If Selling Sunset was a delicious, exportable California stone fruit, star Mary Fitzgerald would be its hard center. I suppose no one ever wants to be likened to a pit, but that’s what Mary is: she’s the centerpiece around which gorgeous, thin-skinned, sun-kissed and perfectly hydrated flesh and fruit thrives.
She’s the show’s core and protects the seed of the series; without her, Selling Sunset couldn’t reproduce into ever-growing, ever-deepening revenue streams. Mary is the most crucial part of the product.
Selling Sunset is Netflix’s first “docusoap” (not quite unscripted reality, not quite scripted daytime soap, but somewhere in between) and it follows the real estate agents, all of whom happen to be gorgeous women, who work for brothers Jason and Brett Oppenheim at the Oppenheim Group brokerage in West Hollywood, Calif.
The show was created by Adam DiVello, who also created Laguna Beach and The Hills, and stylistically, the three shows are very similar. Scenes are staged to heighten the drama, or, not even the drama, per se, but to just heighten the cinematic effect that gives the show that in-control and refreshing, air-conditioned feel. To roll down the windows on this production would be too risky.
Almost every shot of Selling Sunset begins with a designer high heel strutting in slow motion toward an infinity pool somewhere in the Hollywood Hills and while watching the show, it’s hard not to wonder why you don’t live in Los Angeles, why you never got into real estate, and why your hair is so… just, why don’t I clip other people’s hair into my own to make it look better? It seems so easy.
There are sweeping drone shots of everything from the insane homes for sale to Christine Quinn taking a swim in her pool. There’s pop music. And there’s a filter over the show that looks like something softer, glossier, and more luxurious than anything Instagram could dream up. DiVello’s cast members never, ever stumble into bad lighting. And they’re never caught unprepared.
The show and its cast are aspirational and unrealistic, but under the designer dresses and handbags, underneath the toned-everything and the facial fillers, there’s Mary The Core, who insists she’s real.
“I’m not a good faker, you get what you get,” she tells me over the phone. She swears she doesn’t dress up, no matter if she’s filming or not.
“I hate to use Christine as an example, but I’ve never glammed up, even on the show. I never get like that. Most of the time I look like I look on the show. I do wear jeans and a blazer most of the time.” (Christine told ET Online that, when filming, she spends close to $1,000 a day on hair and makeup.)
But Mary, what about those now-signature lace bodysuits? Those seem pretty glam.
“The one I get the most comments on is from Forever 21 and I’ve had it for a couple of years. It’s cute, but it’s funny because everyone comments on the cheapest things I have. The others I’ve paid almost double or triple for,” she says. (She wore the Forever 21 bodysuit to her bachelorette party, along with an Aritzia leather skirt and Givenchy boots. The bodysuit is no longer sold online, but here’s a comparable one.)
“I’m not like, a bougie kind of person,” she says.
Mary values fame and material goods less than one might expect, given the nature of Hollywood, the nature of selling Hollywood real estate, and the nature of being on a reality show about realty in Hollywood. In fact, her 22-year-old son Austin Babbitt didn’t even remember she was on a TV show, despite having been on it himself when he walked her down the aisle in the Season 2 finale.
When Jason, Brett, Mary, and a group of other friends were visiting her son in Scottsdale, Arizona recently, someone stopped Mary on the street, recognizing her from the show.
Of her son’s reaction to this interruption, Mary says, “He was like, ‘What is happening right now?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s because of the show. I told you, I’m on a show.’ And he just looked so confused,” she says. “I told him, ‘You need to watch this show, so at least you know what’s going on.’”
“Like, I’m paying your bills, dude. I pay for his Netflix!” She adds, “He’s not into any sort of celebrity stuff. He likes to hike and do his thing and he’s very quiet.”
It’s hard to give Austin a pass for not remembering his mom is on a very popular reality show, especially since he was filmed for said show… but, for some people, it would make sense that they’d never heard of Selling Sunset until now.
Season 1 premiered on Netflix in Spring 2019 without a lot of buzz — only very dedicated reality TV fans were passing the recommendation along to each other — but Season 2 dropped right in the midst of a global pandemic, and with everyone stuck at home, the show started to drum up a larger audience. It was one of Netflix’s top 10 most watched shows at various points over the last couple of months.
The show is successful because of the escapism (which, for what it’s worth, might become less appealing to viewers as extravagance and homogenous casting become less palatable) and for the beautiful line it walks between what’s real and what’s fake. If we scripted some of our own lives, if we planned a little harder, if we dressed for success, would we get more of what we wanted?
Selling Sunset might be selling us a dream, but Mary says it was intended to sell us on the brokerage; centering the show around the business was part of the deal of getting Selling Sunset made in the first place, Mary tells me.
She’s known The Oppenheim Group’s founder and president Jason for years; they met at a party at co-star Amanza Smith’s house, dated, broke up, and are now co-parenting the office dogs, Zelda and Niko. They’re really close friends in real life, just like you see on the show.
Mary says that Jason was unsure, at first, if he wanted to do a show “like this.”
“He has a lot of pride in his brokerage and he wants it to be portrayed a certain way. We’ve all worked really hard, so he didn’t want to do a show like this and then have basically everything he’s worked for just taken away because it was portrayed in a very cheap or bad way,” she says.
(Quick aside: did you know that Jason graduated first in his class from the University of California Berkeley Law School? And was a fancy corporate lawyer for years before opening the real estate firm? The more you know.)
You can see that Jason and Brett (also a former fancy lawyer) are dedicated to the brokerage’s image in Season 2, when they worry that Davina Potratz’s $80 million listing will reflect poorly on their firm. It’s not because she won’t be able to sell it, but because it’s overpriced and they don’t want to look like they’re taking advantage of their clients.
That doesn’t mean that the show doesn’t show the petty side of the agents or the owners, though, like when Mary’s colleagues complain that Jason favors Mary because of their history. I can hear Mary roll her eyes over the phone when I bring it up.
“Jason is very protective of his friends and he’s the most protective of me, probably, but as far as giving me [listings]? I think it’s hilarious,” Mary says.
“If he calls me over to the desk, he’s probably showing me something stupid, like a vintage baseball card or something, but they always assume he’s giving me something,” she says of her co-workers, and denies that he does. “I don’t really get given hardly anything,” she says.
However, “I did in the beginning,” she clarifies. “Like, he would bring me onto something and try to help build my business like he does for every single one of us. But now we’ve all been there long enough, he doesn’t do that.”
Mary says she laughs at everyone’s jealousy of her so-called special treatment. “I can’t even be mad or get frustrated about it,” she says, noting that she got three listings in the past two weeks on her own, in the midst of coronavirus shutdowns, no less. “I, for a fact, work harder than anybody else there besides Jason.”
You know what else is laughable? Christine’s version of what went down between her and Mary.
Christine recently told Entertainment Tonight that some of her co-stars, possibly Mary, “got an ego” while filming and that Mary specifically “went out of her way to be malicious for a TV show” and stirred the pot. Mary tells me she hasn’t seen the full article, but doesn’t need to.
“All I’m going to say is that I only repeated what she told me to my face,” she says. Mary is talking about the fact (or “fact,” depending on who you ask, Christine denies it) that Christine met her now-husband Christian Richard when she was selling him a home. Christine says they met months prior. Mary and cast member and agent Chrishell Stause claimed on the show that Christian was dating someone else when he got together with Christine, which Christine denies.
You’ll remember that the word “overlap” was a big point of contention.
Mary said on the show that she was just confused and surprised by Christine’s quick engagement. Mary and her then-fiancé, now husband Romain Bonnet had just left for France, she says, “and when we came back, [Christine] was engaged. I was so shocked, like everyone was. I wasn’t trying to stir the pot or say anything bad. I just repeated what I knew from her own mouth. That was it,” Mary says.
Christine, for her part, told ET: “It’s good for TV, but, Mary, you know the real story. She just wants to stir some shit up, and then Chrishell jumps in, ‘Once a cheater, always a cheater’ kind of thing,” she told the publication. Christine says was set up with Christian by a friend who had gone on a date with him, but they were by no means dating, ET reported.
Mary hopes that they can repair her friendship with Christine, though. “I really hope that we do make amends. She used to be a really good friend. And I really hope that we get back to that. A lot has happened, obviously. So I don’t know that we’ll ever be as close as we once were, but I want to be much closer than we are now, for sure,” she says.
In the meantime, she’s doing showings with the right safety precautions, and Romain, FYI, has joined the Oppenheim Group as a project manager. “Everyone thinks he still is a baker, but he’s not,” she says. “Whenever we have our clients remodel, either before listing or after they buy, he is the one that in charge of all of that,” she says of his job.
And their marriage has been going well. “I keep hearing about people either getting divorced or pregnant in quarantine, and we don’t want to do either one of those things,” she says.
Soon, Mary and Romain will spend a weekend on a boat with castmate Heather Rae Young and her boyfriend Tarek El Moussa, along with Jason, Brett, and some of the other agents. Christine probably won’t be there.
Season 3 premieres August 7, 2020. The next season will center around Chrishell’s divorce from This Is Us star Justin Hartley, more in-fighting among the agents, Christine’s extravagant wedding, “and a lot of homes being sold,” Mary says.
Along with huge houses with zero yards and over-designed master closets, Mary is at the center of all the action — friend drama, ex-boyfriend drama, wedding drama, family drama, work drama — and definitely knows how to sell the fruit of her labor.