Selling Tampa, the new Florida-based spinoff of Netflix’s real-estate reality show Selling Sunset, is a welcome change from its LA-focused sister series, which in recent seasons has drifted from its original focus — plastic surgery addicts selling multimillion-dollar houses — to the singular pursuit of one question: “How can we get Christine involved in this drama?”
The strength of Selling Tampa is that work comes first, which is a powerhouse creative decision for a workplace drama — and one that is paying off in spades in terms of storylines and character conflict. In fact, one might posit that this show is all about the neverending purgatory that is a workplace caught in the iron grip of hustle culture. Taken one radical step further: Selling Tampa is a parable about the importance of worker solidarity and unionizing.
This becomes apparent just two episodes into the show, when Sharelle, the owner of Allure Realty, the brokerage that employs the show’s real estate agents, informs her staff that their commission split will change from 95-5 (with 95 percent of the commission fee from a sale going to the agent and five percent to the brokerage) to 80-20, cutting agent pay significantly. Sharelle explains that this is for additional operating costs in light of the company’s growth, but declines to share the specific breakdown of those costs. Longtime employee Rena is the only one to press for further details, pointing out that this is the second time the commission split has changed. “You sound like you’re ungrateful,” Sharelle replies, shutting down the conversation. Classic boss response.
Despite the other agents’ silence during that confrontation, Rena is clearly not the only one with some quibbles over the sudden change to the commission split; later, on a group outing for drinks (during a workday? Impossible to tell in the Florida sunlight), younger agents Anne-Sophie and Colony quip about Sharelle continuing to run her business her way, e.g., making executive decisions whenever she wants without giving notice. But before shittalking their manager can empower them to form a united front and overthrow capitalism, Sharelle arrives and any hints of solidarity quickly melt away. Rena, the self-elected representative on behalf of labor, argues that they have all helped build the company and should have a seat at the table. But Sharelle is quick to sow division, chipping away at the cracks between workers to extract verbal promises from everyone else stating that they don’t have a problem with the commission split decision. Rena remains the lone voice of dissent.
“If you don’t like it here, I’m not holding a gun to your head to stay,” says Sharelle, summing up her entire management ethos. “I’m not going to change how I’m doing things. Point-blank, period.”
But it’s not enough for Sharelle alone to exercise her autocratic leadership. Other employees, enticed by the idea of getting themselves a greater piece of the pie, scurry to betray their fellow workers. There’s Juawana, Sharelle’s right-hand woman, who is already regarded by her colleagues as a wannabe boss (they disparagingly call her “HR” in reference to her being up in everyone’s business). But the biggest betrayal comes from Colony, who over the course of the series proves time and time again that she’s not afraid to fuck over her would-be comrades for the mere prospect of ascending to the managerial class.
Rena arranges a meeting with Anne-Sophie and Colony to discreetly float the idea of breaking away from Allure, starting her own brokerage, and bringing the two of them along with her. Colony is shocked, replying,“I’m extremely loyal … I’m never gonna go against Sharelle.” Hasn’t anyone ever taught her that there is no loyalty in employment, that employers can and do terminate their workers’ livelihoods at will all the time? But fine, maybe she’s still idealistic, maybe she’s still just figuring things out… is what I would say if I were a naive idiot who didn’t witness what she did next.
Colony pressures Rena into telling Sharelle about their conversation (with the implicit threat that if Rena does not, then she will), which could potentially cost Rena her job. And then, when Sharelle meets with Anne-Sophie and Colony to hear their perspectives on what happened, Colony does not hesitate to throw Anne-Sophie under the bus, telling Sharelle that Anne-Sophie had expressed dissatisfaction with Allure and interest in Rena’s potential brokerage during their meetup with Rena. While Anne-Sophie attempts to defend herself in front of their boss, Colony points out how she had been the only loyal one to Allure in the face of temptation.
“When things get rough, is that what we do? Just jump ship?” Colony grandstands. Actually, Colony, in a time when the exploitation of workers is the default rather than the exception, when executives who barely lift a finger get to profit off the labor of people making magnitudes less than them, that sounds like the correct course of action to me.
All of this — the backstabbing of fellow workers, the snitching to the boss — starts to make sense when Colony reveals her ulterior motive: She wants to become Sharelle’s deputy, helping oversee the Tampa office when the boss needs to step back for personal reasons. Her entire career, her whole arc at Allure, has led to this moment. But in the end, it’s not Colony who gets to sit in the boss’s chair, but HR herself: Juawana. Colony betrayed her colleagues and sabotaged the potential collective dissatisfaction-to-action pipeline for nothing. I hope the taste of her boss’s boots was worth it.
But the show, ending its first season with much still up in the air, leaves the door open for change. Will Colony be radicalized by her experience, or will she double-down further on her quest to become chief capitalist No. 2? Will Rena fight for independence and become her own benevolent boss, only to realize that there is no such thing in a hierarchy inherently stratified by power and money? Will the agents finally pool together and unionize for greater labor rights, including the right to retain higher commissions off the sales of $5 million McMansions? Probably not, if I’m being honest, because this is Selling Tampa, not Selling Labor-Power. But either way, it will be just the right amount of mindless fun to watch unfold.