Real Talk

The Post-Truth Friendships Of Selling The OC

The Netflix reality series reveals that objective reality is out of fashion — even in interpersonal relationships.

A collage featuring cast members of 'Selling the OC.'

Real estate agent Alex Hall stands tall, unbothered. Her fellow Selling the OC stars, glaring up at her from their beach chairs, are livid: A preview for a podcast interview with Alex has been released, in which Alex claimed an unnamed agent was so “crazy” that they needed to be “medicated,” and they’ve decided to confront her about it on air.

While adjusting her bikini, Alex coolly assures the group that the quote doesn’t refer to any of them. And do they really believe she’d lie?

“You lie, constantly,” one colleague replies. Alex counters, “If you don’t believe me, then that’s your choice.”

In Season 3 of the Netflix reality TV show, the truth is what you make it. So later that same episode, when it’s revealed that Alex did slander one of her co-workers, she’s unfazed. She simply doesn’t remember who she was talking about, Alex tells agent-in-training Ali Harper: “I’m giving you my truth. … And if my truth isn’t good enough, that’s a you problem.” (When pressed about the podcast in a recent interview with Bustle, she claimed a different set of facts, which she’d already dismissed on air.)

The phrase “post-truth” (shorthand for “there is no shared set of facts that everyone believes”) is thrown around a lot in the political sphere, but Selling the OC shows how this state of affairs has infected interpersonal relationships as well. Much like how therapy-speak gave bad actors a way to reframe their worst impulses as noble, post-truth politics seems to have taught the slightly delusional that being right is a choice.

Alex Hall is confronted on the beach.Netflix

In this landscape, the mechanics are easy to grasp — the insistence on your own correctness, regardless of any evidence to the contrary — and vocabulary is everything: from “lies” and “fake news” to the nauseating phrase “my truth.”

Alex employs the latter repeatedly when pressed to admit her fib. (“That’s not my truth,” she tells an increasingly indignant Ali. “I don’t lie.”) At other points in the season, her colleagues do the same when pressed against the wall — like Sean Palmieri and Tyler Stanaland, a pair of ex-friends with beef. “At the end of the day, I am sleeping like a baby, ’cause I have the truth and I know my truth,” Sean tells producers. “I know my truth. Whatever your truth is, own it,” Tyler echoes.

Indeed, Season 3’s wildest dramafest centers on Sean, an “agent” who hasn’t sold a single property in his two-year career. As Sean tells it, co-star Austin Victoria and his wife dosed him with edibles, then tried to have a threesome with him, which Austin disputes. He eventually confronts Sean about this, and it gets heated. They call each other names (“disgusting,” “pathological liar,” “sick”) but stick to their respective stories, leaving the truth up for grabs.

Alex Hall and Alexandra Jarvis react to Sean Palmieri’s words.

The discrepancy rears its head repeatedly throughout the season’s eight episodes, drawing in the entire cast. At one point, Alex — yes, the purveyor of truth herself — confronts Sean about the story, which he denies entirely.

Alex: “You said that you went to his home, that he invited you to a dinner—”
Sean: “We never had dinner.”
Alex: “You never said, ‘Lisa made edibles, and then we…’”
Sean: “Made edibles?” … “What are you talking about? The thing is, I hate edibles.”

By the end of the season, Sean hasn’t owned up to anything.

It is strange, as a viewer, to try to parse objective reality when the people onscreen seem only passively interested in it themselves. When confronted with a truth, they shrug; when caught in a lie, they filibuster.

But then, Selling the OC and its older sibling, Selling Sunset, have never been too concerned with subjects like “objectivity” or “reality.” The agents of the Oppenheim Group spend their days gossiping in and around new and newly renovated homes: He said, she said, he said she said he said. Makeup is heavily contoured; surgically amplified silhouettes are de rigueur. Clothes are ever more expensive and less office-appropriate — the agents’ business, after all, is increasingly in sponsorships and other opportunities attained through the show. Real estate is a side plot, at most.

It took awhile for the women of Selling Sunset to hone in on the model — watching the pilot now is shocking, the stars almost seem down-to-earth — and Selling the OC had the benefit of coming in its wake.

Kayla Cardona.Netflix
Alexandra Jarvis.Netflix
1 / 2

So only three seasons in, the cast is already doing its best to dress the part and stir the pot. There are no heroes here, only expert performers. It’s a delicious, canny example of what only late-stage reality TV can do: provide a stage for reality TV watchers to act out the beats and personas they’ve seen so many Housewives and L.A. Oppenheim agents perfect.

“Reality TV” itself has always been an oxymoron, an agreed-upon artifice that everyone involved accepts, including the audience. The full, unedited story is never presented, so for all viewers know, they’re adjudicating flawed evidence. When two different people each claim to hold a version of the truth, who’s to say they don’t?

For the agents of the Oppenheim Group, so used to dancing around edges in teetering heels, perhaps it feels natural, like the “no-makeup makeup” of interpersonal conflict. They’re so used to focusing on surfaces — slick, book-matched marble and Venetian plaster — that they’ve never considered examining the foundation.

If our destiny is to see all that was built atop shifting sands fall apart, at least it’ll be fun to watch.