in these places who aren’t on camera. Why? Either they were just boring folks like you and I or they weren’t willing to make themselves interesting by generating conflict, which, as everyone who took freshman drama knows, is the basis of all drama, even comedy.
    So it’s a workplace, not a real estate business workplace but a TV show workplace, which operates by a slightly different set of rules. Off camera this behavior would not be tolerated but on camera it’s a different story. Literally.
    And to end on a slightly humorous note, any time you are watching and wonder why they’re doing something crazy the answer is. “It’s a TV show.”

  29. 1qtkat*

    I was wondering the same things about this show. I would never want to work there because it just looks like a toxic work environment, but it’s great fun to watch as a guilty pleasure. I’m totally Team Chrishell! Even though I share the same first name, Christine is just awful, she reminds me of some of the people I went to law school with.

  30. Tuna Casserole*

    I think shows like this often have a director who asks people to “re-do” a “real” scene and punch it up a little, or a lot. Also, the participants learn pretty quickly that the more dramatic they are, the more screen time they get.

    1. Phil*

      Actually there’s a producer with each camera crew doing just that. the director assembles the show after it’s shot.

  31. Ashley*

    I binged all 3 seasons of this show and the whole time I kept saying “This show is AWFUL…. Yes, Netflix, I am still watching!” *hangs head in shame* The whole time, I kept thinking “What would Alison say about this?” Especially the scenes where one of the agents (I think Heather?) is at Jason’s house (aka, her boss), and they are drinking and talking about how in another world they totally would have dated, or something like that, and he’s grilling her about her boyfriend, and stuff, and it’s just SO ICKY. And then at a broker’s open house, Christine starts saying the most nasty things to and about Mary IN FRONT OF other agents and Jason’s literally just there doing nothing – I KNOW it’s all for the drama and fake tv and all that, but good LORD! You’re the boss! Ughhhh.

  32. Coffee Cup*

    I love Selling Sunset! It is like the horrible work stories here. It is so much fun. I am surprised there is not more love for it in the comments!

  33. Jennifer*

    I love that trashy show. I’m sure much of the drama is overblown for television but it does really show why referring to your coworkers as a family is a recipe for disaster.

  34. Thankful for AAM*

    I loved this post and I dont even watch the show. Alison is just so engaging and awesome!!

  35. Kara S*

    All I could think while watching the past season was “what would Allison say about this”. So happy you wrote an article on this subject!

    Also Allison if you ever see this and are interested…. hearing your thoughts on the workplace behaviour in The Office would also be super interesting. So much is going on in that show.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      I would love a topic where we can discuss unprofessional workplace behaviour in multiple TV shows and movies.

  36. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    How much of this is “real” though? Reality tv is often scripted and things are forced for dramatic purposes.

  37. I Need a User Name*

    My roommate loves any and all reality shows like this. She binge watched “Selling Sunset” a few weeks ago. I just shook my head. It’s the kind of show which Bravo usually loves, but it’s on Netflix instead. Which made me wonder: Was it not up to Bravo’s (lack of) reality show standards?

  38. Delphine*

    I always wonder about workplace norms while watching Below Deck: Mediterranian, too. Specifically, how the yacht seems to lack them. Oddly enough, I do believe those are (mostly) not-actors who are working on the boat and that some of their experiences are unscripted.

  39. Melissa*

    When it first premiered, I clicked it thinking it was a documentary/real show. I gave up about 10 minutes in; I cannot imagine that is a real workplace.

    Then I noticed it’s tagged “soapy” and “docusoap.”

  40. Bowserkitty*

    A close friend of mine loves this show so I am happily linking her to your article!!! She asked me to watch at least one episode for her and I did. She isn’t American and is unfamiliar with the nuances/secrets of reality shows so for me to watch, as somebody who has read a lot about how staged they really are, it’s hard to me to be a fan and continue on. (I love cooking competitions. I wish they wouldn’t edit some of these shows so much though!)

    this line slayed me
    And “it’s sexy, trust me” is not a defense to harassment charges.

  41. NinaBee*

    Am wondering about that Bar Rescue show in this same vein. I guess these types of shows can be a little set up with rent-a-crowds, staging(?) and careful editing, but watching it recently I wonder how much of the ‘fixing’ behaviour and carrying on is just as toxic as the ‘before’ workplace. Some of the ways he brings people in line feel problematic too.

  42. Special K*

    I worked in Real Estate for nearly three years and frankly, very little of the behaviour on this show shocked me. Having worked in a few different industries, Real Estate is the one that I found the most dysfunctional. Some agents were great and most of the admin staff was great but the agents themselves and the higher ups….it was like high school a lot of the time.

    Like, here is just one example of what went on: one of our agents was cheating on their long-time partner with a client (who also had a long-term partner), all of the partners of the firm knew (most people otuside of our firm also seemed to know, the rumour mill in RE is STRONG) and it was greatly affecting her work and their firm’s rep. The bosses would not talk to her about it, choosing instead to harass the admin staff to see if we knew and what we knew.

    It’s a long story and it got even messier than that but it’s a prime example of the dysfunction in the industry. People who skewed more professional did exist but there weren’t too many of them and they tended to operate a lot more insularly. In my city at least, most RE agents were exactly like high school kids from corny teen movies. It was a lot of egos, alcohol, backstabbing, and overdramatic reactions.

  43. Luna*

    I don’t know this show and just reading this minute description of it sounds horrible. Why would anyone watch something that intentionally raises their blood pressure?

  44. cubone*

    Clearly other people are finding the article, but I just get a Vice “error” message when I click on that link.

    1. Elsewhere*

      And on any given reality show the writers work very, very hard to make i even more realer.

      The most important consideration is casting one of these things is exactly how crazy are you willing to appear on TV. Really crazy? Come on in…

  45. TV Researcher*

    Awfully late to this party (had a vacation day yesterday), but I just finished binging the show. And they’re awful. The bosses. The employees. Even the ones who get the good edit are still awful. On the other hand, the house porn is amazing. It almost makes me want to move back to LA (not that I could afford any of those houses – but maybe I could become friends with someone who could).

  46. Maria*

    Alison thank you so much for your writing on this! I can only stand to watch the parts where they are doing house tours but it’s still terrible workplace behavior!

  47. Elise*

    I both love and hate this show! I’m not usually a “reality” TV fan but this one is addictive for some reason, even though the villains are so unbelievably cruel. I did like that they showed in season one how difficult it was for Maya when she would get clients who just wanted to come on to her and weren’t interested in buying a house. It devolved a bit in the later seasons, but it’s still my favorite guilty pleasure. I did like The Hills when it was out so I guess these show-runners know what I like in mindless TV. Thank you for weighing in on it, Alison!

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