‘UnReal’ EP Stacy Rukeyser on Serena’s Decision, Rachel’s Future, and Season 4

UnReal Season 3, Ep. 309
Bettina Strauss/Lifetime

The Season 3 finale of Lifetime’s UnReal was also the shocking season ender of fictional dating series Everlasting, which included a proposal, but not between the reality franchise’s first-ever suitress and one of her handsome beaus.

The big ask came courtesy of Crystal (Kassandra Clementi), the swimsuit model girlfriend of Everlasting executive producer Chet Wilton (Craig Bierko). Of course, the spontaneous rush to the altar was another bit of producing genius from Rachel (Shiri Appleby) and helped to deflect from the real drama of the dating series: the action behind the scenes. But in the wake of the failed proposal, Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Chet might be on the road to Rekindletown.

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In the end, Silicon Valley siren Serena (Caitlin FitzGerald) decides not to settle for either of the season’s flawed final two contestants and rides off alone, resorting to her trusty cell phone to swipe right at love once more.

TV Insider spoke with series showrunner Stacy Rukeyser to get the inside scoop on Serena’s decision, find out what’s in store for Rachel — who has seemingly escaped Hollywood for a life of solitude — and to beg for a few tidbits about Season 4.

Constance Zimmer as Quinn and Christopher Cousins as Gary

Serena seemingly has it all, yet failed to find love on Everlasting. What is the message, other than TV is not a good place to find love: Is reality TV not set up to allow feminists to be successful or is it that strong women shouldn’t settle?

Stacy Rukeyser: Serena did come to this with honest intentions, and there is a certain logic that made sense. If you’ve sort of dated everybody in your sphere, it’s true that when you go on a show like this, everybody in America knows you are, and your options open up. Serena thinks that, because she’s so smart and strong, she’ll be able to control the game. Of course, that’s what many people these days who go on these reality shows believe; they’ve seen enough of them, they’ve seen how it works. I think what they underestimate is reality TV is a huge machine there to get what they want out of you for the show that has nothing to do with your own purposes.

Beyond that, [there] is the question of who is the right partner for Serena? And should she be with someone more like Jasper [Bart Edwards] — together they would be a power couple, and they both have these big careers, and they would travel all over the world together. Is that the right person? Or, should she be with somebody more like Owen [Alex Hernandez], who’s sort of the beta guy who, maybe he doesn’t have a fancy career, but he’s such a love. He could stay home with the kids and be able to take care of them while she was out working. That’s a choice a lot of women are making as they become the primary breadwinner, and yet, it’s not a choice that works for everyone.

Tell me a little bit about Season 4 of UnReal, which you’ve already shot. Those eight episodes will follow an all-star edition of Everlasting; what will that look like?

First, I can tell you that August [Adam Demos] is back and Alexi [Alex Sparrow] is back, and some other characters from other seasons are back. Format-wise, there’s a challenge in every episode as well as an elimination ceremony. Sometimes it’s a physical challenge, sometimes it’s mental, but one person is eliminated in the challenge, and then one person is eliminated in the elimination ceremony. And in the elimination ceremony, people choose a partner and they couple up and spend the night with that person. So, it’s actually the Wild Wild West version of Everlasting.

At the end of Season 3, we see Rachel leaving Hollywood for the solitude of a cabin. Where do we find her in Season 4?

Anybody who has seen Shiri Appleby’s Instagram feed knows that she’s blonde this season. That is coming from a very panicked interior place because, [though] she has escaped at the end of the third season to her cabin, the things that Dr. Simon [Brandon Jay McLaren] and Jeremy [Josh Kelly] and Serena have said to her are still ringing in her ears when she goes off to that cabin.

Rachel Goldberg alone with those thoughts swirling in her head, is that a good place to be? I think the answer is no. So she comes back really trying to change her life. She’s not just trying a new look, I’ll tell you that. She’s trying to change her life.

Josh Kelly as Jeremy and Shiri Appleby as Rachel

How closely will Season 4 mirror events from the Bachelor in Paradise scandal involving Corinne Olympios?

It was definitely an inspiration. I didn’t watch it, but I heard about it for sure. What was the most noteworthy to me was that a producer made a complaint to the studio, because that had never happened before and the show has been on for about 20 seasons. I was thinking, ‘Wow, what must’ve happened?’ It must’ve been so over-the-line that some felt they needed to say, ‘I’m making a complaint.’

A producer working on a show doesn’t always have a contact at the studio and wouldn’t know where to find a phone number or who to call. Of course, after #MeToo, human resources departments are putting a phone number on the call sheet, but prior to that… it was a really big deal. So, that was really fascinating to me.

Another thing that was also fascinating is that no newspaper, magazine, even tabloid ever did an interview with that producer that made this complaint. Then, there was this kind of changing narrative from the contestants themselves; at first, [Olympios] was saying that she really was a victim, and then later she was saying she didn’t think she was. Perhaps I was looking at it with cynical eyes because of the writing that we’ve done for UnReal, but I just smelled mystery there.

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You mentioned the #MeToo movement. I know Season 3 was shot before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke but did you make any changes in light of the way things were coming out in the press?

The only change we made was to a Charlie Rose joke that we had because, when we filmed the episode, Charlie Rose was in a very different situation than when the episode aired. In the episode where Serena was doing ‘boring interviews’ with the guys, Quinn used to say, ‘Charlie Rose clipping his toenails would be better than this,’ and then it got changed to ‘Charlie Rose clipping his toe nails from jail would be better than this.’

Does the final scene with Fiona (Tracie Thoms) and Madison (Genevieve Buechner) suggest that men in Hollywood aren’t the only people who are using their power for sex?

Yes, that’s certainly true. Even Quinn says, ‘Well matriarchal bullshit is still okay, right?’ I think the idea that if women were in charge, we would just live in a utopia is a beautiful thing to imagine, but it’s not my experience. Women can be assholes, too. Bad behavior is not exclusive to one gender.

Genevieve Buechner as Madison

You’ll see in Season 4 what Madison’s move gets her. Unfortunately, Madison has always defaulted to her sexuality in order to get ahead. It’s very sad to me because it speaks to an insecurity that she doesn’t believe she would have something else to offer, that she needs to default to that. But it’s also part of this world we live in — particularly in Hollywood — that tells young women that the currency they have is their youth and their beauty and that they should use that. Madison certainly does use it to get ahead, but I can promise you, at the end of the day, those are not the kinds of women that we exalt and celebrate on UnReal.