Selling Sunset Keeps Us Hooked on a 21st-Century Fairy Tale

The following contains spoilersSunsets for Sale Season 5.

Selling Sunset It’s the type of show you can turn to to get a little bit of frivolity. But, then, after only a few episodes, your brain is ravaged. Let me give you an example: When I pressed play on the insanely popular reality series’ fifth season, now on Netflix, I had no investment in the relationship between soap star turned real estate agent Chrishell Stause and Jason Oppenheim, the co-owner of the brokerage that employs Stause and her catty co-stars. My rational brain, the same one that refuses to follow the show’s off-season melodrama in the tabloids, waves a million red flags at the idea of a male boss dating his female employee. My. The Sunset Selling brain? The universe wanted Chrishell to marry Jason.

Cognitive dissonance can make sense. Even though it is docusoap in genre, every episode offers copious amounts of the backstabbing or smack talking native to this form. Sunset It can also be called a reality TV fairy tale. This is because it can short-circuit the minds of (mostly but certainly not exclusively) females that took in Snow White and Cinderella before they were capable of speaking full sentences. Updated for the 21st century with flashes of girlboss feminism and flickers of prosperity gospel, this is a bedtime story populated by beautiful woman striving to secure wealth, power, and love—to, essentially, become the contemporary American equivalent of a princess. Although there have been many dating and real estate shows in reality TV history, this particular combination is rare. And that, I’m increasingly certain, is what keeps so many of us watching.

A fairy tale must have a hero, and every one needs one. Sunset, that role—which surely demands as much acting as any scripted soap-opera part—is played by bright-eyed, bubbly Chrishell. The show opened with her arrival at Jason and his twin brother Brett’s Oppenheim Group, a brokerage that specializes in high-end Hollywood homes, and where everyone who isn’t an Oppenheim is a gorgeous, designer-clad woman who has never worn shoes with less than a 4-inch heel. Most of the actors and models have been acting or modeling, even though it doesn’t often make an appearance on-screen. The O-Group employs many people that don’t appear on the show.

Chrishell is complete with a Cinderella background. The show has discussed her childhood in poverty and unhoused. The 40-year old had already become a soap-star by her 20s. She was able to secure long-term roles on the show. All My Children Days of Our Lives. She got married in 2017 This is Us Justin Hartley, star Just two years later, that abrupt breakup was shocking. Sunset’s third season. Chrishell’s third season was watched by many. They brought cameras to the Midwest to document their visit. Chrishell cried through each episode as her heartbroken husband abandoned her. Her mother’s and adoptive father’s deaths from cancer triggered the separation.

Chrishell was also confronted with a conjured nemesis. Christine Quinn. (It will never stop being funny that these women share half a first name—or that Christine went on to not only marry a man named Christian, but also, er, christen their baby Christian.) A platinum-blonde clotheshorse who’s open about her many cosmetic enhancements, Christine styles herself as a fearless truth-teller among airheaded sycophants. She is unable to stop praising her co-stars and gossip reporters, which has led to her losing a lot of ally after allies.

Bodycon dresses and status handbags are also available. de rigueurOn SunsetChristine is the one who did it, AbFab-meets-Elle-Woods taste, consistently looks like she’s in costume as a cartoon rich lady. She’ll wear a bubblegum-pink, Chanel-looking bouclé suit to one professional engagement and a leather dominatrix bodice to the next. In one season 5 scene, newcomer Chelsea Lazkani—Christine’s bestie du jour, who refers to herself and Christine as “Black and blonde Barbie”—remarks that Christine’s hairstyle reminds her of Elizabeth Holmes. “I love the scammer vibes for me,” Christine enthuses. “I was going for running-for-office, Ivanka Trump kinda vibes.” In other words: she knows precisely what she’s doing and plays her villain role to the hilt. That doesn’t just make her fun to hate, although she is; it also makes her an ideal fairy-tale villain, salty and sour enough to balance out Chrishell’s saccharine.

This seems especially significant considering that in this story, the Cinderellas outnumber the wicked stepsisters. We hear more stories from Oppenheim agents, whose backstories are hard luck and echo Chrishell with each season. Mary Fitzgerald was an Oppenheim employee that dated Jason several years ago. At 16, she was a single mom and worked her way through college in order to provide support for her son. Mary’s longtime friend Amanza Smith has spent several seasons immersed in legal drama with her ex, who has extricated himself from their children’s lives. Season 4 addition Emma Hernan spends part of season 5 trying to buy a $3 million home for working-class parents, who, when Emma was a kid, were “just trying to make ends meet.”

It’s in the O-Group offices that the damsel-in-distress archetype commingles with a strain of contemporary, pro-capitalist feminism. Say what you will about these princesses—they bought their own diamond tiaras. Even though the series features a lot empowerment rhetoric, it also ends every season with a heterosexual ceremony (as far the cast is aware, they are all straight). It perpetuates some of our most harmful stereotypes about women, including materialism, competitiveness, gossip, and even a host of other negative ones. This leads to such darkly hilarious scenes as the one in the new season that has Amanza introducing her latest design project: “The entire 3,000-square-foot store is about female empowerment. It is everything from female-owned businesses for the retail space to the She I P lounge,” she enthuses. Mary and Chrishell arrive to dump Christine. It’s moments like this that make me suspect Sunset’s producers are evil geniuses.

Money is what holds together this universe of contradictory female archetypes. The Oppenheim women are shaped by their past poverty and now they compete in an environment of extreme scarcity. (It’s no wonder that the default setting for fairy tales, no matter how long they’ve actually been kicking around in the oral tradition, is feudal Europe.) Here, you either own a Hollywood Hills mansion with an infinity pool, buy a new Chanel purse every week, and fly private, or you’re a destitute failure, unworthy of love and incapable of providing for your family. There are no middle options. “I like to live a lavish lifestyle,” Chelsea says, by way of explaining why she wants to join the exclusive O-Group. “I’m not going to suffer in this life, ever, so I have to work. Hard.” Whether you frame it as a girlboss’s financial independence or a princess’s fairy-tale ending, in SunsetIt is believed that wealth and ostentatiousness are prerequisites for happiness.

Chrishell was forced to store her eggs in order to build her career. Having checked off home ownership on her to-do list, to the tune of $3.3 million, in season 4, she’s finally ready, in the new episodes, to start a family. “I didn’t have the most ideal childhood. Now I’m in a situation where I know I could give a child an amazing life,” she tells Jason, forcing him to decide whether they’ll breed or break up. “I’ve tried to get the success that I have so that I could pour not just my love, but also resources into making sure it would feel like I’m doing important work.”

If you kept up with the headlines about Chrishell and Jason during the show’s hiatus, you went into season 5 already knowing the relationship was doomed. But even if you didn’t, it was a pretty safe bet that Chrishell’s ultimatum wasn’t going to work out the way she’d hoped. When the princess lives happily ever after, the fairy tale we’re all so addicted to has to end. How could producers allow that to happen? The Sunset SellingHas it been renewed in season 7?

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