Bravo cameras should be rolling on this.
It's late afternoon on a recent Friday and I've spent the better part of the day with Stassi Schroeder, but this is the first moment that feels like I'm inside Vanderpump Rules. She's scanning an interview Lisa Vanderpump recently gave in which the reality show's grand dame described her cast members in one word. Stassi's bright-red nails move across the iPhone screen as she zooms in.
"I got 'spoiled'?" she asks aloud, mostly to herself, but possibly to the room.
A boozy happy hour has just been interrupted by shit-talking. But there are no producers. No cameramen slowly zooming in to film her reaction or sound guy holding the boom mic closer in case she lets rip one of her iconic, expletive-filled one-liners. Instead, she laughs slightly uncomfortably and asks, "Spoiled by what...?" She sits in silence for a moment. "Spoiled by what? Fine. OK. Whatever." Here's the thing: Stassi isn't a bitch, she just plays one on TV.
Vanderpump Rules is essentially a field guide to the hookups, breakups, backstabbing and other miscellaneous debauchery of a handful of servers at SUR, the Sexy Unique Restaurant — honest to god, that's what SUR stands for — owned by The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump that serves as a backdrop for the Bravo spin-off. Five seasons in, it's no spoiler to say that whatever rules Lisa makes, they will be broken.
Stassi is one of the show's flagship SURvers — and one of about half the cast members who is no longer on staff. She's part Kim Kardashian West, part Barbie, part Louis CK, all rolled into one, and the past three years has seen her change her stripes many times, more than just transitioning from waitress to not a waitress: She's been Princess Stassi, dubious descendant of actual Swedish royalty; "It's my f**king birthday" Stassi, and she'll be dammed if she's going to let you ruin it; Redemption Stassi, returning after a brief hiatus for her season four apology tour. She's been a GIF you've texted your friends. ("I'm not sure what I've done to you, but I'll take a pinot grigio.")
But who is Stassi off TV, in reality?
She greets me at the door of her sunny West Hollywood apartment with a lilting "Hell-ooo!" and an infectiously toothy smile. She offers a mini tour of her home — it's the type of apartment that makes you feel like you really could work harder to make your own place cuter. The walls are painted her favorite sky blue, but the obvious color motif is gold, from the barstools in the kitchen to the necklaces hanging from the bedroom vanity to the gold Ashley Longshore painting of Audrey Hepburn as Cleopatra (I think?) looming above the sofa.
Today, I've missed her morning routine: An iced tea in bed while she checks her emails and celebrity gossip, as well as, as she lists off, "Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, everything." She's impeccably made up now, wearing a maroon, long-sleeved L'academie minidress and dripping in gold herself, a gold ring on seemingly every finger and gold watch slung around her wrist. She's pretty without the pretty filter, her features more delicate in real life, though her plumped lips are exactly as pouty as they appear on Snapchat. Most days she says she goes to lunch or a happy hour with friends and she still frequents the same bars she has since moving to Los Angeles from New Orleans.
"None of us actually feel famous," she insists, perched on a coffee table in her living room, her beige, Stuart Weitzman thigh-high boots crossed. "I really think all my friends would say that, too."
"Honestly, I think that people living in L.A., all of our lives are different from most 20-somethings," she says. "I've just recently gotten to the point where I'm like, I'm really f***ing lucky that I get to just have fun all the time. Like, if I want to wake up and go to Disneyland, I can do that. If I want to drink literally from morning to night, I can do that. And I will! And I do! Most people that I talk to from home, they have kids, they have a nine to five, they don't get to say, 'I think I'll just go shopping.' I don't have a normal job." She laughs. "Hashtag motherf**king blessed."
She has at various times been a television personality, fashion blogger and model, but for all intents and purposes, Stassi's full-time job is being Stassi. And now she's found another way to monetize the act of being herself: Straight Up With Stassi, a podcast that earns her sponsorship ads in addition to the reported tens of thousands of dollars she makes per Pump Rules episode. It also allows her to finally be in control of her own image.
"I made it a point not to ever edit anything out," she says. "All these people that listen are listening to who I am entirely."
"Then, if you go and watch the show, that's a watered-down, edited, small version of who I am. It makes you feel a little crazy when you're filming, because you know you're not going to have control over it." If that seems like she's blaming the editing, she clarifies, "I never like to blame things on editing. I don't like when people do that. Everything that you're seeing did come out of my mouth. You're just not seeing all of it. Reality TV, by definition, you can’t make it fair."
The idea of a podcast "scared the shit" out of her at first, she remembers. At the time, she was dating SiriusXM radio host Patrick Meagher and, she says, saw "how hard it is to just talk." Cut to a year and change later, she is regularly churning out two episodes per week and recently hosted guests including Kristin Chenoweth, Rachel Zoe and Emma Roberts.
Today, she's booked Vine star Matt Cutshall. (Fun fact: Matt appeared on early seasons of Pump Rules as a friend of Jax Taylor.) Stassi offhandedly mentions that she usually likes to drink during the podcast, but at a little before noon, "Even for me, it's too early." Matt arrives to her home on time to record and any pre-podcast jitters prove unwarranted, as Stassi settles on the animal-ish skin carpet in her living room, microphone in hand, and talks straight through the hour. Watching her, you can see the gears turning as she guides the conversation, from reminiscing about working at SUR together to joking about her sex tape, a plot point from the show that marked a rather contentious point in her relationship with Lisa. (We learned last season that Lisa paid $900 in cash to stop the tape from getting out.) "I can laugh at it now. It took me three years to laugh at it," Stassi says on the podcast.
"I hate having secrets," she tells me. "I talk about everything! I can't think of one thing that I don't talk about. It's all there, and it's so freeing. I tell people this all the time: If you live like an open book, it feels so good because you're totally embracing who you are and you know that nobody could ever have anything on you. If they don't like you, well, you've done all you could. You've shown every part of yourself. So it's like, Byyyyye."
At 28 years old, Stassi has already starred on three reality shows — at the very least, two more than most people. As we are seated in a corner table at Taste on Melrose, she recalls how her fate was chosen for her by her father, who signed the family up for The Amazing Race in 2005.
"I didn't have a chance to think about if it was something I wanted to do," she says. "It was always just been something that I've done. And then I realized that I was kind of good at it."
After growing up on a diet of Real World and The Girls Next Door, a then-brunette Stassi (née Nastassia Bianca Schroeder) competed on the CBS series with her dad, Mark, her step-mom, and her brother when she was 17. "At my awkward stage," she adds pointedly.
The Schroeder family ultimately placed 7th out of 10 teams.
"I remember why we lost — because my family didn't listen to me. Because I'm always right! If they just would've listened to me!" Stassi exclaims, breaking into her ahuh-huh laugh. She's not shy about reminding her dad of that fact, either:
"He's like, 'Stassi, c'mon, you have pull! You'd be able to get you and me back on. We could do it together!' I'm like, 'Dad, that ship has f***ing sailed. You didn't listen the first time. Absolutely not. Unless you're willing to make me the boss.'"
When she moved to Los Angeles in 2008, the same people who cast her on Amazing Race cast her on Queen Bees, about seven mean teens forced to live under one roof. It aired for one short season on The N and was hosted by an America's Next Top Model winner. Stassi refers to it as "that embarrassing other show."
"That was the biggest mindf**k that I've ever experienced," she says. She's eating a chicken salad sandwich, opting for pommes frites instead of greens and with a side of ranch, please. (They only have an aioli, which is basically fancy ranch. She is willing to compromise.)
"I lied about who I was. I had to tell stories about how I was mean to people, and I made them all up!" she explains. "Most of the girls in there were not, like, actual mean girls. But they filmed us 24/7 and we lived in a house for a month and had therapy every day, so we convinced ourselves that we were bad people that needed therapy. That I was actually mean. Once it all ended I was like, I just had to do full-on method acting to make this work. And then to bounce back afterward..." She trails off as she thinks back. "I had nightmares for — oh my god, so long after that show. That cameras were always filming me and making me be something I'm not. When you're filmed 24/7, it's scary. I couldn't do that again."
If it weren't for a failed pilot called Staycation, Stassi may not have ended up on Bravo. She auditioned for the reality show, about girlfriends who go on vacation in the Bahamas and wind up staying, with Kristen Doute and peripheral Pump Rules player Kristina Kelly. Her boyfriend at the time, Jax, also appeared as a guy Stassi supposedly met on the trip. Staycation never aired, but it reassured Stassi that reality TV could function like more conventionally identifiable work — she could have a schedule and clock out at the end of the day — and when Vanderpump Rules fell into her lap, she signed on.
"After we all saw The Hills, that's when people started being like, 'I'll be a reality person.' Because look at what happened for them. And we have the same producers," she notes. Stassi pauses and takes a sip of pomegranate sangria before adding: "So, they're really good at manipulating us."
Who, I ask her, is the real Stassi, then?
"That is such a loaded question and...I don't know!" she says. "Every day that goes by, I realize I don't know shit about life. I look back on season one and I'm like, 'I'm 23 years old! I know exactly what I want and what I don't want!' I literally know nothing now. I feel like my opinionatedness — I know that's not a word — is just deteriorating, because I'm like, I don't know anything!"
Pressed on what, exactly, makes someone good at being on reality TV, she pauses and appears momentarily stumped.
"I really actually don't f***ing know," she takes another sip of her drink. "I think maybe not having a filter. Maybe just not overthinking anything? People struggle because they are so concerned with what people are going to think. Are people going to like me if I say this or if I look like this or if they show my bad side? You have to clear your head and just be you. You can't plan what you're going to say. You have to be a good listener. So many people — and these are the worst people to film with — they'll go into a scene knowing they want to say this, this, this, this and this. And it's like, you're just performing right now."
Going into the fifth seasons of Pump Rules, she insists that she never feels like she's playing the role of "Stassi" or feels pressure to deliver what people want to see from her. "I feel like they'd love to see me be mean all over again. And of course I can be a bitch when it calls for it, but so many people want to see me be mean for the sake of being mean," she says. "And I'm not like that."
"I'm a really sensitive person! I'm a cancer..." She reacts immediately, as if only hearing the worlds as she says them aloud. "That is the most basic thing that's ever come out of my mouth. I'm judging myself right now."
Soon afterward, our Uber driver is judging Stassi, too. We have an appointment to visit Revolve Social Club and we request an Uber, even though it's less than a mile from our lunch spot. Six tenths of a mile, our driver informs us.
"You could walk," he points out, unprompted.
"I'm in heels!" Stassi rebuffs from the backseat.
"You can practice your catwalk, then," he says.
Revolve is a massively minimalist fashion showroom, two floors lined with racks of color-coordinated clothing. Stassi joked during lunch that she has singlehandedly kept them in business via online shopping, but this brick-and-mortar location is by invite only. The two of us, along with Stassi's publicist who is tagging along for the day and the Revolve rep, are the only ones inside, although women repeatedly knock at the front door and after a requisite "Hi! Sorry! Do you have an appointment?" are promptly turned away. (Stassi admits that she got the same response her first time. "I didn't think to be like, 'Well, my name is this...can I come?'")
"I always say that this is, like, my heaven," she gushes as she spins around the lobby, taking a Snapchat selfie. "I've reached nirvana when I'm here." Keeping in theme with the pseudo spiritual vibe, she calls a window on the second floor the "mecca" of selfie lighting.
"People are pretty because of lighting, nothing else. It just fools people into thinking you're freaking Candice Swanepoel or some shit," she declares, inviting me to take my own selfies. "The lighting here is like nothing you've ever experienced before. You don't even need to filter your Snapchat. It's magical lighting."
I ask to see her Snapchat before she posts it and can’t believe it's sans filter.
"Well, no, the pretty filter is on it," she replies, stating what is now obvious.
"Oh, yeah, duh," I correct myself.
"Should I take a regular one without the pretty filter?" she asks. "Do I dare?"
Stassi tries on a few outfits to potentially wear to an upcoming charity gala Lisa is throwing. For the record, she doesn't catwalk. She knows exactly what she likes and immediately decides what she does not. "That's not going to work," she says when I spend one second looking at a Peter Pan collar blouse with a bow. One dress, a black number with lace cutouts, prompts a rare second guess. "When you look at me do you think just boobs?" she asks. I assure her I don't.
There's also the matter of date ensembles. This summer, Stassi and Patrick split after two years together. It wasn't always a tableau of relationship bliss — they moved from New York to L.A. together and then moved into separate apartments while still trying to make it work. Stassi said as much on the episode of her podcast where she announced their breakup, tearfully revealing, “We’ve broken up and gotten back together so many times, it's like, 'Goddamnit, we can't do this pattern anymore, this routine of breaking up and getting back together.'"
"Once you get over the hump of being sad about the breakup and getting used to being alone, then it turns into something so fun," she tells me. "I wake up happy and I go to sleep happy. I used to go to bed early every night. I was a homebody and obsessed with sleeping. Now, I'm like, I don't want to go to sleep, because I know I'm not going to always have this. Eventually I'm going to find somebody that I want to be with, so I'm trying to embrace as much of it as I can."
She declares that she wants to stay single for a year, and then casually adds a disclaimer: "I don't know if I'll make it." As reticent as she is to admit any level of fame, she's forthcoming about how dating has change now that she is, in her words, "well-known."
"I'm way more skeptical of people, because I've seen people date my friends to be in this world. And that is my worst fear," she reveals. "I honestly feel like that's why I stayed in my last relationship for so long, because he didn't want anything to do with reality TV. He didn't want anything to do with any party I went to or red-carpet event. He didn't like any of it, so it made me feel like this person was totally with me for me."
Is it important, I ask, for your next boyfriend to be more accepting of the show? "It's almost like I have PTSD from my last relationship. I'm not saying embrace the show, but think that everything I do is great. That's it," she replies. "And be like, 'If that makes you happy.' That's really what I want is someone who makes an effort with my friends. I really want that."
I point out that that isn't a reality star thing; that's what every 20-something wants out of their relationship. It's what I want. It's what all my friends want, and as far as I know none of them have TV shows. "Pretty much," she sighs. Also like us, Stassi is forced to search for it on apps.
"I was on Bumble for a little bit, but it's too much. And I'm not reaching out to dudes first, I'm sorry. I'm not interested in that," she brushes off. She's on Raya, which bills itself as "a private, membership-based network." (Others have called it "the secret dating app for famous people.") "Raya is so secretive. You're not supposed to talk about it."
And then there's OKCupid, which requires filling out an excruciatingly long profile: "What I'm Doing With My Life," "The Six Things I Could Never Do Without," etc. Stassi filled hers out on camera for the upcoming season of Pump Rules.
"I only wrote what I liked and none of it made sense, but it was actually all my likes," she remembers. "I was like, I love ghost stories, serial killers, the color gold, ranch dressing, wine, murders, cults. I got so many messages being like, 'This is the realest profile I've ever seen. I would love to take you out.' I'm like, 'Oh my god, maybe this is what I should do. Should I just really be myself on dates?'"
In the end, she nixes the dress with the lace cutouts but leaves with a floor-length floral Majorelle skirt with a lace-revealing slit and an off the shoulder Eight Sixty floral off-the-shoulder top, not to be worn together. "They just give shit away!" she gleefully tells me in an aside.
We decide to grab one more drink. It's a quarter after three, though, so most bars haven't opened yet. There's a Fred Segal across the street, but Stassi is hesitant about going to their Mauro Café if we are only ordering drinks. Proving you can take the girl out of SUR but not the server out of the girl, she winces, "I'm really weird about that. I don't want to inconvenience servers."
In the end, it's our only option, so we go. Stassi adds a cheese plate to the order.
In the center of the heavily wooded dining room, seated near a table of grown men who are so loud you're forced to lean in to hear the person next to you, Stassi's publicist passes her a phone with Lisa's interview pulled up. The Entertainment Weekly write-up includes a bright pink sidebar titled "Lisa's Word Association," in which she labels Jax "complex" and Kristen "messy." Lala Kent is "multifaceted" and Stassi is "spoiled."
"I'm actually kind of surprised by all of those," Stassi says, seeming genuinely upset. "We've actually been so much better, so that's confusing. Like, spoiled in which way? Spoiled from fun?" she ribs, trying to bring the mood back up. "What do you mean?!"
It's a far cry from the days when Lisa was a sort of maternal figure to Stassi and Stassi was a clear favorite of Lisa's. But with the show's fifth season premiering Nov. 7, Lisa calling her "spoiled" feels – well, a little last season. They've already had their sit-down blowout fight where Stassi rolled her eyes and claimed, "You hate me, Lisa," and Lisa shot back, "You're not important enough to hate." By the time the last reunion special aired in March, a peace seemed to have settled in.
How are things with Lisa now?
"I thought fine," Stassi pauses as she scrambles to find the right words and then throws her hands up. "Fine. Fine! Like, when I see her, it's fine. It's friendly, and I'll have a conversation with her. I can't fight with Lisa. It doesn't behoove me to do that. It doesn't benefit anyone to fight with her. You're going to lose! So why make my life harder on myself?"
Lisa aside, Stassi has come full circle with the rest of her cast mates, "complex" Jax included. After giving so much of themselves to the show — "We, like, poured everything we had into it and embarrassed ourselves and showed everything" — they have a wolf pack mentality to protect each other. "It's not worth it to have issues at this point," Stassi reveals. "I'm getting older. I'm getting more boring." And as she gets older, she has less interest in drama.
"I mean, I'm interested in it," she corrects me. "But not unnecessary drama."
As for her future in reality TV, she doesn't close the door on anything. But she doesn't see herself as Real Housewives material. "I'm, like, perpetually alone," she says with a self-deprecating laugh. "I don't see myself as, like..." She thinks twice and course corrects. "Not that there's anything wrong with being a housewife. Honestly, no one's even proposed to me when they were, like, wasted, mid-sex, so I don't see myself getting married soon. No one's expressed interest!" (She does have her Real Housewives tag line picked out, though: "I tell it like it is. Probably because I'm drunk.")
In the meantime, she will continue the job of being Stassi, except she'll get better at it. And she'll make her impact bigger. She has dreams of her mini-media empire changing the way talk radio and broadcasting works. Eventually, she wants a Straight Up With Stassi talk show. "One hundred percent," she says, "that is goals."
Her future, as she envisions it, doesn't involve catfighting for the cameras or bitchery of any sort. She smiles as she ponders the possibilities.
"I want to be the female Howard Stern — except more!" she states matter-of-factly. "I set out to have women feel like they're sitting around, having wine with their girlfriends, talking about things that they normally don't say out loud, feeling like they're less alone. I love that I found something that makes me feel like I have a purpose. I'm connecting with women in such a cool way, where we all feel good about ourselves."
"I feel like what I'm good at is exposing myself," she says. "So that other people feel better about themselves."